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Thumbnails Special Edition: Changes in Journalism

This special edition of Thumbnails explores the changing state of journalism in the world today. The topic was suggested by our Editor at Large, Matt Zoller Seitz, and I agree that it is a profoundly timely one worth exploring. Several of the articles highlighted below are from the Columbia Journalism Review, a publication dedicated to chronicling the mounting obstacles faced by modern journalists.—Chaz Ebert


"Advocates are becoming journalists. Is that a good thing?": An essential analysis from Mathew Ingram of the Columbia Journalism Review.

“In many ways, the story was a perfect fit for an organization like the ACLU: Matt Cagle, a lawyer for the ACLU in Northern California, noticed online marketing materials posted by Amazon for its software, which listed several law-enforcement organizations as users. So Cagle and his team started a records search, got two other ACLU bureaus involved, and the group’s national editorial team pulled the project together. In all, Cagle says, the project involved more than two dozen lawyers and advocates, as well as legal advisers at the national level, editors, and the ACLU’s communications team, and it took several months to come to fruition—the kind of resources many media companies would find hard to marshall for a single story. As the media landscape continues to fragment and many outlets struggle to afford more ambitious reporting projects, non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are increasingly taking on the role of reporter—breaking stories and in some cases even helping to change policy. But even those leading the new NGO-as-muckraker efforts acknowledge that they’re no replacement for traditional news organizations. ‘We can definitely bring some skills to bear on this kind of story, but that’s by no means a substitute for the amazing work that journalists do around the country right now,’ says Cagle. ‘But I think if we can help supplement that work and also do our part to educate the public and advocate for civil liberties, then we are doing something good.’”


"We need more diversity in film criticism, but 'Who is this movie for?" is the wrong question to ask": Impassioned commentary from Justin Chang at The Los Angeles Times.

“Larson’s thoughts on the matter are certainly preferable to those floated in the Telegraph’s recent interview with Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock about their all-female heist caper, ‘Ocean’s 8.’ In that piece, Bullock opined that ‘it would be nice if reviewers reflected who the film is for, like children should review children’s films, not a 60-year-old man. I guess his opinion would be kind of skewed.’ Blanchett chimed in with the claim that male critics are sometimes apt to view a film ‘through a prism of misunderstanding.’ It’s unclear from the interview whether Blanchett and Bullock were blaming male critics for the mixed critical response to ‘Ocean’s 8.’ If they were, I take it neither of them bothered to read the less-than-enthusiastic notices from Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, Emily Yoshida of New York/Vulture and Stephanie Zacharek of Time. (For what it’s worth, even the more positive notices, my own included, tended to praise the movie’s female ensemble while taking issue with Gary Ross’ direction.) Recognizing and counteracting the existence of systemic bias in criticism is one thing; suggesting it should be a stay-in-your-lane activity is quite another. And at a certain point, dismissing your critics on the basis of signifiers such as race and gender starts to read as defensiveness about the very existence of criticism, specifically negative criticism, in the first place. You didn’t like it? Well, who cares, it wasn’t made for you!”


"'This is unprecedented': Public colleges limiting journalist access": A frightening report from Max Zahn of the Columbia Journalism Review.

“On an assignment in August, freelance journalist Jeff Bachner had no trouble driving onto Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. He parked his car and started taking photos. Soon after, a college security officer said he was trespassing and put him in handcuffs. The officer, Corporal Maurizio Gambino, took Bachner to a campus security office, Bachner said in a statement to the New York Press Photographers Association, or NYPPA. The officer then re-cuffed him to a railing over his head, and ignored his pleas to loosen the handcuffs, Bachner said in the statement, the contents of which were confirmed by NYPPA Vice President Todd Maisel. When Bachner began to gasp for breath and complain of numb fingers, officers called a medic. They eventually released Bachner without charge. Four days after the detention of Bachner, on August 16, campus security at Bronx Community College handcuffed freelance journalist J.B. Nicholas and issued him a summons for trespassing as he interviewed students about Confederate statues on campus. The charges were later dismissed.”


"The End of the Social News Era? Journalists Brace for Facebook's Big Change": As observed this past January by Sapna Maheshwari and Sydney Ember at The New York Times.

“Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in an interview with The New York Times on Thursday that he wanted the social network to focus on ‘meaningful interaction.’ But his idea of what that phrase means is likely to differ from that of news industry executives and editors — and therein lies a conflict. Media companies are bracing for the changes coming to Facebook’s News Feed — the column that appears when the site or app is opened — that will favor posts by friends over material from news organizations and other businesses. ‘Nobody knows exactly what impact it’ll have, but in a lot of ways, it looks like the end of the social news era,’ Jacob Weisberg, the chairman and editor in chief of the Slate Group, said on Friday. ‘Everybody’s Facebook traffic has been declining all year, so they’ve been de-emphasizing news. But for them to make such a fundamental change in the platform — I don’t think people were really anticipating it.’ Although Facebook users craved conversation and journalists gave them things to talk about, the relationship between the platform and media outlets was imperfect from the start.”


"DOJ Seizure of Times reporter's data raises press freedom concerns": According to Pete Vernon of the Columbia Journalism Review.

“Trump and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, have made leak prosecutions a priority since shortly after taking office. In November, Sessions told the House Oversight Committee that his department was pursuing more than two dozen investigations into the leaking of classified information, adding that “it cannot be allowed to continue and we will do our best effort to make sure that it does not continue.” Wolfe, it should be noted, is charged only with making false statements, not with leaking classified information. The press freedom issues raised by the case aren’t new, and they aren’t limited to the current administration. The Times notes that the seizure of Watkin’s data “suggested that prosecutors under the Trump administration will continue the aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama.” The previous administration faced criticism for a lack of transparency and ensnaring journalists in its leak prosecutions, and Obama’s Justice Department prosecuted more leak cases than all previous administrations combined.”

Image of the Day

Michael Shaw of the Columbia Journalism Review selects 11 images (including the one above posted on the president's Twitter account) that "show how the Trump administration is failing at photography." 

Video of the Day

Peter Preston, the late British journalist and author from The Guardian, delivers his 2014 Keynote Speech at the 59th Distripress Congress in Cannes. Click here to read his article published last year in which he declared, "Change never stops, but we will always need journalism."

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