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Read this primer on fake news

As summer comes to an end and so does your leisurely reading time, Kiplinger would like to add this blog to your final reading list. Here we offer a short, but helpful tutorial to confront one of the greatest challenges facing American journalism – FAKE NEWS.

Each April during Kiplinger Fellowship Week one of the highest rated workshops we offer is on validation and verification of internet information and images by Steve Myers, editor of The Lens in New Orleans. We’ve written about him before and shared his presentation. His presentation walks journalists through a host of internet slip ups made by ordinary people but hoodwinked the press in the process.

In addendum, we want to share guidelines for spotting fake news from entities like Harvard University. to a renown financial magazine, to an association of librarians (Now you know it’s time to get serious.) And, no report on fake news would be complete without fact checkers weighing in.f course, no advisory on fake news would be fulfilled without an explanation of fake news,  because no less than the U.S. President has ill-defined it. It’s not news that you are in disagreement with. It’s news created in dank laboratories of the mind by mischievous people and Eastern European teenagers looking to make a few thousand bucks selling advertising on their bogus news sites.

Merriam-Webster has shared its views here. Wikipedia has this offering. Essentially, fake news is made-up stories intended to confuse and misinform audiences into believing something that isn’t true.

But, as the Washington Post (often accused of being a fake news bearer by the current administration) opined six months ago, it’s been hijacked and used to mean something different. It’s important that journalists reclaim the rightful definition if they want to battle it and reclaim credibility with the public (an intention of the administration to discredit the press.)

As journalists, of course, we have to ethically disconnect ourselves from creating or advancing fake news. But, it also means we have to be diligent to not inadvertently spread it by not doing a thorough job of vetting it before releasing. Once is too many times for well-intended and legitimate news organizations get caught in a web of deceit as they eagerly attempt to pursue news on deadline. No amount of notoriety for being first of having a scoop is worth the recognition you’ll receive if you get it wrong by advancing someone else’s falsehoods.

Chin up, enjoy the summer and get back in there because fake news doesn’t take a vacation even when you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Data journalism unearths stories in Zambia

As part of Kiplinger’s ongoing mission to train professional journalists worldwide, I spent the first week of May in Zambia, where, at the request of the U.S. Department of State and the embassy in Lusaka, I taught 22 journalists the fundamentals of data journalism.

It was a challenge given their understanding of data use in reporting and their abilities to get information from the government. In the end, we overcame both and the hopeful results will be more informative, fact-based journalism to the public.

Challenge one will be getting information from a government that controls a large share of the publications, TV and radio stations. Those employees, underpaid and overworked, aren’t likely to flex their press muscles to demand access to data. Those who work for private media outlets and are often seen as government oppositions, are spoon-fed selected information and denied access to raw data. But, they are thirsty and driven. And, tired of being denied.

Zambian journalists spent four days at the U.S. Embassy learning data journalism.

The second challenge is technological. In a nation where internet services are spotty and WiFi is a hit-and-miss proposition, spending a lot of time sifting through data or even searching for it can be difficult. They can almost forget, at this point, building their own data sets. They’re not there yet.

So, the week focused on the ins and outs of starting data projects, no matter the size, the search for data and how to manage it. We covered finding, uploading, sorting and interpreting data. I used Xcel and Google Sheets, walking them through the simplest ways to control data. We even delved into data-visualization-made-easy apps.

Thank goodness for the data site that is the World Bank.

As we methodically data mined  World Bank collections we unearthed an amazing amount of information they’d never seen. In some cases, the data refuted the government party line on poverty, health care, environmental protection and literacy. Shock.

Kabwe, a town about 90 minutes by car from the capital, is renowned for being one of the most polluted spots in the world. For years, a lead mine provided the mineral for the world at the health and environmental expense of the people and their land. Today, scavengers still mine the remnants by hand. Health issues are aplenty. The environment has been laid to waste. Data from the government is almost impossible to get. The World Bank, which has poured millions (one single donation topped at $60 million USD) into remediation of the town, has a treasure trove of data and reports online.

As we peeled back the layers it was heartening to see that most of the journalists had never seen that organization’s data and reports. They rapidly took notes and openly expressed their frustrations about not knowing this important data sitting in cyberspace for years. This was a win for journalism.

You could see the lights coming on as each day we discovered more data and they learned more skills. Story ideas popped into their heads. The desire to refresh old stories was embraced. Kawbe is still a very active story 12 years after the mine closed. I think it will get renewed attention in the coming months. The same became true when we reviewed fertility, poverty, environmental, agricultural and literacy data sets. They have plenty of stories to take to the people.

And, that was really the mission – first to convince them they were leaving a lot of stories behind by not invoking data, and second, give them the abilities to go after the data and manage it for the betterment of their reporting.

The end game is to empower the press to work more diligently and productively to become a true Fourth Estate pillar that shores up democracy in that nation. Hats off to the Zambian journalists who will take on that responsibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trump’s press attacks have more sinister intentions

The president’s “enemy” rhetoric and the pressPosted on

(Editor’s Note: The analysis by Ohio State University Moritz College of Law graduate Dr.RonNell Anderson Jones, has been getting a lot of attention this week in the media. Jones is a law professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law and co-authored the paper with Dr. Lisa Grow Sun.)

President Trump’s declarations that the press is the “enemy of the American people,” accompanied by overt hostile acts, are not merely different in degree but different in kind from the tensions and antagonisms with the media that have punctuated many previous presidencies, according to two Utah law professors.

Professor RonNell Andersen Jones

RonNell Andersen Jones of the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law and Lisa Grow Sun of Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School argue in a new paper that Trump has engaged in classic “Schmittian” enemy construction that diminishes the watchdog, educator and proxy functions of the press. In the process, Trump undermines American democracy and jeopardizes the media’s ability to act as an obstacle to the creation of other enemies — such as the judiciary, the intelligence community, people of certain races, immigrants and refugees. 

The article by Jones and Sun has been accepted for publication in the winter issue of Arizona State Law Journal and is available now on the Social Science Research Network. Jones and Sun also are among a small group of scholars invited by the University of Illinois College of Law to participate in a special online law review symposium marking President Trump’s first 100 days in office at the end of April. The paper, titled “Enemy Construction and the Press,” also will be the plenary program at the Yale Freedom of Expressions Scholars Conference on April 29.

“Many presidents have, of course, had conflicts with the press. But we think the evidence is overwhelming that Trump is engaged in something more substantial and more troubling than his predecessors,” Jones said. “Because he appears to be on the path toward eliminating important protections for the press, we think this issue absolutely demands careful public attention.”

The authors say Trump’s dealings with the press can be mapped “remarkably neatly” onto enemy construction principles outlined by German political theorist Carl Schmitt (1888-1985). Schmitt’s ideas express the zeitgeist of the creeping national-security exceptionalism that characterized much of the Cold War and that has deepened in many quarters since 9/11.

“In the things he says, the things he does, and the things he forecasts, Trump is consistently and unrelentingly delineating the press as an enemy — an ‘other’ that threatens the political unity of the state and that ought to be distrusted, countered, and perhaps ultimately stripped of ordinarily observed rights and liberties because of this exceptional status,” the authors say.

They use Trump’s words and behavior during his campaign and since taking office to illustrate the ways he has sought to frame, delegitimize and undercut the press. That ranges from verbally attacking individual reporters and media outlets to denying access to or refusing questions at press conferences and making claims that align media interests with those of terrorists.

 Trump, a prolific user of Twitter, makes many of his comments on social media. He appears to have made the calculation that the press is no longer a necessary go-between to the citizenry, Jones and Sun say.

President Trump’s rhetoric positioning the press as an “enemy of the American people” comes at a time when the media is weakened by dwindling financial support and reputation, making it more vulnerable to attack, they point out.

It also may further other agendas, such as defining and unifying a political community and potential allies by refocusing discussion away from divisive social problems and internal conflicts; creating a litmus test for other potential allies and enemies; and providing convenient scapegoats for existing social problems or future policy failures.

If President Trump’s campaign to establish the press as an ‘enemy of the American people’ proves persuasive, that success may open the door to arguments that the security of the country justifies — or even requires — limitations on press freedoms and press access, Jones and Sun say.

“The press is an important institution that is absolutely central to our democracy,” Jones said. “It’s easy to lose sight of how much the media does for us, but it is mostly because of the work of journalists that all of the rest of us are able to see what our government is up to and keep our elected officials accountable.” 

The abstract can be found here.

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Meet the 2017 Kiplinger Fellows

In less than two weeks, 21 journalists from around the globe will arrive in Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State University to take part in the 44th annual Kiplinger Fellowship Week. Kip Camp is April 22-28.

This year’s Fellows hail from such faraway places as Afghanistan, Singapore,  Australia, Spain and Alaska, as well as little, old Yellow Spring, Ohio, a short drive to OSU. We have representatives from HBO, Agence France-Presse, as well at the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and media outlets from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, Toronto and Portland, Oregon.

The Fellows will spend one week in Columbus and receive training in data journalism, data visualization, social media management, document research, mobile videography, ethics, digital security, verification processes and virtual reality.

The Fellows will spend a day at the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens and also be the guests of honor at a dinner hosted by Experience Columbus. A closing reception is slated for Thursday at the Longaberger Alumni House when the Fellows will meet with local journalists and community leaders.

To see the Fellows’ biographies, click the link below.

Kiplinger Fellow Bios 2017

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Kip Fellow personally familiar with Greek financial crisis

Reprinted with permission by Nikolia Apostolou.  This story appeared in USAToday, Nov. 15, 2016.

 

ATHENS — When President Obama stood in the shadows of Acropolis and talked about the crippling impact of austerity measures on Greece, I thought, wow, I could have told you that.

After all, my grandparents were collateral damage. And my father is next.
My grandparents’ story starts five decades ago — like thousands of Greeks who left the country in the 1950s and ’60s to find work after the devastating Greek civil war, my grandparents went to Brazil.

In Brazil, they worked hard and eventually opened a coffee shop and a clothing store. They were doing well but didn’t want to stay there forever. After seven years, they moved back to Greece.

In Athens, Grandpa sold children’s toys from a stand in Omonia Square, until he found a job selling watches and clothing in a shop. By the 1970s, my grandparents had earned enough to become their own bosses again, opening a small coffee shop near the Acropolis.

Grandpa paid his pension contributions. According to the law at the time, he couldn’t cover his wife, so Grandma never had her own pension. When they reached their mid-60s and closed their café to retire in the early 1990s, they lived off his benefits.

In the beginning it was OK. They didn’t travel much. Nor did they eat out.

Then, in the mid-1990s, like thousands of Greeks, Grandpa decided to invest some of his savings in the Athens stock market. Politicians were urging Greeks to invest and take advantage of the growing economy. Stockbroker offices opened up in neighborhoods and villages throughout the country.

nikolia

Nikolia Apostolu with a Syrian refugee child. Apostolu has been covering the Greek financial crisis and the Syrian refugee plight for more than two years now.

It was a heady time that turned into a frenzy. People sold their houses to play the stock market. Then in 1999, the bubble burst. Millions of people lost money, and the public pension funds went into the red. Allegations of fraud and insider trading were rampant. But nobody was charged with misdoings.

In 2001 when Greece adopted the euro, we were excited, though we thought the currency exchange wasn’t equal. Why should 1 euro have to be 340 drachmas, while 1 euro was 0.5 German marks? We weren’t economists.

Before the euro, a newspaper would cost 100 drachmas, or 30 euro cents, the U.S. equivalent of 33 cents. After the euro, the paper cost 1 euro, or $1.12. The same happened with potatoes, tomatoes and so on. We didn’t need to be economists to see the consequences of bringing together widely disparate economies adopting a single currency as part of the eurozone.

Grandpa, a proud man, never complained to me. But his habits slowly changed. He started attending anti-government protests. While watching the news, he’d curse the government.

He also stopped buying newspapers. That was something I couldn’t accept. A man who had worked for more than 45 years wasn’t able to afford a newspaper anymore. From then on, I’d always bring him a paper so he could indulge in one of his few pleasures.

In 2004, Grandpa was diagnosed with four brain tumors. A week later, we watched the Athens Olympics together. We wondered how much the spectacle cost taxpayers. Such an extravaganza seemed out of place in a small, troubled country like Greece.

More than $11 billion was spent on stadiums that now sit unused. Other funding went to much-needed infrastructure, however, like the subway and a new Athens airport.

A few months after the impressive opening ceremony, my grandfather passed away in his bed, surrounded by family. Grandma moved to an apartment across the street from my parents. She received 80% of her late husband’s pension and could just make ends meet.

Since the Greek fiscal crisis a few years ago, my grandma had been afraid the government would cut her pension. We dismissed her worries, assuring her that she received one of the lowest pensions in the country. Nobody would dare touch it, we said.

But, year after year, everything got more expensive, eating away at Grandma’s purchasing power. Taxes increased. New taxes hit heating oil, cigarettes — Grandma still smoked — telephone bills and so on. In July, Greek lawmakers cut my grandma’s benefits. Hospitalizations decimated her savings.

Thankfully, she didn’t really know about her financial situation. My mother used to go to the ATM for her and, with my aunt, covered much of her expenses before she died this fall.

I’m happy my grandfather isn’t around to see the current state of things. He would have been humiliated and depressed at not being able to survive financially after working hard for 45 years.

But my father isn’t likely to be spared that feeling. He just retired, and more pension cuts are looming.

Correspondent Apostolou is based in Athens

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