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December 07 2011

21:40

Flipboard launches iPhone app for a new use case: news faster and multiple times every day

Venture Beat :: Popular iPad news reading application Flipboard has made the move to the iPhone and while it retains its smart and simple design, it also has added a new Cover Stories section to boot.

[Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard:] With the iPhone we redesigned Flipboard for a new use case, where people want to find the things they care about even faster and multiple times every day.

Sean Ludwig: "Cover Stories to be first place you open to discover content being shared by your friends on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The company describes it as a 'section that learns from a reader’s interaction with the content, created for when people want to quickly check for interesting news or updates.'"

Continue to read Sean Ludwig, venturebeat.com

November 12 2011

16:59

Readers request opinion and investigative reporting - stop to "report" only news

Forbes :: 95+% of journalists seem to only “report” the news, rather than give opinions or do investigative reporting. What's also annoying is, that the majority of journalists seem obsessed with “scoops.” There seems to be no higher honor in the journalistic profession than being recognized for getting a scoop and God save the other journalists who fails to recognize – and more importantly – credit a fellow journalist for his or her hard fought scoop.

[Eric Jackson:] The business world needs fewer journalists and more opinions and investigative reporting.

Continue to read Eric Jackson, www.forbes.com

July 17 2011

15:24

Phone-hacking and journalism - Andrew Gilligan: you have to sail close to the wind

Telegraph :: In 2008, I won journalist of the year at the British Press Awards for an investigation into a man called Lee Jasper, a senior aide to the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Using a mass of leaked emails, I found that enormous amounts of City Hall money had disappeared into projects run by Jasper’s friends, with little or nothing to show for it. Jasper resigned, and Livingstone’s re-election campaign was damaged.

[Andrew Gilligan:] I did not steal those emails, nor did I ask anyone else to do so. But after the story was over, Livingstone’s biographer reported that they were obtained by someone in City Hall who accessed Jasper’s computer, using a password he had left on a post-it note by his terminal. You could, I suppose, say they were hacked.

Continue to read Andrew Gilligan, www.telegraph.co.uk

July 13 2011

06:13

Flickr, Google, a few social media seconds later - Osama bin Laden hunter ‘CIA John’ identified

Observer :: Anyone who’s ever logged in to a social network while in a jubilant, possibly intoxicated, frame of mind knows the dangers. Sometimes you share something you should maybe keep to yourself, or you forget to check your privacy settings, or you show off a little too much skin. That’s more or less what the U.S. government appears to have done in the heady moments after dumping whatever was left of Osama bin Laden into the churning waters of the North Arabian Sea.

[Aaron Gell, Observer:] Once the photo was out there, of course, it was only a matter of time. But how little time was surprising.

With the help of social media investigative journalism can be easy. Was it made easy?

Aaron Gell, www.observer.com

July 11 2011

20:49

90,000 military emails leaked after Anonymous attack

ReadWriteWeb :: Dan Rowinski, RWW, published the news that on Monday morning "hacktivist" group Anonymous would be releasing results of an attack it made on the intelligence community compromised of government agencies around the world like the CIA or Mi6 in the United Kingdom and the companies that support them. Anonymous targeted consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The first wave of results have just been released, which Anonymous is calling #MilitaryMeltdownMonday. Seems that they gained access to 90,000 military emails.

The authenticity of the emails is unknown for me so far.

Continue to read Dan Rowinski, www.readwriteweb.com

July 03 2011

19:40

Fatuma Noor, Kenia: I deserved to die for being a female investigative journalist

Guardian :: As a Somali woman writing investigative stories, Fatuma Noor faces regular threats and her family's opposition. Imagine going to do an interview and not being able to shake hands with the interviewee or indeed even being able to sit in front of him to ask questions. In Somali culture it is wrong to speak and raise an opinion in front of men or even to shake hands with a man of no relation to you. Even travelling for work unaccompanied by a relative is not permitted. 

[Fatuma Noor:] As for investigative journalism, a gun to your head is not much of an encouragement.

Fatuma Noor was last week awarded the top prize at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist 2011 awards ceremony for her investigative three-part series on the "Al-Shabaab". She is at the Observer as part of the David Astor Journalism Programme.

Her story - continue to read Fatuma Noor, www.guardian.co.uk

June 18 2011

18:32

David Protess, a watchdog professor, now defending himself

New York Times :: For the last two years, David Protess, a renowned journalist and professor who spent three decades fighting to prove the innocence of others, has been locked in a battle to do the same for himself. It hasn’t gone as well.

“(David Protess) is in the hall of fame of investigative journalists in the 20th century,” said Mark Feldstein, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “Using cheap student labor, he has targeted a very specific issue, and that work has reopened cases, changed laws and saved lives.”

David Protess was the founder and driving force behind the Medill Innocence Project, which was instrumental in exonerating at least 12 wrongly convicted defendants and freeing them from prison, including five who were on death row in Illinois, and in prompting then-governor George Ryan to clear the rest of death row in 2003.

Continue to read David Carr | John Schwartz, topics.nytimes.com

June 17 2011

09:18

Via Twitter - #MuckReads: ProPublica's social way to share the best accountability reporting

ProPublica :: ProPublica readers can now share essential watchdog reporting with its reporters and readers using ProPublica's newest feature, #MuckReads. #MuckReads will curate the day's essential accountability stories, discovered and shared by our reporters and editors, and its readers—stories about the abuse of prisoneers, the education levels of country's legislators and the laundering of public funds.

Continue to read Amanda Michel, www.propublica.org

April 09 2011

23:35

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, NY Times Feud at Logan Symposium

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BERKELEY, CALIF. -- I am at the 5th Annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium, a gathering of the top investigative journalists that happens each year at University of California at Berkeley. Lowell Bergman, a professor at the school and former "60 Minutes" producer and longtime investigative journalist, brings together an invite-only crowd of journalists, technologists, academics and more. The title of the conference is "Leaks, Laws & Lies" and will include a live Skype call with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange.

(You can see previous coverage of post Logan Symposiums by PBS MediaShift here.)

My goal was to live-blog the Symposium, but due to issues with Internet access, I was only able to take quick live notes, which I'm now posting on MediaShift. The highlight of the first day of the conference was the appearance via Skype of WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, who is under house arrest in the U.K. A panel called "The War on WikiLeaks included representatives from the New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel, all news outlets that worked with and published the leaks from WikiLeaks, including the Afghan War Logs, Iraq War Logs and international cables from the U.S. State Department.

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller at one point was asked why he had described Julian Assange in such a critical way in a story after posting the leaked material. Keller said he had never met Assange and that his description of Assange came from what reporters told him. Later, Assange joined the panel via Skype, and the warmth quickly left the room. None of the panelists wanted to ask Assange a question, until Keller attacked Assange for saying that the U.S. media didn't care about what happened in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Assange looked over the panel from a large projection screen, almost like a world leader via satellite.

Below are my detailed notes of what people said on that panel, and the intro before the panel. These are not exact quotes but are paraphrases of what the principals said. I also took some videos of some of Assange's answers, and will posting the best of those as well.

Intro from Lowell Bergman

Lowell Bergman, UC Berkeley: Our investigative reporting program is totally privately funded, so Jerry Brown can't slash our budget.

People in our audience are from Latvia, Japan, Germany, the widest group we've had, with people who've won Oscars, Pulitzer Prizes. Not just journalists but also financiers, law enforcement, faculty, students, and even PR flacks.

David Logan passed away but his sons are here...I learned that David Logan was a man of many interests, from a jazz afficianado, he had Picasso drawings and he eventually funded the chair at Berkeley for me to teach here. We also have investigative journalism fellowships here.

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Six months ago I got a grant from Knight for a study about collective work in investigations that's being done by a former fellow. For the next year and a half, we're going to do a study on collective investigative reporting, create a guide and set up standards and procedures for how to work together. We'll talk more about collaboration on the WikiLeaks panel.

Non-profits can't afford legal counsel so we have an active group helping them. Hewlett Packard found information about journalists including John Markoff of the New York Times. He sued and won a quarter million dollars, and he gave us $100,000 to give out a Markoff Award, with a drawing of John on it. We give it out to our low maintenance supporters. This year the winners are Bob Bishop, and Herb and Marion Sandler.

Something new for us: We'll have a series of talks about WikiLeaks, along with a videotape we produced with Julian Assange. He was here last year, and can't be here this year, obviously. We did send an invitation to Bradley Manning but he can't make it. We'll have two brief talks, Julian's tape and then the panel, and if we can pull it off, Julian will be on his way back to his residence, he will try to get there in time by the end of the panel, and will join us by Skype. And will be on during lunch to answer questions.

Julian is not really a source. He's a new kind of person, with a new kind of vocation. We all need to do a lot of thinking about it. He's not a source, and he's not a legacy journalist. He's an advocate and that's not rare among journalists these days.

Bradley Manning is being held without charges and is in solitary confinement in conditions that are close to torture. Daniel Ellsberg, who's in Hawaii and can't be here, was indicted under the Espionage Act, but was only saved because they broke into his office. Today a liberal administration is holding him under bad conditions and no one is protesting it. Those are my blunt observations of what is going on. And the leaks continued.

Mark Feldstein, author: This is a Cliff's Notes of the history of leaks. Thomas Jefferson even leaked information himself. President Buchanan leaked information about President Polk. The only time it related to national security was in World War II when the Chicago Tribune wrote that the U.S. broke a secret code, but it wasn't really a threat to national security. In the atomic era the government started using the Espionage Act from World War I to prosecute leakers. Newspapers self-censored themselves at the request of the government.

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Jack Anderson, a syndicated columnist, was the WikiLeaks of the '40s and '50s, and his column went out to 1,000 newspapers, so it was hard to censor it everywhere. Anderson would have news conferences and hand out documents to make sure newspapers didn't miss it. He was a seasoned journalist and could handle himself better than Julian Assange. The White House plotted to kill him by poison. He blackmailed the White House, to make them back off. Assange is not quite that sophisticated.

Then came the Pentagon Papers in the '70s and Nixon and his administration tried to stop them, and turned it into a cause celebre. Now we have WikiLeaks, with national security documents able to be disseminated in a click of a mouse.

Larger lessons? All administrators want to control the agenda, exaggerate harm, want to stop the leaks. None have come to grips with the fact that the biggest threat to national security is not the press, not leaks, but mistakes by government policy. Leaks are as old as apple pie and that's why they'll continue.

Julian Assange Video

Julian Assange: The U.S. government is saying that any form of collaboration between a source and investigative journalists is espionage. That's why the New York Times is saying they were not collaborating, but that we're just a source. But the truth is that it was a collaboration. The grand jury is investigating espionage and the White House is pushing an angle that collaboration between journalists and sources is illegal. We all know how investigative journalism works. You call up a source, meet them at a cocktail party and get information.

That interpretation will result in making government completely unaccountable to investigations. You'll hear Bill Keller of the New York Times say they work hand in glove with the government. I do say that news organizations and journalists must understand their role to hold government and other powerful people to account. It's not to be popular or be a propagandist for organizations.

People say to me, "I could never do what you do." I have fears just like all of you do. The key to courage is simply understanding what the risks are and taking actions accordingly. And not being scared to challenge and see whether the risk is correct.

Panel: The War on WikiLeaks

Moderator: Jack Shafer, Slate

Panel: David McCraw of the New York Times, Holger Stark of Der Spiegel, Bill Keller of the New York Times, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Hudson Institute, Nick Davies, Guardian.

Shafer: WikiLeaks has served as a valuable archive for documents and insight into many secretive groups like Scientology, Rand Corp. and others. I'm hoping to run the most incendiary panel and discussion of the symposium.

Nick Davies of the Guardian: I heard about Bradley Manning being arrested. The most interesting story was all the documents. I found these chat logs on Wired, with someone purporting to be Bradley Manning says he finds near-criminal back deals all over the world. That it should be seen all over the world. It's breathtaking and horrifying. As a reporter, it sends shivers down your spine.

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I set out to find someone at WikiLeaks to tell their story. I made contact with people all over the world, and wanted to get in touch with Julian Assange. I found out he was flying into Brussels to make a speech, but was afraid of arrest. He figured it was a high profile place where he wouldn't be grabbed. I talked to him in the European Parliament building. So how could I convince him to give me the story, someone in the mainstream media? There was a physical threat to him.

This is a very political landscape, but we can reduce that if we create an alliance to give Julian power he didn't have. The New York Times came up as part of that alliance because it would help to have the most powerful newspaper on our side. I hooked up with Julian, and he is wonderful and strange. He was crashed out at 3 pm after a flight from Australia, I woke him up and talked to him for 6 hours. Julian could see the value and wanted to talk about the possibilities.

He agreed to give information to the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel in four packets. The Afghan War Logs, the Iraqi War Logs, the diplomatic cables and something that hasn't been published yet. How to get it? I left with nothing, Julian created a website and gave me a password made by the logos on napkins. That was the crown jewels in the journalism world.

Bill Keller, NY Times: Julian Assange has had his revenge, because we have to show up for an unlimited number of panel discussions. I'm going to skip my time and believe that the most interesting part will be the Q&A.

Holger Stark, Der Spiegel: We're actually still in touch with Julian Assange, unlike the other news organizations. We published in September 2010 an interview with him, and he was very angry because people said he was acting like a dictator. I spent a weekend with him discussing many things, and we are still going through another project with WikiLeaks. I've been asked how much WikiLeaks changed journalism. It has changed journalism and brought a revolutionary thing to journalism with an anonymous dump of documents and something no one has done before. But journalism has changed WikiLeaks more than WikiLeaks has changed journalism.

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They used to post everything they found on the Internet. Last summer he planned to dump the entire Afghan War Logs with all sources online. We all told him it was irresponsible, you can't do that, and he agreed to change that. When we published the Irag War Logs, we realized they had to be redacted. When we published the cables, he let the publishers decide what to publish. It was handed over to the media.

WikiLeaks is much more a journalism organization than it was before.

David McCraw, NY Times: There are circumstances when the press can break the Espionage Act. It's a complicated topic. If the government was secretly monitoring every mosque in the U.S., it might help national security but it also might not be legal and should be exposed. There's a very high standard that needs to be met with the First Amendment and Espionage Act before we can show that the press has broken that act. The system does in fact work.

We understand there's a responsibility and there's a way we should do this. The prosecution understands they shouldn't prosecute newspapers that are publishing this. There hasn't been a single prosecution of a news organization under that act.

Q&A with Panel

Shafer: Julian was listening in on his cell phone. I'll ask a softball question to Bill Keller. We all know that publications will work with the government before publishing sensitive information.

Keller: With the Afghan War Logs, the government didn't want to work with us at all because they didn't want to legitimize what we were doing. We allowed them to argue why we shouldn't publish them and wanted to get their reaction before publishing. They did, with caveats, make a statement about their relationship with Pakistan. When it got to the cables and the State Dept., they were prepared to be more engaged. We offered them the opportunity to make the case that we shouldn't publish them at all, or question the theme of the documents. The scale of the document is without precedent, but the process was typical. We offered the State Dept. the chance to comment before publication.

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It was a series of stories that ran over two weeks. They knew which documents we had, we told them the subject and allegations we were making. There were three categories of documents, and types of discussions: the easy calls to redact names of dissidents and sources; on the other end, stories that would be embarrassing but we didn't think that would prevent us from publishing; and then things in between where we had lively discussions. We went along with the administration's argument sometimes but not always.

We made editorial judgments on all the stories, and if Julian Assange says it's a collaboration with government, he can say that. He gave us a large amount of information, we agreed to an embargo date and that was it. He didn't see the articles, he had no input into the journalism we did. So in my view it's not a collaboration with him or with the government. We gave the government a chance to have their say.

Shafer: Gabriel, can you make the argument that the public doesn't have the right to know?

Schoenfeld: Yes, in some cases, journalists should not publish how to create an anthrax bomb. In one case someone published how to create an atomic bomb, but most of that information was in the public domain. My argument with Bill Keller is that I think the government does have a case against the leakers causing issues with national security.

An argument broke out between Nick Davies and Gabriel Schoenfeld. Here's a video of that exchange:

Shafer: Holger, play press critic for me. How did Der Spiegel cover this? What was the focus?

Stark: Sure, I will. We were interested to see how the U.S. government would respond. The U.S. government didn't want to put pressure on the press but all on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. We'll see that in the next weeks and months, they'll try to show that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic enterprise. How did we look at the documents? Not much differently than the other news organizations did. Maybe we published a bit more that would be a scandal in the U.S., about a task force that was set up to capture and kill leaders in Afghanistan. That's something we don't have in the German army, so we investigated those things more. We invested a lot of research into what Hillary Clinton was doing to collect intelligence at the UN.

Shafer: Bill, you describe Assange as smelling like he hadn't bathed in days. Do you have anything to add to that? Is that any way to talk about sources? That won't encourage more people to be sources, will it?

Keller: The fourth packet of information won't come to us, we know that. By the time I wrote that piece about Assange, it was an attempt to describe what we did and why we did in narrative form. It could have been written like a master's thesis, but it had some snippets of color. I never met Julian Assange, we only had phone conversations. I reported from what our reporters told me in their reporting. That was only one small part of the article I wrote.

He was also the story and was a public figure, and is a complicated public figure. I don't presume to make any bumper sticker statements about him.

Q: How do you think you would handle new leaks, and what effect will new copycat WikiLeaks-type groups have?

Keller: We could set up drop boxes of information. There's now OpenLeaks, and Al Jazeera has set up a dropbox but nothing has come along. We had a lot of time with introspection and second guessing, and we think we handled it right.

McCraw: There are always concerns about authenticity. The security firm from Bank of America wanted to dump fake documents to WikiLeaks, so we have the same concerns we had before with info from a plain brown envelope. Every time we had a discussion about this.

Keller: There has been a big effect of WikiLeaks documents in North Africa. There was an effect in Tunisia, which sparked other protests. We can argue whether that has been good or bad, but it has had an impact on the street.

Stark: We have a duty to publish these things, the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and it's the role of democracy to publish them.

Q&A with Julian Assange

Here are videos I shot of some of the Q&A that happened between the audience and WikiLeaks' Julian Assange.

Q: What was in the fourth packet?

Q: How well did the media cover the leaks?

Julian Assange on how the U.S. media doesn't care about the world.

What will happen for future sources of leaks?

True Grit Panel Intro

Michael Isikoff: I've gone from an old print guy to network broadcast correspondent, and have had culture shock. I'm on NBC News and pitch stories to various shows, sometimes with success. I sold "The Today Show" on a story about a possible presidential candidate, and they bought it and were going to do it, and we had a back and forth about the script. A producer wanted some changes, and was ready to run it, and then I got a message. "I haven't been able to get to it because Lindsey Lohan fell down." I thought it was a joke but it wasn't, and "The Today Show" went to DefCon 3!

I was an ink-strained wretch with Newsweek for years. Newsweek was sold and I was looking for a job and took a job with NBC News, and they put out a release saying Isikoff will be a multi-platform journalist. I had no idea what it meant or how to do it. The best explanation I heard was from a cameraman, who said, "You want to get on 'The Nightly News' you might at best get about 2 minutes, that's like being above the fold on a front page. And then everything else is where you put out the information. You write a text piece, you put documents online and web extras, and put them all online. It's the multiplier effect.

Does it work? I have no idea. On a couple occasions it seemed to work. We did a piece on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.S. Cole. It worked fine, we had a piece on broadcast, and on the web I got some newly declassified documents about the bombing. I did a story recently on Anonymous, the group of computer hackers, who shut down MasterCard and Visa in defense of WikiLeaks last year. I had someone on Anonymous willing to come on camera to explain how they work, describing how they got onto a secure service. I had a web piece that was supposed to go with it, it was all teed up. The web extra was ready to go live, and I emailed the source and told him to watch 'Nightly News' and he emailed back and said, 'I know, I've already read it online.'

It appeared that Anonymous had penetrated the NBC web system to read the post before it had been gone live! But it wasn't really the case, because someone had actually posted it early online. It's all interesting, and fun, but whether it works are not is another question. Today we Twitter, we blog, we gab on TV, but in the end it comes down to producing valuable and important content. In our brave new world, it's about content, content, content -- that's the only thing people will remember.

*****

I'll be back at the Logan Symposium tomorrow to cover a panel on collective work and another on non-profit investigative journalism.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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April 02 2011

14:54

March 25 2011

13:50

All the news that’s fit to scrape

Channel 4/Scraperwiki collaboration

There have been quite a few scraping-related stories that I’ve been meaning to blog about – so many I’ve decided to write a round up instead. It demonstrates just the increasing role that scraping is playing in journalism – and the possibilities for those who don’t know them:

Scraping company information

Chris Taggart explains how he built a database of corporations which will be particularly useful to journalists and anyone looking at public spending:

“Let’s have a look at one we did earlier: the Isle of Man (there’s also one for Gibraltar, Ireland, and in the US, the District of Columbia) … In the space of a couple of hours not only have we liberated the data, but both the code and the data are there for anyone else to use too, as well as being imported in OpenCorporates.”

OpenCorporates are also offering a bounty for programmers who can scrape company information from other jurisdictions.

Scraperwiki on the front page of The Guardian…

The Scraperwiki blog gives the story behind a front page investigation by James Ball on lobbyist influence in the UK Parliament:

“James Ball’s story is helped and supported by a ScraperWiki script that took data from registers across parliament that is located on different servers and aggregates them into one source table that can be viewed in a spreadsheet or document.  This is now a living source of data that can be automatically updated.  http://scraperwiki.com/scrapers/all_party_groups/

“Journalists can put down markers that run and update automatically and they can monitor the data over time with the objective of holding ‘power and money’ to account. The added value  of this technique is that in one step the data is represented in a uniform structure and linked to the source thus ensuring its provenance.  The software code that collects the data can be inspected by others in a peer review process to ensure the fidelity of the data.”

…and on Channel 4′s Dispatches

From the Open Knowledge Foundation blog (more on Scraperwiki’s blog):

“ScraperWiki worked with Channel 4 News and Dispatches to make two supporting data visualisations, to help viewers understand what assets the UK Government owns … The first is a bubble chart of what central Government owns. The PDFs were mined by hand (by Nicola) to make the visualisation, and if you drill down you will see an image of the PDF with the source of the data highlighted. That’s quite an innovation – one of the goals of the new data industry is transparency of source. Without knowing the source of data, you can’t fully understand the implications of making a decision based on it.

“The second is a map of brownfield landed owned by local councils in England … The dataset is compiled by the Homes and Communities Agency, who have a goal of improving use of brownfield land to help reduce the housing shortage. It’s quite interesting that a dataset gathered for purposes of developing housing is also useful, as an aside, for measuring what the state owns. It’s that kind of twist of use of data that really requires understanding of the source of the data.

Which chiropractors were making “bogus” claims?

This is an example from last summer. Following the Simon Singh case Simon Perry wrote a script to check which chiropractors were making the same “bogus claims” that Singh was being sued over:

“The BCA web site lists all it’s 1029 members online, including for many of them, about 400 web site URLs. I wrote a quick computer program to download the member details, record them in a database and then download the individual web sites. I then searched the data for the word “colic” and then manually checked each site to verify that the chiropractors were either claiming to treat colic, or implying that chiropractic was an efficacious treatment for it. I found 160 practices in total, with around 500 individual chiropractors.

“The final piece in the puzzle was a simple mail-merge. Not wanting to simultaneously report several quacks to the same Trading Standards office, I limited the mail-merge to one per authority and sent out 84 letters.

“On the 10th, the science blogs went wild when Le Canard Noir published a very amusing email from the McTimoney Chiropractic Association, advising their members to take down their web site. It didn’t matter, I had copies of all the web sites.”

March 21 2011

07:30

Repubblica.it’s experiment with “Investigative reporting on demand”

Repubblica.it's experiment with

Alessandra Bonomolo reports on an Italian experiment to involve readers in investigative journalism.

Whether investigative journalism should be considered “dead” or “alive”, it still proves to be a topical issue able to engage readers by only mentioning its name.

Italian Repubblica.it, the online edition of the daily la Repubblica, has launched an investigative reporting “on demand” initiative. After the first three releases, the idea seems to be succeeding, with thousands of readers responding.

Every month, the online community is asked to choose an issue for reporters to investigate, among an array of options – all related to the environment. “Environment is a strategic editorial issue for us”, says Giuseppe Smorto co-editor of Repubblica.it.

The shortlist of options is drawn up by Repubblica’s correspondents. Most of the issues strongly affect a specific geographical community. Others may include follow-ups on big events in the past, such as the Winter Olympics held in Turin in 2006.

Although they are not all “nationwide and very appealing topics”, Repubblica considers the initiative as part of “an investment in the relation with the readership”. As the investigations are expected to mostly interest local communities, the proximity factor appears to play its part in the initiative’s good response. But, according to Giuseppe Smorto, the editorial focus remains on the environmental aspects.

The readers’ investigations are published both as online articles and videos. Such coverage clearly increases the costs for the news organisation, but it is seen as “an effective way to diversify the product for its final use (computer, smartphone or tablet) in order to reach out to more people”.

Unlike other outlets, Repubblica.it is not engaging its readers in the investigation itself (for instance, by asking them for tips like the Washington Post). Rather, the “investigation on demand” project involves readers in the editorial process, by choosing the topic of the investigation.

This strategy echoes another initiative of the website. Every day, Repubblica Domani broadcasts the morning editorial meeting, opening to the public the doors of their newsroom.

“This is a most advanced form of interaction with the readership”, says the online co-editor. But having readers participating in the editorial process implies that journalists also make their own investigative process open to the public. Should the original hypothesis not be verified by the facts, the reader will see an unexpected conclusion. Potentially, they will even read an investigation with no case at all, which can lead to disappointment.

“This comes with the imperative of transparency and verification”, says environment correspondent Antonio Cianciullo. The newspaper’s investigation into a controversial pollution case concluded, for example, that measures have been eventually put in place and now the situation is under control.

Given the response with the environmental “on demand” investigations, Repubblica says the initiative may be replicated in other sectors.

January 07 2011

01:45
01:44

December 15 2010

20:43

J-School Incubator News21 Balances Investigations, Innovation

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

During the slow news week of Thanksgiving, two articles about the shortcomings of the National Transportation Safety Board were published on the websites of Fox News and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland. On the busiest travel week of the year, their story selections would be unsurprising were it not for their provenance. Both were written over three months earlier by students taking part in News21, an immersive journalism education program.

So what exactly is News21? The program's full title is "News for the 21st Century: Incubators of New Ideas" and it is part of a three-pronged journalism education initiative of the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The incubators referred to in the name of the program are high tech school newsrooms, which for 10 weeks each summer are hosted by some of the many journalism schools participating in the project. These temporary bureaus have been working to produce not only original reporting, but also a fundamental shift in the way journalism is taught and practiced.

Those are lofty goals for a summer program, but there's evidence News21 is making progress toward achieving them. To chart News21's progress and challenges, I spoke with students who had recently gone through the program as well as administrators both past and present. While the student reporting has been solid and has received distribution in mainstream media outlets, there's still room for improvement in community involvement, continuity over the years and innovative forms of journalism.

(Disclosure: News21 has been a sponsor of MediaShift in the past.)

The Foundations

Merrill_Brown10.jpgFirst, a bit of history. In the summer of 2006, the first class of News21 fellows collaboratively examined the balance between liberty and security in the U.S. From 2006 until 2008, News21 had "kind of an ad hoc home" at the University of California-Berkeley, according to News21's former national director Merrill Brown.

Brown coordinated 44 fellows from UC-Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University, the University of Southern California (USC) and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. All but Harvard hosted their own incubators. Each summer the schools used their combined journalistic firepower to cover a broad American issue: Liberty vs. security the first year, religion in the second, and finally the 2008 elections.

The program gained great exposure in its first year when CNN devoted a full hour of "Anderson Cooper 360" to the reporting by the UC-Berkeley students, who examined the personal lives of U.S. troops on peacekeeping missions around the world. By the second year, it was also producing informative and innovative storytelling tools like this still useful Moral Compass, which allows users to quickly compare the answers that nine different religions have for common questions of morality.

Inevitably, there was overlap between the topic areas chosen by the different incubators. When PBS MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser reported on News21 in the fall of 2007, many fellows complained to him that their newsrooms featured "more competition than collaboration among the schools involved" for stories and resources.

The Additions

A more wide-angle focus for the project in 2009, Changing America, seems to have reduced intra-school rivalry. Although a new grant from the Carnegie-Knight initiative in 2009 added incubators at Syracuse University, University of North Carolina, University of Maryland, and Arizona State University (ASU) to the mix, the umbrella theme for summer was so broad that it would have been unlikely for the eight bureaus to step on one anothers' toes. (The universities of Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas at Austin also joined as associate schools like Harvard.)

The renewed grant also included funding to hire a three-person administrative team for the program, now based full-time out of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. During the summer, News21 national director Jody Brannon travels the country to ensure the increasingly decentralized incubators have the digital tools and editorial guidance they need to produce top-notch journalism. In addition to helping alleviate the perceived resource crunch, Brannon also helped organize the launch of a second newsroom at ASU in 2010.

This new national incubator is probably the most important addition to News21 since its inception. Having drawn one top student from each of the 12 member schools, it is News21's most diverse incubator by composition. The focus of the newsroom is also nationwide. Last summer, News21 fellows collaborated with two data specialists from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in Washington, D.C., to examine sprawling databases from the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Inside the National Incubator

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When the incubator opened for business, management of the project was split between two highly experienced editors. Kristin Gilger, an associate dean at ASU's Cronkite J-school, was essentially the managing editor of the national project and worked closely with the fellows in Tempe.

"I did the first thorough 14th edits -- or however many it took -- on all the stories," Gilger said, only partially kidding.

In addition to Gilger, final copy was reviewed by Leonard Downie Jr., a professor at Cronkite and former longtime executive editor at the Washington Post. Downie was also in contact with CPI and the Post, where much of the team's work would be published.

The Post ran four News21 articles on transportation safety during the last week of September. The newspaper's website linked to additional reporting from the national incubator on the landing page for the series, Traveling Dangerously in America. In the same week, MSNBC.com ran another four stories on trucking and aviation safety, which Gilger said, "prompted huge conversations online."

Commenting on the accomplishments of the national incubator, Christopher Callahan, the founding dean of the Cronkite School at ASU, described it as "the formula for success...The work of those 11 students had more distribution than the work of the entire News21 program in its history combined."

And like all News21 content, the 23 stories produced by the national project are freely available to any interested publication. Speaking with Gilger before the holiday, she was keen to point out that, in addition to it being great investigative reporting, most of the national project's output was "fairly evergreen." Her observation is anecdotally supported by the clips from Thanksgiving weekend. Both were drawn from the archives of the "Traveling Dangerously" series.

Innovate or Investigate?

Those two text-heavy stories embody the challenge at the heart of News21: The program seeks the widest possible exposure possible for its students, but it is also focused on fostering innovation. With a deep investigative project like the "Traveling Dangerously" series, there was just not much scope for innovative storytelling.

This reliance on text-based reporting is partly due to the fact that it is much harder to get innovative projects published in national news outlets.

"Breaking a story or breaking new ground on a story is way easier to get attention for than analytical, feature-y work," said Brown, the program's founding director. "One of the ambiguities that people involved in the program have [to deal with is] we all know that investigative journalism is hard to do and when you do it well you get attention for it. The stuff that's deeper, richer, more multimedia is harder to get the larger media to pick up on it, see it for what it is, and distribute it. That's one of the balancing acts the program has."

The current administrators are aware of the challenges this dual focus poses.

"Our mission is to do innovative and investigative journalism. It is difficult for a single project to be both," said Brannon, the current national director. "Those are both measures of success."

No Time To Reinvent the Wheel

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Groundbreaking investigations or cutting edge innovations would both be better served by more preparation for the intense summer program. Whether, like in the national incubator the work began in the spring, or, as was the case at Medill where student Andrew Paley said they had only a "handful of meetings" before the summer, all the fellows I spoke with felt News21 would work better with more lead time.

The Medill incubator made great strides in soliciting audience feedback -- something previous iterations of News21 lacked -- but these efforts were hampered by time constraints. Talking about how his team elicited 300-word blog posts from Latino community leaders, Paley said, "that's one of the things we really hit our stride on six weeks in. It's probably something we would have explored more," had they started community engagement options sooner.

In place of staging preparatory sessions during the school year, administrators could also save students time for reporting by making the website design process more streamlined. As it stands, some five years' worth of project websites are currently scattered about the web, loosely connected by various iterations of the News21 host site.

"I'm quite interested in visualization and ways to tell stories that are non-traditional and scalable," Paley said.

Sustained Focus in the Future?

News21 administrators often steer the program in an entirely different direction each year. Which raises the question: What happens to all the leads and issues that were exposed but left unexplored?

"We hoped at the beginning that there would be a way to institutionalize things far more than we were then," Brown said. "It would be really good for more and more experimentation to take place in all 12 months so that the coverage doesn't die with the start of the new school year. These schools could really become mini-ProPublicas, where the faculty and students are engaged in covering a topic quasi-permanently."

By way of example, Brown suggested Columbia could cover Wall Street while USC could stay on issues related to immigration and borders. The stories they produced could then be available to newspapers and television stations for nationwide syndication. "That was one of the things we dreamed of. And maybe we'll get to that sooner or later," he said.

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The program's administrators are likely considering that among many other possible models for the future of News21 at their next bi-annual meeting. As ASU's Callahan told me, because the Carnegie-Knight grant only runs through the end of the summer of 2011, it will be "the last year of News21 in its current configuration." And for the next grant period, "there is literally nothing that's not on the table."

"Could I foresee New21 growing over time where you have multiple projects throughout the year?" he asked. Not next year, Callahan said, but "could I see it down the road? Yeah, I could." Echoing Merrill Brown, Callahan went on to say, "I think the analogy would be more like a ProPublica or Center for Public Integrity: A project-oriented multimedia site."

News21 has already come a long way since its founding under Brown and it appears to be moving in the right direction with Callahan, Gilger, Brannon and Downie. The new leadership still has a number of issues to address, namely the balance between investigation and innovation, and the continuity of design and focus. But if they do, the quality of reporting from News21 incubators and innovations to journalism they have produced will likely continue to improve.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of The New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at The Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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December 06 2010

16:35

UBC Students, Globe and Mail Investigate Hidden Cost of Shrimp

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Twenty-something university students usually head to Thailand in search of exotic adventures. But when a group of 10 University of British Columbia journalism students went almost a year ago, they were searching for the untold story of shrimp, a seafood delicacy that has become common in North America.

Led by associate professor Peter Klein, the students spoke to exploited Burmese migrant workers, documented devastated mangrove swamps, and visited labs where shrimp are tested for carcinogenic chemicals.

Their work was published recently in partnership with Canada's newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, together with a companion micro-site to showcase the breadth and depth of the students' work.

"The Globe was preparing to do a series on global food, and we had just finished this reporting in Thailand, so we discussed with the editors the idea of a collaboration," said Klein, a former "60 Minutes" producer. "We shared transcripts of our interviews with one of their print reporters, and our students gave the reporter some advice on what we found in the field."

The project is an example of a growing trend of partnerships between major news organizations and universities, and it highlights the role of journalism schools as homes for investigative reporting projects.

This is the second project of UBC's International Reporting program. The first documentary, Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, was produced in partnership with PBS Frontline/World and went on to win an Emmy Award in September for investigative reporting.

A Nuanced Story

The International Reporting program takes 10 journalism students abroad to cover under-reported international issues. The idea of looking at the real cost of those all-you-can-eat platters of cheap shrimp came out of a pitch by one of the students, Kate Allen.

mangrove.jpgShe suggested a general story about seafood, the ocean and fisheries. As the students researched the topic, the issue of shrimp aquaculture started to take shape.

"There are environmental concerns, human rights issues, and even health issues that can affect us back home in North America and Europe, where most farmed shrimp ends up," said Klein.

For the investigation, the students visited several sites in Thailand. They interviewed exploited Burmese migrants who are paid a pittance for their labor, filmed the underwater effects of shrimp runoff on the country's reefs and reported on how the clear-cutting of mangrove swamps by shrimp farmers contributed to the effects of the 2004 tsunami.

"It's a nuanced story," said student Kerry Blackadar. "We went there expecting a black-and-white story about run-offs from shrimp farms impacting reefs and mangroves, but realized the complexities of the industry when we were in Thailand."

Allen, the student who suggested the topic that eventually became this project, said,
"By the end of our Thai trip, we were left with a palpable sense of how North America's raging appetite for one tiny species of crustacean had done serious harm to this beautiful country."

Multimedia Treatment

The students produced a web video project for the Globe that offers a snapshot of the impact of cheap shrimp. The journalism school also produced a micro-site that highlights different aspects of the story, drawing from more than 100 hours of footage shot in the field.

shrimp_telephone.jpg"This project was really well suited for a multimedia piece," said Klein. "There are several distinct themes we addressed, and in a linear TV piece we would have had to do awkward transitions between these themes. In this project, we were able to separate out the themes and address them as individual video clips."

The website was created using WordPress, which is the content management system we use for our student online publications. I was involved in supervising the site, which was developed by student Erin Empey.

"This worked well as a multimedia project because of its complexity," she said. "By using several multimedia tools and breaking the video into chapters, we were able to present the nuances of the story clearly."

Here's one of the videos produced for the project:

Non-Profit Investigative Reporting

The website was the culmination of a year-long investigation that started back in September 2009, when the students embarked on the second year of a new course called International Reporting.

The course is an example of foundation-funded journalism. It was launched in 2008 thanks to a generous donation from Alison Lawton of the Mindset Foundation.

For the shrimp micro-site, the school also secured funding from the MITACS Accelerate internship program. The program provides federal and provincial funding to offer students the opportunity to apply their research to real-world issues.

Funding programs like these can help established media undertake innovative research and development projects. Last year, the UBC journalism school also received a grant from MITACS to partner with CBC Radio 3 to create a Canadian music wiki.

These kinds of partnerships are evolving as news outlets, foundations and journalism schools pool their resources, particularly at a time when established media are devoting fewer resources to investigative reporting

"This is classic investigative journalism, the kind of reporting that rarely gets done anymore on international topics," said Klein.

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.
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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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October 19 2010

13:30

The scalability of collaboration: ProPublica partners with five (five!) other outlets for its latest story

Today brings the launch of a blockbuster story: A group of investigative journalists, looking into the financial practices of pharmaceutical companies, found that many doctors — some of whom earn six-figure returns for promoting particular drug brands to their patients — often have no research experience related to the medications they promote. And, often, they push “off-label” uses of the drugs, uses those not approved by U.S. regulators, in exchange for the compensation.

It’s a big, important piece — the kind of anger-inducing, broadly affective narrative that is the bread and butter of investigative journalism. The story told in “Dollars for Docs” — the trusted medical professional, shilling for Big Pharma — is, quite literally, outrageous.

For the project, ProPublica collaborated with other news organizations for purposes of reporting, data collection, and application-building. Which is standard practice for the open-minded news outfit. What isn’t standard, though, is the sheer scale of the collaboration itself: “Dollars for Docs” represents the collective work of six — yes, six — different news organizations: NPR, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, Consumer Reports, PBS’s Nightly Business Report, and ProPublica itself. (So if the whole “exposing affronts to the public interest” thing doesn’t work out for them, the project’s participants can always just form a volleyball team.) Each partner is running its own version of the story based on common data the group has gathered from pharmaceutical companies and elsewhere; some are using ProPublica’s lead piece (written by ProPublica reporters — and 2010 Pulitzer finalists — Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber) in their distribution strategy, while others are focusing on their customized treatments of the data. And all have access — as the rest of us do — to a widget that allows users to search the database the news collective has amassed to determine whether particular doctors have taken pharma funding.

“We haven’t done one like this before,” Tom Detzel, the ProPublica editor who oversaw the endeavor, says of the undertaking. “We haven’t had more partners than this in any collaboration.”

Which raises the question: How? How do you coordinate among all those partners — who are, after all, not only individual reporters, but also representatives of different mediums and outlets, each with its own way of doing things — to create a collaboration that’s productive and immune to the familiar vagaries of design-by-committee? One approach, Detzel says — and perhaps it’s really the approach — is to give everyone involved plenty of freedom to do their own work and adopt their own approaches. “We just decided we were going to loosen the reins and let everyone run free,” he says. In terms of organizational oversight itself, the model “was a hub-and-spoke kind of thing,” he notes; Detzel’s role at the hub, as he saw it, was a to be a facilitator and fosterer of communication. And “it wasn’t as difficult as it sounds,” he notes. “The partners all took initiative to do their own stories. We didn’t try to draw any lines in the sand: ‘Here’s what you can do, and can’t do.’ We just said, ‘Here’s the topic we want to work with, and here’s the data we have. Take it and run with it.’”

That freedom, though, has to be tempered with strategic communication — which, in this case, occurred naturally among the partners, Detzel says. “Once we got started, and the reporters started talking to each other, they were all sharing information tips, sources, ideas — and we all learned from each other during the process.” In fact, “it’s actually quite fun to see how everybody has a slightly different take on this.”

The partnerships themselves came about fairly organically; they started with Dan Nguyen, the ProPublica reporter tasked with developing the data side of the “Dollars and Docs” story, and some offline conversations he was having with fellow hackers. Nightly Business Reports, which had independently embarked on a similar line of investigation, contacted Nguyen about a possible collaboration; that opened the door to the pairing with the Tribune and the Globe: “We’d done some work with Tribune before,” Detzel says, “and we knew Boston would be interested because Charlie [Ornstein] had some contacts up there on the health team — and because it’s such a big medical center.” Then came NPR (“we’d been looking for a good opportunity to work with the health and science team — and they jumped on this one”), and, finally, Consumer Reports, which contacted ProPublica about sharing data for its health provider ratings site.

This could be the moment in the movie when word of the party that was supposed to be an intimate affair has spread to the point of absurdity; ProPublica could easily have become the hapless kid trying to save his mother’s antique vases from the frat guys and their kegs. And, indeed, the mega-teamup begs the question: How scalable is collaboration itself? When it comes to journalistic partnerships, of course, there are logical limits; though there are certainly gains — in exposure and impact, in particular — to be made from collaboration, partnership is a finite resource. And, for Detzel, making it work — throwing the party, making the friends, all while keeping Mom’s china intact — is a matter of good communication. “It takes a little more time to do things,” he notes, “and you’ve got to overcome some of those old habits that are ingrained in all of us” — the impulse, in particular, to beat the competition. Three more ways to scale: (1) Agree to an end goal for a project, but don’t be too hung up on how you’re going to get there; (2) Allow extra time into the process — “because it does take extra time to do the communication and coordination that’s required to pull something like this off”; and (3) “Trust the reporters to find the story, and they will.”

And that may be the biggest, if simplest, takeaway from the mega-teamup: In the end, collaborations are about individuals. (As David Fanning, executive producer of the documentary program Frontline, put it of his own collaboration efforts with Planet Money and the NewsHour: “Co-productions are never between institutions; they’re only really between the people who work together and trust each other.”) Strategic scaling is possible; it just requires that the individuals involved be coordinated in ways that maximize individuality for, yes, the good of the group. “It’s a new world out there,” Detzel says. “And when you’re sharing, you can actually end up with something that’s got a lot more texture and nuance — really, a much better product than you can make on your own.”

October 06 2010

10:45

Former News of the World features editor defends phone-hacking at lively debate

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal was once again in the spotlight last night, this time at City University where reporters, lawyers, a former tabloid editor and a victim of the NotW’s close attention gathered to debate the question: “How far should a reporter go? The lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking story.”

Former News of the World features editor Paul McMullan spoke largely in defence of the newspaper and its practices, revealing that he had been contacted three times by the Metropolitan police following his recent admission of illegally obtaining information while at the newspaper.

McMullan is one of a string of former NotW staff to confess to phone-hacking, both on the record and anonymously, and allege that the practice was widespread at the newspaper. He admitted last night that he had illegally hacked voicemail accounts, bank accounts and medical records in an investigation of cocaine dealers.

Appearing alongside McMullan were: former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, who elected to speak on behalf of the NotW in the absence of a senior figure from the newspaper; former director of public prosecutions Ken MacDonald; Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who broke the story initially and has reported on it extensively; former head of the FIA Max Mosley, who won record damages of 60,000 from the newspaper in a privacy action, and defamation lawyer Mark Lewis, who has represented many of those claiming damages from the NotW after the scandal.

Guardian reporter Nick Davies began by apologising to the NotW for “saying some beastly things about it” and said they were unlucky to get caught out in an industry-wide practice

I should start off by apologising to the NotW, in a way I feel sorry for them. It’s sheer fluke and bad luck that that particular newspaper is the subject of all this attention. It’s just because one journalist Clive Goodman got caught hacking the voicemail not of an ordinary punter but of the royal family. All of us with our headlights on know very well that this illegal activity was going on in most Fleet Street newsrooms.

Davies even drew attention to the naming of the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer by the Information Commissioner’s report on obtaining of phone records. But despite his apologies he was unequivocal in his distaste for the phone-hackers: “I’ve had enough. Even though I’m a reporter I want a law to protect me from these creatures. These people have no business in our phone calls, they have no business in our bedrooms.”

Davies did however speak out in support of a law which would give reporters additional powers to hack into telephones and voicemail accounts where there was a demonstrable public interest.

What we’ll discover as we go through this evening is that a lot will cluster around two simple words, ‘public interest’ (…) I would go so far as to say I would like to see a change in the law to allow journalists to intercept voicemail messages if it’s in the public interest. The huge problem is that nobody knows where the boundaries of that concept are.

Well, as Roy Greenslade pointed out in his terrifically acted (if somewhat comical) turn defending the NotW, “What is the public interest to the Guardian and the Observer is very different when you reach the celebrity agenda of the Sun and the NotW.”

Paul McMullan clearly has a very different concept of public interest to Nick Davies and especially to Max Mosley, with whom he repeatedly clashed. McMullan said, in answer to “How far should a reporter go?” that “if you want to get ahead in journalism you have to go as far as you possibly can, there is no limit”.

I think privacy is the thing we really have to fight against, privacy is the place where we do bad things. We hide our misdemeanors embarassments and things we wouldn’t want to have to tell our wives and children we were up to and then we say privacy, it’s my private life, I can break my marital contract, I can have a completely false public perception when actually, I’m a grubby little sinner.

Mosley, on the other hand, is clearly more of a fan of the French way of doing things. He claimed throughout that the private lives of public figures have no bearing on their public life, dismissing McMullan’s notion that there was a legitimate public interest in reavealing the private actions of those who presented themselves as family men, or who were said to be role models.

…there is this mad argument ‘oh we should expose Tiger Woods or Mr [John] Terry because they tell the world they are great family men and they’re not. This is the idea that people go to watch John Terry play football or Tiger Woods pay golf, and they say to themselves ‘why am I going to see him, oh because he’s a wonderful family man’. It’s so absurd.

Mosley was very firm in his belief that jounalists should not be able to get away with breaking the law because they decide it serves the public interest. Defamation lawyer Mark Lewis pointed out that if the police want to tap somebody’s phone they have to approach the home secretary first for permission, with prima facie evidence, and not just go on a “fishing expedition” if they so decide.

Ken MacDonald, former director of public prosecutions, countered that their argument was “too simplistic”, arguing that without journalists bending, or perhaps breaking the law, a huge number of important public interest stories would not have been published. MacDonald also expressed concern about allowing public figures to live “entirely parallel lives”, which he said could lead journalists to “an attitude of deference to those in power and to cultural elites”.

His comment prompted an audience member to ask whether a hypothetical story about David Cameron being caught with call girls had legitimate public interest. Given what this information would tell us about the judgement of the country’s prime minister in opening himself up to bribery and coercion, Nick Davies was surprisingly unsure whether he thought this constituted public interest.

Repeatedly mentioned of course was Cameron’s director of communications and former NotW editor Andy Coulson. Last night’s Dispatches documentary featured a former senior NotW journalist claiming, anonymously, that the former editor had listened to hacked voicemail messages. Coulson has continually denied any knowledge of phone-hacking, despite recent accusations in the New York Times that he sanctioned the practice. Roy Greenslade, in his role as the newspaper’s defender, sounded quite convinced in his support of Coulson, inparticular Coulson’s claim that he wouldn’t neccessarily have known or even asked about the provenance of stories. According to Greenslade:

Editors don’t have to know every intimate detail on this occasion I don’t think he did (…) A lot of people here will say ‘of course he knew’, but it seems perfectly feasible to me that you don’t neccessarily know every detail about the methodology.

The panelists debated various possible ways of negotiating the difficult terrain between freedom of the press and privacy, with Max Mosley calling for the law to require prior notification on issues which the subject of the story might not want publicised. Mosley’s strict position was largely dismissed by the journalists present, who saw the extent to which it could compromise a free press. Nick Davies suggested a variation on the idea, in which editors could approach a “council of wise men” who (quite who was never clarified) could arbitrate and advise on publication, with their recommendation taken in to account if the editor was challenged post-publication.

The risk all these possible regulatory measures pose to freedom of the press was articulated of course, leaving the panel not much closer to a workable solution to the problem by the end. But it was a spirited debate which generated decent conversation about some of the issues at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal and well-demonstrated the difficulty of satisfying both the need for freedom of the press and the need for privacy.Similar Posts:



October 05 2010

11:50

David Higgerson: Tell your readers about failed FOI requests

A blog post by David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, this week addresses the issue of FOI request refusals and what he thinks journalists should do if they hit a brick wall in their attempts to get information.

He argues that it is important for journalists to not only try to get the information for their readers, but to inform their audience of their endeavours if the material itself cannot be released or reported.

Some see journalistic use of FOI as reporters just finding ‘easy leads’. But if reporters and journalists are working on behalf of their readers, then surely it makes sense to tell readers when they can’t report information

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



October 01 2010

00:05
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