Category Archives: journalism

More than 60,000 deaths from COVID-19 across America are a failure of presidential leadership, not intelligence

They were warned. They were staffed. They were trained. They were given a playbook.
They were asked to prepare.

U.S, intelligence agencies raised the alarm of the novel coronavirus threat beginning in early January in presidential daily briefs, including China’s coverup.

But for weeks in January, Trump either didn’t read or listen — or perhaps rejected the intelligence and the agencies he doesn’t trust.

For 70 fateful days, he tried to control the growing crisis with spin and bluster, applying the playbook he learned from Roy Cohn, but lethal viruses don’t care about lies or get distracted by blaming the media, immigrants, or your political opponents.

Coronavirus_tracked__the_latest_figures_as_the_pandemic_spreads___Free_to_read___Financial_Times-urban

In April 2020, there are now nearly a million cases of COVID19 across the USA. At least 60,000 Americans are dead, with more to come. More than 26 million people are now unemployed. We will be living in a different world for many, many months to come, even after we develop a vaccine.

This was not an intelligence failure. It is a leadership failure. History will show that Trump was warned of a threat to the health of the public, but failed to act.

No amount of White House press spectacles and tweets will change those facts, though we should expect a tidal wave of disinformation from his campaign and hostile foreign nations to try to do so in the minds of Americans.

“This tragedy teaches us many things about preparedness & public health, but it also warns us about the dangers of presidents who are manifestly unprepared to govern.”

President Trump should abjectly apologize and resign, but he won’t. He is not going to change who he is: a “micromanaging meddler and can’t-be-bothered, broad-brush, big-picture thinker.”

Trump’s character and capacity have been on vivid display since he became a national figure in the 1980s. His racism, cruelty, ignorance, xenophobia, lack of empathy, ad corruption have continued in office. His grandiose narcissism make it “impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.”

He’s tried to run the US government like a family business, replete with nepotism and patronage, and produce a daily reality TV show about it. It’s what Trump knew how to do. But it doesn’t work on this scale of public health crisis.

He won’t become competent.
He won’t stop being corrupt.
He won’t stop lying, deflecting, being divisive, and shifting blame to others.
Pundits, press and politicians who report otherwise aren’t being responsible.

A Fortune 500 board would remove a CEO who behaved this way, failed this badly, and refused to take responsibility. The Senate could have done so this spring by removing Trump from office; we’d have Vice President Pence leading the response, without Trump’s narcissism and ignorance getting in the way.

But here we are.

Every President will be tested in an unexpected way in office, by war or natural disaster or pandemic, and judged based on how they reacted when they learned, and what happened as a result — or didn’t.

Leadership matters. Competence matters. Intelligence matters. Integrity matters. Character matters. Decency matters.

Never forget that the pain we are enduring now didn’t have to be this way: a series of bad decisions, incompetence, and malignant neglect add up to catastrophic leadership failures that literally have meant the difference between life and death for our friends, families and neighbors, and the employment and education of many more.

[Graphic Credit: Financial Times, Wall Street Journal]

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Help contain the viral “infodemic” with good information hygiene

trump lies
When the President of the United States leads a hate movement targeting journalists, seeking to inoculate his partisan supporters against unfavorable reporting or events, he acts as a cancer within our body politic, further eroding the shared facts necessary for collective action to address systemic ills.

Our union is now reaping the whirlwind of years his systematic delegitimization of journalism, government institutions, and the calculated pollution of our public discourse with misinformation & lies.

We need to inject guidance from governors, mayors, doctors and scientists into our feeds to have any hope of inoculating the American people against viral disinformation.

That starts with our press changing its practices: put lies into epistemic quarantine. Switch to an emergency setting.

But it’s going to to rely on politicians, tech companies, and the public to practice good information hygiene, too.

Offline, we wash our hands so we don’t catch or pass on a disease. We emphasize physical hygiene to our kids.

Online, we need to teach them how to use technology and social media responsibly.

It takes 20 seconds to wash your hands properly.
It takes 30 seconds to check info before you share.
How?
“SIFT” it.
Stop.
Investigate the source.
Find better coverage.
Trace claims, quotes, & media to original context.

The more social interactions we have, online or offline, the more responsibility we have not to pass on a virus. Help contain the infodemic.

 

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New Facebook Beta shows the company’s pivotal priorities are Stories, Video, Commerce, Groups, and Messaging

Facebook beta

On September 22, Facebook nudged me to try its beta. (I asked on Twitter if anyone else got a nudge. So far, no confirmations.) When I finally got around to it, today, the white space and minimalism in the redesign reminded me a bit of new Twitter!

Facebook-fresh

That aside, Facebook’s pivotal priorities are clear in this beta: user-generated interactive stories, video, commerce, groups, and messaging.

Facebook - fresh - home

There’s still a big display ad on the top right, with Birthdays & Contacts below. New “Stories” from your friends are shown across the top of the newsfeed, as before.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Groups___Facebook-new

But the key changes are in the elements shifted from the old vertical menu in “Facebook Classic” to the new horizontal one in the Facebook Beta: marketplace, messenger, watch, & groups.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Alexander_B__Howard___Facebook-beta-home

The Pages and Groups the world’s largest social networking company knows you use most remain on the top left in the beta, below the Facebook logo and search field. Below those fields, the Facebook Beta has Friends, Events, Memories, Saved, and See More.

Facebook-side-menu

Tapping or clicking “See More” opens up a lonnnnng menu of options which reflect how many areas Facebook has moved into over a decade of expansion, acquisition, and adaptation: Ad Manager, Buy & Sell Groups, Crisis Response, Fundraisers, Games, Gaming Video, Jobs, Messenger Kids, Most Recent, Movies Notes, Oculus, Offers, Pages, Recent Ad Activity, Recommendations, Town Hall, Weather, Help & Support, Settings & Privacy.

Facebook-menu-left-2

At the very bottom of this menu is a footer with a tiny font with links to Privacy, Terms, Advertising, Ad Choices, Cookies, and More, which opens up About, Careers, Development, and Help.

Facebook-left-menu-bottom

(“Privacy” notably links to Data Policy, which isn’t “redesigned for Facebook Beta yet”)

Facebook-data_policy_not_for-beta

I saw no sign of the much-ballyhooed News tab in this Facebook Beta. (I suspect whether Facebook puts that tab in the top menu or the (long!) vertical menu (likely?) will have an impact on adoption and repeat use.)

I also saw no sign of Facebook Dating in the Facebook Beta on desktop, which rolled out in the US two weeks ago on the newest version of its mobile apps. (It may be that Facebook, taking a queue from competing dating apps, considers that solely mobile app experience, but it’s a notable absence.)

The choice to put Video, Groups, Marketplace and Messaging in the core user interface of this Facebook Beta graphically shows Facebook’s priorities after its “pivot to privacy, which close observers have had good reason to maintain some healthy skepticism about this year.

What this Facebook Beta means, and why it matters

What it pushes to consumers in our newsfeeds will also show those priorities, whether it’s nudges to register to vote and donate to disaster relief, key life updates from the friends and family closest to us, or updates on its own features or products, news and entertainment from the outlets and creators we “like,” or town halls hosted our elected representatives or debates between candidates in this year’s campaigns.

What the world’s largest social networking company shows and to whom can literally reshape the course of human events, which is why transparency matters so much for civic features, particularly around democratic processes.

Introducing “FaceRank” for authors?

Whenever that News tab rolls out, expect which stories are prominent and which outlets are featured to be the subject of extreme scrutiny, along with how and when layers of friction are added to disinformation eleswhere across Facebook’s platform. There will be bogus cries of ideological bias mixed in with legitimate criticism of which stories get prominent placement, resulting the attention and traffic relevant to ad revenues and more subscriptions.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Settings___Privacy___Facebook-linked-publications

On that count, I found something that Facebook called new: a linked publications section in settings. Facebook is urging folks who publish articles to build our readership by adding publications and encouraging them to add us so that our bylines are associated. Despite reports that Facebook Authorship has been deprecated over the years, this could be  a big deal for several reasons.

First, a news tab could indeed build readership, which means socially connecting writing to our profiles or pages could build followers and Likes. That’s a big carrot.

Second, if Facebook gives different publications or authors weight in the Tab or newsfeed for different areas or search, watch for how it weights validated contributions from verified authors who have added publications and displays them. There may important cues for readers that are directly relevant to trust.

Publication_Linking-no-sunlight

On that count, I found that it was only possible to add a publication if it has a Facebook Page and if Facebok recognized it as one: no options pre-populated for TechPresident or the Sunlight Foundation. (Old gatekeepers, meet the new boss?)

Everything I wrote about why journalists need to pay attention to Google Author Rank applies here, albeit within the universe of Facebook’s walled garden instead of Google’s search results of the Web.

Keep an eye on this space.

In the meantime, there’s a Facebook Beta to keep kicking the tires on.

If you’ve used it, please weigh in using the comments below, find my profile or Page on Facebook, or contact me directly.

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A new texting project to make sense of the zeitgeist

"I_Am_Not_an_Advocate_for_Frequent_Changes_._._."_at_Jefferson_Memorial

This spring, I’ve started a new experiment to connect to people with ideas and, perhaps, to one another: a text messaging newsletter about democracy and technology.

Here’s my basic pitch: Emerging technology has the power to make democracy stronger or weaker.  For $2 every month, you’ll get a mix of news, ideas, projects, proposed laws, and analysis about how technologies are changing our democracy – or vice versa.

Understanding where, when, and how that’s happening is the hard part, as I’ve learned over the past decade of covering this space as an independent writer, digital governance expert, and open government advocate based in the District of Columbia. Figuring out why is often the most difficult, and it’s there that I hope to hear back from people, too: a distributed audience has always made me smarter.

I haven’t decided on how often I’ll send updates, but I’ve been trying a daily practice, to begin. I will be paying close to attention how people respond and what they want. If this interests you, I hope you’ll consider subscribing.

If you’re wondering how the financial side works, by the way, here’s the deal: a subscription cost $2 every month. Of that amount, Stripe will take 5%, data fees will take 5%, and Project Text (which is part of Advance Media) would take 10% of the remainder (18 cents), which would leave me with $1.62 per subscriber.

I should note that I have no plans to stop sharing public insights online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, articles,  interviews and talks. It’s just that it’s important to me professionally to keep growing, trying new things, and seeing if people are willing to pay a little bit for my insight.s

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Image: Wikimedia

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How to support open government on #GivingTuesday

Today is the seventh “Giving Tuesday,” a “global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration” created by Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

As the holiday season begins, you can support the change you want to see in the world by subscribing to newspapers that produce accountability journalism that informs the public about our governments and corporations, or donating to trustworthy, transparent nonprofits that hold government accountable. Since many nonprofits are receiving matching funds today from companies or individuals, donating on #GivingTuesday can have double the impact.

Make sure your donations lead to impact

Before you click to give, however, do your homework! Not all nonprofits are well-run.

Before you click donate, take a moment to evaluate the organization using its website, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and media reports.

Look at the most recent tax return (Form 990) and for evidence of commitments to transparent, good governance.

For instance, are there 5 independent board members? Does the board disclose minutes? are leadership transparent and accountable on social media about their decisions regarding activities, expenses, personnel, or errors?

Does a nonprofit disclose its donors, or is it a “dark money” group? Does a high percentage of spending go to programs? Do they show demonstrable impact in the activities described in the charter?

If the nonprofit produces news, how many standardized “trust indicators do they disclose to provide clarity about their ethical standards, fairness, accuracy? Do they “show the work” behind a news story, explaining their methods, publishing open data, and code?

Nonprofits supporting open government

Recent years have shown how important watchdogs and advocates are to defending civil liberties and democracy itself, online and off.

Following is a list of a worthy organizations, with links to donate.

ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity report in the public’s interest, informing us of what is being done in our name by governments and holding corporations accountable.

The Center for Responsive Politics adds sunshine to campaign finance, publishing open government data at OpenSecrets.org.

The Project on Government Oversight fights corruption, defends the Freedom of Information Act, and works to improve oversight and government integrity in all three branches of government.

Protect Democracy monitors, investigates, and litigated against any anti-democratic actions taken by the Executive Branch of the United States.

MuckRock makes it easy to make Freedom of Information Act requests, publishes the responses, reports on the documents and data its users bring into the sunshine, and much more.

Code for America is reimagining how government systems can and should work better through civic technology and user-centered design.

The Institute for Investigative Editors (IRE) is the nation’s largest group of watchdogs, improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE sustains the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR).

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters without Borders protect and defend press freedom, bringing important freedom of information lawsuits and supporting journalists.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Brennan Center, the Campaign Legal Center, the Electronic Privacy Center, and Privacy International defend civil liberties, privacy, Internet freedom, election integrity, public access to public information, and much more.

Remember: your donations on Giving Tuesday will have twice the impact!

Thank you for reading, and for supporting open government.

 

 

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On the Internet

The World Wide Web is a proper noun, as is the Internet.

Lowercasing Internet implies that more than 1 decentralized global network based on TCP/IP exists.

While it’s fair to say that there are networks of networks within other countries or within government agencies, the Internet is a distinct way of connecting servers and other devices together.

As long as we cannot point to multiple internets, there can be only one.

“The internets?” Nope. The AP is as wrong today as they were in April. :)

I know that it would be hard for the AP to walk this back, but I think it suggests a profound misunderstanding of what makes the Internet different, how it works or why.

Given the profound respect I have for the AP and its staff, I remained disappointed about the decision, along with what it will mean for thousands of journalists who take their lead (or lede) from their style guide.

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On Comments

August 23rd was the last day for comments at
As I
On the one hand, this decision frees NPR staff from moderation duties, lifting the weight of battling trolls to adjudicating disputes or enduring abuse and allowing community managers to focus on moderating social media discourse. On the other, if NPR and other public media houses back away from hosting the conversations and shift them to social media platforms, the data and relationships represented in those people move with them.
Getting online comments wrong is easy. Building a healthy online community is hard, but outlets like TechDirt and forums like MetaFilter show that it’s not only possible but sustainable. Good comments are valuable in their own right. At their best, they’re improvements upon the journalism they’re focused upon, but they require convening a community and investing in editorial moderation and tools. At their worst, online comment sections are some of the most toxic spaces online, not only turning off readers but causing damage to public understanding of science or technology.
Ideally, comment sections provide valuable forums for people to share their thoughts on the issues and decisions that affect them, but the technologies and strategy that create architectures of participation need to continue to improve. Given political polarization, the need for public spaces that reward meaning participation and foster civic dialogue instead of shouting matches is critical to our politics.
Communities across the country rely upon public media to report on local government and inform us about what’s being done in our name. Social media and smartphones offer new opportunities for journalists and editors to report with communities, not just on them.
Like Margaret Sullivan, I think

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