When Covid Hit, China Was Ready to Tell Its Version of the Story

But Mr. Rigoni, whose company is owned by Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said he didn’t think China’s mix of media and state power was unique. “It’s not the only country where the main TV and radio programs are controlled by the government or the parliament,” he said.

And the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Anthony Bellanger, said in an email that his view of the report is that while “China is a growing force in the information war, it is also vital to resist such pressures exerted by the U.S., Russia and other governments around the world.”

But there’s little question of which government is more committed to this campaign right now. A report last year by Sarah Cook for the Freedom House, an American nonprofit group that advocates political freedom, found that Beijing was spending “hundreds of millions of dollars a year to spread their messages to audiences around the world.”

The United States may have pioneered the tools of covert and overt influence during the Cold War, but the government’s official channels have withered. The swaggering C.I.A. influence operations of the early Cold War, in which the agency secretly funded influential journals like Encounter, gave way to American outlets like Voice of America and Radio Liberty, which sought to extend American influence by broadcasting uncensored local news into authoritarian countries. After the Cold War, those turned into softer tools of American power.

But more recently, President Donald J. Trump sought to turn those outlets into blunter propaganda tools, and Democrats and their own journalists resisted. That lack of an American domestic consensus on how to use its own media outlets has left the American government unable to project much of anything. Instead, the cultural power represented by companies like Netflix and Disney — vastly more powerful and better funded than any government effort — has been doing the work.

And journalists around the world expressed skepticism of the effectiveness of often ham-handed Chinese government propaganda, a skepticism I certainly shared when I recycled a week’s worth of unread editions of China Daily sent to my home last week. The kind of propaganda that can work inside China, without any real journalistic answer, is largely failing to compete in the intense open market for people’s attention.

“China is trying to push its content in Kenyan media, but it’s not yet that influential,” said Eric Oduor, the secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists.

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Lucinda Franks Dies at 74; Prize-Winning Journalist Broke Molds

In 2017, when the media was flooded with women’s stories of sexual harassment, Ms. Franks wrote an opinion essay for The Times in which she recalled her male colleagues’ snub over her Pulitzer.

“Grateful to win a place in the hierarchy of power,” she wrote, “we didn’t understand the ways that gender degradation still shaped our work lives.”

Lucinda Laura Franks was born on July 16, 1946, in Chicago. Her family soon moved to Wellesley, Mass. Her mother, Lorraine Lois (Leavitt) Franks, was involved in civic activities, including as president of the Wellesley Junior Service League. Her father, Thomas E. Franks, was vice president of a metals company.

While growing up, Ms. Franks wrote, she found her parents’ marriage grim, and she left home as soon as possible. She went to Vassar, where she majored in English and steeped herself in the counterculture. After graduating in 1968, she left for London.

Her mother died in 1976, and Ms. Franks had little contact with her father. She later learned that he had been unfaithful to her mother, was a heavy drinker and over time had become nearly penniless. And only toward the end of his life (he died in 2002), while moving him out of his clut­tered house in Milford, Mass., did she discover, to her shock, boxes of Nazi paraphernalia and cryp­tic doc­u­ments. He had been a secret agent during World War II, she found — an experience, she would learn, that had tormented him.

As a former spy, he had been sworn to secrecy. But Alzheimer’s was eating away at his memory, and under his daughter’s relentless questioning, he revealed his secrets.

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Hong Kong Pushes ‘Fake News’ Label as Media Face ‘Worst of Times’

HONG KONG — The glossy pamphlet from the police, delivered to newsrooms in Hong Kong, declared: “Know the Facts: Rumors and Lies Can Never Be Right.” With it was a letter addressed to editors, decrying the “wicked and slanderous attacks” against the police.

The 12-page magazine, distributed Wednesday to news outlets including The New York Times, described the police’s efforts to push back against misinformation. In one instance, the department countered rumors that officers had attended a banquet with gang members, saying the police had held their own private dinner. In another, it accused a local TV station of smearing the police in a parody show.

“Fake news is highly destructive,” read one graphic carrying the hashtag #youarewhatyousend.

Officials in Hong Kong are increasingly seizing on the label of “fake news,” a common authoritarian refrain. The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said on Wednesday that the government was looking at laws to tackle “misinformation, hatred and lies.” The city’s police chief has said a fake-news law would help fight threats to national security.

The rhetoric is raising fears among activists that the label could be used as a new tool to muzzle dissent.

traditionally unfettered news media, known for coverage that has been critical of the establishment, has been under attack for months. The national security law, which calls for increased regulation of the media, has given the police and local officials powerful tools to constrain the press, but they are seeking more.

Mrs. Lam, the city’s chief executive, has said that the government was exploring legislation to curb fake news, which she said spread online during the protests and the pandemic.

“We have seen the internet, especially social media, flooded with doxxing, hateful and discriminatory remarks and fake news,” she said in remarks to lawmakers in February. Mrs. Lam has said that the proposed legislation had yet to be drafted because the government was still examining how such laws were handled elsewhere.

a 14-month prison sentence for protesting in 2019, and is accused of fraud and colluding with a foreign country.

The police have also bristled at coverage by RTHK, a government-funded public broadcaster with a tradition of independent coverage. The police complained about a parody program that portrayed officers as trash, with an actor portraying an officer in a garbage can.

The government has moved to rein the broadcaster in, replacing its top editor with a civil servant with no journalism experience in February. Under the new leadership the broadcaster has cut two radio programs known for sharp political commentary and added a new show hosted by Mrs. Lam, the city’s leader, discussing an electoral overhaul imposed by Beijing that critics say would cripple the opposition.

The broadcaster was also at the center of a closely watched court case last month in which a former freelance producer for RTHK was convicted of making false statements to obtain public records for a report that was critical of the police. The journalist, Choy Yuk-ling, used the records for a documentary that examined how the police were slow to respond to an attack by a mob on protesters at a train station in 2019.

On Thursday, Ms. Choy’s documentary was honored in Hong Kong with a human rights award. “Chasing the smallest clues, interrogating the powerful without fear or favor,” wrote the judging panel, which called it an “investigative reporting classic.”

The broadcaster has said that it would not accept the award.

Tiffany May contributed reporting.

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Article on Fourth Grader in ’60 Inspires Journalism Class

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Two years ago, on a soggy January day at the University of Oregon, Peter Laufer, a journalism professor, picked up a copy of The New York Times and presented his students with a reporting challenge.

He read from a feature at the bottom of Page 2 that highlights an article from The Times’s archives each day. It covered the experience in early 1960 of a fourth grader in Roseburg, Ore., not far from the college. She had written to her congressman for the names of Russian schoolchildren with whom she and her classmates could be pen pals, but the State Department denied the request, fearing they would be influenced by Soviet propaganda. The headline on the article read: “U.S. Bars a Girl’s Plea for Russian Pen Pals.”

Credit…The New York Times

“Find that girl!” Mr. Laufer told the class, an exercise designed to teach his students the skill of locating a source and, possibly, a bigger story. He thought she might still be living nearby.

For nine students, that simple instruction turned into a journalism project, which included an on-the-ground reporting trip in Nevada, digging through F.B.I. files from the National Archives and meeting face to face with modern-day fourth graders in southern Russia. This year, they published their findings in a book, “Classroom 15: How the Hoover F.B.I. Censored the Dreams of Innocent Oregon Fourth Graders.”

“It is such a small story, but it resonates so much with the time that it was in,” said Julia Mueller, who worked as the project’s managing editor and wrote a chapter in the book.

Using public records and online databases, the students located the subject of the article, Janice Hall, now married and living near Las Vegas. Her name had been misspelled as “Janis” in the original article, which made it more difficult for the class to locate her.

In 1960, during a tense period of the Cold War, a time when both the United States and the Soviet Union saw every move by the other country as a tactic aimed at world domination, Ms. Hall never had the chance to correspond with Russian students. The reporters were determined to understand why.

They abandoned the syllabus, renamed the course Janice 101 and devoted the rest of the term to unpacking the story.

Each student took a slightly different angle. One examined the fear of communism that had gripped the United States. Another reporter, who was headed to Las Vegas for a spring break trip with her sorority, made a detour to meet Ms. Hall. Yet another interviewed the family of Ray McFetridge, the teacher who had conceived of the pen-pal project and who had died years earlier. Students even obtained the F.B.I. case files on the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Why wouldn’t you want people to be friends with people across borders?” asked Zack Demars, the lead reporter on the project, outlining the students’ central question.

“I think we discovered that it was because of the level of fear at the time,” he added.

Mr. Laufer, a former NBC News correspondent, thought that a reporter needed to go to Russia to meet with current pupils. He wanted his journalism students to explore what would happen if they tried to connect schoolchildren today.

“We decided that we were not going to leave this hanging,” Mr. Laufer said. “If they couldn’t do it in 1960, we were going to do it in 2020.”

The class decided to take letters written by fourth graders in Yoncalla, Ore., and deliver them to Russian students.

In December 2019, months after the course ended, Mr. Demars took a 13-hour train ride from Moscow to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where Mr. Laufer had a contact who agreed to act as a guide.

Mr. Demars met with Russian fourth graders and gave them the letters from their American counterparts. They peppered him with questions: Did he have pets? Did he play sports? What did he think of Ariana Grande?

He also spoke with a group of high schoolers. They discussed American schools and movies and asked to follow him on Instagram. He thinks of these new followers as modern pen pals.

“I don’t talk to them all that often,” he said. “But we interact every now and then, and we have that level of human connection.”

Mr. Demars is now working as a reporter at a small local newspaper in Oregon. During the project, he learned the value of recording individual experiences, which can offer future generations insight into a particular era.

“When I’m out reporting, I’m looking for those things that are commonplace right now but deeply unique to the time period,” he said.

Ms. Hall, 70, said she was amazed to hear from the college students, who are about the age of her grandchildren.

She was also awed by the project, and particularly by Mr. Demars’s persistence: “He hooked up these two fourth grades,” she said, “which is exactly what we were trying to do.”

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Fox Earnings: Fox Acquires OutKick as Profits Jump

Fox News, the cable news giant controlled by Rupert Murdoch, kept its parent company flush in the first three months of the year, notching a slight gain in profit and sales despite a drop in viewers.

Altogether, Fox Corporation beat Wall Street expectations with a sevenfold increase in profit to $567 million and a 6.5 percent drop in revenue to $3.2 billion compared with the same period a year prior. A change in how the company valued some of its assets was a key reason for the profit surge. Investors were looking for a $332 million profit and $3.1 billion in sales.

But revenue at most of its businesses dropped as fewer viewers tuned into the company’s cable channels and the Fox broadcast network, in part because Fox did not host the Super Bowl this year. Total advertising sales fell 24 percent to $1.2 billion, with the cable segment, primarily Fox News, seeing ad revenue drop 7 percent to $283 million.

The decrease in advertising mirrors the performance at other media conglomerates and spotlights a significant shift in the advertising market. Ad revenue jumped at Facebook, Google and even smaller digital publishers in the first quarter as advertisers were more willing to spend their budget on digital platforms, often at the expense of television.

overrated” and downplayed the severity of the brewing pandemic.

In a statement announcing the acquisition, Lachlan Murdoch, chief executive of Fox Corporation and the son of Rupert Murdoch, welcomed Mr. Travis. “Clay and his team have quickly made OutKick a content powerhouse with a very large, loyal and engaged audience.”

Despite the drop in viewers at Fox News, the network benefited from contractually triggered rate increases that cable operators pay to carry the channel. Licensing fees rose 6 percent to $1.07 billion. Advertising fell despite charging higher ad rates.

The younger Mr. Murdoch claimed victory for Fox News in a call with investors after the earnings report.

“Fox News reclaimed its leadership position as America’s No. 1 cable news network and the most-watched cable network in prime time,” he said before taking a moment to take a jab at rivals.

“MSNBC lost more than one-third of its audience and CNN lost over half,” he said. “Over half.”

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New York Times Q1 2021 Earnings

No doubt, President Biden has lowered the temperature of the nation after four years under Donald J. Trump, a tumultuous period capped by the worst pandemic in a century. He may have also lowered interest in the news. For the first quarter, The New York Times Company recorded its smallest gain in new subscribers in a year and a half.

The Times reported a total of 7.8 million subscribers across both print and digital platforms, with 6.9 million coming for online news or its Cooking and Games apps. The company added 301,000 digital customers for the first three months of the year, the lowest increase since the third quarter of 2019.

The Times is still on a path toward its goal of reaching 10 million subscribers by 2025, and it has improved its profit margins as its digital business — which costs less than print — continues to rise.

The company reported adjusted operating profit of $68 million, a 54 percent jump from last year, as it generated more dollars from each subscriber, partly because of the expiration of promotional rates as the new year rolled over. Total revenue rose modestly, about 6.6 percent, to $473 million. Online subscriptions and digital advertising together rose 32 percent, to $239 million, and the print business continued its steady decline.

newly formed union of tech and digital employees. In an email sent to the staff April 22, Ms. Levien effectively declined, saying employees should hold a formal vote. Union representatives replied that they had already voted when a majority of tech employees signed union cards.

The company’s cash pile remains high, at more than $890 million, and its free cash flow — a measure of a company’s financial heft — has risen steadily over the last three years. In 2020, it averaged about $65 million in free cash flow each quarter, according to data compiled by S&P Capital IQ.

The Times has also increased dividend payouts to shareholders every few years. It now pays 7 cents a share each quarter, which costs about $46.8 million a year, payments that benefit the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls The Times.

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Facebook’s Ban of Trump Upheld by Oversight Board

SAN FRANCISCO — A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers ruled on Wednesday to uphold the social network’s ban of former President Donald J. Trump, ending any immediate return by Mr. Trump to mainstream social media and renewing a debate about tech power over online speech.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court to deliberate the company’s content decisions, said the social network was right to bar Mr. Trump after he used the site to foment an insurrection in Washington in January. The panel said the ongoing risk of violence “justified” the suspension.

But the board also said that Facebook’s penalty of an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate,” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty.” The board gave Facebook six months to make its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status.

“Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, to be held accountable,” Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, said on a call with reporters. The decision “did not meet these standards,” he said.

Twitter and YouTube had also cut off Mr. Trump in January after the insurrection at the Capitol building, saying the risk of harm and the potential for violence that he created was too great.

But while Mr. Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended for now, it does not mean that he will not be able to return to the social network at all once the company reviews its action. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump had unveiled a new site, “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked much like a Twitter feed, complete with posts written by Mr. Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Mr. Trump’s continuing suspension from Facebook gave conservatives, who have long accused the social media companies of suppressing right-wing voices, new fuel against the platforms. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has testified in Congress several times in recent years about whether the social network has shown bias against conservative political views. He has denied it.

In a tweet, the Republican members of the House judiciary committee said of the board’s decision, “Pathetic.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he does not wish his company to be “the arbiter of truth” in social discourse, Facebook has become increasingly active about the kinds of content it allows. To prevent the spread of misinformation, the company has cracked down on QAnon conspiracy theory groups, election falsehoods and anti-vaccination content in recent months, before culminating in the blocking of Mr. Trump in January.

“This case has dramatic implications for the future of speech online because the public and other platforms are looking at how the oversight board will handle what is a difficult controversy that will arise again around the world,” said Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford University’s law school.

He added, “President Trump has pushed the envelope about what is permissible speech on these platforms and he has set the outer limits such that if you are unwilling to go after him, you are allowing a large amount of incitement and hate speech and disinformation online that others are going to propagate.”

In a statement, Facebook said it was “pleased” that the board recognized that its barring of Mr. Trump in January was justified. The company added that it would consider the ruling and “determine an action that is clear and proportionate.”

Mr. Trump’s case is the most prominent that the Facebook Oversight Board, which was conceived in 2018, has handled. The board, which is made up of 20 journalists, activists and former politicians, reviews and adjudicates the company’s most contested content moderation decisions. Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly referred to it as the “Facebook Supreme Court.”

But while the panel is positioned as independent, it was founded and funded by Facebook and has no legal or enforcement authority. Critics have been skeptical of the board’s autonomy and have said it gives Facebook the ability to punt on difficult decisions.

revoke Section 230, a legal shield that protects companies like Facebook from liability for what users post.

privately with Mr. Trump.

The politeness ended on Jan. 6. Hours before his supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr. Trump used Facebook and other social media to try to cast doubt on the results of the presidential election, which he had lost to Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Trump wrote on Facebook, “Our Country has had enough, they won’t take it anymore!”

Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Trump was barred from the platform indefinitely. While his Facebook page has remained up, it has been dormant. His last Facebook post, on Jan. 6, read, “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence!”

Cecilia Kang contributed reporting from Washington.

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My Crash Course in Covering a U.F.C. Fight

I read up on the basics, like the prohibitions on biting, head-butting and hair-pulling. Which makes for one advantage in doing a crash course on a sport like M.M.A. versus, say, cricket: There are fewer rules. Finally, I understood the origin of the phrase “no holds barred.”

The night before the fight, I texted my father-in-law, Gary, who lives in Pittsburgh and is a big U.F.C. fan, asking for tips.

“Don’t blink,” he said. “It’s fast paced and anything can happen in an instant, including lack of consciousness.”

I texted back a sweating emoji.

On Sunday morning in Taiwan, I woke up, showered and poured myself some coffee before settling on the couch with my laptop in front of the TV, ready to take in several hours of raw, unbridled combat.

Then the fights began. Watching the live action, I quickly realized that no amount of work beforehand could have prepared me for the gruesomeness of the sport. In the first bout, I saw one fighter, Jimmy Crute, go down in the opening round after Anthony Smith delivered a hard kick to the back of his knee. In the second fight, I watched Chris Weidman shatter his leg just by kicking Uriah Hall’s knee at the start of the bout.

Turns out my father-in-law was right.

There were also some uplifting moments. Like Hall’s gracious interview after Weidman was taken out of the octagon on a stretcher. And the Kyrgyzstani fighter Valentina Shevchenko’s endearing but lost-in-translation exchange with Joe Rogan, one of the announcers, about rising to the challenge.

And then there was Namajunas, who defied the bettors by knocking out Zhang with a powerful kick to the head in the first round. Tears streamed down the former champion’s face as the title belt was wrapped around her waist once again.

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