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Substack launches Defender, a program offering legal support to independent writers

In the worlds of journalism and publishing, it’s fairly common for the wealthy to attempt to shut down reporting with legal threats. For those publishing on large platforms with plenty of resources, such challenges can be a massive headache. For independent writers and publishers, on the other hand, the consequences can be far more dire.

Citing an example wherein a politician’s lawyers recently went after a Substack writer over reports of business ties, the popular newsletter platform is announcing the launch of Defender. After some months in a closed pilot with a “handful” of writers, Substack is extending the service to interested parties.

There’s a form now on Substack’s site. To qualify, users must be based in the U.S. and use Substack for professional work. Co-founder/COO Hamish McKenzie says the company has no current commitment to extending the program to free users (though that could certainly change), but it’s using the U.S. program to determine when and where to more broadly expand Defender.

Writers also need to publish work “that may attract unreasonable legal pressure, such as abuses of copyright laws, assaults on first amendment rights, and spurious defamation claims.” Once approved, they’ll need to fill out a second form detailing the specific case for which they need support. Substack will approve users on a case by case basis, as well as which cases it ultimately supports.

The company says it’s willing to cover fees of up to $1 million, though “in exceptional cases, we may cover even more.” Such cases will continue to be fascinating tests of the First Amendment, particularly in an era when Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has come under strong fire from the president of the United States.

“Important writing holds the powerful to account – and quite often, that’s an arrangement that the powerful would rather not support,” Substack writes. “In some cases, antagonists use threats of legal action in an attempt to stop the work that makes them uncomfortable.”

As de-platforming has increasingly become a part of the social media landscape, eyes will no doubt be on Substack as the service decides which cases it ultimately chooses to cover. From the sound of its description, Defender will largely focus on reportage — though in such a fragmented media landscape, even that can be in the eye of the beholder.

The launch of Defender follows a few months after Substack introduced a $100,000 grant to support independent writers.

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Microsoft News grantees publish investigative report

Fishermen at the contaminated river at Goi in Ogoniland, Niger Delta (Credit: Ile Omoru)

“Any young man who wants to stay here will definitely not see tomorrow.”

At a time when science reporting on community health is more crucial than ever, Kelechukwu Iruoma of Ripples Nigeria and Ruth Olurounbi of  …

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Data crunchers, Power BI wants your news visualizations

Data is a paradox. We gather data to get a better understanding of how we function as a collective, from school attendance to census counts, from crime rates to home purchases. Each number represents a measurement of an action or a community. The goal of a dataset (when properly gathered …

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Microsoft News grantees tell the stories behind their stories

How is climate change transforming US residential and commercial real estate markets? 

What are the leading illnesses that contribute to Kenya’s child mortality rate? 

How has the meaning of Tiananmen Square changed in the 30 years since the student protests?  

What health effects have oil spillages in the Niger delta had on local communities? 

Each question touches upon monumental issues that governments, organizations, and citizens have been trying to tackle. These are also the questions that five journalists not only asked on behalf of their newsrooms, research partners, and communities, but also undertook to find answers. 

Microsoft News has been privileged to work alongside journalists and newsrooms on innovation solutions to democratize tools for storytelling, so that they can take on the big stories. As part of our mission to support a free and independent press, our team partnered with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) on a grant program to provide project funding and technology training. Now, about a year later, the recipients–Josh Landis of Nexus Media, Verah Okeyo of Daily Nation, freelance journalist Phil Cunningham, and the team of Kelechukwu Iruoma of Ripples Nigeria and Ruth Olorounbi of Per Second News–are telling their stories behind the story.

Now, you can read the story behind the story: Microsoft Stories has profiled each grantee, who explain how they embarked on their projects, what compelled them, and what they learned–not only about their subject matter but also new ways to think and tell the story.  

These journalists often did the training, research, reporting, and writing for their projects on top of their daily assignments. Despite a daunting workload, they’ve been enthusiastic about learning to see how dry numbers might be transformed into compelling visualizations with Power BI; how livestreaming could involve their community directly into the storytelling; how cloud services like Video Indexer could deliver insights into years of video and audio archives that might otherwise have been lost to history.  

The news industry operates in concurrent cycles of disruption. We’re still re-imagining and reinventing what it means to build an informed citizenry. To this end, Microsoft News is grateful to support the passions of extraordinarily talented reporters from all around the world, who are united in their purpose to help their community.

Vera Chan is Sr. Manager, Worldwide Journalist Relations, for Microsoft News Labs 

Source: Microsoft News

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Election 2020: Explore

Here at Microsoft News, it all starts with content from the world’s top journalists.

We get more than 200,000 pieces of content from our publishing partners every day. We get minute-by-minute primary results from the Associated Press. And our sentiment polling (in partnership with CivicScience) collects opt-in responses from users on more than 300 sites around the web representing diverse viewpoints.

That’s a lot of news and data to take in. But it’s also a treasure
trove of information to explore.

Election 2020 on Microsoft News

Our Microsoft News Election 2020 coverage gives you a place to explore all of the news, results and data that matter to you, brought to you by 800 editors around the world and backed by cutting-edge technology.

  • Read all sides of the story on Issue Spotlights. We’ll give you a rundown of the facts from our news partners, including The Washington Post, CNN, The Hill, and USA Today. You can hear from diverse voices about the discussion, and we’ll give you a timeline to catch you up on how we all got here.
Issue Spotlight on Microsoft News
  • Explore voter sentiment in Polls. We partner with Microsoft Research and CivicScience for randomized, statistically valid, opt-in polling across 300 diverse sites. Those responses drive interactive graphics showing how voter sentiment is trending. Drill into the data to discover geographic and demographic trends or track sentiment shifts over time. Our editor’s notes add context to the data and links to relevant articles from our high-quality content partners.
Poll results on Microsoft News
  • Go local with our State Pages. We know that local elections can have a larger impact to your day-to-day life than national ones, so we’re bringing you news about issues, candidates and races close to home.
States on Microsoft News
Candidates on Microsoft News

We invite you to explore the Microsoft News Election 2020 experience in both English and Spanish on your phone, tablet or computer. We’ll continue to add to this experience through Election Day in November with more debate coverage and new polls and graphics. Let us know what you think through our Feedback link on any page.

Jennifer Myers is a principal program manager at Microsoft News and leads our Elections 2020 initiative.

Source: Microsoft News