Number of journalists jailed worldwide hits record amid unrest, pandemic

News Release from Committee to Protect Journalists

New York, December 15, 2020–A record number of journalists were imprisoned because of their work in 2020, as governments clamped down on news coverage of civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in its latest annual census.

Police officers detain a photojournalist during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, on September 26, 2020

“It’s shocking and appalling that we are seeing a record number of journalists imprisoned in the midst of a global pandemic,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This wave of repression is a form of censorship that is disrupting the flow of information and fueling the infodemic. With COVID 19 raging through the world’s prison, it’s also putting the lives of journalists at risk.”

At least 274 journalists were jailed as of December 1, the most since CPJ began collecting data in the early 1990s, and the fifth consecutive year with at least 250 journalists imprisoned. China, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia were the worst jailers.

Protests and political tensions were a catalyst for many arrests. Two countries with significant increases in jailed journalists were Ethiopia, where unrest has degenerated into armed conflict, and Belarus, where journalists were detained while covering protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who claimed victory in an election widely seen as fraudulent.

While no journalists were jailed in the U.S. at the time of CPJ’s prison census, an unprecedented 110 were arrested or charged in 2020, many while covering demonstrations against police violence; at least 12 still face charges, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric throughout his term, including calling critical reports “fake news,” gave cover to authoritarians to crack down on journalists in their own countries. Globally, 34 journalists were jailed for “false news,” compared with 31 last year. CPJ recently published recommendations to the incoming Biden administration for restoring U.S. leadership on press freedom, including prioritizing the issue in foreign policy and appointing a Special Presidential Envoy for Press Freedom.

“The record number of journalists imprisoned around the world is President Trump’s press freedom legacy,” Simon said. “The incoming Biden administration must work as part of a global coalition to bring the number down.”

Amid the pandemic, authoritarian leaders tried to control the narrative by arresting journalists; they also delayed trials, restricted visitors, and disregarded the increased health risk in prison; at least two journalists died after contracting the disease in custody. CPJ documented more than 200 press freedom violations related to COVID-19 and launched the #FreeThePress campaign to call on world leaders to release all imprisoned journalists.

CPJ’s census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2020. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody. CPJ advocacy helped lead to the early release of at least 75 imprisoned journalists worldwide this year.


As a former journalist and college journalism instructor, I strongly support the work of CPJ in support of journalists and other newsroom personnel in fighting police actions in the course of their work. — Malcolm

Where is the real news?

One visitor at yesterday’s post said that while I liked the chaos of an uncertain past, he found the cover-ups that created that uncertainty to be unsettling. I agree with him.

The chaos that motivates me as a writer is that which occurs after the fact–even centuries after the fact–as people (experts and others) try to cut through old smoke screens to figure out what really happened.

Suffice it to say, there’s nothing good about the news today when it becomes polarized, subject to corporate or anchor-person agendas, or sanitized to conform with public opinion. When these things happen, what we’re getting is public relations information that has gone through multiple spin doctors.

When people argue with each other on social media, I can usually tell where they’re getting their real or imagined news: FOX or CNN. I want to ask, where have all the journalists gone, long time passing, gone to the big money every one, when will they ever learn?

My father was a journalist and a journalism school dean, I majored in journalism and taught it at the college level, so I’ve got to say, the kind of reportage we’re getting today from many sources is not what we taught: it’s yellow journalism creeping out of the past tricking the public into believing that public opinions are more honest (or exciting) than facts.

I went to a large journalism school (Syracuse) and when I read the bulletins and newsletters they send out to their alumni, I see a lot of good things happening. According to its website, Syracuse University’s “Newhouse School is more than just the nation’s leading communications school. It’s where passionate young minds go to discover what they can become—communicators, storytellers, leaders, innovators.” I see similar statements on other university websites.

I want to ask this: What happens to your students between their graduation days and the moment when they report to work at news sites that are skewing the news?

Does the mob stop by to see them before they report to work and promise money if they follow orders and violence if they don’t? Has social media’s focus on personal opinion dumbed down the public so they don’t know the difference between an opinion show and a news broadcast? Or, are people just too lazy to check multiple sources?

Perhaps all of the above.

I don’t think the solution to this problem is censorship by Facebook as though the opinions expressed on the site need to go through some strainer to see if they’re correct or not. That’s a misnomer. Opinions might be anything and could be strange or fact-based or agenda-based. But we have a right to say what we think.

Frankly, I think we need more people calling out major news organizations for skewing the news. I’ve even caught age-old newspapers “covering” a speech by making stuff up about what was said. If I hear the live broadcast of the speech and then see a “news report” the following day that doesn’t match the actual speech, I know the newspaper or broadcast organization is reporting an agenda rather than the facts.

I’m surprised more people don’t sound off about this. Or, perhaps–as many have told me–they read/listen to the sources they agree with. That means they’re not looking for multiple sources to find the truth.

I’ve said a lot of this before on this blog. From time to time, it seems necessary to say it again.


When I say I write magical realism, some people think that means I ignore the facts. I don’t. The realism has to be anchored by the truth for the magic to work.

Briefly noted: ‘We’re Still Here Ya Bastards’

Katrina Myths

Myth: Katrina was a “natural disaster.”

Fact: Katrina has been recognized as the most catastrophic failure in the history of American engineering.

Myth: The levees were “overtopped” by the intensity of the high water.

Fact: The levees collapsed in fifty-three places due to engineering design errors and “were responsible for 87 percent of the flooding, by volume.”

– Roberta Brandes Gratz

About the Book

Using the traditional journalism techniques of shoes pointing the pavement, observation, interviews, and a long-time experience with the ways cities work, Gratz explores how New Orleans–in the years following the 2005 storm– has managed to rebuild faster and stronger after Katrina than even the most optimistic of experts could have predicted.

One primary conclusion is this: local people using local plans do a better job than government agencies and large developers that don’t understand who’s doing the real work (and can’t get them financial help) and/or who often want to bulldoze what’s broken and put up generic structures that don’t fit the history and the culture of the city.

From The Publisher

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is one of the darkest chapters in American history. The storm caused unprecedented destruction, and a toxic combination of government neglect and socioeconomic inequality turned a crisis into a tragedy. But among the rubble, there is hope.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards presents an extraordinary panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane. Award-winning journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz shares the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. She shows how the city — from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue — is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

By telling stories that are often ignored by the mainstream media, We’re Still Here Ya Bastards shows the strength and resilience of a community that continues to work to rebuild New Orleans and reveals what Katrina couldn’t destroy: the vibrant culture, epic history, and unwavering pride of one of the greatest cities in America.

Fix local. That should be apparent. Historic neighborhoods–and other segments of cities with unique styles–that aren’t understood or even apparent to outsiders. Yes, government funds are needed, but the government should ask what’s needed and where before it blunders into stricken areas like a bull in a China shop. And, as is obvious, don’t rebuild the levees the same foolish piecemeal and incorrectly designed way they were built the first time.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the former chairman of a local Historic Preservation Commission that oversaw repair and design projects in historic neighborhoods.

Is today’s news giving us ‘truth actual’?

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby is the title of Tom Wolfe’s first collected book of essays, published in 1965. The book is named for one of the stories in the collection that was originally published in Esquire magazine in 1963 under the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…” Wolfe’s essay for Esquire and this, his first book, are frequently heralded as early examples of New Journalism. – Wikipedia

Those of us steeped in traditional journalism looked askance at the so-called “new journalism” of the 1960s. It was perpetrated (or lovingly brought into the world–depending on your feelings about it) by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and others who–while they had newspaper reporting experience–wrote their new stuff primarily for magazines like “Esquire” and “Atlantic”?

As you might guess from the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…”, it focused on the immersion of the reporter into the subject matter and often used techniques common to fiction when they wrote their stories.

Truth Actual

Fiction writers, especially those of us who write and/or like stream of consciousness, magical realism, fairy tales, myth-based fiction, and other forms that are often called “literary fiction,” often call the result of our stories “truth actual” instead of “truth literal.”

This view comes from the theory that the knowledge, feelings, impressions, and intuition within the reader’s mind after reading a “truth actual” novel will be more accurate than what results from reading straight realism. We might say that we’re speaking here of “more important” truths than “how to fix your dishwasher” or “how do I get from Yellow Knife to Key West.”

At any rate, the new journalism reporters thought that’s what they were doing and, I think, when they wrote longer, quasi-commentary, creative nonfiction magazine pieces, they succeeded. The technique works less well for front-page news.

Opinion Journalism

New journalism, however, seems to have spawned a black sheep. Some call it fake news. Basically, it’s the warping of a story to fit ones personal opinion and/or the political agenda of the publication. I don’t think this kind of “reporting” provides us with any real truth at all, and I see it practiced with equal fervor on Fox News, CNN, and The New York Times. In the old days, we would say this approach was pure arrogance, the notion being that the facts of the world don’t revolve like planets around the sun of your opinion about them.

This is new journalism gone too far and the flip side of what all of us were taught in journalism school and on our first jobs in the field.




I never know why what happens happens

That title applies to a lot of things. Once again, it applies to my bewilderment about old posts that are suddenly found by more readers long after the fact than read them when they were written.

Lately, two reviews, ‘Paris in the Present Tense’ by Mark Helprin and Briefly Noted: ‘The Hart Brand’ by Johnny D. Boggs have suddenly gotten a lot of hits.

I used to spend time trying to figure out what suddenly drew so many readers to old posts. I’d search Google to see if the subject was in the news or if there were a fresh scandal afoot. I seldom found anything. Nonetheless, I appreciate the readers who spend their time here whether it’s to read something from months ago or something I wrote today.

I never know why what happens happens is probably the story of my life. I don’t believe in coincidences, luck, or fate. So, most of the time when I can’t explain something, I just shrug and move on. Wondering about things I can’t explain usually doesn’t get me anywhere.

When I worked as a journalist and a journalism teacher, I taught the so-called 5Ws and the H, the who, what, when, where, why, and how that reporters need to cover in the early paragraphs of their news stories. To know something, when it comes to news, these things are what readers ask about. So, part of my training as a journalist and college journalism instructor still nags at me now–out of habit, I ask why?

Age and/or laziness have shown me that I’m not always going to know why about a lot of things. I realize that why? is an important question in a lot of professions: why did the bridge fall down, why did the sinkhole swallow a Florida town, why did the wreck happen, why did the plane crash, why did the fire start, &c. Why, in such instances, helps us fix what’s broken and makes it less likely that bad things won’t happen again.

But applying why to non-technical questions, such as why are so many people reading an old Mark Helprin review or why do bad things happen to good people (and vice versa) often seems like a fool’s errand. That doesn’t mean we don’t care. It seems to mean we don’t know and haven’t figured how to know.

I suspect that if we truly discovered the why behind mysterious and/or transcendent occurrences, we wouldn’t believe it because it would conflict greatly with our view of the world. My views about why conflict with most people’s views about why don’t make sense to most people, so I don’t mention them. I find comfort in my idiosyncratic views about why and, smart or stupid, they keep me reasonably sane.

I often wonder if a lot of people are like this when confronted with unanswered or unanswerable question. They have a theory about such things, perhaps, but otherwise, don’t worry about it. That seems to be better than going flat nuts.

On the other hand, being human, we’re still curious, but we are smart enough to keep our curiosity under control.




Should I be writing about political issues?

Arts, publishing and books websites are showing us a large number of links about writers and politics these days. Some writers are speaking out (from one side of the aisle or the other) at rallies, via letters to Senators and Representatives, and posts on Facebook profiles. Others are writing poems, entire poetry chapbooks, essays, book reviews, short stories and novels that reflect their concerns about a wide variety of political, economic and social issues that became part of the very polarized national debate during the Presidential campaign.

Somebody–I forget who–once said that all fiction and poetry is at one level or another political. Perhaps so. My contemporary fantasies can’t help but show sadness over a world that relies more on technology than spirituality. My two Florida conjure novels shine a light on the racism of the 1950s. Nonetheless, my primary intent with these novels was telling stories I was passionate about rather than creating “message novels.”

When I think about the folk songs of the 1960s–and a lot of the poetry and fiction as well–I remember them as being intensely political, about “the military industrial establishment,” segregation, poverty, and the Vietnam War. We seem to have come full circle back to writings of protest and resistance against conservative policies as well as writings suggesting that that previous liberal policies created a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Of course I have opinions about the issues. One opinion of longstanding favors a better approach to the environment, conservation, protection of wild areas and natural resources, and more care about not polluting the environment. Since these views go all the way back to the days when I was in the Boy Scouts and first began to participate in conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association, I will keep writing about this–and referring to it in my stories.

While I respect writers and others who feel a need to speak out for or against the issues that now threaten to further divide this country into camps that refuse to work toward consensus, I’m not going to do it. For one thing, I have no credentials that give me any special insight into whether we should be doing ABC or XYZ.  For another thing, much of the debate in both the news media and the social media is being driven by biased or skewed news, sensationalism and other misleading information, and voters on both sides of the issue who approach discussion with a “my candidate right or wrong.” All of this divides us further and makes the truth harder to find.

So my “voice” is going to stay focused on environmental issues and in writing fiction even if the two things get stirred up together a little bit. None of the rants–even those I basically agree with–on Facebook and elsewhere are changing people’s minds. Why not? Because they’re skewed toward the far right or the far left rather than a more centrist approach where people can really discuss the issues sanely rather than throwing gasoline on the fire with dueling wisecracks and graphics.

I welcome those journalists and other writers who do their best to look past the hysteria and tell us the facts and/or to carefully analyze the practicality, ethics, and legality of the issues in their news stories, features, essays, poems, and fiction. Anything else is pretty much spitting into the wind.



Throwback Thursday – a few memorable headlines

My father was a journalist. So was I (briefly). That means I’m conscious of headlines, the good, the absurd and the comical.

Years ago, the New York Times ran a weekly piece for its staff called “Winners and Sinners” in which it commented on the stories and headlines that hit gold and those that hit fool’s gold. It was enjoyable reading for me and a learning experience.

stixnixMy favorite headline of the past comes from Variety. It’s been copied and referred to so many times, that a fair number of places of the web explain what it means. This one appeared in July 1935 over an article claiming rural audiences didn’t care for movies about rural life.

A lot of people think this headline was STIX NIX HIX PIX. That would have been funnier, but in four words, the editors still said it all.

deweyOn November 3, 1948, the one-star edition (which means that it was an early one of many for that day) called the Presidential election a bit early based on its polling. The fact that the paper and the candidate both had low opinions of each other might have played into  the error.

The photograph of Truman holding up the paper has probably become more famous than the headline itself.

titannicsafeIn April of 1912, the New York Times reported that the Titanic sank, much to the dismay of other papers who were relying on wishful thinking and White Star Line assurances. The fact that one paper reported everyone was safe seems to have occurred when Marconigrams were intercepted and mixed up by amateurs.

One of the wires that apparently helped create the confusion was the one that asked ARE TITANIC PASSENGERS SAFE? Somebody read the question as a fact.

This gaffe, however, remained one of the largest until the Dewey Defeats Truman headline.

dianadeadThe stark, sobering headlines about Princess Diana’s death in August 1997 contrasted so greatly with the love many felt for her, they immediately captured the grim event.

The fact that she died in a car crash seemed to so many such a mundane and tragic fluke, leading to conspiracy theories, that her last moments stayed in the news seemingly forever.

dianaaliveHere’s a headline that definitely would have found its way into the New York Times list of sinners. Headlines are often written quickly, leading to inadvertent meanings the editors don’t intend. Headlines like this frequently made their way into comedy bits on the Letterman and Leno shows.

Today, Facebook, YouTube and other social media are quick to capitalize on similar mistakes for places that didn’t really want to become famous due to a humorous typo.

mississippiheadlineIn grade school, various little rhymes helped us remember how to spell the names of the states. Mississippi was a problem state, spelling-wise, though it also was very easy to spell once you learn the little spelling ditty.

Whoever wrote this headline was obviously out sick on the day of that lesson. These days, a quick Google search will turn up hundred of examples of church signs, advertisements, posters in store windows and road signs with hideous examples of misspelled words of words with double meanings.

Yes, unfortunately some of these get into the newspapers.

onionholyshitOn the flip side, sometimes a satirical publication specializing in fake news stories helps capture the country’s mood about a major tragedy in a way that mainstream newspapers can’t so for sake of propriety. Here is, perhaps, the best such headline that came after 9/11.

firstfootstepEditors are said to like gaining readers now only with sensational headlines (correctly written or skewed), but with puppies, babies, aw shucks moments and the minimalistic few words that say things just right as this paper did April 5th, 1968.

In the “old days” headlines were more difficult to write because editors weren’t looking at them on the screen like they do today to make the they really fit in the space provided by the layouts. Each typeface had different spacing and checking to see what headline fit and what didn’t involved knowing which letters were thick, thin and normal. If you’ve been around for a long time in the business, then you’ll remember “flitj,” the list of thin letters, and you’ll also remember the “W” was a wide letter and took up more space. Now, the screen tells us what fits and what doesn’t. Yet, the year’s news still provides us with plenty of sinners to go along with the winners.

I see winners and sinners every week. So do a lot of people. For better or worse, some of those seem to last forever, even ending up in memory lane posts like this one.


Journalism Association Asks Members to Help Endow Research Award

Campbell - Quill & Scroll photo
My father, Laurence R. Campbell (1903-1987), was a long-time journalism educator and author who focused on student publications and the training of publications advisers. In 1984, the Scholastic Journalism Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) honored him by establishing the Laurence R. Campbell Research Award.

The annual award recognizes scholarship in the field of journalism research. Now, the AEJMC hopes to further support the award by increasing the level of its funding to the point where it can be endowed. This would ensure the award’s long-term continuation.

Writing in the March issue of Scholastic Source, division director Vanessa Shelton appealed to AEJMC members to add the research award to their list of charitable donations for the year.

“Mr. High School Journalism, as Campbell was called, left an amazing legacy of information generated through his prolific writing and research agenda,” said Shelton. This included 32 articles for Quill & Scroll Magazine, 50 research projects, 200 articles for student journalists, and over eleven journalism textbooks and pamphlets.

As Shelton noted, Campbell “also judged thousands of newspapers and yearbooks for scholastic press associations influencing (as author Bruce Konkle said) ‘the quality of student publications for more than 25 years.'”

I hope the AEJMC members and others who support high school journalism courses and student publications will help raise the award’s funding to the endowment level.

Donations earmarked for the Laurence R. Campbell Research Award can be sent to Vanessa Shelton, Quill and Scroll, University of Iowa, E346 Adler Building, Iowa City, IA 52242. Checks should be made payable to the AEJMC with a notation for the Campbell Award fund.