Need to Know: June 28, 2022


You might have heard: New York Times v. Sullivan is safe from Sarah Palin (Bloomberg Law)

But did you know: Supreme Court declines to revisit landmark First Amendment decision, leaving higher bar for libel in place (CNN)

This week, the Supreme Court declined to revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 decision that created a higher standard for public figures to claim libel, writes Ariane de Vogue. A Christian ministry, Coral Ridge Ministries Media, had sued the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for defamation after it designated the ministry a “hate group” for its views on homosexuality. Coral Ridge’s attorney argued that Sullivan has become “a sword used to bludgeon public figures with impunity,” while SPLC says the group’s views “are of significant public interest and that free and open debate in this area is essential.”

+ Related: Clarence Thomas signals interest in revisiting media libel standard (Axios)

+ Noted: Alex Wagner to succeed Rachel Maddow at MSNBC (The New York Times)


API launches diversity initiative in Pittsburgh to improve how news organizations serve communities of color

The American Press Institute has launched a new initiative, the Inclusion Index, focused on creating better relationships with readers and fostering belonging in newsrooms. To kick off this program, API partnered with the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation to provide its Index service to a cohort of five newsrooms, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh City Paper, Public Source and Pitt News. The Pittsburgh initiative is funded by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. 


Four headline mistakes newsrooms need to abolish when reporting about the criminal justice system (Scalawag)

From cop dramas to newspaper articles, the media plays a huge role in how law enforcement is presented to the public. But many news outlets default to presenting police perspectives, to the detriment of incarcerated people. Scalawag advises that newsrooms move away from dehumanizing terms like “inmate” and “felon” and avoid using misleading framing about crime to drive clicks. They also emphasize the need to use clear terminology when describing police actions, citing a lengthy New York Times line about the police response in Uvalde. “That’s a lot of words to say police lied — and that you fell for it,” writes the Scalawag team.


Covering ‘gringo-style’ shootings in Mexico (Nieman Reports)

Gun violence in Mexico is so associated with organized crime that random shootings by a lone gunman have been dubbed “gringo style” shootings, reports Javier Garza Ramos. A recent shooting at a school required journalists to change the way they covered gun violence. That meant more details were available about the shooter than about crimes involving cartel-related violence. It also meant that journalists didn’t have to take as many precautionary measures, such as traveling in packs and looking out for surveillance, as they do when covering organized crime.


The subtle stagecraft behind the Jan. 6 hearings (The Washington Post)

The House committee hearings on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have turned “a year-long investigative grind into something like must-see television,” write Sarah Ellison, Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey. With a mostly Democratic panel, the hearings lack the contentious cross-examination of many hearings, but have deployed tactics from episodic television — flashbacks, flash-forwards, repetition — to draw attention and help viewers follow the story. Former ABC News President James Goldston has been guiding the hearings, and lawmakers have credited him with presenting videotaped testimonials in the style of an oral history and refraining from over-dramatizing the hearings.


Time for real coverage of the Supreme Court (Second Rough Draft) 

Coverage of the Supreme Court has traditionally been seen as a legal beat, but in the wake of the Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, Richard J. Tofel argues that the court “has abandoned any pretense of being anything other than just another political actor in Washington, and it needs to be covered as such.” This means pushing justices to explain seeming inconsistencies in their statements, such as Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch’s testimonies at their confirmation hearings that they considered Roe to be settled precedent. Tofel also argues that the veil of secrecy and privacy that surrounds the court needs to be lifted, that political reporters should cover the appointment of judicial clerks and that journalists should point out errors in the court’s decisions.

+ After Supreme Court rules against abortion, reporters document state and local impacts (CNN)


Can media companies weather a recession? Executives say they’re in stronger shape this time (CNBC)

There are indications that the economy is heading towards a recession, but media executives say they are more prepared than last time, reports Alex Sherman. Industry leaders say their companies are lean and balanced enough to withstand an advertising downturn. This may be due to years of layoffs, which have lowered overhead costs. Not everyone is so optimistic; former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter says that any digital media company that relies on online advertising will suffer. “It’s simply out of your hands,” Carter said. “I think [a downturn] will be brutal and possibly long.”