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.
The election in the United States has undoubtedly been the biggest news story this week. It is still too early for a proper analysis of the media’s role in this election (or to find out who won, for that matter). Still, the last few days have already brought some interesting insights.
1. Similarly to the 2016 election – and despite the 2016 election – much of the polling data that formed the media narrative before the election missed the mark. Although Trump looks less likely than Biden to win, the former outperformed most polls and media models.
The Atlantic’s David A. Graham laments the polling failure as “a catastrophe for the American democracy”, arguing that if election polls cannot be trusted, other polls are also suspect, which “leaves Americans with no reliable way to understand what we as a people think”.
Before the election prominent media outlets, including The New York Times and The Economist, built sophisticated models which tried to predict outcomes, and constantly updated them to incorporate new polling data and other information. Even before election day, some critics seriously questioned the value of such an exercise. These voices will become louder now.
2. On the other hand, the forecasts – and election coverage more broadly – have been a financial boon for publishers. The Economist used election-focused products to “charge its growth”, and The New York Times just hit a new record of 7 million subscribers.
More interesting data will become available in the coming weeks, but it’s already clear that American media companies – as well as prominent non-American publishers, such as The Economist and The Financial Times – benefitted from Americans’ political hobbyism and increasing political polarization.
3. Tech companies “survived election day”. As we wrote several weeks ago, the ability of big tech platforms to tackle election-related misinformation was in the spotlight. We are still waiting for a comprehensive assessment of how well social networks coped with the whole election cycle (there have been issues), but election day itself did not see major scandals.
Twitter and Facebook dutifully fact-checked and limited Trump’s misleading posts, while Facebook and YouTube “used their home pages to show people accurate information about the election”, according to The New York Times.
With a lot of uncertainty ahead, it’s not time to relax just yet.
In other news Hollywood star Johnny Depp lost a libel case against the newspaper The Sun in a London court. The newspaper described Depp as “wife beater” in an article, referring to domestic abuse allegations by the actor’s former wife Amber Heard.
The High Court of Justice of England sided with The Sun, deciding that the majority of allegations have been proved. The ruling was welcomed by domestic violence charities, which emphasized that “the four-week trial exemplified tactics used to silence and discredit victims”.
The jewel in the crown of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, Fox News, has been hailed for its balanced election coverage, despite the network’s deep ties with Trump. In Australia, however, Murdoch’s media holdings are embroiled in a public controversy as more than 500,000 Australians signed a petition demanding a government inquiry into the activities of Murdoch’s News Corp.
The petition decries News Corp’s dominance in the country’s news market and its practices of “attack[ing] opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting”, adding that News Corp has a negative impact on free speech and public debate. The petition was launched by Kevin Rudd, Australia’s former Prime Minister.
More from The Fix: The Fix Weekly Digest: Money, Ideology, and Oppression
November 2nd marked the International Day to End of Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, an observance instituted by the United Nations in 2014. To commemorate it, UNESCO released a report detailing the situation regarding crimes against journalists worldwide.
On a positive note, journalist killings dropped to a decade low in 2019, according to the report. Sadly, it’s partially because many media have given up on reporting from some of the most dangerous conflict zones altogether. Mexico was the most dangerous country in terms of journalist murders in 2019. Only just over 1 in 10 of killings worldwide have been fully investigated and resolved.
More from The Fix: UNESCO report on journalism safety — key takeaways
As China continues its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, this week the authorities arrested a TV journalist for her work in covering the police. According to The Guardian’s report, “Choy Yuk-ling could face jail for (a) film about claims of police collusion with armed thugs”. Her investigations showed that police allowed armed civilians to attack peaceful pro-democracy protesters.
International media groups condemned the arrest, with the International Press Institute emphasizing that the journalist “was conducting an investigation in the public interest”.
Bonus — Four more stories you might want to check out: