US PRESIDENT TRUMP & ADOLF HITLER’s Alternative Information Universes; Can Media Literacy Defeat Disinformation And Misdirection—Lessons From 1939’s Germany

Fighting disinformation with media literacy—in 1939. SEE from a Nazi propaganda poster below in 1936; the stylized head of an eagle with beak open emitting circles like broadcast radio waves.

ANYA SCHIFFRIN, CJR|AIWA!NO!|“THERE ARE THREE WAYS to deal with propaganda—first, to suppress it; second, to try to answer it by counterpropaganda; third, to analyze it,” the journalist turned educator Clyde R. Miller said in a public  lecture at Town Hall in New York in 1939. At that time, faced with the global rise of fascist regimes who were beaming propaganda across the world, as well as US demagogues spouting rhetoric against the government and world Jewry, the rise of Stalinism, and the beginning of the Red-baiting that foreshadowed McCarthyism, scholars and journalists were struggling to understand how people could fall for lies and overblown rhetoric.

In response to this growing problem, Miller, who had been a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealerfounded the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1937. To get the institute up and running, Miller got a $10,000 grant from the department store magnate Edward A. Filene, who had by then begun making a name for himself as a liberal philanthropist. Based at Columbia University’s Teachers College, with a staff of seven people, the IPA devoted its efforts to analyzing propaganda and misinformation in the news, publishing newsletters, and educating schoolchildren to be more tolerant of racial, religious, and ethnic differences.

The World Journalism Education Council; WJEC Paris 2019 @WJECParis
WJEC Paris call for abstracts ends on October 22nd. Submitters are encouraged to focus their entries on the broader conference theme: “Teaching Journalism During a Disruptive Age.” More details:https://t.co/XnNneiqPhnhttps://t.co/VlmdDECzNG

In order to understand what kind of people, under certain circumstances would be susceptible to fascism, some sociologists studied personality traits. While it was clear that Germany’s defeat in World War I and subsequent economic conditions there, including widespread unemployment, had paved the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler, academics and journalists tried to parse just what made Nazi propaganda so effective at galvanizing public support for the regime. Theodor Adorno produced his famous “F-scale” (the “F” stands for fascist), which aimed to identify individuals more susceptible to the persuasions of authoritarianism. In recent years, the research of behavioral economist Karen Stenner has similarly examined the ways that innate personality traits coupled with changing social forces can push some segments of society toward intolerance.)

For its part, the IPA, under Miller’s leadership, maintained that education was the American way of dealing with disinformation. “Suppression of propaganda is contrary to democratic principles, specifically contrary to the provisions of the United States Constitution,” Miller said in his 1939 speech. “Counterpropaganda is legitimate but often intensifies cleavages. Analysis of propaganda, on the other hand, cannot hurt propaganda for a cause that we consider ‘good.’” In other words, analyzing propaganda for a good cause would not undermine the cause itself—but analysis of “bad” propaganda would allow audiences to dismantle its effects.

IN THE 80 YEARS since Clyde Miller first set out to tackle this problem, the dissemination of propaganda in our society has become only more sophisticated and perhaps more ubiquitous. The recent rise of Facebook and Twitter, along with the capabilities they offer to micro-target specific particular audience demographics, and the ongoing controversies of the 2016 election—among them the prospect that ideologically motivated foreign actors used social media to disseminate false information—have brought a renewed flurry of interest in the kind of propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation that pervaded the country nearly a century ago. So it’s not surprising that we again see growing interest in developing techniques for identifying and unraveling them.

Foundations including Hewlett Foundation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, have begun slow and expensive efforts to educate people to think critically, build trust in media outletsanalyze disinformation, and fight propaganda. Governments around the world, including in Germany, Malaysia and the European Union, are starting to regulate social-media platforms, as evidenced by recent efforts by European governments to require Facebook and Twitter to crack down on illegal hate speech. But social media platforms have largely taken the stance that the onus is on the audience to figure out what is fake and what is not. Meanwhile, they tweak their algorithms, mount an array of technical fixes, and employ human moderators to block inflammatory content.

In light of all this, it’s worth looking back to one of the earliest attempts to tackle this age-old problem. What, if anything, can we learn from the efforts of the IPA in the 1930s? And why are we again falling prey to the kinds of disinformation campaigns that it aimed to inoculate society against?

IN HER GROUP LEADERS GUIDE TO PROPAGANDA ANALYSIS, the IPA’s educational director, Violet Edwards, argued that industrialization and urbanization made society bigger and more complicated and so the “common man” had  become “tragically confused” by an overload of secondhand information and the need to make decisions about subjects without having firsthand information.

Instead of the town hall or the cracker barrel of yore, where citizens could meet to discuss the topics that affected them personally, Edwards wrote, they now had to rely on information from others about how society should be organized and which policies should be pursued far from home. Meanwhile, many others, including the American writer Walter Lippmann and the French philosopher Jacques Ellul, had begun arguing that journalism could become a means to sift through and distill the excessive information now available to the masses in part because of increasing newspaper circulation and radio broadcasts.

To properly understand the secondhand information on which citizens depend, Edwards wrote, readers should adopt a scientific mindset of fact-finding and logical reasoning and think critically when confronted with secondhand information. The IPA developed techniques for analyzing information that would help audiences think rationally. They brought media literacy training into US schools in an attempt to inoculate young people from the contagion of propaganda by teaching them how to thoughtfully analyze what they read and heard. (Again, something that is being tried today.)

Miller categorized propaganda into seven types. These included “glittering generalities,” “name calling,” “testimonials,” and “transfer,” a means by which “the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept.” Using another tactic, “Plain Folks,” Miller argued, propagandists “win our confidence by appearing to be people like ourselves,” while “bandwagon” was a “device to make us follow the crowd to accept the propagandists’ program en masse.”

Soon after the founding of the IPA, Miller was praised for bringing “the newspaper man’s passion for simplifying complicated subjects”: Among the IPA’s regular output, were analyses of political speeches, with little icons—the emoji of the day—printed next to each phrase to explain which of these techniques the speaker was using. One such book analyzed the anti-Semitic radio broadcasts of the infamous Father Coughlin, a Catholic priest in Detroit who was estimated to draw 30 million listeners for his attacks on the international Jewish population and President Roosevelt, among other topics.

Miller also published something he called the “ABCs of Propaganda Analysis,” which exhorted readers to first concern themselves with propaganda, then figure out the agenda of the propagandist, view the propaganda with doubt and skepticism, evaluate one’s reactions to it, and finally seek out the facts. He hoped audiences would use the ABCs to become active readers who could carefully analyze their reactions to propaganda.

Additionally, Miller published a weekly Bulletin that described an important topic in the news, analyzed the propaganda techniques used by all sides, and included a detailed list of sources he’d used and recommended further reading and discussion questions. This struck a nerve: Some 10,000 people subscribed to the Bulletin, which cost $2.00 a year (about $32.00 in today’s terms), and 18,000 people bought the bound volume of back issues that was published at the end of each year.

Here’s a sample analysis of the fake news of the day, taken from the May 26, 1941, issue of the Bulletin:

Persistently since the influx of refugees from the war areas began, a story has bobbed up in numerous American cities about the alleged heartless—and actually unreal—discharging of regular employes [sic] by stores to make places for ‘foreigners’. The story usually is anti-Semitic; the store with which it is connected has Jewish owners, and Jews are said to get the jobs.

One large store in New York City which has been a victim of the story has spent considerable sums trying to trace the source and find some way of stopping it. The efforts have been fruitless. The story keeps reappearing, and mimeographed leaflets have even been circulated picturing the Jewish manager welcoming a long line of Jewish refugees while turning away another line of fine Nordic types.

As part of the IPA’s attempts to spread its message and techniques, the organization sought to put young students on guard against propaganda and to form them into sophisticated news consumers. The institute formed a relationship with Scholastic magazine, and in 1939 and 1940 produced a series that was distributed in schools, called “What Makes You Think So?; Expert Guidance to Help You Think Clearly and Detect Propaganda in Any Form.” By the late 1930s, 1 million school children were using IPA’s methods to analyze propaganda, and the IPA corresponded with some 2,500 teachers. Anticipating contemporary critiques, such as the argument by Danah Boyd, founder of the technology-analysis organization Data & Society, that media-literacy programs can cause audiences to become dangerously mistrustful, the IPA maintained, in its teaching guides, that students needed to think critically as part of being engaged citizens:

The teacher who acts as a guide to maturity helps her pupils to think critically and to act intelligently on the everyday problems they are meeting…. [B]y its very nature [the] process will not build attitudes of cynicism and defeatism.

The IPA also helped design curriculum aimed at promoting civic engagement and racial and religious tolerance that was piloted in the Springfield, Massachusetts, school district, whose superintendent was sympathetic to the IPA’s mission. The “Springfield Plan” was influential and replicated in other districts but petered out in Springfield itself after a few years partly due to criticism by the Catholic Church and lack of local support as religious tensions rose locally after World War II. By the early ’50s, as McCarthyism was taking hold, there were murmurings that the plan contained “subversive” elements.

MILLER SPENT 10 YEARS at Columbia Teachers College as Communications Director and as an associate professor. In that time, IPA used up $1 million of Filene’s money. It was World War II that caused the end of the IPA, in part because the US began producing its own propaganda to galvanize support for the fight against Hitler. Publication of the weekly Bulletin ceased in 1942, as the US entered the war. In its farewell issue of January 9, 1942, headlined “We Say Au Revoir,” the IPA explained that its board of directors had voted to suspend operations:

The publication of its dispassionate analysis of all kinds of propaganda, ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ is easily misunderstood during a war emergency, and more important, the analyses could be misused for undesirable purposes by persons opposing the government’s efforts.

This final Bulletin expressed satisfaction with the work achieved by the IPA, warned that wartime is usually accompanied by a rise in intolerance, and expressed the hope that IPA techniques for analyzing propaganda would be used in the future, which indeed they were.

Miller’s time at Teachers College came to a sad end, as he apparently fell victim to the very intolerance he had warned against. Along with some other faculty members, he was put on leave from the college in 1944, amid a financial crisis at the institution, and he never resumed work there. In 1948 Miller was officially let go. Miller was told his dismissal was the result of departmental restructuring—but William Randolph Hearst’s animosity towards Miller may have contributed. Hearst was known for attacking “Reds” in the universities and schools and his paper, The World Telegram, had criticized some of the educational activities Miller was involved with.  Hearst had complained to Teacher’s College about Miller, saying he should “lay off.”  The House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1947 also attacked the IPA calling it a “Communist front organization.” The late 1940s were a prelude to the McCarthy years of the 1950s and HUAC had begun going after members of the American left. As far as we know, Miller was not a Communist or a “Fellow Traveler” but his involvement with IPA, the Methodist Church and the Springfield plan was enough to cause Hearst’s papers to smear him. There were a lot of gray areas during the McCarthy era blacklists. Some professors were fired by their Universities while others were let go quietly. Miller may have been one of these.

Miller lost his Columbia housing and salary and wrote repeatedly to Columbia’s president decrying the “violation of tenure and academic freedom.” He also told the New York Tribune, “I can understand that during the depression and now in this period of post-war hysteria, academic freedom is a pretty hard thing to preserve.”  For a while Miller worked at The League for Fair Play, which was based in New York and helped publicize the Springfield Plan. But then the trail goes cold. On a trip to Australia in 1999, Miller died; he’s buried there.

YET MILLER’S LEGACY LIVES ON. Although it was phased out in Springfield, the ideas of his education plan continued. According to Boston College education professor Lauri Johnson, “the Springfield Plan became the most well-publicized intercultural educational curriculum in the 1940s, talked about and emulated by school districts across the country and into Canada.”

And after the dust from WWII had settled, researchers, led by Yale’s Carl Hovland, once again took up the discussion of media effects and propaganda. Rather than focusing on specific propaganda techniques, Hovland took a broader view, attempting to understand how the media garnered credibility. Among other topics, Hovland and his group of scholars tried to understand if the source of a message affects whether people trust it, whether the content of the message matters or (as with Adorno’s F-scale) if audience characteristics are the most important. Hovland believed that highly intelligent people may be more able to absorb new information but are also more skeptical. People with low self-esteem who “manifested social inadequacy…showed the greatest opinion change.” However, despite extensive studies as to what caused media persuasion, Hovland’s findings were inconclusive. Scholars still grapple with the questions he tried to answer.

Additionally, many of the techniques the IPA pioneered are still used today in media-literacy training classes in US schools. Many take as their foundation the IPA’s pioneering ideas about how best to understand and combat propaganda, including a belief in the need for personal reflection and for understanding how personal experience shapes one’s ideas.

In fact, it’s striking how closely the IPA’s discussions about disinformation and possible remedies to it resemble the conversation we’re having on this topic today. For instance, researchers such as Claire Wardle, the executive director of First Draft, a think tank at Harvard’s Kennedy School that aims to fight disinformation, along with various others, have called out the techniques used by people spreading propaganda, and delineated taxonomies of the different kinds in use.

It would be nice to think that the IPA’s efforts worked and a generation of children became inured to propaganda and disinformation. In fact, the rise of Nazism in Germany happened in part because of the effectiveness of German propaganda and the US also went down the road of McCarthyism and anti-Communist propaganda. Moreover, it turns out that it’s devilishly hard to provethat media literacy is very effective. New research by University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggests that the Russian disinformation campaign on social media may have worked because it reinforced the points made by Trump in his campaign. Moreover, people who believe in fake news keep believing it even when confronted with information.

The lesson of the IPA is not just that media literacy education is hard to do well but that when societies become truly polarized, just teaching tolerance and critical thinking can be controversial.  In the 1940s Clyde Miller was attacked for his efforts. In today’s polarized world it’s not hard to imagine a similar backlash.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Chloe Oldham for her research, Andrea Gurwitt for her editing, and Professors Andie Tucher, Richard John, and Michael Schudson for their comments. Thanks to Thai Jones and the librarians working with the archives at the New York Public Library, Nicholas M. Butler Papers and the Columbia University Archives Central Files.

Zimbabwe Economic Crisis; Beer One Per Customer – Things Are Very,Very Bad

Image result for zimbabwe economic crisisZimbabwe economic crisis – Photos show how bad it really is

New Hyperinflation Index (HHIZ) Puts Zimbabwe Inflation at 89.7 Sextillion Percent. Zimbabwe is the first country in the 21st century to hyperinflate. In February 2007, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate topped 50% per month, the minimum rate required to qualify as a hyperinflation (50% per month is equal to a 12,875% per year)
Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with prices soaring, limits on bread purchases, and long queues for fuel.

Zimbabwe economic crisis – Photos show how bad it really is

This followed Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s decision to introduce a tax increase on money transfers last week to try and stabilise the government’s finances.

The announcement triggered a rise in basic-commodity prices, stoking fears of an inflationary spiral and leading to long queues forming at petrol stations.

Zimbabwe Inflation Rate  2009-2018 

The inflation rate in Zimbabwe rose to 4.83 percent year-on-year in August 2018 from 4.29 percent in the prior month. It was the highest inflation rate since December 2011, mainly as prices advanced faster for food & non-alcoholic beverages (7.5 percent vs 6.3 percent in July). On a monthly basis, consumer prices went up 0.40 percent, following a 0.98 percent increase in the previous month. Inflation Rate in Zimbabwe averaged 1.08 percent from 2009 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 5.30 percent in May of 2010 and a record low of -7.50 percent in December of 2009.Zimbabwe Inflation Rate

Zimbabwe Inflation Rate

In Zimbabwe, the inflation rate measures a broad rise or fall in prices that consumers pay for a standard basket of goods. This page provides the latest reported value for – Zimbabwe Inflation Rate – plus previous releases, historical high and low, short-term forecast and long-term prediction, economic calendar, survey consensus and news. Zimbabwe Inflation Rate – actual data, historical chart and calendar of releases – was last updated on October of 2018.

Many shops, under pressure from the government, are restricting customers’ purchases to prevent hoarding.

Others have gone further: Yum! Brands Inc. temporarily shut some of its KFC outlets this week, saying it couldn’t find enough dollars to pay suppliers.

On Thursday, police arrested and beat two leaders of the country’s main trade union at protests over the increasing cost of living, the labor group said in a statement.

The country’s quasi-currency, known as bond notes (introduced two years ago and were meant to represent the value of one dollar), have plunged in value.

It now takes 4.3 of them to buy one U.S. dollar – the weakest exchange rate on record, according to the Zim Dollar Index. In early September, the rate was 1.75.

Some businesses have now stopped accepting bonds notes or electronic payments – which are even less valuable than the notes – altogether, and will only take hard cash.

Zimbabwe, having scrapped its own worthless Zimbabwe dollar to end 500 billion-percent inflation in 2009, accepts them and the US dollar, Euro and rand, among others, as legal tender.Image result for zimbabwe economic crisis

Photos tell the story

Many Zimbabweans have posted photos to social media to show how bad the situation has become in the country.

Toxic workplaces are feeding the impostor phenomenon – here’s why

Toxic workplaces; main source of self doubt, inadequacy and depression feeding the impostor phenomenon – here’s why

Impostor feelings include fear of failure, fear of success, a sometimes-obsessive need for perfection, and an inability to accept praise. KieferPix / Shutterstock

Research suggests that around 70% of people will experience an illogical sense of being a phoney at work at some point in their careers. It’s called the impostor phenomenon (also known, erroneously, as a syndrome). These impostor feelings typically manifest as a fear of failure, fear of success, a sometimes obsessive need for perfection, and an inability to accept praise and achievement. The phenomenon is also characterised by a genuine belief that at some point you, as the “impostor”, are going to be found out for being a fake in your role.

The phenomenon has been researched for more than 40 years and recent research into women working in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), suggests that there is a much higher incidence of it in women in these non-traditional roles.

Despite being something that affects people at an individual level, the relationship between toxic workplaces and well-being is well established. It seems that the impostor phenomenon breeds from a mix of genuine personal doubt over work abilities and the collective experience of a toxic work culture.

Simply put, our modern workplaces are feeding a sense of inadequacy in the face of a track record of achievement and success of individuals. The “impostor’s” internal drive for perfection and their constant expectation of external criticism pushes them to underestimate their abilities, while striving to exhaustion for advancement to avoid perceived failure and exposure to criticism.

Where this meets an ever-increasing demand to do more with fewer resources and a barrage of evaluation in risk-averse workplaces, impostor tendencies will thrive.

An unhealthy marriage

Toxic workplaces are often characterised by an environment that diminishes or manages out the humanity of the place and its people, as well as promoting competition. A focus on profit, process and minimising resources is pronounced. Bullying is normalised and embedded in managerial and colleague behaviour, while leadership is inert and ineffectual against it.

In toxic workplaces, work is often seen as drudgery, the motivating elements sucked out of the environment. Unmoderated criticism and punitive measures stifle original thinking, thus reducing the intrinsic rewards of work, such as having an outlet for expressing one’s unique talents and creative thinking.

The unhealthy marriage between the impostor phenomenon and toxic work cultures is sustained at an individual level by the basic human need for safety and belonging. This interferes with “rational” decision making and supersedes the entrepreneurialism and risk taking that would challenge the status quo. This is detrimental to both a person and their employer who might otherwise benefit from new ideas.

While technology continues to transform the nature of work, organisations are lagging behind in how they manage people. Corporate performance management practices are often little more than thinly disguised carrot and stick approaches. Employees are goaded along by financial and status incentives that glorify overwork and toeing the line. Toxic workplaces force people to jump through endless hoops on the way to an elusive, future state of success and happiness. Intellectual honesty, unorthodox thinking and self-care, meanwhile, are penalised.

Overwork is glorified in too many organisations. Elnur/Shutterstock

Dysfunctional competition

A rampant competitiveness in certain workplaces often provides a breeding ground for anxiety, depression and self-degradation. The finance sector is especially prone to this. Here constant winning is the cultural norm, even though it’s just not possible to win all the time.

This breeds perfectionism, which also fuels people’s need to micromanage. Dysfunctional competition gets prioritised over collaboration. People who feel like they are impostors will often fail to delegate for fear that others won’t meet their own exacting standards and that this will reflect badly on them. As a result, they take on more than they can realistically manage.

The imbalance this produces between effort and rewards exacerbates the feeling of inadequacy and creates a negative feedback loop, which leads to mental exhaustion. And if both the person and the organisation implicitly fail to recognise the toxic combination of impostor tendencies and an unhealthy work culture, they both passively endorse this social contract.

Sadly, as the digital revolution progresses, it is becoming clearer that our contemporary workplaces are demanding productivity outcomes to match. But they are using antiquated managerial structures. Workplace processes – such as poorly constructed performance management, a lack of diversity in succession planning and limited understanding of inclusion initiatives beyond box ticking exercises – fuel the very behaviour and thought patterns that these workplace structures aim to manage out.

Addressing these toxic work cultures and organisational structures could create a less fertile ground for the impostor phenomenon. Healthier workplaces and more satisfied people are likely to deliver more positive and productive outcomes.

Trump Information-sphere – Debunking with data; Insights From Fact-checkers Around The World

CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA!NO!|EJC|Ever wondered if a politician’s claims really add up? Or perhaps you read a news story which seemed a little fishy? Armed with data, fact-checking organisations across the globe work tirelessly to help separate these facts from fiction, and any misnomers in-between.

To find out more about debunking with data, European Journalism Centre (EJC) gave subscribers to their data newsletter access to a global group of fact-checkers for an exclusive; “Ask Me Anything“.

How about starting with the most recent one; US President Trump’s UN LIE of the ‘century and centuries’ to come;  “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” line which drove the listeners into murmurs and laughter – mockery.2018-09-26

The world just laughed out loud at Donald Trump. That day, during the president’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, the audience laughed when Trump boasted that “my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

As soon as the words left Trump’s mouth, a ripple of laughter traveled through the crowd and grew as Trump reacted to the guffaws

An unnecessary and embarrassing spectacle at that; if you ask me. Of course the humongous CLAIM was debunked as quickly as it was uttered; by the laughter of the audience and the world; also later on; hours later if I remember correctly, by Donald Trump himself;  

On the one hand, that is a pretty even-keeled response from someone as tantrum-prone as Trump.

Reader question: Can you share some good examples or best cases where data has been successfully used for fact-checking?

Anim van Wyk, Chief Editor, Africa CheckGood data aids good fact-checking, which need to point out exactly what the data can and can’t tell you. The more limitations, the less certain the answer becomes.

For example, it’s easy to use data from the World Health Organization’s Global Ambient Air Quality database to rank cities according to their pollution levels. But the fine print shows that these entries aren’t comparable. This is due to differences in the methods and quality of measurements – and the fact that some cities suspected to be the most polluted don’t report data to the WHO.

Samar Halarnkar, Editor, Factchecker.in: Data are [we never use the singular!] the foundation of fact-checking.

One example: The Indian telecommunications minister announced that within a year of taking charge, his administration ensured that the government-run telecoms behemoth, BSNL, had turned a operating profit, after seven years of losses, and had added subscribers. After a meticulous examination of data–including right-to-information requests–we found that operating profits did not mean the company had turned profitable; indeed net losses had increased, and the minister had, conveniently, not mentioned that more subscribers left than were added.

After a new right-wing government took over in 2014, there were many reports of lynchings, especially of minorities, based on violence related to cows, considered holy by many Hindus. The ruling party and its adherents insisted these were isolated incidents, were never reported before and were not related to the extreme version on Hinduism that they promoted. A debate raged nationwide, poisoning politics and society, made worse by the absence of data–national crime records did not register crimes related to bovines. At Factchecker.in, we created a database of each such crime from 2010 onwards, so that crime patterns could be compared with those after 2014, when the new government took office. Our database–now widely quoted in India and abroad–clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of the victims of such lynchings are minorities, in particular Muslims, and most violence has occurred in states run by India’s ruling party.

Image: Factchecker.in’s interactive database of cow-related violence in India.

Matt Martino, Online Editor, RMIT ABC Fact Check: Politicians in Australia often like to speak about records, both when attacking opponents and spruiking their achievements. A famous example in our unit was when the ruling Coalition Foreign Minister said that when the Opposition Labor Party were last in government, they bequeathed the “worst set of financial accounts” in Australia’s history to their incoming government. This particular fact-check took several months of work sourcing data from the history books on debt and deficit. We were able to find data on federal government surpluses and deficits, plus gross debt, stretching back to 1901, and on net debt handed over to incoming governments back to the 1970s. It’s a great example of where a claimant has used the raw number in place of a percentage, which puts the figure in historical context. In this case, experts told us that these figures must be expressed as a percentage of GDP to enable historical comparisons. Ultimately, we found that the Foreign Minister’s claim was wrong, as there were far larger (as a percentage of GDP) inherited deficits recorded during WWII, far larger gross debt inherited in the same period, and far larger net debt bequeathed to a government during the 1990s.

Dinda Purnamasari, Senior Researcher, Tirto.id: Data is the soul of fact-checking. But not just data, more importantly, the context of data itself is what makes our fact-check more reliable.

First, on 2 May 2017, Jake Van Der Kamp, an economist, shared an opinion entitled “Sorry President Widodo, GDP rankings are economists’ equivalent of fake news”. At that time, Kamp quoted a statement from President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) that Indonesia’s economic growth was third in the world, after India and China.

‘GDP is an attempt to emulate the corporate world by putting money numbers on performance but… with GDP you get no equivalents of the corporate balance sheet or profit and loss account and no notes to the accounts’“Indonesia’s economic growth is the third in the world, after India and China,” said Indonesian president Joko Widodo.

Third in the world, is it? What world is that? Within Asia alone I count 13 countries with higher reported economic growth rates than Indonesia’s latest 5.02 per cent.

They are India (7.5), Laos (7.4), Myanmar (7.3), Cambodia (7.2), Bangladesh (7.1), Philippines (6.9), China (6.7) Vietnam (6.2), Pakistan (5.7), Mongolia (5.5), Palau (5.5), Timor-Leste (5.5) and Papua New Guinea (5.4).

But of course President Widodo’s Indonesia is a very populous country with 261 million people. We cannot really compare it with pipsqueak places like Timor or Palau. Thus let’s draw the line at the 200 million people or more.

This gives us six countries across the world and, in terms of economic growth, Indonesia is in the bottom half of these six behind India, China and Pakistan. Try it at a cut-off of 100 million people or more and you still get no luck. Bottom half again.

Way to go, Joko. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. We’ll make a journalist of you yet.

 

After this opinion became an issue in Indonesia, Tirto.id decided to verify the data that had been used by Jokowi. We looked at data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and based on that we concluded that Indonesia was not in the third position using general criteria, but instead ranks third among BRICS and high populated countries.

Image: A graph from tirto.id’s fact-check, showing that Indonesia is ranked third out of the BRICS countries.

Second, in early August 2018, the Vice Governor claimed that their policy of odd-even traffic limitation had reduced air pollution in Jakarta. His statement became an issue, and even some media quoted his data. We verified the data using measurements from the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika – BMKG) and the US Embassy. Based on those, his statement was incorrect. The average of air pollution in Jakarta was still high and did not appear to be decreasing.

Tania Roettger, Head of Fact-Checking Team, Correctiv/EchtJetzt: Fact-checking only works for statements of fact, not opinions. So ideally there is data available to verify claims. We regularly use statistics about topics like crime, HIV-rates or jobs. If there are statistics on a topic, we will consult them. Of course, statistics differ in quality depending on the topic and who gathers the data.

Earlier this year, we debunked the claim that refugees sent 4.2 Billion Euros to their home countries in 2016. Data from the German federal bank showed that the 4.2 Billion Euros in remittances actually came from all migrants working in Germany for more than a year, not specifically from refugees. Most of the money, 3.4 Billion Euros, went to European countries, followed by Asia (491 Million) and Africa (177 Million).

Image: Correctiv/EchtJetzt rated the statement as four on their seven point rating scale.

Reader question: Have you seen examples where the same data has been manipulated to support both sides of an argument? If so, how do you ensure that your way of looking at the data isn’t biased?

Anim van Wyk: At Africa Check, we’re fond of the quip that some people use statistics “as a drunken man uses lamp posts – for support rather than illumination”. Depending on what you want to prove, you can cherry-pick data which supports your argument.

An example is different stances on racial transformation in South Africa, or the lack thereof. A member of a leftist political party said in 2015 that  “whites are only 10% of the economically active population but occupy more than 60% of the top management positions.” The head of the Free Market Foundation, a liberal think-tank, then wrote: “Blacks in top management… doubled.”

Both were right – but by presenting only a specific slice of the same data source to support their argument.

Again, you need to find out what the data cannot tell you and try to triangulate by using different data sources.

Image: Africa Check’s ‘mostly correct’ verdict means that a claim contains elements of truth but is either not entirely accurate, according to the best evidence publicly available at the time, or needs clarification.

Matt Martino: A great example of this was the debate over “cuts” and “savings” to health and education during the early days of the Abbott Coalition government in Australia. The government argued that they were making a “saving” on health and education by reducing the amount spent on what the previous Labor government had budgeted to spend. Labor, now in opposition, argued that this was in fact a cut. We investigated the figures and found that the Coalition was still spending above inflation so it couldn’t be called a cut, but the projections the Coalition had made about savings were over such a long period of time that it was difficult to say whether they would come to pass. In the end we called the debate “hot air”.

How do we make sure we’re looking at the data the right way? We always rely on several experts in the field to guide our analysis and tell us the right way to interpret the data. We’re not experts in any of the topics we explore, whilst academics can spend their entire careers researching a single subject, so their advice is invaluable.

Dinda Purnamasari: In our experience, many use the right data, but the context is incorrect. Then, the data becomes incredible.

For example, reports that PT Telkom (state-owned telecommunication company in Indonesia) had provided Corporate Social Responsibility funds of around IDR 100 million to a Mosque and, in comparison, IDR 3.5 billion to a church.

We found that the numbers (IDR100 million and IDR3.5 billion) were right, but the purpose of the funding was incorrect. The 100 million was granted by PT Telkom in 2016 to pay the debt from a mosque renovation process. On the other hand, 3.5 billion was granted to renovate the old church, which also became a cultural heritage site in Nusa Tenggara Barat in 2017.

In this case, again, the context of data becomes an important thing in fact-checking. We must understand the methodology and how the data was gathered or estimated, even by double-checking on the ground, if needed.

Tania Roettger: Crime-data is a good example. In 2017 crime rates in Germany went down. But the statistic only shows the crimes that have been reported to the police. This has lead some politicians to claim that crime has not actually gone down and that the statistics are “fake news“.

When the meaning of data is debated, we consult independent experts to collect arguments about how the data can or should be interpreted. Or we look at alternative sources, for example the surveys some German states conduct with people about the crimes they experienced but did not report. (However, the validity of these surveys is disputed.)

Samar Halarnkar: In this era of fake news, data are often used to reinforce biases.

For instance, there was much self congratulation when the government claimed that India’s forests grew by 6,779 sq km over the two years to 2017. We found that this was not wrong because that is what the satellite imagery revealed. But what it did not reveal was that these new “forests” included forests converted to commercial plantations, as well as degraded and fragmented forests, and that the health of these forests was being gauged by satellite imagery with inadequate resolution. Indeed, numerous studies had recorded a steady degradation of forests over nearly a century.

Image: Factchecker.in found that this map of forest coverage was not what it seemed. Credit: India’s state of forest report (ISFR) 2017.

Indian remote-sensing satellites produce images with a resolution of 23.5 metres per pixel, which is too coarse to unequivocally identify small-scale deforestation and cannot distinguish between old-growth forests and plantations. To make that distinction, India needs imagery with resolution of 5.8 m per pixel.

So, all data are not always what they appear. They need to be verified and cross-checked, either with studies, other databases or ground reporting.

Reader question: How do you fact-check stories or statements when data on an issue isn’t available?

Anim van Wyk: It’s really unsatisfactory to use our “unproven” verdict, but sometimes the evidence publicly available at the time “neither proves nor disproves a statement”, as we define this rating. Still, the absence of data doesn’t mean anything goes in making statements of fact about a topic. We then point out what is known and what isn’t.

Samar Halarnkar: If data are not available–or independently verified data are not available–there is only one substitute: Verification through old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting.

For instance, India’s Prime Minister once claimed that his government had built 425,000 toilets within a year. With no independent verification, this claim was hard to dispute. Obviously, it was impossible to verify that 425,000 new toilets had indeed been built in all of India’s schools. But after sending reporters to conduct random verifications in eight Indian states, it quickly became apparent that the Prime Minister’s claim was–to put it plainly–a lie.

Matt Martino: RMIT ABC Fact Check tests the veracity of claims made by politicians and public figures in Australia. If someone is making a claim to influence policy, our position is that they should have good evidence to back it up. Lack of evidence is no excuse so we try and persevere regardless.

Sure, this often leads to less-exciting verdicts, such as “unverifiable” or “too soon to know” but the verdict is not the be-all-and-end-all of a fact-check. In these situations, we explore what data is out there; we consult experts in the field for their opinion, and we present it to the audience as best we can so they can see how we’ve come to our decision.

Video: More detail on how RMIT ABC Fact Check finds and checks claims.

Dinda Purnamasari: If the data isn’t available, we will place it as unproven, though this flag is unsatisfactory. But, before we conclude the issue as unproven, we still explain the verification steps that we undertook. This is because we want citizens to understand that, when tirto.id places a claims as unproven, it means we could not find the credible source of the information.

As an example, one of our politicians stated that the LRT development cost for 1 KM was USD 8 billion. After we checked reliable and credible sources, and we couldn’t find the information, then we concluded the issue as unproven.

Tania Roettger: “Knife crime on the rise“ is a recent story, but the federal crime statistics do not list crimes committed with knives as a special category. Some states in Germany do, but among them, they differ in what they count as knife crime. That definitely does not make our work easier.

In cases like this, we source as much information for a claim as is available. If it turns out the material is not sufficient to verify or debunk the claim, we list what is known and clearly state what is missing. If there is no convincing tendency we give the rating “unproven”. But it is important to keep in mind that those making a claim also carry a burden of proof – if one makes a statement of fact, it needs to be based on evidence. This is one of the things we’re trying to show with our work.

Reader question: Are there any established guidelines for determining the reliability of a data source? How does your organisation determine which data is appropriate to use?

Samar Halarnkar: We do not have established guidelines. In general, we consider if the data source is reliable. Sometimes, it might not entirely reliable; for example, a government source, in which case we use the data but cross check with experts, independent studies and/or our own checks. Some public databases are largely reliable: for instance, government-run databases on health, farming and education. We do not consider those data that have previously proven to be compromised or are doubtful.

Matt Martino: We don’t have any hard rules around it, but generally the source should be a non-partisan organisation. In Australia, we rely heavily on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is a government organisation which has a reputation for providing objective data on a range of issues. This is an example of a good source.

When considering a source, it’s always pertinent to ask: “what is their agenda?” If their motivations for providing data might influence the data in a partisan way, it’s best to leave it alone. As always, it’s a good idea to consult experts in the field on what is the best source to use in verifying a claim.

Dinda Purnamasari: Since we already know that every data has their own nature, such as context, methodology, etc, we have established a standard for the secondary data that is used. Our first level of the source comes from the Government Statistic Bureau, Ministry/Local Government, company financial reports and the stock exchange. As a second layer, we use world organisations, verified and credible journals, consultants and research companies, as well the national or high reputation news agencies. Although, we have this standard, we also cross-check information by consulting with experts in the field, so that we use the best sources.

Tania Roettger: When we’re investigating a claim, one task is to understand what exactly a given piece of data is able to tell. We establish how and why it was collected, what it contains and it excludes. Usually we note the shortcomings of a statistic in the article. Whenever we are uncertain about the evidence we have gathered, we discuss the issue among our team.

Anim van Wyk: There’s no way round studying the methodology by which the data is collected. This must then be discussed with experts to get their input. And all data sources, even those considered reliable, have limitations, which has to be highlighted.

Reader question: What do you think about the potential of automated fact-checking?

Samar Halarnkar: I am sure it has immense potential, but this requires coding expertise that we do not currently have.

Tania Roettger: There are several ways in which automation could help the fact-checking process: extracting fact-checkable claims from speeches or sourcing relevant statistics and documents from a data-pool, for example. But so far we have not experienced or heard of a tool that would do our work for us.

Image: An overview of out automation could aid fact-checking from Understanding the promise and limits of automated fact-checking, by Lucas Graves.

Matt Martino: It’s an interesting area, but one which is currently undercooked. Parsing language is a big part of what we do at Fact Check, and machines are not yet capable of interpreting a great deal of the nuance in language. That being said, anything that allows greater access to the facts in a debate for audiences would be a good thing.

One area where there is already enormous potential is in searching for and identifying potential claims to check and key data on government website such as Hansard and budget papers.

I think that, like a lot of AI, there’s a long way to go, and we’ll be watching this space intently.

Anim van Wyk: The tools I’ve seen are helpful in monitoring important sources for claims to fact-check, such as transcripts from parliament. But I’m quite hesitant about fact-checks without any human intervention as nuance plays such a big role. The potential of getting it completely wrong when you are the one claiming to be correcting claims is not worth the potential credibility loss, in my opinion.

Dinda Purnamasari: It is very interesting, and could make the fact-checker’s work easier. But, for us, it is still long way to go. But, more importantly, to provide the context to data that I am sure is still hard to do by machine.

Reader Question: What are some of your go-to data tools?

Anim van Wyk: You’t can beat a good old spreadsheet. For illustration purposes, we keep it simple by using Datawrapper.

Samar Halarnkar: We use Tabula for extracting tables from PDFs. For analysis, we depend on Excel/Google Sheets and Tableau depending on the size and type of the dataset. For visualisation, we work primarily with Google Sheets, Datawrapper, Infogram and Tableau. We also use Google My Maps and CartoDB for some maps.

Matt Martino: We use Excel or Google spreadsheets for simple analyses; for more complex ones I use R Studio, which is more powerful and can handle much larger datasets. It requires coding knowledge, but the training is well worth it.

In terms of visualisation, we’ve tried many different platforms throughout the years, but Tableau Public has emerged as our go-to. Its abilities in formatting, design, calculation and visualisation are pretty much unrivalled in my opinion, and we’ve been able to create really interesting and rich visualisations using the platform, like those seen here and here.

Dinda Purnamasari: For analysis, we use excel, SPSS, and other statistical tools. It really depends on the purpose, size and type of our data and analysis. For visualisation, we use adobe illustrator, datawrapper, etc.

Want to participate in future ask me anythings? Sign up to the European Journalism Centre’s data newsletter here.

THE MULTIMEDIA; NEW MEDIA – Especially TWITTER  Has Taken Journos Hostage; They Are Trapped In A Morass Of Mostly Subjective Viewpoints And Many Times Misleading Claims that are barren of rationalisation and context.  Are Journalists Up To This Task – “The Unraveling?”

TWITTER  has taken Journalists hostage; they are trapped in a morass of mostly subjective viewpoints and misleading claims most of the times.  Are Journalists up to this task – “The Unraveling“; navigating their way out; identify and discard misinformation and propaganda;  but emerge with something substantive …a highlight of happenstances that directly affect ordinary men and women on the street; in the villages; like explaining difficult concepts =inflation, trade deficit, climate change in ways that reflect their contexts and circumstances; and in their language too.

TWEETING #JOURNALISM: 20 JOURNALISTS WORTH FOLLOWING ON TWITTER
IRENE PADOVESE, 

|Mathew Ingram, CJR|AIWA! NO!|Twitter may not have the same globe-spanning reach as Facebook, but one group of professional users has adopted it en masse: journalists. The lure of an always-on, news-heavy social network that includes access not just to an audience of consumers but direct input from newsmakers like Donald Trump is impossible to resist for many in the media. But is this a good thing? Journalists often say they spend too much time on Twitter, and wind up devoting more time than they should to stories that come to them via tweets. Should Twitter play such an oversized role in what the media chooses to cover and how they cover it?

A new study attempts to get at whether journalists ascribe too much importance to Twitter. Shannon McGregor of The University of Utah and Logan Molyneux of Temple University performed an experiment in which they showed about two hundred journalists—some who use Twitter heavily and some who use it only moderately—a selection of anonymous tweets that mentioned news stories, along with tweets from the Associated Press wire account with links to AP stories. They then asked the journalists to rate the newsworthiness of the tweets. The result? Journalists who said they spend a lot of time on Twitter and rely on it for their work ranked the anonymous tweets as high or higher than the AP stories (this effect declined the longer a journalist had been working in the industry).

“Our results indicate that the routinization of Twitter into news production affects news judgment,” the researchers write. “For journalists who incorporate Twitter into their reporting routines, and those with fewer years of experience, Twitter has become so normalized that tweets were deemed equally newsworthy as headlines appearing to be from the AP wire. This may have negative implications.” Among those implications, they argue, is that journalists can get caught up in a kind of pack mentality in which a story is seen as important because other journalists on Twitter are talking about it, rather than because it is newsworthy.

The researchers argue it can also distort the way a story is reported. For example, when the  photo of Chris Christie looking uncomfortable while standing behind Donald Trump in 2016 was published by the AP, Twitter exploded with jokes, and multiple news outlets wrote about it, but those familiar with Christie said there was nothing unusual about his expression. There are also more serious examples: The study notes a study of tweets posted by Russian agents working for the notorious “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency found more than 30 news outlets—including NPR, The Washington Post, and BuzzFeed—had embedded tweets from fake accounts in their news stories.

Although there are potential downsides to journalists relying so much on Twitter, the researchers did highlight one potential positive: The social network may be broadening the range of sources beyond traditional information gatekeepers. “To the extent that the public now constructs its own news feeds by combining traditional media, social media, and algorithmic recommendations, this power is redistributed,”they write. “The benefit, from a democratic standpoint, may be that journalists could come to rely less on official or elite sources, and begin to include a wider range of news sources coming through social media.”

Here’s more on the complex relationship between Twitter and the media:

  • Misinfo central: Despite Twitter’s recent attempts to crack down on misinformation and fake accounts, a recent study found that more than 80 percent of the users and accounts that spread misinformation during the 2016 election are still active. “Twitter has absolutely taken some measures to take some sites down, but they have not taken the vast majority of what we looked at down,” one of the researchers told Politico.
  • Likes as a weapon: In a new book entitled “LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media,” two national security experts write about how social media is being used to expand the theater of war. “We saw how not just the definition of those war zones was expanding, but also how the very same tactics, the very same players, were popping up in other realms, from politics to news,” they told The Atlantic in a recent interview.
  • Fake news laws: A number of countries including Kenya and Egypt are either considering or have already passed legislation aimed at getting rid of “fake news,” but in Singapore, BuzzFeed News reports that there is a concern among local journalists the legislation proposed in that country could become just another tool for the government to go after journalists and media outlets they disapprove of.
  • Losing the war: Despite a crackdown by both Twitter and Facebook, some experts say we are losing the war against social-media misinformation, because the professional trolls who want to misuse those networks are changing their methods. “The fake news merchants are a step ahead, thanks to techniques that allow them to mask their location, masquerade as local activists and purchase political ads in countries’ local currencies to dodge rules against foreign influence,” a recent Politico piece argues.
  • Identify yourself: Since much of the misinformation problem seems to be driven by bots or automated accounts, California recently passed a law that requires automated accounts to identify themselves as bots. The law, whichtakes effect next year, makes it illegal for bots that are interacting with California consumers to pretend they’re human if they’re trying to sell goods, services, or to “influence a vote in an election.”
  • Watch those tweets: In the latest example of a journalist undone by their own tweets, the Washington-based correspondent for Russian news service RT is facing a “disciplinary review” after she posted tweets praising the gulag prisons set up by dictator Joseph Stalin. Sameera Khan shared two posts (which have since been deleted) arguing that the prisons weren’t as bad as liberals claim. Khan has since apologized, and RT said it “strongly condemns the posts.”

Other notable stories:

  • Forbes is partnering with Civil, the startup that is trying to build a platform for journalism using cryptocurrency and the blockchain. The magazine becomes the first traditional publisher to experiment with the platform (although Civil also has a partnership with Associated Press), which will involve simultaneously publishing some of its content on the Civil blockchain as well as on the magazine’s website. (CJR profiled Civil here.)
  • Facebook is setting up a task force that will try to prevent bad actors from influencing voters in India’s elections next year, according to a report from the news service IANS. “The team will have security specialists and content specialists, among others, who will try to understand all the possible forms of election-related abuse in India,” Facebook’s vice president of global policy solutions said during a workshop in New Delhi.
  • Amanda Darrach writes for CJR about the political polarization of the small town of Santa Clarita, California, where new owners acquired the local newspaper and turned it inexorably towards the right, to the point where a group of local residents decided to start their own competing outlet.
  • ©

AFRICA SIERRA LEONE Cancels China-Funded Mamamah Airport

Sierra Leone cancels China-funded Mamamah airport outside capital Free Town- a move that comes at a time when African leaders are waking-up from their deep slumber; beginning to question their ‘Look Far East-CHINA’ political dissertations/policies – tottering towards China’s ‘neo-imperialisation‘ of Africa through shameless debt traps – mega white elephant projects

Former Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on December 1, 2016.
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionFormer Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma (left) stepped down from power in April

|BBC|AIWA! NO!|Sierra Leone has cancelled a $400m (£304m) Chinese-funded project to build a new airport outside the capital Freetown.

Former President Ernest Bai Koroma signed the loan agreement with China before he lost elections in March.

At the time, the World Bank and the IMF warned that the project would impose a heavy debt burden.

The decision comes amid concern that many African countries risk defaulting on their debts to China.

Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon told the BBC that the project, which was due to have been completed in 2022, wasn’t necessary and its current international airport would be renovated instead.

Image result for africa chinese debt
China’s set to have invested $60bn in Africa at the end of 2018

He said the current president, Julius Maada Bio, “didn’t see any need for Mamamah [the proposed airport]” and was considering building a bridge from the capital to Lungi airport – the only international airport in the country. Currently passengers need to get a boat or helicopter to reach Freetown.

Mr Kallon said he did not know whether the cancelled contract would lead to financial implications, and Sierra Leone remained on good terms with China.

“As [a] sovereign state, I do have the right to take the best decision for the country,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

Chart showing growth of China's loans to African governments

China is now the single largest bilateral financier of infrastructure in Africa – surpassing the African Development Bank (ADB), the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank and the Group of eight (G8) countries combined.

Critics say China is luring countries into debt traps by lending them money for massive infrastructure projects.

In August, 16 American senators voiced their concern about “predatory Chinese infrastructure lending” in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Zambia’s government has had to publicly deny reports China could seize some of its parastatal companies if it defaulted on loan repayments.

But China has denied claims that it is leading countries into a debt trap.

“If we take a closer look at these African countries that are heavily in debt, China is not their main creditor,” China’s special envoy for Africa, Xu Jinghu, told a news conference in September, Reuters reports.

“It’s senseless and baseless to shift the blame onto China for debt problems.”

Some Africans are also wary of the high levels of debt being built up and say the costs of some projects have been inflated by corruption, while others welcome China’s involvement, saying that the roads, ports, railways and other projects are badly needed.

CLIMATE CHANGE – The BIGGEST Global Story The Media Struggles To Tell 

World media is struggling to tell the biggest global story  – ‘Climate Change’ 

Faced with a major UN report that warns of floods, drought, extreme heat and increased poverty should the world not take radical action to address climate change, Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically reluctant to speak out. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

|PETE VERNON, CJR|AIWA! NO!|The projections are dire: Widespread drought, food shortages, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040. That is the future we’re facing, according to a new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The story received prominent coverage on the homepages of the The New York Times and The Washington Post on Monday, and was discussed on cable news. But with a daily news cycle that churns out a constant stream of stories with sensational angles or immediate implications, can the press find a way to focus on a slow-moving crisis that affects everyone on the planet?

If history is a guide, then the answer is largely “no.” Writing in 2015, then-Guardian Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger argued that “the problem with this story is…it’s so big, and it doesn’t change much from day to day. Journalism is brilliant at capturing momentum, or changes, or things that are unusual. If it’s basically the same every day, every week, every year, I think journalists lose heart.

On Monday, Rusbridger surveyed the covers of UK papers and lamented the absence of articles on the UN report. “If voters are kept in the dark about global warming by newspapers then urgent action by democratic politicians becomes a hundred times harder,” he wrote. Climate change has long been held up as an example of the sort of story that news outlets know is important, but struggle to cover. This new report, which warns that world governments have only a dozen years to take meaningful action, could be a wake-up call, but only if journalists find a way to realign their priorities.

The Post’s Margaret Sullivan argues that the press must find a way to keep attention on this threat, even while dealing with the demands of the daily news cycle. “There is a lot happening in the nation and the world, a constant rush of news. Much of it deserves our attention as journalists and news consumers. But we need to figure out how to make the main thing matter,” Sullivan writes. “In short, when it comes to climate change, we—the media, the public, the world—need radical transformation, and we need it now.

In America, that transformation requires an acknowledgement that President Trump, who has questioned the very idea of climate change, heads a Republican party that is one of the few major political organizations in the world that rejects the basic scientific consensus. The Times’s Mark Landler and Coral Davenport note that Trump spent part of Monday in Florida, “a state that lies directly in the path of this coming calamity—and said nothing about [the new UN report].”

With the immediate implications of climate change being more dire that previously thought, heading off disaster will require a massive effort from governments around the world. The sort of political will required to make necessary changes could be driven by public pressure, but that pressure depends on an informed citizenry, which is where the press comes in. As Sullivan writes, it’s past time for fresh thinking: “Just as the smartest minds in earth science have issued their warning, the best minds in media should be giving sustained attention to how to tell this most important story in a way that will create change.”

Below, more on the coverage of a global emergency.

  • What’s different?: Previous studies had focused on the global damage caused by a rise in average temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius. The UN report released Sunday calculated the effect of a 1.5 degree increase, and found that the effects would include “inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty,” reports the Times’s Davenport.
  • Plain writing: The BBC’s headline on its story about the UN report lays out the stakes: “Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe.’
  • Other priorities: One anecdotal measure of how hard it is for this issue to gain traction in Washington: On Tuesday, neither Politico Playbook nor Axios AM, two influential DC morning tipsheets, contains the phrase “climate change.”
  • Not just Trump: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who finished first in the initial round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday, has said he plans to follow Trump in withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement if he is elected. Brazil is the world’s seventh-largest producer of greenhouse gases.
  • Climate change on the ballot: The topic may have been completely ignored during the 2016 presidential debates, but Lyndsey Gilpin writes for CJR that climate change has emerged as an increasingly important topic in the heart of coal country. As part of our series on midterm races, Gilpin checks in from Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.