WBUR lays off 29, freezes salaries and says goodbye to four senior leaders

This is heartbreaking. WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) is laying off 29 people “because of the economic fallout of the past several months,” according to a memo sent to the staff by the station’s chief executive officer, Margaret Low. A salary freeze has been imposed. In addition, senior executives Tom Melville, John Davidow and Peter Lydotes are leaving, and Sam Fleming will retire later this year.

Overall, Low says, the current budget of $46 million will be reduced to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

The memo also contains some ideas and observations about increasing the diversity of the staff and about the station’s ongoing commitment to local news.

This is bad news for the Boston area. Along with WGBH News, where I’m a contributor, WBUR is an incredibly important part of the regional news ecosystem system. It’s also terrible news for the folks who’ll be losing their jobs. Best wishes to everyone during this challenging time.

I got the memo from a trusted source. The full text follows:

Dear All,

I have important news to share this morning about a significant reorganization and some of the difficult choices I’ve had to make because of the economic fallout of the past several months.

To begin, we are laying off 29 people. Many of them are part time staff. This means valued colleagues are losing their jobs at a very challenging time and will be leaving WBUR over the next days, weeks and months. We’ve already reached out to everyone who is immediately affected by the changes.

While I’m confident that WBUR has a bright future, this is a hard moment — because longtime coworkers and friends will be departing.

There will also be some shared sacrifice. There will be no wage increases for FY21, except for negotiated union salary adjustments, and there will be no contributions to retirement funds. And we’ve developed a much reduced budget for the next fiscal year. The WBUR Board approved a FY20 budget of just under $46 million. For FY21, the Board will be presented with a budget of just over $40 million.

Beyond the layoffs, we will reduce expenses across the board. Most notably — we are eliminating seven unfilled positions, cutting travel and marketing costs and canceling various contracted services. I’m taking a 10% salary cut.

A number of senior leaders, who collectively have dedicated the better part of a century to WBUR, will be leaving us. They include: Tom Melville, John Davidow and Peter LydotesSam Fleming plans to retire this year. He will be with us three days a week for the next few months.

In addition, we will stop production of Only A Game at the end of September. The New York Times will take over the wildly successful Modern Love podcast at the end of the month, and Kind World, which blossomed from a digital experiment back in 2012 into an award winning Morning Edition feature and podcast, will end its run in July.

At the same time as we are losing cherished colleagues, this restructuring means that we will be hiring for a number of new positions that will make WBUR stronger.

There is a lot more to share, and I apologize in advance for the length of this note. I want to reflect the decisions we’ve made with precision, care and respect for all our colleagues. I will be meeting with some individual teams today and tomorrow and I will hold an AMA later this afternoon, so I can answer any questions you have.

The changes I’m making are necessary to streamline the organization and to reflect the budget realities of the moment. But beyond this restructuring, there is much more work to be done to forge our long term strategic future. Over the summer, we will begin to fully articulate what will define our journalism and our programming going forward and what it will take to become even more essential in people’s lives.

My decisions rest on four pillars — three that I’m addressing immediately with this reorganization and a fourth that I will enlist all of you in tackling in the days and months ahead:

    • Editorial Excellence — we must strive to be the most trusted and beloved source of local news in Boston and beyond, distinguished in a competitive media landscape by the quality and ambition of our journalism and our programming.
    • Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness — we must ensure that WBUR is a disciplined and well-run operation that supports and empowers people, holds them accountable and reflects our values at every turn.
    • Economic Sustainability — we must rightsize the organization so we aren’t spending more money than we are bringing in. At the same time we must double down on generating revenue and finding new ways to fuel WBUR.
    • The Road Ahead — there are two issues of great consequence to our future that require our concerted attention.

The first is racial equity. In the weeks following the police killing of George Floyd, we have witnessed a global outpouring of people calling for racial justice — and an end to the profound inequities that have defined the American experience. These days are filled with anguish, but endowed with the possibility of achieving lasting change.

This reckoning demands that we confront elements of systemic racism that have  persisted in our country and our institutions, even as we’ve expressed a commitment to diversity. WBUR is not exempt from this examination — we have a lot of work to do. And it can’t be addressed by simply restating our values of inclusion. This effort must be different in kind and substance than anything we’ve done before. It requires change in every aspect of our culture, our coverage, our hiring and our leadership development. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m committed to leading the way and not letting up. Our future depends on it.

Second, our future also depends on identifying how we continue to grow our audience and cultivate the loyalty and financial support that is essential to sustaining our journalism. This is a time of profound technological change and the clock is ticking. WBUR has been a credible digital innovator. But as listening habits and media consumption patterns continue to shift, we have to confront how we reach new audiences and become even more relevant in people’s lives. So that they can’t imagine a day without WBUR. And they believe we’re worthy of their support.

Both of these efforts will require the investment of every single person at WBUR.

Given all this, it was clear that a restructuring of WBUR was imperative, but everything was accelerated by an unexpected financial crisis that compelled deeper cuts. In laying out the details, I can’t possibly give proper due to all the people who have devoted themselves to WBUR for so many years. Finding ways to celebrate our departing colleagues is made more difficult in the age of social distancing. But we will make sure that happens.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to capture the most important aspects of the restructuring below.

Local News

Local journalism has always been core to our mission. Increasingly it is paramount. We have the biggest local newsroom in public radio and in order to produce agenda-setting coverage, we are reorganizing the team, strengthening our leadership ranks and deepening our bench of editors.

To begin, Dan Mauzy will become Executive Editor for News. In my five months at WBUR, I’ve seen Dan demonstrate editorial depth, impressive leadership, and an unmatched command of every aspect of the newsroom operation. Dan will work closely with Tom Melville to ensure a smooth transition.

For nearly nine years, Tom has led the newsroom with grace, generosity and a deep love and knowledge of the region. This has never been more evident than in these last few months, as first COVID and then the death of George Floyd transformed the nation and the globe. That WBUR’s local journalism has soared, amid the disruption to our operations and the pain we feel in our personal and professional lives, is a testament to Tom. I’m enormously grateful for his intelligence, integrity and extraordinary kindness.

I am also moving the team responsible for the editorial dimension of our digital efforts into the news division, so that our journalism on all platforms is more closely aligned.

Tiffany Campbell, our Executive Editor for Digital, will continue to oversee her editorial staff and newsroom digital strategy, and will now report to Dan. In addition, Cognoscenti, led by Frannie Carr Toth, will move into the newsroom under Tiffany. More on the rest of the digital team in a moment.

John Davidow will be leaving us after a remarkable 17 year run at WBUR. He joined the station after a distinguished career as a producer in commercial television (when it was in its prime). John was hired to lead the local news team, and radio became his new medium. More than 10 years ago, John made another leap, when he took over our fledgling digital operation. His work propelled WBUR to become one of the most prominent local digital operations in the system. At the same time, John gained national recognition in public media for his expertise on emerging technologies. He spotted great talent like Tiffany along the way and built a first class digital team that will remain a vital part of WBUR’s future.

Managing Editor Elisabeth Harrison, who has so skillfully overseen our coverage of COVID-19, will take on additional newsroom responsibilities and also report to Dan. Beyond  health and business, she will oversee our general assignment reporters and those covering politics, immigration and other beats.

Dan Guzman and Jon Cain will become Executive Producers of Morning Edition and All Things Considered, respectively. They will now supervise show hosts, writers and producers. This will add organizational structure and cohesion to our flagship local NPR shows.

Weekend Managing Editor Paul Connearney, will also take on new responsibilities and supervise the newscast anchors.

In addition to what I’ve laid out above, we will be posting three new newsroom positions. They are:

    • A second managing editor to work side by side with Elisabeth and Tiffany and a new managing producer (see below). This new managing editor will report to Dan and oversee our investigations team as well as our coverage of arts and culture, education and the environment.
    • deputy managing editor, reporting to Elisabeth, who will deepen the editing bench for health, business, politics, and other beats.
    • We are also posting a managing producer This person will oversee all local news programs: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Radio Boston and local newscasts.

A New Product Team

As I said in my 100 day note, WBUR has a powerful history. We have been broadcasters for 70 years and, over those years, we have fostered deep and lasting relationships with our radio audience. Our next job is to develop that connection, to build those relationships, for digital audiences in ways that ensure we’re here for another 70 years. We must be laser-focused on that, because with time — and likely sooner than we think —  digital revenue will need to replace much of the traditional broadcast revenue that supports our journalism. And it won’t happen unless we build the kind of loyalty and devotion that we’ve historically had with our radio audience.

To that end, I’m creating a product team, led by Joan DiMicco. Her job will be to make sure that every experience with WBUR, on any platform, is exceptional. She will be responsible for the strategy, design, and implementation of all our products and will help ensure their demonstrable success. This includes our owned platforms such as wbur.org, our newsletters, and our mobile app; and third-party platforms including NPR One and smart speakers. She will also stay abreast of tech developments across the media landscape as we craft what comes next.

The programmers, developers and digital audio editors, who were part of the larger digital team, will now report to Joan. This new team will work hand in hand with all our editorial teams, marketing and membership.

Operations

As I mentioned above, Peter Lydotes, who has overseen WBUR operations for 16 years, will be departing in the fall. Peter joined WBUR in 1992 as a board operator and over the years has gained an impressive understanding of how just about every system at WBUR works. Peter has absorbed many production responsibilities, keeping our people and our increasingly complicated operation and production efforts humming.

With Peter’s planned departure, Glenn Alexander, who oversees all the BRTs, will now report to Karl Voelker and Glenn’s whole team will be part of engineering and operations. This will help align our technical staff and ensure greater consistency across the organization. And, as I mentioned earlier in this note, the newscasters, who were part of Peter’s team, will join the news division.

In addition to this shift, the station will be automated overnight, as it has been throughout most of the COVID crisis. That means, aside from special circumstances, the last local newscast will be at 10 p.m. weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekends.

Only a Game

After 27 years, Only a Game will end its run this fall. Executive Producer Karen Given along with founding members Gary Waleik and former host Bill Littlefield — had an amazing  journey producing public radio’s only sports program, featuring highly-produced narrative storytelling and reaching more than 360,000 listeners each week on 260 stations. This is the end of an era for WBUR and I look forward to recognizing those who made this show such a meaningful part of public radio weekends for so many years.

More Staffing News

After nearly 30 years at WBUR, Sam Fleming is ready to pass the baton. He wants to spend more time with his wife who lives on Martha’s Vineyard. Sam let me know his plans long before I stepped into my role in January. Thankfully, he promised to stick around as long as he is needed and I’ve asked him to help me with this transition and importantly to work on WBUR’s ethical guidelines. Sam will begin working part time next month and, whether virtually or in person, we will give him a fitting farewell.

Organizational Structure

Right now I have more than a dozen people reporting to me. In the long run that’s not tenable. But given budget constraints, I will hold off on additional senior hires. It is more important to shore up other parts of the organization. This will be a good opportunity to see the newly structured team in action. If there are significant gaps, we will add positions when we have the resources to do so. But I’m going to be conservative on that front for now.

Some Final Thoughts

Organizational changes of this magnitude are hard. But they are also necessary to ensure that we are financially sound and in fighting shape to deliver on big ambitions. This is a two step process. First, we had to deal with the current financial reality and make the necessary organizational changes. Next, we will begin to lay out our strategy and chart our path forward.

To those who are leaving, I’m sorry that you are departing at this difficult moment in the country and the world. I’m enormously grateful for the years that you have devoted to making WBUR such an exceptional place. You will exit with my profound gratitude and a promise to build on the legacy you leave behind.

To those who are staying — thank you for all you’re doing to keep WBUR strong. Your work has never been more consequential. That is what gives us the stamina and resolve to press on — even during the hardest hours. We play a vital role in Boston and beyond. Serving the public. Reporting the truth. Enriching lives. It is a galvanizing cause —  one that is impossible to equal.

Margaret Low
Chief Executive Officer, WBUR

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Sorting through the racially charged wreckage of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Even as national attention was focused on the latest internal drama at The New York Times, a disturbing, racially charged crackdown was playing out in a newsroom nearly 400 miles to the west. Pay attention, because what’s happening at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette threatens the ability of journalists everywhere to exercise their conscience and cover their communities with integrity and empathy.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Journalist-activist Winona LaDuke honored with fifth annual DANNY Award

Winona LaDuke. Photo (cc) 2014 by Sustainability at Portland State University.

The late activist-journalist Danny Schechter was a friend and inspiration to many of us, and his voice is deeply missed. Fortunately, his spirit lives on in the form of the DANNY Awards, which honor those who combine excellence in journalism with social activism. What follows is a press release announcing that this year’s award will go to Native American activist Winona LaDuke. And here is an accompanying essay by Schechter’s business partner, Rory O’Connor.

NEW YORK — The Global Center, a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to developing socially responsible media, is pleased to announce that the Native American leader Winona LaDuke is the recipient of the fifth annual Danny Award. The award, which honors the life and work of the late Danny Schechter, the “News Dissector,” is given each year to those who best emulate Schechter’s practice of combining excellent journalism with committed social activism. It includes a $3,000 grant to further the recipient’s work.

An environmentalist, economist, author and activist, LaDuke has already written six nonfiction books and has a new one, “To be A Water Protector,” coming out this fall. She’s also written “Last Standing Woman,” a novel about an American Indian reservation’s struggle to restore its culture. Her writings are widely published and cited in academic writing.  A graduate of Harvard University, LaDuke has worked extensively in Native and community-based organizing and groups. In 1985 she helped establish the Indigenous Women’s Network, dedicated to “generating a global movement that achieves sustainable change for our communities,”  and then, with the proceeds of a humanrights award, founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project to help the Anishinaabeg Indians regain possession of their original land base.

In the 1990s LaDuke became involved with the Green Party and was presidential candidate Ralph Nader’s running mate in both the 1996 and 2000 elections. Today she is the executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native environmental advocacy organization she co-founded in 1993 with the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls. The organization played an active role in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and remains a key opponent to proposals by the Canadian multinational corporation Enbridge to bring more tar sands to the United States. LaDuke continues to write and speak in support of water protectors and in opposition to other pipelines and mega projects near Native land and waters.

Among her many previous honors and awards, LaDuke was chosen by Time magazine as one of America’s 50 most promising leaders under 40 years of age; won a Reebok Human Rights Award and a Thomas Merton Award; was named the Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year for her work with Honor the Earth; and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Whether or not activism and journalism should mix remains controversial, but in the face of allegations of “fake news,” the invention of “alternative facts,” charges that the news media is an “enemy of the people,” and outright police assaults on reporters covering protests, it has increasingly become embraced by professional practitioners. To Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times, “Journalism is activism in its most basic form.” Wesley Lowery, who left The Washington Post in a dispute over his own activism, says the core value of news organizations “needs to be the truth, not the perception of objectivity.”

America’s “view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment,” Lowery has said. “We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.” A NewsGuild spokesperson added, “When people in power are sowing doubt about basic facts, journalism looks like activism.” And Lowery concludes, “Journalists perform acts of activism every day. Any good journalist is an activist for truth, in favor of transparency, on the behalf of accountability.”

Decades ago, pioneering journalists like Danny Schechter took a stance toward such controversial topics as apartheid in South Africa and human-rights abuses around the world that led to being branded with a metaphoric scarlet letter – A for Advocate – and told that his activism meant that he really wasn’t a journalist at all. As one of the first to marry the two, Schechter often faced scorn for combining journalistic endeavors with advocacy and activism in support of causes for the social good. While at CNN and later ABC News, he pushed against the constraints of cable and broadcast news. He left ABC to partner in the independent production company Globalvision and began producing programming about such topics as apartheid in South Africa and human rights abuses around the world.

Schechter knew from firsthand experience at CNN and ABC that the commercial media world was not then open to such coverage. So he offered it instead to public television. Rather than being welcomed, he was told by top PBS executives that opposition to the racist regime in South Africa was too controversial and that human rights was “an insufficient organizing principle” for a television program. The PBS reaction, combined with deceitful right-wing protests, led to being told that advocacy on behalf of human rights meant that he wasn’t a journalist at all.

Sadly, such views, while not universally held, are still somewhat prevalent in today’s media world. But as the pace of change within the field of journalism continues to accelerate, many are raising questions about the role of advocacy and the concept of objectivity. Journalists with strong points of view are now giving us news and insights we can’t find elsewhere — even within so-called “mainstream” media. Should we even bother any more trying to distinguish between so-called “objective” journalism and advocacy? Many experts now say no.

“We might have passed the point where we can talk about objectivity in journalism with a straight face,” Patricia Aufderheide, founder of the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University, has noted. “Objectivity was always a shortcut. It was a useful little shortcut of a concept to say you should be fair, you should be honest, you should have integrity, you should tell people accurately and responsibly what you think are the important things about what you saw or researched. If what we’re doing is advocating for the public, that’s our job.”

And if a piece of journalism “isn’t advocacy, it isn’t journalism,” declares Jeff Jarvis, director of Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “Isn’t advocacy on behalf of principles and the public the true test of journalism? The choices we make about what to cover and how we cover it and what the public needs to know are acts of advocacy on the public’s behalf. Don’t we believe that we act in their interest? After all, what is a journalist, if not an advocate on behalf of the public?”

Perhaps the last word for now should go to someone who epitomizes the so-called mainstream media, New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger. While “we’re not retreating from the principles of independence and objectivity,” Sulzberger recently told his paper’s media columnist, “we don’t pretend to be objective about things like human rights and racism.”

The Board of The Global Center congratulates Winona LaDuke and applauds her for both her exemplary reporting about women’s and indigenous rights and sustainable development and for advocating for change in the spirit of the late News Dissector, Danny Schechter.

ABOUT THE GLOBAL CENTER: The Global Center is a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to developing informative and socially responsible media and a new type of journalism in which the reporting of events and conditions is done in conjunction with those most affected by those events. In addition to operating its own projects, the Center also acts as a fiscal sponsor for outside media efforts that fit within its mission and guidelines.

ABOUT THE DANNY: The Danny Schechter Global Vision Award for Journalism & Activism is given annually to individuals who best emulate Schechter’s practice of combining journalism with social activism and advocacy. In addition to the award, announced each June, recipients receive $3000 to support future work. Previous winners include Jose Antonio Vargas, Patrice O’Neill, the reporters and editors of the Eagle Eye, the student newspaper of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

There is no way to apply for the DANNY. Recipients are chosen from a pool of qualified candidates. Those interested in contributing to the award can make tax-deductible donations to The Global Center. Please send contributions to:

The Global Center
P.O. Box 677
New York, NY 10035
Contact Rory O’Connor: roc@globalvision.org

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Alden’s Heath Freeman: Destroying the newspaper business in order to save it?

Sarah Ellison of The Washington Post profiles Heath Freeman, the undertaker-in-chief for Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group, the worst newspaper chain in the known universe.

Alden is notorious for destroying good newspapers like The Denver Post and The Mercury News of San Jose, and is now making a play for Tribune Publishing, which owns big metros like the Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun. In Massachusetts, Alden owns the Boston Herald, The Sun of Lowell and the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg.

“I would love our team to be remembered as the team that saved the newspaper business,” Freeman tells Ellison. She follows up with this withering paragraph:

This is what Freeman’s approach to saving the newspaper business looks like in St. Paul, Minn.: A local sheriff blew his budget by $1 million and there was no Pioneer Press reporter available to cover the county board meeting. In San Jose: There was no reporter on the education beat at the Mercury News when the pandemic started closing schools. In Denver: In the aftermath of the 2012 Aurora movie theater mass shooting, the editor was asked to slash staff to improve the next month’s budget numbers. In Vallejo, Calif.: There is exactly one news reporter left at the Times-Herald to cover a community of 120,000 people.

The best thing that could happen for those communities is for MediaNews Group to collapse. The papers would still be there, and they would almost certainly have a brighter future on their own.

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Bennet’s out as newsrooms come to terms (or not) with Black Lives Matter

Photo (cc) 2010 by samchills.

At least at the moment, I have little to add to the story of James Bennet’s departure as editorial-page editor of The New York Times beyond what Ben Smith of the Times, Tom Jones of the Poynter Institute and Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review have written, and what I wrote last week.

As Smith, Jones and Allsop point out, Bennet’s misguided decision to run Sen. Tom Cotton’s ugly commentary advocating violence against protesters should be seen as part of a larger story that encompasses Wesley Lowery’s unfortunate experience at The Washington Post, the resignation of Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor Stan Wischnowski over his paper’s horrendous “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, and the right-wing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s meltdown over Alexis Johnson, a Black reporter whom they claimed couldn’t be trusted to cover Black Lives Matter protests because of an innocuous tweet she had posted.

Because of the Times’ central place in our media culture, Bennet’s departure is the big story. As the coverage makes clear, Bennet lurched from one misstep to another during his time as editorial-page editor, so it would be a mistake to attribute his departure solely to the Cotton op-ed. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from his mishandling of a Bret Stephens column in which Stephens came very close to endorsing a genetic basis for intelligence.

Bennet will be replaced through the election on an interim basis by deputy editorial-page editor Katie Kingsbury, who won a Pulitzer when she was at The Boston Globe. Kingsbury is terrific, and I hope she’s given a chance to earn the job.

Finally, a semi-related incident involving the Globe. You may have seen this on the front of Sunday’s print edition:

There’s no question that the cover, which you can see here, would have been considered entirely inoffensive before a police officer killed George Floyd. Even now I’m not sure how many readers would have been outraged. Still, I think the Globe made the right call. An abundance of caution and sensitivity is what’s needed at the moment.

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No, The New York Times shouldn’t have published Tom Cotton’s ugly little screed

Sen. Tom Cotton. Photo (cc) 2013 by Gage Skidmore.

The New York Times may be rethinking its decision to publish Sen. Tom Cotton’s terrible, offensive op-ed piece endorsing the use of military force to crush the violent protests that have broken out around the country following the brutal, unjustified police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

We shouldn’t let Trump’s Twitter tantrum stop us from taking a new look at online speech protections

Photo (cc) 2019 by Trending Topics 2019

It’s probably not a good idea for us to talk about messing around with free speech on the internet at a moment when the reckless authoritarian in the White House is threatening to dismantle safeguards that have been in place for nearly a quarter of a century.

On the other hand, maybe there’s no time like right now.

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Northeastern’s School of Journalism denounces police attacks against the press

Statement by the Faculty of the Northeastern University School of Journalism Denouncing Police Attacks on Journalists:

The recent attacks on journalists by police in American cities, including on Northeastern University alumni, are unacceptable and do great damage to our democracy. They also jeopardize the ability of citizens to inform themselves about not just the current wave of protests but also our nation’s history of racism, bigotry and police brutality. Our society thrives on the free flow of information and the check on governmental authority provided by a free press. The vital work of the free press must be allowed to go on without the threat of harm and arrest. We stand with all journalists documenting this difficult chapter in American history, especially those from communities of color. We call upon all levels of government to end attacks by police on journalists and the institution of journalism,  and to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters.

SIGNED BY:

Prof. Jonathan Kaufman, Director
Aleszu Bajak
Prof. Rahul Bhargava
Prof. Matt Carroll
Prof. Myojung Chung
Prof. Charles Fountain
John Guilfoil
Prof. Meg Heckman
Scott Helman
Prof. Carlene Hempel
Prof. Jeff Howe
Prof. Dan Kennedy
Prof. Laurel Leff
Prof. Dan Lothian
Peter Mancusi
Catherine McGloin
Meredith O’Brien
Prof. James Ross
Jody Santos
Prof. John Wihbey
Prof. Dan Zedek

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The arrest of CNN journalists was shocking, but less unusual than you might think

The arrest and brief detention of a CNN crew on live television in Minneapolis early this morning was a stunning blow to the First Amendment. They were literally handcuffed and led away for doing their jobs in reporting on protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer.

As the video reveals, the journalists were respectful, and correspondent Omar Jimenez clearly identified himself as a reporter. He told the state police officers several times that he and his crew would move wherever they were told.

That said, what happened to Jimenez and his colleagues was more common than you might realize — and more common than it should be. Last year, we bestowed a New England Muzzle Award upon Police Chief Armando Perez of Bridgeport, Connecticut for arresting and detaining Tara O’Neill, a reporter for Hearst Connecticut Media, during a Black Lives Matter protest.

“This is a public sidewalk and I’m the press,” O’Neill later recalled telling the officer who arrested her, according to media reports. “He said, ‘OK,’ and cuffed me.”

As with this morning’s Minneapolis arrests, the misconduct by police enabled them to operate without being watched by O’Neill and her pesky smartphone. Nevertheless, she was able to film her own arrest:

 

In a better-known case, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were arrested at a McDonald’s in Ferguson, Missouri, during the demonstrations in 2014 over the killing of Michael Brown, a young African American man, by a white police officer.

Before that, Josh Stearns, now director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund, put together a massive compilation of social-media posts documenting the arrest of journalists at Occupy protests around the country. (Here is a very small slice of what was going on from the Committee to Protect Journalists.) Storify, a tool for aggregating social media, recognized Stearns’ efforts with a “Storify of the Year” award.

Unfortunately, Storify later shut down, taking much of Stearns’ work with it.

Update. Stearns has posted a Twitter thread offering more background.

 

Update II. Noting that Jimenez is Black and Latino. A white CNN reporter standing nearby was not arrested.

 

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Does Twitter need Trump? Not as much as you might think.

Statistic: Number of monthly active Twitter users worldwide from 1st quarter 2010 to 1st quarter 2019 (in millions) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista.

You might think that Twitter would have a financial incentive to cave in to President Trump’s incoherent, unconstitutional threats over the platform’s decision to label some of his false tweets as, you know, false. In fact, Trump’s presence on Twitter is not as big a deal to the company as you might think.

First, we often hear that Trump has 80 million followers. But is that really the case? According to analytics from the Fake Followers Audit, 70.2% of his followers are fake, which is defined as “accounts that are unreachable and will not see the account’s tweets (either because they’re spam, bots, propaganda, etc. or because they’re no longer active on Twitter).”

That’s not especially unusual among high-profile tweeters. For instance, 43% of former President Barack Obama‘s 118 million followers are fake. But it’s important to understand that Trump has about 24 million followers, not 80 million. That’s a big difference.

Even more important, Trump’s presence on Twitter has not had a huge effect on its total audience. According to Statista, the number of worldwide active monthly users hovered between a low of 302 million and a high of 336 million between the first quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2019. (Zephoria reports that Twitter hasn’t released similar numbers since then.)

The bottom line is that Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey could probably afford to throw Trump off the platform for repeatedly violating its terms of service. Still, he probably wouldn’t want to risk the outrage that would ensue from MAGA Country if Trump lost his favorite outlet for smearing the memory of a dead woman with his horrendous lies about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

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