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NFOIC Bulletin - November 19, 2020

The NFOIC Bulletin is a brief weekly overview of trending topics about open government, first amendment freedoms, and democracy. If your organization has an upcoming, free event in these areas and would like to include it in the Bulletin, please email details to NFOIC


Journalism can help communities with these five pillars of ethical disaster reporting - It’s more important than ever that news stories about disasters in the time of a pandemic frame the impacts of environmental phenomena in meaningful ways. The combined effects of the global pandemic and disasters caused by natural hazards mean that it is critical for citizens and those in power to understand compounding factors when two forms of crises collide to impact communities. Factual and contextualized reporting also is a powerful tool in addressing disaster fatigue and the politicization of science. Such reporting advances careful and thoughtful responses to crises rather than rash reporting based in hysteria or sensationalism. The global pandemic dominated the news of 2020 in the United States. Read More

Should we ‘publish less’ on the pandemic? - Yesterday, Axios, shared some troubling data from NewsWhip,, a social-media analytics firm, “New coronavirus cases in the US have never been higher,” they wrote in summary, but “online interest in the pandemic has never been lower.” In the last two weeks, news stories about covid-19 saw their lowest level of engagement on social media (likes, shares, and so forth) since early March, when interest in the pandemic was on an upward trajectory. That’s not because there’s less covid journalism to engage with: the number of stories appearing now is comparable to the summer months, and cable-news mentions of the pandemic have persisted at a high level. The president's claim that mainstream outlets would stop covering the pandemic once the election was over was wrong. Rather, Axios concluded, “lower interest—not less media coverage—is responsible for the lower engagement.” Read More


A Possible Covid Vaccine Means It's Time to Fix Cold Chains - Efforts to find a lasting solution to the Covid-19 pandemic have been primarily focused on developing, testing, and manufacturing at scale an effective vaccine. But little attention has been given to the requirements for distributing that vaccine rapidly at scale. That changed this week, when the first Covid-19 vaccine candidate announced to be effective, from Pfizer-BioNTech, confirmed that it requires two doses and cold storage at –94 degrees Fahrenheit, or –70 degrees Celsius. Read more

Is low mask-wearing in rural communities a sign of poor health messaging? - As the U.S. heads toward a third peak in the pandemic, rural counties are among the areas most severely affected by Covid-19. While their absolute numbers of cases are still relatively small compared with large cities, case rates and death rates are growing fastest in rural counties. This is especially worrisome because characteristics associated with poor Covid-19 outcomes, like older age, poorer general health, and fewer health care providers per capita, are more common in rural communities. In addition, many rural counties have been slowest to adopt key preventive public health measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Read more 

The Pandemic Is Revealing a New Form of National Power - Each geopolitical age places a premium on particular forms of national power—seapower and colonial possessions prior to the world wars, nuclear weapons and alliance networks during the Cold War, soft power after the Cold War. And the new era ushered in by COVID-19 has done so as well, revealing the salience of “resilient power”: a country’s capacity to absorb systemic shocks, adapt to these disruptions, and quickly bounce back from them. As the scholar Stephen Flynn once told me, the aim of resilience is to design systems not just so they can endure shocks, but also so they can “fail gracefully and recover nicely.”
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Here are the major hurdles ahead for Covid-19 vaccine distribution in the US - Nearly a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, a picture of the other side is emerging. There has been positive news from leading vaccine manufacturers and they are beginning to analyze phase III clinical data, an important milestone that could tell researchers about whether they are safe and effective. But to distribute those vaccines, the US must undertake the most logistically difficult vaccination campaign in history, with a hesitant and wary public, and at least one vaccine with unprecedented storage requirements. The cause for optimism is real – but so are the logistical challenges that lie ahead. Read more

A Way Forward for Working Parents - Bad. Guilty. Failing. Lonely. Do those words strike a chord? I’ll make a gentle guess that they do because, in my one-on-one coaching sessions with working parents over the past several years, I’ve heard those four words more than any others. And that was before Covid-19. Over the past eight months, managing work and kids has accelerated from a complex, persistent challenge into an all-out crisis. We’ve had to handle full-time jobs, full-time care, and full-time oversight of our kids’ education, without the benefit of our regular support systems. One of my clients returned to work from her first parental leave in March and has worked an around-the-clock schedule since, without any childcare. Like so many other parents, she wonders how long she can, as she puts it, “hang on.” Other parents I’ve coached and interviewed are trying to figure out how to manage frontline jobs and distance learning, or to hold on to their income while assuming 24/7 care for a child with special needs. Read more

Democracy & Elections

It’s Time to Declare Racism a Public Health Issue - The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others this year underscore systemic racism’s detrimental role in our criminal justice system. And consistent with the pattern of long-existing health disparities, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black Americans. And last year, about 76 percent of Black Americans experienced racial discrimination. Systemic racism has been baked into United States institutions, such as the criminal justice and health care systems, for years. To combat racism within our culture, many leaders are now arguing that to create meaningful change, society must view and address racism as a public health issue. What does the evidence suggest? Read more

Four deadly threats to American democracy are raging all at once: Opinion - In this pandemic election, Americans stepped up and voted in record numbers to make their voices heard. The result is a testament to democratic resilience. And yet our democracy remains in precarious health. Even now, when President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is clear, President Trump continues to issue false claims of stolen votes and rigged counting while pursuing lawsuits that deny the election’s decisive outcome. Some of his most fervent supporters, including elected officials, have repeated these dangerous claims, refusing to accept the people’s democratic judgment. These desperate moves are reminiscent of the actions not just of autocratic rulers abroad but also of scenes from the United States’ own history. Read more

Obama: The internet is “the single biggest threat to our democracy” - Back in 2008, Barack Obama famously harnessed the internet and social media to help win the White House. He kept up the embrace once he got there. Now he worries that the internet and social media have helped create “the single biggest threat to our democracy.” Obama has been saying a version of this for four years — since he left the White House — but his words are getting steadily more pointed. He’s clearly sounding an alarm, but it’s not exactly clear what he thinks we should do about it. His latest critique comes in a new interview between Obama and Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, and before we go any further we should put it in full context: Obama was discussing a media landscape dominated not just by Facebook but by Fox News that allows Americans to choose their own distorted reality. This means, he says, we no longer have a shared set of facts. Read more

Democracy at risk? Folks, that's a bunch of malarkey - Over the past four years, Americans have been told repeatedly that our democracy is at risk.  Many factors are said to be at play. Voter ID requirements, limits on absentee voting, registration in advance of election day, polling place arrangements, opposition to statehood for the District of Columbia, along with concerns about voting by mail in the just-concluded election, are said to constitute voter suppression. But if these indictments do not persuade, there was the reality of Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Even had he not been the second president since 2000 to be inaugurated after losing the popular vote, Trump in the White House had to be proof certain that our democracy is at risk. As President-elect Joe Biden might say: “Folks, this is a bunch of malarkey.” Read more

There’s a Reason the Election Went So Smoothly - As the late Trump fan, Charlie Daniels noted, Georgians are accustomed to repulsing visitors offering Mephistophelian bargains. So when Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to talk about the state’s signature-matching law, Raffensperger didn’t flinch. In an interview with The Washington Post, Raffensperger, who is Georgia’s top elections official, said that Graham asked whether he could discard all-mail ballots in counties with higher rates of signature mismatch. Raffensperger believed Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump, wanted him to throw out legal ballots, which Raffensperger can’t do, but which stunned him anyway. 
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Civic Tech

The Ad-Based Internet Is About to Collapse. What Comes Next? - Online, ads are everywhere. They bombard you when you try to read the news. They pop up between your friends’ Facebook updates. They’re disguised to look like regular results on Google. And one, maybe two play before every video you watch on YouTube — with more peppered throughout. From the perspective of an internet user who is desperately trying to ignore, avoid, or block this constant deluge of ads — ads that have to get more and more intrusive in order to force us to pay attention to them — the power of the online advertising industry might appear unstoppable. Yet the digital ad market is a lot more vulnerable than it seems. Read more


A Lack of Transparency Is Undermining Pandemic Policy - NEW YORKERS ARE still puzzling over a new, state-wide rule that bars, restaurants, and gyms must close at 10 pm to stop the spread of Covid. Was this based on some brand-new evidence that the virus mutates like a gremlin, getting worse at night? You wouldn’t know it from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement, which did not cite any research whatsoever that might justify this policy. The announcement did claim, however, that New York uses “more science than any state in the nation.” Read more


Thursday, Nov. 19, 1 p.m. ET - This week on “The Future of Democracy,” the Knight Foundation will be speaking with AEI President Robert Doar about the mounting crises as the nation emerges from a contentious election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the American opportunity society is being shaped by the turbulence of today. Register

Friday, November 20 at 12pm PT / 3pm ET "Belonging in the News: Part Two" with Maria Hinojosa moderated by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.  Register  


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The National Freedom of Information Coalition is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of state and regional associations representing more than 39 states, commonwealths and the District of Columbia. Through our programs, services, and national member network, NFOIC promotes press freedom, public access, legislative and administrative reforms, and dispute resolution to ensure open, transparent, and accountable state and local governments and public institutions.

NFOIC is located at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and works closely with its neighbor, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

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