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The Fix Weekly Digest: Reporters under Assault

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you five important news stories from the world of media — and try to put them in a wider context.

This week protests over the killing of George Floyd further evolved into protests against racial inequality and police brutality. While America is the protests’ epicenter, the demonstrations have become a worldwide phenomenon.

Unfortunately, another phenomenon also went global — assaults on journalists. In the US, “dozens of journalists”, including foreign correspondents, have been targeted by security forces — and by protesters. In London, two Australian reporters covering the protests were assaulted in a single day.

The pandemic is no longer the single biggest story in the news. Even as readers have been growing tired of coronavirus news for weeks now, the protests are pushing COVID-19 further down the page.

It’s most visible in the US, of course. According to Axios, “coverage of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests this weekend completely dwarfed coverage of the coronavirus”. Last Saturday, social media users interacted with stories about protests 14 times as much as with pandemic stories.

Still, this effect can be felt in Europe, too. With protests against racial injustice occurring globally, looming economic problems, and reignited political issues, the pandemic itself remains an important part of news coverage but doesn’t overshadow everything else. A tool by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that the proportion of most-read stories that are devoted to COVID-19 is declining. 

Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

While focusing on the assaults on journalists in major Western countries, we should not forget that COVID-19 poses a major danger to reporters in the Global South. In Peru, The Guardian reports, at least 20 journalists died of COVID-19 as they covered the pandemic.

On the one hand, Peru is badly hit by the pandemic in general, with as much as 184,000 cases in the country of 32 million. Still, journalists reporting on the pandemic face unique challenges, particularly freelancers who do not receive adequate support or protective equipment.

At least around 120 journalists have died of COVID-19 worldwide, and Latin America is the worst hit region.

Late last week, Microsoft was reported to lay off dozens of journalists working on Microsoft News and MSN. The layoffs are said not to be caused by the pandemic; rather, they represent “a bigger push by Microsoft to rely on artificial intelligence to pick news and content that’s presented on MSN.com, inside Microsoft’s Edge browser, and in the company’s various Microsoft News apps”.

It’s an interesting example of AI’s role in the media today. The algorithms cannot write journalistic articles (apart from easy, templatable stories on, say, sports results or market deviations). Yet, what they can do pretty well is content curation.

The Bristol Cable is developing a tool to engage its readers with journalism. As the publication’s co-founder puts it, “we are [increasingly] turning to our members as a rich resource of knowledge and lived experience” through creating an open network of experts drawn from The Bristol Cable’s community.

If it works in the long run, it looks like a clear win for the newspaper, which receives both more expertise from its readers and additional engagement from its membership.

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