• Journalism faces a crisis worldwide

    Australia’s two largest legacy media organisations recently announced big cuts to their journalistic staff. Many editorial positions, perhaps up to 120, will disappear at Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and News Corporation announced the sacking of most of its photographers and editorial production staff.

    Both announcements were accompanied by corporate spin voicing a continuing commitment to quality journalism. Nobody in the know believes it. This is the latest local lurch in a crisis that is engulfing journalism worldwide.

    Now, partly thanks to Donald Trump, many more people are turning their mind to the future of news, including “fake” news and its opposite.

    How, in the future, are we to know the difference between truth, myth and lies?

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  • A journalist in exile awaits Turkey’s referendum

    One morning last May, Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, was standing outside an Istanbul courthouse, waiting for a judge to reach a verdict on his guilt or innocence, when a man rushed toward him with a gun. A year earlier, Dündar’s newspaper, Cumhuriyet, a daily favored by Turkey’s secular left, had published video footage of truckloads of weapons being smuggled to Syrian rebels by Turkish state intelligence agents. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government had denied that it was supplying the rebels, was outraged and vowed that Dündar, then editor-in-chief, would “pay a heavy price.” Dündar was arrested and charged with aiding a terrorist organization and with espionage, among other crimes. “Traitor!” the gunman shouted as he fired two shots in Dündar’s direction. Dündar’s wife, Dilek, along with a member of parliament, grabbed the gunman, and video of the scene shows the three in an odd, lumbering half-embrace until the man is ordered to drop his gun. After the shooting, Dündar looked a bit ruffled but was uncannily composed. “I am fine. I am fine,” he told reporters. “Nobody should worry. Please be calm. There is nothing wrong. My wife jumped on him. So I want to congratulate her.” Glancing at Dilek, he smiled. “Thank you. Thank you.”

    When the court reconvened, a short time later, one of the judges apologized to Dündar for the shooting and then sentenced him to five years and ten months in prison for revealing state secrets. Dündar appealed the conviction and, free, pending the outcome, left for Barcelona to work on a book. At that point, Dündar was hopeful that he could get a fair trial in Turkey and intended to return. But, last July, his plans changed. President Erdoğan declared a state of emergency in response to an attempted coup, leading to a crackdown on ostensible opponents: he eventually fired more than a hundred thousand public workers, jailed opposition politicians and journalists, and arrested judges, two of whom sat on the constitutional court. Convinced of the utter impossibility of a fair trial, Dündar took up an offer to come to Germany to write a column for the German newspaper Die Zeit. He arrived in Berlin with little more than a suitcase full of summer clothes.

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  • The story of Macedonia’s fake news factory

    “Made in Tito’s Veles” is the trademark you may find if you turn over a dainty porcelain dish in any ex-Yugoslav country. Emblazoned alongside the initials of Yugoslavia’s chief economic planner, this was a trademark that proudly belonged to the golden era of Yugoslavia’s rapid industrialisation. It was a hallmark of reputable, tangible goods, the genuine article. Now known simply as Veles, the city that was once an industrial hub in the heart of the Republic of Macedonia recently became infamous for manufacturing a very different and pernicious product for export: the “fake news” stories being peddled by some of its digitally literate teenage population.

    While older residents nostalgically recount the days when they were proud to see Ivanka (Mrs Tito) wearing silk spun in their factories, their tech-savvy grandchildren achieved a sudden notoriety last autumn, having capitalised on the lucrative media storm surrounding Donald Trump. In turn, the brief flurry of media coverage on unrepentant “adolescent kingpins” assaulting Western politics with their burgeoning empires of misinformation propagated its own distorted representations of an unfamiliar city and its inhabitants. By spotlighting the experience of disenchanted teenage boys, the media cast the whole city in the unflattering light of conventional eastern European stereotypes. Veles became a quintessentially bleak, impoverished vacuum out on the “Balkan hinterlands”, begetting amoral profiteering. Such images ignore the multifaceted reality and belong to a long tradition of Westerners seeking out what historian Larry Wolff called the “half-barbarian” at the “unpolished extremity” of the continent.

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  • Vietnam war’s lost marines

    Tap, tap tap. Scott Standfast knocked on the door again. He’d been at it for several minutes, standing in front of a one-story brick house in Niceville, Florida, on a warm, dry day in November 2015. The then-59-year-old former Marine and his wife had driven more than 11 hours to get here, hoping to answer a question that’s haunted him for 40 years. He knocked again. This time, harder. Boom, boom, boom! Still no answer.

    About four decades ago, Standfast fought in the last battle of the Vietnam War, and his memory of it is sharp—from the location of enemy positions to the smothering jungle foliage. But it’s not what he remembers that troubles him; it’s what he can’t recall about that traumatic day. He’s tried everything. In 2015, he even joined a group of veterans for a trip back to the battlefield where they met their former enemies. Some shook hands, trying to forgive and move on. The experience helped but not enough. “It’s blocked out,” he tells me on the phone, choking up. “I’m sorry.”

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  • Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

    In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

    Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

    As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

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  • Radio-Free Syria

    The overhead light in the blue Mazda 626 wasn’t working. Raed Fares, a Syrian activist whose video protests skewer ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad alike, reached up to fiddle with the light bulb before squeezing himself out of the driver’s side door. The street was in darkness. In the last few years, the Assad government cut most of the electricity (along with running water and mobile-phone service) to Kafranbel, the town in northwestern Syria where Fares lives. The only light came from an LED strip in his neighbor’s front doorway that was hooked up to a car battery. It was 12:45 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2014, and Fares, who often works until 4 a.m., had left the office early. As he fumbled to fit his key into the car’s lock, he heard the slap-slap of feed running toward him.

    Here they come, he thought.

    The feet stopped just in front of his car. The Czech pistol he usually carries was in his house, 15 feet away. In the watery glow of the light behind him, Fares could make out two ISIS soldiers. One, clad in a woolen mask, ammunition vest, windbreaker and unlaced boots, opened fire, spraying the car, the mud wall and Fares with bullets. Fares felt their heat seat through his canvas jacket and jean skirt and into the right side of his chest and shoulder. When he collapsed to the ground, a childhood nightmare returned: three black dogs, chasing him.

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  • Beyond Homelessness

    The Chronicle has joined with more than 80 other news organizations to focus attention on the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in the Bay Area. As part of the SF Homeless Project, The Chronicle’s Beyond Homelessness series explores possible solutions that might ease, if not end, the suffering of thousands of people living on our streets, and improve the quality of life for all residents. To date, the SF Homeless Project has been emulated in several U.S. cities where homelessness remains a humanitarian crisis.

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  • To my doomed colleagues in US media

    Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader — so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang a bell. Not just mine, in fact — read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times.

    Vladimir Putin’s annual pressers are supposed to be the media event of the year. They are normally held in late December, around Western Christmas time (we Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later and it’s not a big deal, unlike New Year’s Eve). Which probably explains why Putin’s pressers don’t get much coverage outside of Russia, except in a relatively narrow niche of Russia-watchers. Putin’s pressers are televised live across all Russian TV channels, attended by all kinds of media — federal news agencies, small local publications and foreign reporters based in Moscow — and are supposed to overshadow every other event in Russia or abroad.

    These things are carefully choreographed, typically last no less than four hours, and Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children. Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.

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  • The Silencing of Writers in Turkey

    The Hungarian-British writer Arthur Koestler, born in Budapest at the turn of the last century, became, over the course of his life, intimately familiar with the dangers of authoritarianism. It was the corroding effects of such rule on the human soul that preoccupied him as much as the unbridled concentration of power. “If power corrupts,” he wrote, “the reverse is also true: persecution corrupts the victim, though perhaps in subtler and more tragic ways.”

    If Koestler is correct, and authoritarian regimes end up corrupting, along with themselves, their critics, then the Turkish literati have yet another reason to worry. For years, we have been journeying through a dark, narrowing tunnel of “illiberal democracy.” The ruling élite of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, the A.K.P., has refused to acknowledge that free elections are not enough to sustain a democracy. There are other necessary constituents: separation of powers, rule of law, freedom of speech, women’s rights and minority rights, and a diverse, independent media. Without these bulwarks, the ballot box alone only paves the way for “majoritarianism” at best and authoritarianism at worst.

    The attempted coup in July, which left more than two hundred people dead, was shocking and wrong; it made everything worse. But it is one of the endless ironies of Turkey that the liberals and democrats who were among the first to oppose the putschists’ sinister attempts to overthrow the A.K.P. government would also become the first to be punished and silenced by that very same government. More than a hundred and forty journalists are in prison in Turkey today, making the country the world’s leading jailer of journalists—surpassing even China. Friends and colleagues have been exiled, blacklisted, arrested, imprisoned. The esteemed linguist Necmiye Alpay, who celebrated her seventieth birthday behind bars; the novelist Aslı Erdoğan; the novelist Ahmet Altan; the scholar Mehmet Altan; the liberal columnist Şahin Alpay; the editor-in-chief of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper, Murat Sabuncu, and his literary editor, Turhan Günay—the list of imprisoned writers and journalists is daunting, and we all know, deep down, that it could get even longer any day.

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  • Kremlin, Inc.

    Saturday, October 7th, was a marathon of disheartening tasks for Anna Politkovskaya. Two weeks earlier, her father, a retired diplomat, had died of a heart attack as he emerged from the Moscow Metro while on his way to visit Politkovskaya’s mother, Raisa Mazepa, in the hospital. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and was too weak even to attend her husband’s funeral. “Your father will forgive me, because he knows that I have always loved him,” she told Anna and her sister, Elena Kudimova, the day he was buried. A week later, she underwent surgery, and since then Anna and Elena had been taking turns helping her cope with her grief.

    Politkovskaya was supposed to spend the day at the hospital, but her twenty-six-year-old daughter, who was pregnant, had just moved into Politkovskaya’s apartment, on Lesnaya Street, while her own place was being prepared for the baby. “Anna had so much on her mind,’’ Elena Kudimova told me when we met in London, before Christmas. “And she was trying to finish her article.’’ Politkovskaya was a special correspondent for the small liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and, like most of her work, the piece focussed on the terror that pervades the southern republic of Chechnya. This time, she had been trying to document repeated acts of torture carried out by squads loyal to the pro-Russian Prime Minister, Ramzan Kadyrov. In the past seven years, Politkovskaya had written dozens of accounts of life during wartime; many had been collected in her book “A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya.” Politkovskaya was far more likely to spend time in a hospital than on a battlefield, and her writing bore frequent witness to robbery, rape, and the unbridled cruelty of life in a place that few other Russians—and almost no other reporters—cared to think about. One day at the Ninth Municipal Hospital, in Grozny, Politkovskaya encountered a sixty-two-year-old woman named Aishat Suleimanova, whose eyes expressed “complete indifference to the world,’’ she wrote in a typical piece. “And it is beyond one’s strength to look at her naked body. She’s been disembowelled like a chicken. The surgeons have cut into her from above her chest to her groin.’’ Two weeks earlier, a “young fellow in a Russian serviceman’s uniform put Aishat on a bed in her own house and shot five 5.45-mm. bullets into her. These bullets, weighted at the edges, have been forbidden by all international conventions as inhumane.’’

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  • Robert Caro, Art of Biography No. 5

    Since 1976, Robert Caro has devoted himself to The Years of Lyndon Johnson, a landmark study of the thirty-sixth president of the United States. The fifth and final volume, now underway, will presumably cover the 1964 election, the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the launch of the Great Society, the deepening of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the unrest in the cities and on college campuses, Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection, and his retirement and death—enough material, it would seem, for four ­additional ­volumes. If there is a question that annoys Caro more than “Do you like Lyndon Johnson?” it is “When will the next book be published?”

    This interview took place over the course of four sessions, which were conducted in his Manhattan ­office, near Columbus Circle. The room is spartan, containing little more than a desk, a sofa, several file cabinets, and large bookcases crammed with well-thumbed volumes on figures like FDR, Al Smith, and the Kennedy ­brothers—not to mention copies of Caro’s own books. One wall is dominated by the large bulletin boards where he pins his outlines, which on several ­occasions he politely asked me not to read. On the desk sit his Smith-Corona Electra typewriter, a few legal pads, and the room’s only ­ornamental touch: a lamp whose base is a statuette of a charioteer driving two rearing horses.

    Caro was born in New York in 1935. He was educated at Horace Mann and Princeton; after college, he worked for a New Jersey newspaper and then Newsday. It was there that Caro first heard of Robert Moses, the urban ­planner who would become the subject of The Power Broker (1974), which is not so much a biography as it is a thirteen-hundred-page examination of the political forces that shaped modern-day New York City. After conceiving of the book as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Caro persisted through seven difficult years of being, in his words, “plain broke.” With the support of his wife, Ina (to make ends meet, she sold their house on Long Island without telling him), he finished, and The Power Broker won Caro his first Pulitzer. It also won him the freedom to dedicate himself to his next subject, LBJ. (For his third volume, Master of the Senate [2002], he won another Pulitzer.)

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  • 9th Arab investigative journalism forum

    The 9th annual forum for Arab Investigative journalists will open in Jordan’s Dead Sea next month, bringing together over 25 panels and workshops on topics such as personal safety of reporters in conflict, to cross-border investigations and telling stories on multiple platforms.

    The forum, held under the theme “ARIJ: a decade of investigating the Arab world; seeing, hearing, exposing”, coincides with the network’s 10th anniversary. More than 320 Arab and international investigative editors, journalists, trainers, academics and media students will attend the December 1-3, 2016 event, the eighth in Jordan since the creation of the Amman-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) in 2005.

    Veteran journalist Walter “Robby” Robinson will be the keynote speaker. He led the Boston Globe Spotlight team’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and now is the newspaper’s editor at large.

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  • Female photographers on deadliest front lines

    Sprinting for her life as the Taliban sprayed bullets at her in open ground, Alison Baskerville had to rely on the covering fire of British soldiers to ensure she didn’t die in Afghanistan.

    Caught in an ambush, she was forced to dive for cover, only pausing when coalition air support arrived to scare the enemy away.

    But Baskerville is not a soldier. She is one of a growing number of female photographers putting themselves on the front line of conflicts across the world, to capture at times what their male counterparts can’t.

    ‘From the streets of Paris to the outposts of Iraq, women are now fighting along side men and now photographing alongside them also,’ the 41-year-old respected war photographer and former sergeant in the RAF told MailOnline.

    ‘Times are changing, and some of the women I have seen in this industry are brave and confident. They put themselves in danger and challenge the stereotype of women and war.’

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  • How Stories Deceive

    On the afternoon of October 10, 2013, an unusually cold day, the streets of downtown Dublin were filled with tourists and people leaving work early. In their midst, one young woman stood out. She seemed dazed and distressed as she wandered down O’Connell Street, looking around timidly, a helpless-seeming terror in her eyes. She stopped in front of the post office, or, as locals would have it, the G.P.O. Standing between the thick columns, she looked even more forlorn. She was dressed in a purple hoodie under a gray wool sweater; tight, darkly colored jeans; and flat, black shoes. Her face was ashen. She was shivering. A passerby, stunned by her appearance, asked if she needed help. She looked at him mutely, as if not quite grasping the essence of the question. Somebody called the police. An officer from the Store Street garda station answered the call. He took her to a hospital. It seemed the best thing to do.

    She was a teen-ager—fourteen or fifteen, at most. At five feet six, she weighed just more than eighty-eight pounds. Her long, blond hair covered a spiny, battered back. Once she did talk, some days later, it became clear that she had only the most rudimentary grasp of English—not enough to say who she was or why she’d appeared as she had. But the girl could draw. And what she drew made her new guardians catch their breaths. One stifled a gasp. One burst out crying. There she was, a small stick-like figure, being flown to Ireland on a plane. And there she was again, lying on a bed, surrounded by multiple men. She seemed to be a victim of human trafficking—one of the lucky ones who had somehow managed to escape.

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  • The World According to Men

    ISTANBUL—For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, women war correspondents were rare creatures—considered intellectual oddities, more likely to be fetishized than taken seriously as news gatherers.

    Even as recently as 2002, Vanity Fair was delighting in the exoticism of such women in its story “Girls at the Front,” which profiled the battle-hardened correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Janine di Giovanni, and Marie Colvin. They had sex appeal and well-furnished London homes, and they made up a small brigade of female journalists jetting off to “whatever hellhole leads the news.”

    These days, there are so many “girls at the front” that it’s not a story anymore. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press all have female bureau chiefs reporting on ISIS, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Libya. In Istanbul, a jumping-off point for covering the region, there seem to be more women freelance correspondents than men. This month’s new film Whisky Tango Foxtrot, in which Tina Fey plays an adrenaline-addicted reporter in Afghanistan, captures how women have broken into the tightly knit, elite foreign-correspondents’ club.

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  • How technology disrupted the truth

    One Monday morning last September, Britain woke to a depraved news story. The prime minister, David Cameron, had committed an “obscene act with a dead pig’s head”, according to the Daily Mail. “A distinguished Oxford contemporary claims Cameron once took part in an outrageous initiation ceremony at a Piers Gaveston event, involving a dead pig,” the paper reported. Piers Gaveston is the name of a riotous Oxford university dining society; the authors of the story claimed their source was an MP, who said he had seen photographic evidence: “His extraordinary suggestion is that the future PM inserted a private part of his anatomy into the animal.”

    The story, extracted from a new biography of Cameron, sparked an immediate furore. It was gross, it was a great opportunity to humiliate an elitist prime minister, and many felt it rang true for a former member of the notorious Bullingdon Club. Within minutes, #Piggate and #Hameron were trending on Twitter, and even senior politicians joined the fun: Nicola Sturgeon said the allegations had “entertained the whole country”, while Paddy Ashdown joked that Cameron was “hogging the headlines”. At first, the BBC refused to mention the allegations, and 10 Downing Street said it would not “dignify” the story with a response – but soon it was forced to issue a denial. And so a powerful man was sexually shamed, in a way that had nothing to do with his divisive politics, and in a way he could never really respond to. But who cares? He could take it.

    Then, after a full day of online merriment, something shocking happened. Isabel Oakeshott, the Daily Mail journalist who had co-written the biography with Lord Ashcroft, a billionaire businessman, went on TV and admitted that she did not know whether her huge, scandalous scoop was even true. Pressed to provide evidence for the sensational claim, Oakeshott admitted she had none.

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  • How It Ends

    The windows are open, and I’m driving my mother-in-law’s car, a turquoise compact number that’s festooned with bumper stickers like “Namaste,” “Peace,” and “Save the Tatas.” I’m free, free from my child for the first time in weeks, free from my husband, free from the little rented bungalow on the adorable street where the blue skies are almost oppressive. I’ve been back in the U.S. for exactly two weeks, and this trip away from it all, up Venice Boulevard, feels like a Carnival cruise.

    I’m kind of a terrible driver. Turns out I haven’t spent much time at the wheel of a car in the past handful of years. For a long time that job went to other people: cynical, sarcastic, sometimes burly, sometimes handsome, always charming men — men I would hire by the day or the week or the month.

    There was Ahmed, in Baghdad, who drove NPR’s armored Toyota pickup. He was big and round and baby-faced and soft-spoken and reasonable, with a Hitler-like mustache you would recognize if you’ve spent any time in Iraq. I want to say we were as close as siblings, but I knew that could never be true. Still, from the day I met him, my first day on the job as Baghdad bureau chief in 2010, I knew we would die for each other if we had to.

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  • On #Tronc, Journalism, & its Value

    When I was in college a couple of journo kids a few years older than me decided to start their own sports publication. They called it N2U, and earnestly explained that it meant they were “into” the “university.”

    (It was the ’90s, kids. Everything sounded like this.)

    When it launched, the publishers of N2U had to spend half the day on the phone translating the name of their publication for potential advertisers, writers and customers who were like, “It’s what again? You spell it how? Capital N?” They spent so much time, in fact, telling people about the name they ran out of time to tell people how to advertise in it or where to pick it up. It folded, of course, in less than a year.

    Fast-forward five years, to my third newspaper. The publisher, a greasy little man nobody ever saw except at all-hands meetings, called us all together to announce that our graphics department was getting a new name. What had been just, you know, the place where advertisers and other media clients got their stuff designed was now going to be called Artworld.pss.

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  • Immersive Journalism and Virtual Reality

    As The New York Times brings new attention to VR, immersive journalism could drive not only changes in the media industry, but mainstream adoption of the technology.

    For decades, journalists have been trying to figure out how to better connect audiences to serious events that happen far, far away, and build empathy and understanding. Most recently, media organizations are turning to virtual reality as the possible next step toward that goal. The big news as of late has been The New York Times decision to send 1.2 million Google Cardboard units to subscribers via snail mail. Readers could download the NYTVR app, pop their smartphone into Cardboard, and watch several videos, including an 11-minute documentary on Oleg and two other children ousted from their homes by war called The Displaced.

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  • Signs of Long-Form Readings Online

    In recent years, the news media have followed their audience’s lead and gone mobile, working to make their reporting accessible to the roughly seven-in-ten American adults who own a smartphone. With both a smaller screen size and an audience more apt to be dipping in and out of news, many question what kind of news content will prevail. U.S. public show signs of engaging with long-form articles on cellphones.

    One particular area of uncertainty has been the fate of long, in-depth news reports that have been a staple of the mainstream print media in its previous forms. These articles – enabled by the substantial space allotted them – allow consumers to engage with complex subjects in more detail and allow journalists to bring in more sources, consider more points of view, add historical context and cover events too complex to tell in limited words.

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  • NPR visuals team use analytics

    How many analytics platforms is your newsroom using? The answer to that question goes back to, or should go back to, what the organisation is trying to measure on the web and how it interprets what every engagement or audience development editor is trying to find a definition for: a story’s impact.

    Back in November, NPR received a $35,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to develop an analytics bot that would help the visuals team take better action informed by what they measured about their work, but also rethink their goals and definition of success.

    “We’d been playing around with alternative metrics for longer than one and a half years and this idea came out of our questioning of what our mission is, why have a visuals team at a radio organisation?”, said Brian Boyer, editor of NPR’s visuals team.

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  • New York Times podcast team

    Another news organization has decided to invest in podcasts, and this one’s a biggie: The New York Times is creating a new audio team that will work to launch a batch of news and opinion podcasts this year and more in 2017.

    To start, the Times will “launch a handful of shows with outside partners which, like Modern Love, have a strong prospect of quickly attracting a wide audience,” Kinsey Wilson, editor for innovation and strategy (and formerly the EVP and chief content officer at NPR), and Sam Dolnick, senior editor, wrote in a memo released Thursday. (The full text is below.) The Times will then “use those shows as a platform from which we can build audience for shows produced within The Times that are as integral to our coverage as our live events and visual journalism efforts.”

    “We haven’t settled on themes or particular shows yet,” Wilson told me. “But there’s no shortage of great ideas in the building. In the early going, we will probably favor things that have some shelf life as opposed to news that’s highly perishable, simply because we want to build audience quickly.

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  • Investigative journalism persists in Mid East

    IN THE PAST YEAR, a group of Arab journalists has been working secretly in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen as part of a global network of investigative reporters mining the so called “Panama Papers.”

    They found that some Arab strongmen and their business partners are linked to offshore companies and bank accounts. They also discovered that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies have been able to skirt international sanctions by registering shell companies in places like the Seychelles.

    What’s astonishing about this story is not that Arab dictators are going offshore to hide their wealth and evade sanctions. It’s that a community of Arab journalists is continuing to do investigative reporting in a region where there is increasingly little tolerance for accountability of any kind.

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  • The Fate of a Joke in Lebanon

    In the spring of 2010, three Lebanese comic-book artists were ordered to come to the Beirut headquarters of the Directorate of General Security, where the country’s censorship authorities are located. Omar Khouri, Hatem Imam, and Fadi (the Fdz) Baki were in their early thirties, and had known one another since they were kids. (I’ve known Khouri and Baki since then as well.) In 2007, they founded Samandal, a trilingual comic magazine based in Beirut, which became an important platform for Middle Eastern comic artists. “When we were first called in, we had no idea what was going on,” Khouri said. “We assumed that there was a problem with our publishing license or some missing paperwork.”

    The three were told to sit on a bench and not to speak to one another. Then Imam was ushered into an office.

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  • A New Perspective on Storytelling

    What is it like to experience a story in VR?

    One leading content creator described VR as “hacking your brain” to make you believe you are someplace that you are not. The illusion of being in that place, known as “presence,” can be all the more convincing when the virtual world responds to your eye or hand movements or commands from a game controller.

    Virtual reality is hardly a new technology. It’s been with us since 1985, when former Atari programmer Jaron Lanier experimented with some of the first VR headsets. There have been several failed attempts to commercialize VR, most famously Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1994, which is best known for making people feel motion sickness after playing Mario Tennis for a few minutes.

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