By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Category: Media Page 5 of 248

Why Google’s AI search tool could harm news publishers

Photo (cc) 2010 by Robert Scoble

The question of whether Google should pay for news is about to get a lot more complicated. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that news publishers are freaking out over a new search tool powered by artificial intelligence that Google is working on.

The problem is that current Google search protocols drive a lot of traffic to news websites, and that could change. AI-powered search may very well keep users inside Google, thus denying clicks to the originators of the journalism that users are looking for. As an example, here is what The Atlantic believes it’s up against, according to the Journal’s Keach Hagey, Miles Kruppa and Alexandra Bruell:

About 40% of the magazine’s web traffic comes from Google searches, which turn up links that users click on. A task force at the Atlantic modeled what could happen if Google integrated AI into search. It found that 75% of the time, the AI-powered search would likely provide a full answer to a user’s query and the Atlantic’s site would miss out on traffic it otherwise would have gotten.

That 40% figure is typical for news publications. And though Google executives say that they intend to roll out AI search in such a way that journalism will continue to benefit, the Journal story makes it clear that’s nothing more than a vague promise at the moment.

The AI threat comes at a time when much of the media business is pushing for passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which would require that Google and Facebook come to the bargaining table and reach a deal to compensate news organizations for repurposing their content. It’s a dicey proposition — Facebook has been moving away from news, and as the Journal story shows, publishers are dependent on traffic from Google even as they insist that Google ought to pay them.

Just this week, Brier Dudley of The Seattle Times wrote that the NewsGuild-CWA, the union that represents 26,000 employees at a number of news outlets, now supports the JCPA as the result of a possible tweak to the legislation that would be more explicit about protecting jobs. Brier also touted a recent study that claims the two tech giants should be paying news organizations some $12 billion a year.

Despite some bipartisan support for the JCPA, finding agreement within our dysfunctional Congress may prove impossible. And the rise of AI-based search isn’t going to make passage any easier.

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Congressman to press: Keep out of my events

David McKay Wilson, an old Northeastern classmate of mine, has an eye-opening story up at the Rockland/ Westchester Journal News in New York about U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, a moderate Republican who is “a darling of the national press corps” but who “bars the press from his Congressional office’s public Town Hall meetings and declines to answer questions about why he does so.” Wilson, a constituent, was able to get into one of Lawler’s events with a ticket given to him by a friend.

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How one-sided historical narratives distort coverage of the Israel-Hamas war

My Northeastern colleague Laurel Leff has written a smart analysis for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz showing how two competing origin stories — one frequently told, one largely ignored — have helped tilt public sentiment toward the Palestinian side in the war between Israel and Hamas. You should be able to read her piece with free registration.

Leff looked at “more than 500 news articles and opinion pieces appearing in the U.S.’s top 50 newspapers in the six weeks after the [Oct. 7] attack that contained various combinations of terms related to the 1948 conflict.” What she found was that though the press frequently cited the Nakba — the “catastrophe” — that sent some 700,000 Palestinians into exile in 1948, references to the Holocaust are lacking, even though Israel was created for the express purpose of providing a Jewish homeland following the devastating genocide that took place at the hands of Nazi Germany.

The purpose of Leff’s analysis is not to argue that the Palestinians don’t have legitimate grievances; rather, she writes that too many people are making moral judgments as to who’s right and who’s wrong without considering the full context. Among the news organizations she cites as falling short are The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press. She writes:

Several reasons account for the Nakba’s eclipsing the Holocaust in post-October 7 American media coverage. The press likely assumes the Holocaust’s role is so baked into public understanding that it doesn’t need to be spelled out. In addition, the 1948 displacement explains events in Gaza in a way Holocaust survivors settling in Israel proper does not. Palestinian activists also seem more determined to propel their 1948 narrative into public consciousness.

Whatever the reasons, the result is a void. A powerful state controlled by Jews emerges out of nowhere and immediately persecutes and displaces Arabs living in its midst. Who the Jews are, why they are there, what they hope to create is never explicated. Into the void flows more noxious accounts, of colonial settlers who migrated to the region only to pillage and exploit, of white supremacists whose sole interest is in subjugating an indigenous population.

I hope you’ll read Laurel’s entire piece. This is a moment that calls for radical understanding. Just as we can’t overlook the reality of the Nakba and the ongoing repression of Palestinians, so, too, we must take into account the reality that 6 million Jews had just been murdered in the Holocaust, and that the world came together to create a Jewish homeland in a place to which they had ancient ties — and where hundreds of thousands of Jews were already living.

These days, the competing claims between Israelis and Palestinians appear to be beyond resolution, and perhaps they are. But we can begin by taking into account the full history, not just part of it.

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A new Globe vertical will explore the racial wealth gap

Earlier today The Boston Globe unveiled Money, Power, Inequality, a new vertical dedicated to reporting on the racial wealth gap. It’s got its own section on the paper’s website as well as its own editor-in-chief, Kris Hooks, previously an assistant metro editor who worked at the NPR affiliate in Sacramento, California, before coming to the Globe. He also teaches a course on Race & Gender in the Media at Sacramento City College. Hooks writes:

The Globe has launched a new team that will zero in on the racial wealth gap, why it persists, and what can be done to close it. The team, called Money, Power, Inequality, will explore the city’s history of inequities, probing Boston’s role in the slave trade and tracing the systems that have perpetuated the racial wealth gap since. And we’ll look beyond Boston, to communities where prices are lower, but power imbalances still flourish.

Longtime Globe journalist Milton Valencia will serve as deputy editor. The initiative, announced last January, is being supported with a $750,000 grant from the Barr Foundation.

Money, Power, Inequality comes on the heels of “Nightmare in Mission Hill,” a text-based series, podcast and documentary film that attempts to deal with the racist legacy left behind by the 1989 Carol and Charles Stuart case, in which Charles Stuart murdered his wife and blamed it on a Black man, turning the city upside-down for months.

It also follows the end of the Globe’s involvement in The Emancipator, a collaboration with Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research. Unlike The Emancipator, whose Globe half was based in the paper’s opinion section, Money, Power, Inequality will be part of the news operation — and will be entirely under the control of the Globe.

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Was the Stuart case a wake-up call for the media? The Globe’s answer: Yes, but not enough.

Greg Moore: “In retrospect, I don’t trust anything or anybody.” Photo (cc) 2021 by Dan Kennedy.

The Boston Globe, as promised, has published an epilogue to its series on the Carol and Charles Stuart case that takes on “the media’s sins.” That reckoning takes the form of a commentary by columnist Adrian Walker, one of four reporters on the project and the narrator of podcast version. Super-brief recap: In October 1989, Charles Stuart, a white man from the suburbs, murdered his pregnant wife in Mission Hill and was seriously injured himself. He blamed it all on a “Black man” and jumped to his death from the Tobin Bridge several months later while the police were closing in.

Not surprisingly, a good chunk of Walker’s piece focuses on former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, who wrote several racist columns as well as a news story that turned out to be false about an insurance scheme Charles Stuart had supposedly concocted. As Walker observes, Barnicle was fixated on trashing the lead suspect in the case, William Bennett, even after Bennett had been exonerated following Stuart’s fatal jump. I quoted from one of those columns last week, and Walker cites another in which Barnicle made much of Bennett’s seventh-grade report card. Barnicle wrote of Bennett:

The man’s pathetic, violent history is so much a part of the unyielding issues of race, crime and drugs tearing daily at America that it is amazing how any black minister or black politician could ever stand up and howl in public that his arrest was a product of police bigotry and a volley of discrimination aimed at all black residents of Boston.

Remember, this was published after Bennett had been cleared. But as Walker writes, Barnicle was carrying water for the Boston Police, including his brother, the late Paul Barnicle, a homicide detective. Barnicle, not surprisingly, refused to give a substantive interview to the Globe.

We also hear quite a bit from Renée Graham, who, like Walker, was a young reporter at the Globe in 1989 and is now a columnist. The perspective of two Black journalists, Walker and Graham, is fascinating, especially since Walker believes the city’s media coverage of race has improved more (but not enough) than Graham does. “I don’t know that journalism has gotten better since the Stuart case,” Graham said. “You know, I think that the media still is attracted to heat, not light. Like you always say, this is what changed everything. But it didn’t change anything. I mean, look, they couldn’t even write a damn correction, a change, nothing.”

Also quoted is Greg Moore, who at the time was the Globe’s assistant managing editor for local news, later rose to become managing editor (No. 3 in the hierarchy), and still later became the top editor at The Denver Post — the most prominent Black editor in the country until Dean Baquet became executive editor of The New York Times. “In retrospect, I don’t trust anything or anybody,” Moore told the Globe. “You know, if somebody tells me something like that, I want to know exactly, what is that based on? And again, I think that’s another legacy of Stuart, at least for me.”

What struck me more than anything in reading the series was the disproportionate amount of attention given to the murder at a time when people of color were meeting the same fate on a regular basis. Indeed, Walker revisits a story that then-Globe reporter Eileen McNamara wrote explicitly to draw that contrast. As McNamara wrote: “James Moody, 29, was shot to death only a few hours after a robber attacked Carol and Charles Stuart outside Brigham & Women’s Hospital Monday night. But no calls were heard at the State House for tougher sentencing practices.”

Like the Stuarts, I’m white and I live in the suburbs, so I have no direct experience with the racism that people of color continue to experience every day. It seems better, and I guess it is. If an incident similar to the murder of Carol Stuart happened today, I think the police and the media would be much quicker to ask questions about the husband’s role. And yet I’m sure that such incident would still draw outsize attention. Look at how quickly the Black Lives Matter movement that reignited after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor curdled into renewed fears of crime, even though statistics showed that there had been very little in the way of an upsurge.

Let’s give the last word to Walker: “For a time, the case sparked an unusual spate of self-examination in the press. But the questions it raised — about how to cover communities of color and about whose stories are valued — were never resolved and resonate to this day.”

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Globe reporter pushes back at Matthew Stuart’s lawyer

Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker pushed back Friday at Nancy Gertner, the lawyer who represented the late Matthew Stuart and who appeared on GBH Radio (89.7 FM) on Wednesday. Gertner blasted the Globe for suggesting that her client may have been directly involved in the shootings that claimed the life of Matthew’s sister-in-law Carol Stuart and that severely wounded his brother Charles Stuart. The Globe recently published an in-depth overview of the 34-year-old case, a maelstrom of racism and malfeasance by the Boston Police and the media.

Walker, one of a team of four reporters and numerous other Globe journalists who worked on the series, told “Boston Public Radio” hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan that, essentially, the Globe stands behind its reporting.

“Nancy Gertner talked to us at least five times over 20 months in the course of reporting this story. And her point of view is fully represented in the written story. And in the podcast,” Walker said. He added:

There have always been questions, completely legitimate and valid questions, despite what Gertner says, about Matthew’s role in this and whether it was more extensive than we’ve been led to believe. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong — in fact, we firmly stand by raising those questions. And it’s important to say that we don’t draw any conclusions.

You can listen to the interview with Walker by clicking here; his conversation with Eagan and Braude starts a little after the 50:00 mark and lasts about 19 minutes, although the exchange about Gertner is very brief.

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Report: A journalist was killed and six were injured by Israeli forces in Lebanon

Map via the Committee to Protect Journalists shows that 81 journalists and media workers have been killed so far in 2023, with most of those deaths concentrated in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon.

The news agency Reuters, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are blaming an Israeli tank crew for an attack in southern Lebanon on Oct. 13 that killed a Reuters videographer and wounded six others. The videographer was 37-year-old Issam Abdallah. According to an in-depth investigation by Reuters journalists Maya Gebeily, Anthony Deutsch and David Clarke, Israeli officials denied that they target journalists but did not produce any specifics in response to the findings.

The Reuters report is detailed, including numerous images to back up what Gebeily, Deutsch and Clarke found. They wrote:

Reuters spoke to more than 30 government and security officials, military experts, forensic investigators, lawyers, medics and witnesses to piece together a detailed account of the incident. The news agency reviewed hours of video footage from eight media outlets in the area at the time and hundreds of photos from before and after the attack, including high-resolution satellite images.

Especially disturbing is this: “The group of seven reporters from AFP, Al Jazeera and Reuters were all wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most with ‘PRESS’ written on them in white letters.”

The war between Israel and Hamas — which has included forays into Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah is based — has proved to be unusually deadly for the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. As of today, CPJ investigations show that “at least 63 journalists and media workers were among the more than 18,000 killed” since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and took more than 200 hostages. Of those 63 media workers who lost their lives, 56 were Palestinian, four Israeli and three Lebanese.

CPJ notes that the Israeli Defense Forces have said they can’t guarantee the safety of journalists in the Gaza Strip. That’s unacceptable, and I hope the Biden administration pressures the Israeli government to protect media workers — as well as innocent civilians, thousands of whom have been killed as a result of Israel’s overwhelming response to Hamas’ terrorism.

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Despite Elon Musk’s vile behavior, a shrinking Twitter continues to dominate

Photo (cc) by François Cante

Twitter’s resilience despite Elon Musk’s toxic leadership has been something of a surprise to me. A little more than a year after he took the helm, the platform that he (and virtually no one else) calls X continues to dominate short-form text-based social media. Mastodon and Bluesky never really caught on, though they have their supporters; users of Mastodon, a decentralized nonprofit, are probably just as happy about that, since they never seemed all that eager to welcome millions of Twitter refugees. The newest alternative, Meta’s Threads, is the only one that has achieved anything close to critical mass.

These realities are driven home in a new piece by Sara Guaglione of Digiday, who reports that some major news publishers have actually cut back on the efforts they’re putting into Threads and are sticking with Twitter. But there is some good news for Threads: it continues to grow, and it’s now expanding into Europe; and publishers would probably do more with the platform if Meta would provide them with the metrics they need to understand their audience.

“There’s a pull to Threads — it’s a good platform, it’s a good [and] improving product,” Matt Karolian, the general manager of Boston.com, told Guaglione. “And there’s an element of being pushed away from X, where there’s only so much time you can spend on it a day now before you just want to pull your hair out. It does feel like a confluence of factors that have really helped it grow.”

But even though The Boston Globe (of which Boston.com is a part), CNN and The New York Times report increased engagement on Threads, others, including the BBC and The Guardian U.S., have cut back. “For now,” Guaglione wrote, “Threads remains a place for experimentation.”

In addition to failing to provide publishers with the data they want, Threads also continues to lack key features for news consumers that they’ve taken for granted on Twitter. There are no hashtags and no lists, making it difficult to follow an ongoing story or a group of journalists or news organizations. Those may be coming at some point, although Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram (Threads is actually part of Instagram as well as the larger Zuckerborg), has made it clear that he doesn’t see news as a priority.

That could change as Twitter continues to shrink and as advertisers flee in response to Musk’s recent boost of a horrendous antisemitic post. At a public event, Musk apologized for the post but then told advertisers to “go fuck yourself.” CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy recently wrote that Threads now ranks No. 2 in the Apple App Store’s list of free apps and that Twitter had fallen to No. 56.

For years, Twitter was the chief watering hole for media people and politicians, and those days are not coming back — the emerging social media landscape is likely to be much more diffuse, and it would be a good thing if we all spent less time with it anyway. But even if Twitter keeps losing audience, advertisers and relevance, those early predictions that it would quickly go the way of MySpace proved premature.

Instant update: I see that “topic tags,” which appear to be hashtags of a sort, have just popped up on Threads. It doesn’t appear that you can roll your own, but this bears further investigation.

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Union to WashPost readers: Please don’t click today

Photo (cc) 2016 by Dan Kennedy

The union representing Washington Post employees has asked that no one engage with Post content during a 24-hour strike that began today at midnight. “On Dec. 7, we ask you to respect our walkout by not crossing the picket line: For 24 hours, please do not engage with any Washington Post content,” the Washington Post Guild said in a statement. “That includes our print and online news stories, podcasts, videos, games and recipes.”

The Post, which soared during the Trump presidency, is now losing money and shedding jobs. Management, currently in the midst of eliminating 240 jobs, has threatened layoffs if not enough staff members accept voluntary buyouts. Oliver Darcy of CNN has the full story.

Just as I would not cross a physical picket line, so will I not check in with the Post today. I urge you to (not) do the same.

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The late Matthew Stuart’s lawyer blasts the Globe

The late Matthew Stuart’s lawyer is speaking out against The Boston Globe, saying the paper was “completely wrong” to suggest in its massive overview of the Charles and Carol Stuart case that her former client may have been directly involved in the shootings.

The Globe “has taken on the role of a tabloid” by “mischaracterizing grand jury testimony,” charged Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge, in an appearance on “Boston Public Radio” earlier today on GBH Radio (89.7 FM). You can listen to her remarks here; scroll forward to about 2:02. The segment is about 15 minutes long.

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