Journalism, objectivity, and treating people like adults

We're talking about "neutrality" and "objectivity" in news this week

Sree’s newsletter is produced w/ Zach Peterson (@zachprague). Cartoon by Nick Anderson (@Nick_Anderson).

Scroll down for Read Something; Watch Something; and a weekly tech tip from Robert S. Anthony (@newyorkbob).

#NYTReadalong is doing a two-part celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers. Last Sunday, we read the NYT with Linda Amster, who was the researcher on the project. You can watch the recording here. And this Sunday at 8:30 am ET, we will be joined by legendary journalist Hedrick Smith, who also worked on the project. His video will be here live and later.

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Every so often, the journalism industry is thrust head-first into an esoteric debate about objectivity and what exactly that word means to the industry. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here, and a casual browse of the topic only confirms just how difficult newsrooms find the issue.

The last 15 years have really brought this to the forefront. We’re nearly two decades into the social media era, and a large portion of the people entering the profession now have extensive digital trails in their pasts. People of a certain age not only remember a time of Polaroid and physical photography, many of them (us!) thank their (our) lucky stars that their teen and university years are memories out of the reach of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But that simply isn’t reality anymore.

Let’s look quickly at two recent situations involving objectivity. The UNC Journalism School hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones and the AP’s firing of Emily Wilder.

The UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, one of the best in the country, is hiring Hannah-Jones, author of the “1619 Project” and other important works of journalism over a 20-year career, as Knight Professor. But the university trustees didn’t bring her up for a tenure vote, instead of giving her a 5-year appointment. The reason was objections about her work, by the school’s naming donor (and Arkansas newspaper publisher) Walter Hussman Jr. In one of many attempts at influencing the hire, Hussman wrote about objectivity:

But as this thread from Douglas Blackmon points out, Hussman is no objective journalist himself:

To understand more about the UNC situation and more about Hussman, read John Drescher in The Assembly.

The Emily Wilder case at the AP is also about objectivity. Agree with it or not, the AP has a pretty straightforward social media policy, but what happens when we’re talking about something like student activism?

There’s been something of a perversion of what objectivity means in journalism. We’ve seen—and continue to see—the negative effects of non-diverse newsrooms. Newsrooms need more people of color covering issues that directly affect people of color, but we’ve created a system that says that someone who was a Black Lives Matter activist could not become a journalist and cover the BLM movement. In Emily Wilder’s case, she was fired for years’ old social media posts that were construed by some low-rent, bad faith right-wing activists as being “pro-Palestine.” It’s as if a thinking adult cannot observe the world around them and have their views of that world, but are rendered unable to inform people of the real conditions of that world.

This is an absurd notion—a notion rendered moot by having in place a rigorous editorial process—and newsrooms need to catch up.

Read this interview and the Mother Jones piece that it accompanies.

To a certain audience, saying something as innocuous as, “The available vaccinations for Covid-19 are generally very effective,” is seen as being partisan or somehow otherwise “biased.” But, the nature of what we regard as truth and fact is under constant attack, and it’s up to journalists to actively fight back against that—and the only way to do that is to tell the truth as it is on the ground.

The only way for journalists to do that, is for them to be allowed to be themselves in a complicated world.

For the AP’s point of view, watch Brian Stelter’s CNN interview with Brian Carovillano, AP Managing Editor.

- Sree

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Read Something

Sometimes a piece comes along that you just know you will come back to. This Barrett Swanson essay is a must read if you’re interested in the creator/influencer economy.


Acer: The Future Might Be Bright for 3D - And You Won’t Need Shades

By Robert S. Anthony
Each week, veteran tech journalist Robert S. Anthony shares a tech tip you don’t want to miss. Follow him @newyorkbob.

Remember long ago (like 2010) when 3DTVs were all the rage? That rage was short-lived. In a few short years they were gone from stores due to the high cost of the necessary 3D glasses and the lack of 3D content. But computer giant Acer thinks the future may be bright for 3D—and who needs glasses?

Last week Acer announced a raft of new Aspire, Swift, Chromebook and Travelmate notebooks with quality displays and fast processors, but the most interesting notebook shown was one not ready for sale: It has a glasses-free 3D screen.

Acer’s ConceptD notebooks aren’t your typical muscle laptops: Yes, they have high-resolution screens and powerful Intel processors, but they’re not meant for gamers—Acer’s Predator series units serve that market. ConceptD notebooks are meant for creators like artists and architects who need ample processing muscle and color-accurate displays for their demanding imaging and modeling applications.

Last week Acer showed off a prototype ConceptD notebook capable of showing glasses-free 3D images and videos on its screen by using its new SpatialLabs software platform. By using a liquid crystal lenticular lens “optically bonded” to the unit’s screen and an eye- and head-tracking stereo camera built in above the screen, 3D renderings appear to float in front of the notebook and viewers can rotate and look around objects as if they were actually there, according to Acer.

The lenticular lens sends a slightly different image to each eye, thus creating the 3D effect. The SpatialLabs platform is compatible with many current 3D modeling data formats, according to Acer, thus allowing users to easily render their current work into floating 3D models.

To be sure, glasses-free 3D screens are nothing new: The ROKiT iO Pro 3D Android smartphone introduced in 2019 offers a glasses-free display and access to a library of 3D content. But Acer may have found the right market niche by aiming at creators—not the general public.

Acer ConceptD notebooks like the new ConceptD 5 (starts at $2,000) are pricey, but the ConceptD SpatialLabs prototype can be had at no cost—temporarily. Software developers who apply to and are accepted into Acer’s SpatialLabs Developer Program—and agree to share their experiences with Acer—can qualify for free use of a protype unit for three months.

For the rest of us, however, glasses-free 3D technology in affordable notebooks may be just a dream—for now.

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Data Points

American workers are remarkably productive, and they contend with a social system that borders on non-existent. Wages need to go up, full stop.


Watch Something

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the truly great minds of our time, and he is particularly worth listening to here.


Odds & Ends

🗞  #NYTReadalong is doing a two-part celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers. Last Sunday, we read the NYT with Linda Amster, who was the researcher on the project. You can watch the recording here. And this Sunday at 8:30 am ET, we will be joined by legendary journalist Hedrick Smith, who also worked on the project. His video will be here live and later.

The Readalong is followed, on Sundays at 11 am-noon ET, by a medical show I’m co-executive producing with surgeons Sujana Chandrasekhar, M.D. (@DrSujanaENT), and Marina Kurian, M.D. (@MarinaKurian), called She’s On Call (watch live or later).

After 250 episodes in 250 days, my global show has moved from daily episodes to 1-2 times a week. The best way to know when I’m on the air and see all my archived shows, is to subscribe to my YouTube channel or my Whatsapp alerts.

The Sunday #NYTReadalong is sponsored by Muck Rack. Interested in sponsorship opportunities? Email sree@digimentors.group and neil@digimentors.group.

🎧 Every Saturday, I host a call-in show on WBAI 99.5FM (@wbai) - "Coping with Covid19" - focused on being helpful, hopeful, and focusing on the pandemic's effects on society’s most vulnerable. Listen live Saturdays from 12-1pm ET, or later. And, of course, call in or tweet questions for us using the #wbaisree hashtag. Listen to a recent episode here!

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