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August 24 2012

14:35

This Week in Review: Twitter’s ongoing war with developers, and plagiarism and online credibility

[Since the review was off last week, this week's review covers the last two weeks.]

More Twitter restrictions for developers: Twitter continued to tighten the reins on developers building apps and services based on its platform with another change to its API rules last week. Most of it is pretty incomprehensible to non-developers, but Twitter did make itself plain at one point, saying it wants to limit development by engagement-based apps that market to consumers, rather than businesses. (Though a Twitter exec did clarify that at least two of those types of services, Storify and Favstar, were in the clear.)

The Next Web’s Matthew Panzarino clarified some of the technical jargon, and Marketing Land’s Danny Sullivan explained whom this announcement means Twitter likes and doesn’t like, and why. ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Frommer gave the big-picture reason for Twitter’s increasing coldness toward developers — it needs to generate tons more advertising soon if it wants to stay independent, and the way to do that is to keep people on Twitter, rather than on Twitter-like apps and services. (Tech entrepreneur Nova Spivack said that rationale doesn’t fly, and came up with a few more open alternatives to allow Twitter to make significant money.)

That doesn’t mean developers were receptive of the news, though. Panzarino said these changes effectively kill the growth of third-party products built on Twitter’s platform, and Instapaper founder Marco Arment argued that Twitter has made itself even harder to work with than the famously draconian Apple. Eliza Kern and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM talked to developers about their ambivalence with Twitter’s policies and put Twitter’s desire for control in perspective, respectively.

Several observers saw these changes as a marker of Twitter’s shift from user-oriented service to cog in the big-media machine. Tech designer Stowe Boyd argued Twitter “is headed right into the central DNA of medialand,” and tech blogger Ben Brooks said Twitter is now preoccupied with securing big-media partnerships: “Twitter has sold out. They not only don’t care about the original users, but they don’t even seem to care much for the current users — there’s a very real sense that Twitter needs to make money, and they need to make that money yesterday.” Developer Rafe Colburn pointed out how many of Twitter’s functions were developed by its users, and developer Nick Bruun said many of the apps that Twitter is going after don’t mimic its user experience, but significantly improve it. Killing those apps and streamlining the experience, said GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, doesn’t help users, but hurts them.

Part of the problem, a few people said, was Twitter’s poor communication. Harry McCracken of Time urged Twitter to communicate more clearly and address its users alongside its developers. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash offered a rewritten (and quite sympathetic) version of Twitter’s guidelines.

There’s another group of developers affected by this change — news developers. The Lab’s Andrew Phelps surveyed what the changes will entail for various Twitter-related news products (including a couple of the Lab’s own), and journalism professor Alfred Hermida warned that they don’t bode well for the continued development of open, networked forms of journalism.

Plagiarism, credibility, and the web: Our summer of plagiarism continues unabated: Wired decided to keep Jonah Lehrer on as a contributor after plagiarism scandal, though the magazine said it’s still reviewing his work and he has no current assignments. Erik Wemple of The Washington Post lamented the lack of consequences for Lehrer’s journalistic sins, and both he and Poynter’s Craig Silverman wondered how the fact-checking process for his articles would go. Meanwhile, Lehrer was accused by another source of fabricating quotes and also came under scrutiny for mischaracterizing scientific findings.

The other plagiarizer du jour, Time and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, has come out much better than Lehrer so far. Zakaria resigned as a Yale trustee, but Time, CNN, and The Washington Post (for whom he contributes columns) all reinstated him after reviewing his work for them, with Time declaring it was satisfied that his recent lapse was an unintentional error. However, a former Newsweek editor said he ghost-wrote a piece for Zakaria while he was an editor there, though he told the New York Observer and Poynter that he didn’t see it as a big deal.

Some defended Zakaria on a variety of grounds. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon evaluated a few of the arguments and found only one might have merit — that the plagiarism might have resulted from a research error by one of his assistants. The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer, meanwhile, argued that plagiarism has a long and storied history in American journalism, but hasn’t always been thought of as wrong.

Others saw the responses by news organizations toward both Zakaria and Lehrer as insufficient. Poynter’s Craig Silverman argued that those responses highlighted a lack of consistency and transparency (he and Kelly McBride also wrote a guide for news orgs on how to handle plagiarism), while journalism professor Mark Leccese said Zakaria’s employers should have recognized the seriousness of plagiarism and gone further, and Steven Brill at the Columbia Journalism Review called for more details about the nature of Zakaria’s error.

A New York Times account of Zakaria’s error focused on his hectic lifestyle, filled with the demands of being a 21st-century, multiplatform, personally branded pundit. At The Atlantic, book editor and former journalist Peter Osnos focused on that pressure for a pundit to publish on all platforms for all people as the root of Zakaria’s problem.

The Times’ David Carr pinpointed another factor — the availability of shortcuts to credibility on the web that allowed Lehrer to become a superstar before he learned the craft. (Carr found Lehrer’s problems far more concerning than Zakaria’s.) At Salon, Michael Barthel also highlighted the difference between traditional media and web culture, arguing that the problem for people like Zakaria is their desire to inhabit both worlds at once: “The way journalists demonstrate credibility on the Web isn’t better than how they do in legacy media. It’s just almost entirely different. For those journalists and institutions caught in the middle, that’s a real problem.” GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that linking is a big part of the web’s natural defenses against plagiarism.

Untruths and political fact-checking: The ongoing discussion about fact-checking and determining truth and falsehood in political discourse got some fresh fuel this week with a Newsweek cover story by Harvard professor Niall Ferguson arguing for President Obama’s ouster. The piece didn’t stand up well to numerous withering fact-checks (compiled fairly thoroughly by Newsweek partner The Daily Beast and synthesized a bit more by Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review).

Ferguson responded with a rebuttal in which he argued that his critics “claim to be engaged in ‘fact checking,’ whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts.” Newsweek’s editor, Tina Brown, likewise referred to the story as opinion (though not one she necessarily agreed with) and said there isn’t “a clear delineation of right and wrong here.”

Aside from framing the criticism as a simple difference of opinion rather than an issue of factual (in)correctness, Newsweek also acknowledged to Politico that it doesn’t have fact-checkers — that its editors “rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material.”  Poynter’s Craig Silverman provided some of the history behind that decision, which prompted some rage from Charles Apple of the American Copy Editors Society. Apple asserted that any news organization that doesn’t respect its readers or public-service mission enough to ensure their work is factually accurate needs to leave the business. The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates said the true value of fact-checkers comes in the culture of honesty they create.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wondered if that fact-checking process might be better done in public, where readers can see the arguments and inform themselves. In an earlier piece on campaign rhetoric, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic argued that in an era of willful, sustained political falsehood, fact-checking may be outliving its usefulness, saying, “One-off fact-checking is no match for the repeated lie.” The Lab’s Andrew Phelps, meanwhile, went deep inside the web’s leading fact-checking operation, PolitiFact.

The Times’ new CEO and incremental change: The New York Times Co. named a new CEO last week, and it was an intriguing choice — former BBC director general Mark Thompson. The Times’ article on Thompson focused on his digital expansion at the BBC (which was accompanied by a penchant for cost-cutting), as well as his transition from publicly funded to ad-supported news. According to the International Business Times, those issues were all sources of skepticism within the Times newsroom. Bloomberg noted that Thompson will still be subject to Arthur Sulzberger’s vision for the Times, and at the Guardian, Michael Wolff said Thompson should complement that vision well, as a more realistic and business-savvy counter to Sulzberger.

The Daily Beast’s Peter Jukes pointed out that many of the BBC’s most celebrated innovations during Thompson’s tenure were not his doing. Robert Andrews of paidContent also noted this, but said Thompson’s skill lay in being able to channel that bottom-up innovation to fit the BBC’s goals. Media analyst Ken Doctor argued that the BBC and the Times may be more alike than people think, and Thompson’s experience at the former may transfer over well to the latter: “Thompson brings the experience at moving, too slowly for some, too dramatically for others, a huge entity.” But Mathew Ingram of GigaOM said that kind of approach won’t be enough: “The bottom line is that a business-as-usual or custodial approach is not going to cut it at the NYT, not when revenues are declining as rapidly as they have been.”

Joe Pompeo of Capital New York laid out a thorough description of the Sulzberger-led strategy Thompson will be walking into: Focusing on investment in the Times, as opposed to the company’s other properties, but pushing into mobile, video, social, and global reach, rather than print. And Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee posited the idea that the Times could be in increasingly good position to go private.

The Assange case and free speech vs. women’s rights: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange cleared another hurdle last week — for now — in his fight to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault accusations when Ecuador announced it would grant him asylum. Assange has been staying in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for two months, but British officials threatened to arrest Assange in the embassy. Ecuador’s decision gives him immunity from arrest on Ecuadorean soil (which includes the embassy).

Assange gave a typically defiant speech for the occasion, but the British government was undeterred, saying it plans to resolve the situation diplomatically and send Assange to Sweden. Ecuador’s president said an embassy raid would be diplomatic suicide for the U.K., and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick was appalled that Britain would even suggest it. Filmmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone argued in The New York Times that Assange deserves support as a free-speech advocate, while Gawker’s Adrian Chen said the sexual assault case has nothing to do with free speech. Laurie Penny of The Independent looked at the way free speech and women’s rights are being pitted against each other in this case. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian excoriated the press for their animosity toward Assange.

Reading roundup: We’ve already covered a bunch of stuff over the past week and a half, and there’s lots more to get to, so here’s a quick rundown:

— Twitter and Blogger co-founder Evan Williams announced the launch of Medium, a publishing platform that falls somewhere between microblogging and blogging. The Lab’s Joshua Benton has the definitive post on what Medium might be, Dave Winer outlined his hopes for it, and The Awl’s Choire Sicha wrote about the anti-advertising bent at sites like it.

— A few social-news notes: Two features from the Huffington Post and the Lab on BuzzFeed’s ramped-up political news plans; TechCrunch’s comparison of BuzzFeed, Reddit, and Digg; and a feature from the Daily Dot on Reddit and the future of social journalism.

— The alt-weekly The Village Voice laid off staffers late last week, prompting Jim Romenesko to report that the paper is on the verge of collapse and Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray to chronicle its demise. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon said the paper still has plenty left, and The New York Times’ David Carr said the problem is that the information ecosystem has outgrown alt-weeklies.

— Finally, three great food-for-thought pieces, Jonathan Stray here at the Lab on determining proper metrics for journalism, media consultant Mark Potts on a newspaper exec’s 20-year-old view of the web, and Poynter’s Matt Thompson on the role of the quest narrative in journalism.

Photo of Jonah Lehrer by PopTech and drawing of Julian Assange by Robert Cadena used under a Creative Commons license.

April 18 2012

16:18

Daily Must Reads, April 18, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung.

1. Julian Assange launches talk show on Russian television (NYT)



2. Father of the world wide web urges people to demand their personal data from Google, Facebook (Guardian)



3. Hulu's paid subscription service hits 2 million users (GigaOm)



4. More people are watching TV shows on their tablets (MediaDailyNews)



5. Can Twitter replace newswire services? (Digiday)



6. Netflix could move from streaming to making content (GigaOm)



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April 16 2012

15:31

January 19 2012

18:20

Daily Must-Reads, Jan. 19, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung

1. TV news starts covering SOPA after fleet of major sites go dark (TV Newser)

2. Did the anti-SOPA protests work? (PC World)

3. Apple unveils iBooks Author, an app for easy self-publishing (GigaOm)

4. Why the news industry should mimic Hulu, Netflix (Nieman Lab)

5. Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks, talks to the Rolling Stone (The Rolling Stone)

Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!







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December 06 2011

22:01

WikiLeaks - Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, Birgitta Jonsdottir seek injunction on Twitter Data

Wall Street Journal :: Three WikiLeaks associates are appealing a court order that would force Twitter Inc. to hand over information from their accounts without a search warrant. The WikiLeaks associates – Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, and Birgitta Jonsdottir – have also applied for an injunction to prevent Twitter from being forced to turn over account data before the appeals court has ruled.

Continue to read Julia Angwin, blogs.wsj.com

November 12 2011

19:10

Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir: US court verdict to open my Twitter account 'huge blow' to privacy

Guardian :: Icelandic MP and former WikiLeaks volunteer Birgitta Jonsdottir has slammed the decision by US courts to open her Twitter account to the US authorities and is taking her case to the Council of Europe. On Thursday a US judge ruled Twitter must release the details of her account and those of two other Twitter users linked to WikiLeaks.

Continue to read Dominic Rushe, www.guardian.co.uk

September 03 2011

19:59

Disillusioned - Why I felt I had to turn my back on WikiLeaks. Inside.

Guardian :: Julian Assange gathered core staff and supporters at Ellingham Hall, a manor house owned by the Frontline Club founder and WikiLeaks supporter Vaughan Smith. Around the dining table the team sketched out a plan for the coming months, to release the leaked US diplomatic cables selectively for maximum impact. Phase one would involve publishing selected – and carefully redacted – high-profile cables through the Guardian, New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais. Phase two would spread this out to more media organisations.

But clearly a large volume of cables would remain, of little interest to any media organisation. Several at the meeting stressed these documents, which would probably number hundreds of thousands, could not be published without similar careful redaction. Others vehemently disagreed.

Inside.

Continue to read James Ball, www.guardian.co.uk

June 12 2011

05:22

How WikiLeaks has changed today's media, a summary

CNN :: The initial idea of Wikileaks and a protected place for anonymous actions of conscience still retains power although Assange is looking increasingly like he is out of secrets and out of move. Julian Assange once described WikiLeaks as "a mechanism to maximize the flow of information to maximize the amount of action leading to just reform." If WikiLeaks was merely a kick-start to a more open, transparent flow of information that creates positive change in the world, then Assange may still have one great secret left: He has already won.

Continue to read Kaj Larsen, edition.cnn.com

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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January 28 2011

15:30

January 14 2011

15:30

This Week in Review: Real-time reporting errors in Tucson, Twitter’s WikiLeaks stand, and Quora arrives

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Managing reporting errors in the river of news: Though Saturday’s tragic shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was primarily a political story, it created several ripples that quickly spread into the media world. (One of those was the debate over our rather toxic climate of political rhetoric, though I’ll leave that to other outlets to focus on.) Another issue, more directly related to the future-of-news discussion, regarded how the news spread in the shooting’s immediate aftermath.

As Lost Remote’s Steve Safran described, several major news organizations, including Reuters, NPR, BBC News, and CNN, wrongly reported soon after the shooting that Giffords had died — reports that were corrected within a half-hour. NPR in particular devoted quite a bit of space to explaining its error, with social media editor Andy Carvin, ombudsman Alicia Shepard, and executive editor Dick Meyer all weighing in.

There was plenty of scrutiny from outside, too: Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore called the mishap “understandable, but not excusable,” and The Next Web’s Chad Catacchio suggested that Twitter use editorial judgment to ensure that inaccurate information isn’t highlighted in its Top Tweets. Salon’s Dan Gillmor cited the situation as a reminder of Clay Shirky’s line that “fact checking is down, but after-the-fact checking is way up.” Gillmor also posted an appropriate excerpt from his book, Mediactive, urging all of us to take a “slow news” approach to breaking news stories. Seattle TV journalist Paul Balcerak took the opportunity to remind both journalists and their audiences to ask “How do you know that?”

The erroneous tweets launched a parallel discussion on just what exactly to do with them: Leave them there? Delete them? Correct them? The debate began in the comments of Safran’s Lost Remote post, with NPR’s Carvin explaining why he left his faulty tweet as is. WBUR’s Andrew Phelps explained why he made the same decision, and ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg defended both of them in two posts, suggesting a corrected retweet might offer a good compromise.

A couple of other new-media angles to the shooting’s coverage: The Lab’s Justin Ellis and Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman looked at the awkward art of publicly making interview requests on Twitter, and Nieman Storyboard highlighted innovative storytelling approaches amid the shooting’s chaotic aftermath.

Twitter’s stand against secrecy: The ongoing WikiLeaks saga publicly roped in Twitter this week, as news broke of the U.S. Department of Justice issuing an order requesting the Twitter activity of several people involved with the organization. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who posted many of the order’s details and a copy of the order itself, also wondered, “did other Internet and social network companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then quietly comply?”

Remarkably, Twitter didn’t just quietly comply. The order originally had a gag order preventing Twitter from telling the targets themselves that it was handing over their data, but Twitter challenged it in court and got a new, unsealed order issued, then told the targets about it. Fast Company looked at the likely role of Twitter’s attorney, Alexander Macgillivray, in challenging the order, and Wired’s Ryan Singel praised Twitter for standing up for its users against government, something that hasn’t really been a norm among online companies.

Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik examined the potential implications of the order for journalists doing reporting on Twitter and other social media platforms, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM noted that the episode illustrates how much we rely on single corporate networks within social media.

The traditional news media, meanwhile, remains lukewarm at best toward WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, as McClatchy pointed out. At The Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman broke down one manifestation of that cold shoulder — the way mainstream news organizations continue to incorrectly report that WikiLeaks has released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, when it has actually released just 2,000.

Also on the WikiLeaks front, Assange claimed in an interview to have “insurance” files on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp., and WikiLeaks attacked those who have called for Assange to be hunted down or killed. American WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Applebaum tweeted about his being detained by the U.S. while re-entering the country, and was profiled by Rolling Stone. And Evgeny Morozov of Foreign Policy argued that WikiLeaks’ cause would be best served if it would shift from leaking information to building a decentralized, open Internet infrastructure.

Quora hits the scene: The explosion of the question-and-answer site Quora is a story that’s been building for several weeks, but I thought now would be as good a time as any to get you up to speed on it. The buzz started just after Christmas, when tech guru Robert Scoble wondered whether it could be the next evolution of blogging. MG Siegler of the influential tech blog TechCrunch followed up by saying much the same thing, and talked about using Quora as inspiration for many of his TechCrunch posts. That week, it also received praise from Google’s head of user interaction, Irene Au.

That was the nudge Quora needed to begin some seriously explosive growth, doubling its number of signups twice in about two weeks. Quora, which was founded in 2009 by two Facebook veterans, is a fairly simple site — just questions and answers, not unlike Yahoo Answers and Facebook Questions. But it’s managed to keep the quality of questions and answers up, and it’s attracted a smart user base heavy on the “cool kids” of the tech world.

The next question, though, was how this rapid growth would shape Quora. The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos predicted that it would get bigger than Twitter, though Vadim Lavrusik of Mashable saw it as more suited to niche communities: “Quora feels heavy, which is of course where it excels, providing in-depth commentary to questions. But that heaviness is unlikely to attract a large audience.”

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM questioned whether Quora will be able to maintain its standard of quality as it grows, and Mary Hamilton wrote about Quora’s struggles between what its admins want and what its user want. Meanwhile, Journalism.co.uk’s Kristine Lowe noted that more journalism-related questions were being posted, Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore explored several of the best ways for journalists to use Quora, including looking for ideas for local content and monitoring the buzz around an issue.

Reading roundup: I haven’t given you any iPad updates yet, so you know this review can’t quite be finished. Very well then:

— We’re still talking about the decline of magazine app sales on the iPad, with The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss looking at that disappointment and some publishers’ efforts to overcome it. Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco called those sales declines meaningless, but designer Khoi Vinh urged those publishers to stop pouring their resources into print-like tablet products.

The particular project that everyone’s most interested in is Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, which was reported to be launching next Wednesday with Murdoch and Steve Jobs on stage together but now has reportedly tabled its launch for a few weeks. Rex Sorgatz heard that its companion website will have no homepage and be hidden from search engines, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow took a peek at the site’s source code for clues.

— Wikipedia will turn 10 this weekend, and Pew kicked off the commemoration with a survey finding that 42% of American adults use Wikipedia to look up information. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained how Wikipedia set the prototype for modern information flow on the web.

— Facebook announced this week that it will allow users to like individual authors and topics within sites. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick said it’s a step toward Facebook being able to do what RSS feeds couldn’t. Meanwhile, the Bivings Group looked at the top newspaper Facebook fan pages.

— One great piece I missed last week: Paul Ford conceptualized the web as a customer service medium, organized around the central question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” Ryan Sholin applied the concept to online reporting.

— If you’re interested in real-time editing and curation, this might be an experiment to watch: Quickish, launched this week by former ESPN-er Dan Shanoff, who is starting by applying that concept to sports commentary and hoping to expand to other areas.

— Finally, three bigger pieces to ponder over the weekend: Dan Gillmor’s book excerpt at Salon on surviving the tsunami of information; Forbes’ Lewis DVorkin’s vision for the news site built on personally branded journalists; and the Lab’s Ken Doctor on the metrics that will define news in 2011.

January 07 2011

17:30

This Week in Review: The FCC’s big compromise, WikiLeaks wrestles with the media, and a look at 2011

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

A net neutrality compromise: The Review might have taken two weeks off for the holidays, but the rest of the future-of-news world kept on humming. Consider this more your “Holidays in Review” than your “Week in Review.” Let’s get to it.

The biggest news development of the past few weeks came just before Christmas, when the FCC passed a set of Internet regulations that were widely characterized as a compromise between net neutrality advocates and big Internet service providers. In essence, the rules will keep ISPs from blocking or slowing services on the traditional wired Internet, but leave the future of wireless regulation more unclear. (Here’s a copy of the order and a helpful explainer from GigaOM.)

In the political realm, the order drew predictable responses from both sides of the aisle: Conservatives (including at least one Republican FCC commissioner) were skeptical of a move toward net neutrality, while liberals (like Democratic Sen. Al Franken) fervently argued for it. In the media-tech world, it was greeted — as compromises usually are — with near-universal disdain. The Economist ran down the list of concerns for net neutrality proponents, led by the worry that the FCC “has handed the wireless carriers a free pass.” This was especially troubling to j-prof Dan Kennedy, who argued that wireless networks will be far more important to the Internet’s future than wired ones.

Salon’s Dan Gillmor said the FCC paid lip service to net neutrality, paving the way for a future more like cable TV than the open web we have now. Newsweek’s Dan Lyons compressed his problems with the order into one statement: “There will soon be a fast Internet for the rich and a slow Internet for the poor.”

From the other side, Slate media critic Jack Shafer, a libertarian, questioned whether the FCC had the power to regulate the Internet at all, and imagined what the early Internet would have been like if the FCC had regulated it then. The Los Angeles Times’ James Rainey told both sides to calm down, and at the Knight Digital Media Center, Amy Gahran used the story as an object lesson for news organizations in getting and linking to the source documents in question.

WikiLeaks and the media’s awkward dance: The long tail of this fall’s WikiLeaks story continues to run on, meandering into several different areas over the holidays. There are, of course, ongoing efforts to silence WikiLeaks, both corporate (Apple pulled the WikiLeaks app from its store) and governmental (a bill to punish circulation of similar classified information was introduced, and criticized by law prof Geoffrey Stone).

In addition, Vanity Fair published a long piece examining the relationship between WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and The Guardian, the first newspaper to partner with him. Based on the story, Slate’s Jack Shafer marveled at Assange’s shrewdness and gamesmanship (“unequaled in the history of journalism”), Reuters’ Felix Salmon questioned Assange’s mental health, and The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson wondered why The Guardian still seems to be playing by Assange’s rules.

We also saw the blowup of Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald’s feud with Wired over some chat logs between alleged WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning and the man who turned him in. It’s a complicated fight I’m not going to delve into here, but if you’d like to know more, here are two good blow-by-blows, one more partial to Wired, and another more sympathetic to Greenwald.

Greenwald has also continued to be one of the people leading the inquiries into the traditional media’s lack of support for WikiLeaks. Alternet rebutted several media misconceptions about WikiLeaks, and Newsweek attempted to explain why the American press is so lukewarm on WikiLeaks — they aren’t into advocacy, and they don’t like Assange’s purpose or methods. One of the central questions to that media cold-shoulder might be whether Assange is considered a journalist, something GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram tried to tackle.

Other, more open critiques of WikiLeaks continue to trickle out, including ones from author Jaron Lanier and Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who argued for The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. Abrams’ argument prompted rebuttals from Jack Shafer and NYU prof Clay Shirky. Shirky in particular offered a nuanced comparison of the Pentagon Papers-era Times and the globally oriented WikiLeaks, concluding that “the old rules will not produce the old outcomes.” If you’re still hungry for WikiLeaks analysis, John Bracken’s rounded up the best of the year here.

Looking back, and looking forward: We rang in the new year last week, and that, of course, always means two things in the media world: year-end retrospectives, and previews of the year to come. The Lab wrapped up its own year in review/preview before Christmas with a review of Martin Langeveld’s predictions for 2010. PBS’ MediaShift also put together a good set of year-end reviews, including ones on self-publishing, the rapidly shifting magazine industry, a top-ten list of media stories (led by WikiLeaks, Facebook, and the iPad). You can also get a pretty good snapshot of the media year that was by taking a look at AOL’s list of the top tech writing of 2010.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds examined the year in newspaper stock prices (not great, but could’ve been worse), while media consultant Alan Mutter explained that investors tended to stay away from debt-laden newspaper companies in particular.

As for the year to come, the Lab’s readers weighed in — you like ProPublica, The Huffington Post, and Clay Shirky, and you’re split on paywalls — and several others chimed in with their predictions, too. Among the more interesting prognostications: New York Times media critic David Carr sees tablets accelerating our ongoing media convergence, The Next Web forecasts a lot of blogs making the Gawker-esque beyond the blog format, Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik predicts the death of the foreign correspondent, TBD’s Steve Buttry sees many journalism trade organizations merging, and the Lab’s Martin Langeveld thinks we’ll see John Paton’s innovative measures at the Journal Register Co. slowly begin to be emulated elsewhere in the newspaper industry.

Two other folks went outside the predictions mold for their 2011 previews: media analyst Ken Doctor looked at 11 pieces of conventional wisdom the media industry will test this year, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing outlined his wishes for the new year. Specifically, he wants to see News Corp. and The New York Times’ paid-content plans fail, and to see news execs try a value-added membership model instead. “This will require that news publishers actually work their butts off to sell, rather than sit back and expect people to fork over money “just because” everyone should support journalism,” he wrote.

Rethinking publishing for the tablet: One theme for the new year in media that’s already emerged is the impending dominance of the tablet. As The New York Times’ Joshua Brustein wrote, that was supposed to be the theme last year, too, but only the iPad was the only device able to get off the ground in any meaningful way. Several of Apple’s competitors are gearing up to make their push this year instead; The Times’ Nick Bilton predicted that companies that try to one-up Apple with bells and whistles will fail, though Google may come up with a legitimate iPad rival.

Google has begun work toward that end, looking for support from publishers to develop a newsstand to compete with Apple’s app store. And Amazon’s Kindle is doing fine despite the iPad’s popularity, TechCrunch argued. Meanwhile, Women’s Wear Daily reported that magazine app sales on the iPad are down from earlier in the year, though Mashable’s Lauren Indvik argued that the numbers aren’t as bad as they seem.

The magazine numbers prompted quite a bit of analysis of what’s gone wrong with magazine apps. British entrepreneur Andrew Walkingshaw ripped news organizations for a lack of innovation in their tablet editions — “tablets are always-on, tactile, completely reconfigurable, great-looking, permanently jacked into the Internet plumbing, and you’re using them to make skeumorphic newspaper clones?” — and French media consultant Frederic Filloux made similar points, urging publishers to come up with new design concepts and develop a coherent pricing structure (something Econsultancy’s Patricio Robles had a problem with, too).

There were plenty of other suggestions for tablet publications, too: GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said they should focus on filtering the web, MG Siegler of TechCrunch asked for an easy-to-use newsstand rather than a system of standalone apps, and Alan Mutter suggested magazines lower the prices and cut down on the technical glitches.

Three others focused specifically on the tablet publishing business model: At the Lab, Ken Doctor gave us three big numbers to watch in determining where this is headed, entrepreneur Bradford Cross proposed a more ad-based model revolving around connections to the open web, and venture capitalist Fred Wilson predicted that the mobile economy will soon begin looking more like the web economy.

Reading roundup: A few items worth taking a look at over the weekend:

— The flare-up du jour in the tech world is over RSS, and specifically, whether or not it is indeed still alive. Web designer Kroc Camen suggested it might be dying, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler fingered Twitter and Facebook as the cause, Dave Winer (who helped develop RSS) took umbrage, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and The Guardian’s Martin Belam defended RSS’ relevance.

— Add the Dallas Morning News to the list of paywalled (or soon-to-be-paywalled) papers to watch: It announced it will launch a paid-content plan Feb. 15. The Lab’s Justin Ellis shed light on Morning News’ thinking behind the plan. PaidContent’s Staci Kramer also broke down a Pew report on paying for online content.

— For the many writers are considering how to balance social media and longer-form writing, two thoughtful pieces to take a look at: Wired’s Clive Thompson on the way tweets and texts can work in concert in-depth analysis, and Anil Dash on the importance of blogging good ideas.

— Finally, NPR’s Matt Thompson put together 10 fantastic lessons for the future of media, all coming from women who putting them into action. It’s an encouraging, inspiring set of insights.

December 21 2010

19:00

#NiemanLeaks big takeaway? Even post-WikiLeaks, context still key

The Nieman Foundation’s Secrecy and Journalism conference last week set out to tackle a lot of questions, but perhaps none were as big as the central one posed to attendees: What should journalism’s role be in this new environment of distributed leakers, massive databases, and citizen reporters.

The answer most of the panels seemed to reach, however, might be a comforting one: Provide the context and texture behind the data, while vetting sources for accuracy and agenda. Not too different from what journalist have always been supposed to do — but now the tools, sources, and audience have come together to allow for a much richer, deeper form of reporting than has ever been possible.

We’ve summed up and posted video and liveblogs from each of the conference sessions. But after sifting through it all, here are my five key takeaways from the discussion.

Data needs context

While Julian Assange initially relied on radical transparency as a tool to spur change, he quickly learned that crafting a narrative around the raw documents produced a much more dramatic result. Even The New York Times’ Bill Keller acknowledged WikiLeaks has “evolved.” The new leak revolution begins looking more and more like the old guard, even as it collaborates with them.

Beware secrecy’s hard liners

The U.S.’s classification system may or may not be broken, as CJR’s Clint Hendler suggested in one panel — but it definitely has quirks, shortcomings, and fallibilities. As Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, put it: “It’s important not to take too seriously what the government says is and isn’t classified. It’s a game.”

Vet, vet, vet

Whether dealing with Deep Throat, a whistleblower, or a shadowy international band of hackers, journalists need to look at their sources critically, questioning the source’s agenda as well as ensuring the material is authentic. As Keller noted, The New York Times has treated WikiLeaks as a source, not a partner. Just because the form of the source has changed doesn’t change the fundamental relationship. And as an added warning, note Walter Pincus’ admonition that almost all of the “new” sources that approach him are simply wrong.

WikiLeaks hasn’t (yet) established a new order

With technology — particularly technology under siege — distributed tends to win over centralized, and there are already new organizations popping up all over hoping to take WikiLeaks’ mantle. The more fundamental point, however, is that similar leaks have been driving much of journalism in the United States and around the world for decades — meaning there may be less new and different about WikiLeaks than there is familiar to any good investigative journalist.

The hard work is just beginning

Despite all the opportunities and changes occurring, the basic grunt work of investigative journalism is still boring, tedious, and, particularly at the local level, critical to serving as an effective watchdog for democracy.

December 17 2010

19:30

This Week in Review: Taking sides on WikiLeaks, the iPad/print dilemma, and the new syndication

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

The media and WikiLeaks’ uneasy coexistence: The current iteration of the WikiLeaks story is about to move into its fourth week, and it continues to swallow up most future-of-journalism news in its path. By now, it’s branched out into several distinct facets, and we’ll briefly track down each of those, but here are the essentials this week: If you want the basics, Gawker has put together a wonderful explainer for you. If you want to dive deep into the minutiae, there’s no better way than Dave Winer’s wikiriver of relevant news feeds. Other good background info is this Swedish documentary on WikiLeaks, posted here in YouTube form.

The big news development this week was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s release from British jail on bail Thursday. As blow-by-blow accounts of the legal situation go, you can’t beat The Guardian’s. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is trying to build a conspiracy case against Assange by connecting him more explicitly to Bradley Manning’s leak, and Congress heard testimony on the subject Thursday.

— The first WikiLeaks substory is the ongoing discussion about the actions of the legions of web-based “hacktivists,” led by Anonymous, making counterattacks on WikiLeaks’ behalf. Having gone after several sites last week (including one mistakenly), some activists began talking in terms of “cyber-war” — though GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram cautioned against that type of language from all sides — and were urged on from jail by Assange. NYU professor Gabriella Coleman gave a glimpse into the inner workings of Anonymous, and they also drew plenty of criticism, too, from thinkers like British author Andrew Keen. Media consultant Deanna Zandt offered a thoughtful take on the ethics of cyber-activism.

— The second facet here is the emergence of Openleaks, a leaking organization formally launched this week by WikiLeaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg as an alternative to Assange’s group. As Domscheit-Berg explained to several outlets including Forbes, Openleaks will act as a more neutral conduit to leaks than WikiLeaks, which ended up publishing its leaks, something Openleaks won’t do. Wired compared it with WikiLeaks’ rejected 2009 Knight News Challenge proposal, in which it would have functioned primarily as an anonymous submission system for leaks to local news organizations. Openleaks won’t be the last, either: As The Economist noted, if file-sharing is any guide, we’ll see scores of rivals (or comrades).

— The third story is the reaction of various branches of the traditional media, which have been decidedly mixed. WikiLeaks has gotten some support from several corners of the industry, including the faculty of the venerable Columbia School of Journalism, the press in Assange’s native Australia, and Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy and numerous other British and American professors and journalists, both in The Guardian. But it’s also been tweaked by others — at the Nieman Foundation Thursday, New York Times editor Bill Keller said that if Assange is a journalist, “he’s not the kind of journalist that I am.”

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald ripped what he called the mainstream media’s “servile role” to the government in parroting its attitudes toward WikiLeaks, then later argued that the government’s prosecution of WikiLeaks would be a prosecution of investigative journalism in general. Arianna Huffington also chastised the establishment media, arguing that they’re just as much establishment as media. Likewise, Morris’ Steve Yelvington listed five reasons the media hasn’t shown outrage about the government’s backlash against WikiLeaks, including the point that the segment of the American mainstream media concerned about national issues is a shell of its former self.

— All of this provided plenty of fodder for a couple of conferences on WikiLeaks, Internet freedom, and secrecy. Last weekend, the Personal Democracy Forum held a symposium on the subject — you can watch a replay here, as well as a good summary by GRITtv and additional videos on the state of the Internet and online civil disobedience. Micah Sifry offered a thoughtful take on the event afterwards, saying that longings for a “more responsible” version of WikiLeaks might be naive: It’s “far more likely that something far more disruptive to the current order — a distributed and unstoppable system for spreading information — is what is coming next,” he wrote.

And on Thursday, the Nieman Foundation held its own one-day conference on journalism and secrecy that included keynotes by the AP’s Kathleen Carroll and Keller (who distanced himself from Assange but defended The Times’ decision to publish). If you want to go deeper into the conversation at the conference, the #niemanleaks hashtag on Twitter is a good place to start.

Will the iPad eat into print?: The iPad news this week starts with the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute, which released a study that suggests, based on survey data, that iPad news apps may cut into newspaper subscriptions by next year. There’s a ton of other interesting data on how iPads are being used and how users are comparing them to print newspapers and newspaper websites, but one statistic — 58 percent of those who subscribe to a print newspaper and use their iPad for more than an hour a day planned to cancel their print subscription within six months — was what drew the headlines. Alan Mutter said publishers have to like the demographics of the iPad’s prime users, but have to wonder whether developing print-like iPad apps is worth it.

Several news organizations introduced new iPad apps this week, led by CNN. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow talked to CNN about the rationale behind its photo-oriented multitouch design, and MocoNews’ Ingrid Lunden looked at why CNN might have made their app free. Steve Safran of Lost Remote liked the app’s design and sociability. Also, the New York Daily News launched a paid (though cheaper than the New York Post) app, and Harper’s added its own iPad offering as well.

Meanwhile, Flipboard, the inaugural iPad app of the year, launched a new version this week. Forbes’ Quentin Hardy talked to Flipboard’s CEO about the vision behind the new app, and The Wall Street Journal wrote about innovative iPad news apps in general. The Washington Post’s Justin Ferrell talked to the Lab’s Justin Ellis about how to design news apps for the iPad. In advertising, Apple launched its first iPad iAd, which seems to be essentially a fully formed advertisement app. One iPad app that’s not coming out this week: Rupert Murdoch’s “tablet newspaper” The Daily, whose launch has reportedly been postponed until next year.

Looking ahead to 2011: We’re nearing the end of the December, which means we’re about to see the year-end reviews and previews start to roll in. The Lab got them kicked off this week by asking its readers for predictions of what 2011 will bring in the journalism world, then publishing the predictions of some of the smartest future-of-news folks in the room.

All of the posts are worth checking out, but there are a few I want to note in particular — The AP’s Jonathan Stray on moving beyond content tribalism (“a news product that refuses to provide me with high-quality filtering and curation of the rest of the world’s information will only ever be an endpoint”), NPR’s Matt Thompson on instant speech transcription (“the Speakularity”), tech pioneer Dave Winer on adjusting to the new news distribution system (“That’s the question news people never seem to ask. How can we create something that has a market?”), and a couple of paid-content predictions on The New York Times and by Steven Brill (who has skin in the game).

The prediction post that generated the most discussion was NYU professor Clay Shirky’s piece on the dismantling of the old-media syndication system. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram expanded on the idea, connecting it explicitly to Google News and the Associated Press, and asking, “In a world where the power to syndicate is available to all, does anyone want what AP is selling?” USC’s Pekka Pekkala explained why he sees this as a positive development for journalists and niche content producers.

As if on cue, Thomson Reuters announced the launch of its new American news service, one that seems as though it might combine traditional news syndication with some elements of modern aggregation. Media analyst Ken Doctor gave some more details about the new service and its deal with the Tribune Co., and Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan was skeptical of this potential new direction for newswires.

Reading roundup: A few good pieces before I send you on your way:

— First, one quick bit of news: The social bookmarking service Delicious was reportedly shutting down, but a Friday blog post seemed to indicate it may live on outside of Yahoo. Here’s a short ode from Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words and a list of alternatives from Search Engine Land.

— At the London Review of Books, British journalist John Lanchester has written an essay making a case for why and how the newspaper industry needs to charge for news online. Anti-paywall folks aren’t going to be crazy about it, but it’s far from the stereotypical revanchist “Make ‘em pay, just ’cause they should” pro-pay argument: “Make the process as easy as possible. Make it invisible and transparent. Make us register once and once only. Walls are not the way forward, but walls are not the same thing as payment, and without some form of payment, the press will not be here in five years’ time.”

— A couple of close looks at what news organizations are doing right: The Atlantic’s web transformation and tips on multimedia storytelling from NPR’s acclaimed Planet Money.

— A North Carolina j-prof and Duke grad student came together (!) to urge news organizations to incorporate more of the tenets of citizen journalism. They have a few specific, practical suggestions, too.

— British journalist Adam Westbrook gave his goodbye to mainstream media, making a smart case that the future lies outside its gates.

— Finally, Jonathan Stray, an AP editor and Lab contributor, has a brilliant essay challenging journalists and news organizations to develop a richer, more fully formed idea of what journalism is for. It may be a convicting piece, but it offers an encouraging vision for the future — and the opportunity for reform — too.

December 16 2010

21:00

Bill Keller: WikiLeaks isn’t my kind of news org, but they have evolved

During a wide-ranging conversation on government secrecy and the relationship between The New York Times and WikiLeaks, Times executive editor Bill Keller was asked whether he’d be bothered if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were charged under the Espionage Act, as Senator Joe Lieberman recently suggested.

“Let me back into that question,” he said. “I don’t regard Julian Assange as a kindred spirit. If he’s a journalist, he’s not the kind of journalist that I am.

He said, though, that in some ways WikiLeaks has shifted in the direction of traditional journalism and away from the style of its earlier publications, which were largely just data, unredacted and without comment.

“They have moved to becoming an organization that is leaking out the documents in a more journalistic fashion,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve become my kind of news organization, but they have evolved.”

Keller spoke at the Nieman Foundation’s one-day conference on secrecy and journalism Thursday, where WikiLeaks was a common topic of discussion.

Strange bedfellows in a “new era”

Whatever reservations Keller has about Assange-as-journalist, The New York Times has been at the forefront of getting the organization’s materials to the public — as well as helping shape, at times indirectly, WikiLeaks’ own editorial policies even as the Times worked to decide which materials it would publish of the hundreds of thousands of available documents.

Keller took on critics of the Times’ publication of WikiLeaks’ documents, saying their critiques generally fell into three broad categories:

  • The leaks don’t contain any new information. “Ninety-nine percent of news doesn’t greatly impact our understanding of the world,” Keller said. “News generally works by advancing our knowledge by inches. For those that follow foreign policy, these documents provide nuance, texture, and drama. For these that don’t follow these stories closely, it allows them to learn more and learn in a more lively way.”
  • The leaks disclosed confidential informats or endanger international relationships. “In the end, I can only answer for what my paper has done, and I believe we have behaved responsibly” in editing the material, he said. And to the latter point: “Foreign leaders will continue to talk to us. It’s the way of power to brag.”
  • The collaboration compromised the Times’ impartiality and independence. “Wikileaks does not take guidance from The New York Times,” Keller said, while noting that the Times was actually cut out from direct access to the leaked State Department cables, partially as a result of articles the Times had published.

But despite differences between the newspaper and the organization, Keller said that the paper still provided leadership for the international press on how to handle the material and the organization providing it. He said that “in most cases” the international papers, such as Der Spiegel and the Guardian, followed The New York Times’ guidance and what materials to release or not to release, occasionally differing on materials of particular interest to a certain country (such as the Merkel cables with the Germany’s Der Spiegel). WikiLeaks itself has also followed many of the Times’ suggested redactions.

“Wikileaks, having been castigated for the first two rounds of document dumps, basically said that this time around they would take the redactions we gave them,” Keller said.

The vetting process

Keller also detailed the process by which The New York Times vetted and processed the vast amounts of information, saying that the Times and other news organizations had now finished publishing all the major stories based on the documents they expected to write.

  • “The first thing we would do is talk with the lawyers about if there’s a legal problem with using this material and, if so, is there a way around it.”
  • The Times then vetted the cables with reporters familiar with similar secret documents and quickly decided the trove was genuine.
  • The Times’ computer-assisted reporting team dumped the database into a searchable format, bringing in reporters and professionals to search for interesting keywords to begin reporting. “No news organization claims to have read all of those documents,” he said.
  • Reporters then dove into and developed deeper stories based on the cables, occasionally sharing interesting segments with their colleagues overseas.
  • The New York Times performed “common sense” redactions on the material, removing names of low-level informants and other sensitive material
  • The New York Times took its redactions to the U.S. government, occasionally taking feedback and redacting information it felt would needlessly endanger lives.

“We then basically agreed on a schedule where day one would be Pakistan day and day two would be Russia day, something like that,” Keller said. “We rolled out on that schedule, and we agreed to give WikiLeaks the documents we intended to publish on each day’s stories, with our redactions.”

Throughout it all, however, Keller said the Times kept a very clear view of what WikiLeaks was and was not in its reporting. “What I have said from the very beginning of this is WikiLeaks is a source, not a partner. The Guardian was kind of a partner in this, because we swapped data and thoughts back and forth saying, ‘Hey, look at this table.’ There was none of that back and forth with WikiLeaks.”

December 15 2010

15:00

#Niemanleaks on Thursday: After WikiLeaks, a flood of new questions

While WikiLeaks’ recent document dumps have answered questions large and small (How many civilians have been killed in Iraq? Does Muammar al-Gaddafi prefer blondes or brunettes?), the organization’s controversial brand of journalism has raised a lot more questions that scholars, working journalists and legal systems around the world are just now beginning to tackle. The Nieman Foundation is hosting “From Watergate to WikiLeaks: Secrecy and Journalism in the New Media Age,” at which speakers ranging from The New York Times’ executive editor Bill Keller to The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus will offer their insight into how the rules are changing.

Here are a few of the questions we’ve seen raised, and where you might begin to figure out some answers tomorrow. If you won’t be in attendance, check back here Thursday morning for the live video stream, or watch #niemanleaks on Twitter.

Is WikiLeaks journalism? What does that mean when everyone can blog, Tweet and share instantly with an audience around the world?

Check out the 2:30 p.m. (EST) panel, “Secrets 2.0: Exploring Entrepreneurial Answers to Journalistic Obligations,” which will feature the Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison, Basetrack’s Teru Kuwayama, the New York Times’ Aron Pilhofer and others who are helping answer that question through innovative approaches to what journalism is, while pushing back on the notion of what it isn’t. For example, Knight News Challenge winner Basetrack pairs professional war correspondence with the thoughts and reactions of U.S. Marines and their families, who are also blogging their experiences. The Sunlight Foundation, on the other hand, takes massive data sets and made them more accessible and useful, often leaving it up to the reader to connect the dots in creative new ways.

What should we make on all the legal and political pressure being put on WikiLeaks and other news organizations? Should the law dictate how and what is reported, and where do you draw the line on either side?

The “Prosecuted, Banned, Blamed: Reporters Push Boundaries as a Voice of Public Accountability” panel at 10:00 a.m. features a global perspective from current and past Nieman Fellows, including Stefan Candea, who helped map out Romania’s complex web of political and media ownership, as well as fellows from Chile, Cambodia, and South Africa. It will be moderated by the Nieman Foundation’s Stefanie Friedhoff.

For a more local perspective, head to “Whither the Gatekeeper? Navigating New Rules and Roles in the Age of Radical Transparency.” It’ll feature The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, Clint Hendler from Columbia Journalism Review, Maggie Mulvihill from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and Danielle Brian from the Project on Government Oversight. It’ll be moderated by Nieman Reports‘ Melissa Ludtke.

So in the end, what’s changed post-WikiLeaks?

The conference’s keynotes will tackle the big question of what changes between media and their sources as those sources can increasingly go direct to the audience with their message. Kathleen Carroll executive editor of the Associated Press, will discuss freedom of information in the digital age at 9:10 a.m., while the Times’ Bill Keller will address secrecy, national security, and the press at 1:15 p.m.

December 14 2010

16:47

WikiLeaks and the Power of Patriotism

A narrow patriotism -- the psychological equivalent of a knee jerk -- is an under-recognized force in modern journalism ethics.

It distorts our thinking about the role of journalism as soon as journalists offend national pride and whistleblowers dare to reveal secrets. Narrow patriotism turns practitioners of a free press into scolding censors. Suddenly, independent journalists become dastardly law breakers.

Narrow patriotism is the view that "love of country" means not embarrassing one's government, hiding all secrets and muting one's criticism of foreign and military policy in times of tension. Narrow patriotism is an absolute value, trumping the freedom of the press.

The WikiLeaks saga proves, once again, that this form of patriotism is a powerful commitment of many journalists; often, more powerful than objectivity or independence.

For instance, as WikiLeaks rolled out the American diplomatic cables, Jeffrey T. Kuhner of the conservative Washington Times called for the assassination of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a December 2 opinion piece. "We should treat Mr. Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets: Kill him"

One day later, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said the WikiLeaks document dump was "sabotage" during a time of war. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should "Throw the WikiBook" at the website, using every legal tool at his disposal.

These vociferous comments are not nasty comments made by anonymous online "patriots." They come from practitioners of a free press in the land of the free.

Critical Journalism as Patriotism

5238068866_3bb1aef717.jpgThe WikiLeaks controversy reveals tensions in our view of the role of journalism in democracy.

We believe in the idea of a free press; but we oppose it in practice when the press offends our patriotism, or works against some vaguely defined "national interest."

The same narrow patriotism was at work among major American media when President Bush decided to go to war with Iraq on flimsy claims. TV anchors put flags on their lapels and reporters accepted too easily the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

In times of conflict, the strong emotions of patriotism override journalists' in-principle commitment to critical informing the public and to impartiality. The word "patriotism" rarely occurs in journalism codes of ethics but its influence on practice is substantial.

So what's the right view of the role of journalism?

The role of a free press is not to serve the government or its diplomats. It is to serve the public who hold government accountable through information provided by the media.

Throughout history, journalists have caused their governments trouble and embarrassment. Journalists are properly patriotic when they write critically of government, when they reveal their hidden strategies, when they embarrass their government in front of the world.

Criticism and the publishing of important confidential data is the way journalists often serve the public, despite howls of outrage from some citizens.

Of course, Kuhner and Krauthammer don't represent all American journalists. Many journalists support WikiLeaks. For example, Anthony Shadid, foreign reporter for the New York Times in Bagdad, expressed enthusiastic support during a recent lecture at my university's Center for Journalism Ethics.

"I should probably be a little more ambiguous and grey about this, but I think it's wonderful," said the two-time Pulitzer Prize. "It's a wonderful disclosure, this transparency and this openness of public office. I find it incredibly refreshing and incredibly insightful, as well."

Two Things at Once

Shadid3.jpgLike Shadid, I think the importance of the cables justifies their publication. But I am more concerned than Shadid about the new power of "stateless" websites like WikiLeaks.

In my view, if we care about the freedom to publish we need to do two things at the same time: First, protest attempts to shut down WikiLeaks, which include denying it access to the internet and calls to arrest Assange.

Second, we need to urge Assange to explain the principles that guide his decision to publish. Is he committed to simply publishing any and all secrets regardless of the consequences? Or is he willing to adopt the responsible approach of the New York Times and the Guardian which seeks to minimize the harm of their stories by carefully vetting the data. Is Assange willing to balance the freedom to publish with the principle of minimizing harm?

Minimizing harm does not mean not damaging the public profile of government. It means not naming informants, human activists, or innocent third parties if that would prompt reprisals. It means not providing detailed information that would help terrorists attack a public institution.

Organizations like the New York Times are serious about vetting their stories. I am not so sure Assange or WikiLeaks has the same concern.

Public support for this form of whistleblower journalism will turn swiftly against it should future releases lead to the death of a third party, or lead to a terrorist attack. The best way to retain support for a free press is to act responsibly, and to be seen to be acting so.

Is 'Responsibility' a Declining Idea?

From an ethical perspective, what is significant about the emergence of WikiLeaks is not only that new technology allows citizens to gather and publish secret material globally, and these online publishers are difficult to control.

What is significant is that enthusiasm for revealing secrets undermines the idea of responsibility -- the responsible use of the freedom to publish.

In a WikiLeaks world, the principle of minimizing harm, first articulated by professional journalism in the previous century for another media era, may be dwindling in importance.

Up to this point, the release of WikiLeaks documents has followed a pattern: WikiLeaks supplies the secret data to major papers and professional journalists vet and write the stories. In the future, however, the role of responsible news outlets may decline.

As new websites spring up, each pursuing their ends with the passion of activists, the idea of a free and responsible press may come to seem irrelevant. The idea of ethically restraining the freedom to publish may recede into the rear view mirror of history.

I hope not.

(For more on WikiLeaks, check out the recent 4MR podcast with guest Jay Rosen.)

WikiLeaks poster by R_SH via Flickr

Stephen J. A. Ward is the James E. Burgess Professor of Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Journalists' (CAJ) ethics advisory committee and former director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism.

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December 12 2010

20:24

Wikileaks – a documentary

Here’s a well-produced (even in rough-cut form) documentary on Wikileaks by Swedish network SVT, published on YouTube in 4 parts. It covers quite a bit of the history of the organisation, the lessons it learned and the partnerships it made along the way – all of which provide valuable insights for any student of journalism as a practice or a cultural form, not to mention a more complex understanding than most coverage of the current situation provides. It really is essential viewing.

December 10 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: The WikiBacklash, information control and news, and a tightening paywall

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Only one topic really grabbed everyone’s attention this week in future-of-news circles (and most of the rest of the world, too): WikiLeaks. To make the story a bit easier to digest, I’ve divided it into two sections — the crackdown on WikiLeaks, and its implications for journalism.

Attacks and counterattacks around WikiLeaks: Since it released 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables last week, WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, have been at the center of attacks by governments, international organizations, and private businesses. The forms and intensity they’ve taken have seemed unprecedented, though Daniel Ellsberg said he faced all the same things when he leaked the Pentagon Papers nearly 40 years ago.

Here’s a rundown of what’s happened since late last week: Both Amazon and the domain registry EveryDNS.net booted WikiLeaks, leaving it scrambling to stay online. (Here’s a good conversation between Ethan Zuckerman and The Columbia Journalism Review on the implications of Amazon’s decision.) PayPal, the company that WikiLeaks uses to collect most of its donations, cut off service to WikiLeaks, too. PayPal later relented, but not before botching its explanation of whether U.S. government pressure was involved.

On the government side, the Library of Congress blocked WikiLeaks, and Assange surrendered to British authorities on a Swedish sexual assault warrant (the evidence for which David Cay Johnston said the media should be questioning) and is being held without bail. Slate’s Jack Shafer said the arrest could be a blessing in disguise for Assange.

WikiLeaks obviously has plenty of critics: Christopher Hitchens called Assange a megalomaniac who’s “made everyone complicit in his own private decision to try to sabotage U.S. foreign policy,” and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Joe Lieberman called for Assange and The New York Times, respectively, to be prosecuted via the Espionage Act. But WikiLeaks’ many online defenders also manifested themselves this week, too, as hundreds of mirror sites cropped up when WikiLeaks’ main site was taken down, and various online groups attacked the sites of companies that had pulled back on services to WikiLeaks. By Wednesday, it was starting to resemble what Dave Winer called “a full-out war on the Internet.”

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan looked at the response by WikiLeaks’ defenders to argue that WikiLeaks will never be blocked, and web pioneer Mark Pesce said that WikiLeaks has formed the blueprint for every group like it to follow. Many other writers and thinkers lambasted the backlash against WikiLeaks, including Reporters Without Borders, Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, Roberto Arguedas at Gizmodo, BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin, Wired’s Evan Hansen, and David Samuels of The Atlantic.

Four defenses of WikiLeaks’ rights raised particularly salient points: First, NYU prof Clay Shirky argued that while WikiLeaks may prove to be damaging in the long run, democracy needs it to be protected in the short run: “If it’s OK for a democracy to just decide to run someone off the internet for doing something they wouldn’t prosecute a newspaper for doing, the idea of an internet that further democratizes the public sphere will have taken a mortal blow.” Second, CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis said that WikiLeaks fosters a critical power shift from secrecy to transparency.

Finally, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and Salon’s Dan Gillmor made similar points about the parallel between WikiLeaks’ rights and the press’s First Amendment rights. Whether we agree with them or not, Assange and WikiLeaks are protected under the same legal umbrella as The New York Times, they argued, and every attack on the rights of the former is an attack on the latter’s rights, too. “If journalism can routinely be shut down the way the government wants to do this time, we’ll have thrown out free speech in this lawless frenzy,” Gillmor wrote.

WikiLeaks and journalism: In between all the attacks and counterattacks surrounding him, Julian Assange did a little bit of talking of his own this week, too. He warned about releasing more documents if he’s prosecuted or killed, including possible Guantánamo Bay files. He defended WikiLeaks in an op-ed in The Australian. He answered readers’ questions at The Guardian, and dodged one about diplomacy that started an intriguing discussion at Jay Rosen’s Posterous. When faced with the (rather pointless) question of whether he’s a journalist, he responded with a rather pointless answer.

Fortunately, plenty of other people did some deep thinking about what WikiLeaks means for journalism and society. (The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal has a far more comprehensive list of those people’s thoughts here.) Former Guardian web editor Emily Bell argued that WikiLeaks has awakened journalism to a renewed focus on the purpose behind what it does, as opposed to its current obsession with the models by which it achieves that purpose. Here at the Lab, USC grad student Nikki Usher listed a few ways that WikiLeaks shows that both traditional and nontraditional journalism matter and pointed out the value of the two working together.

At the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles said that WikiLeaks divides journalists into two camps: “Those who want to see information get to the public, by whatever means, and those who want to control the means by which information flows.” Honolulu Civil Beat editor John Temple thought a bit about what WikiLeaks means for small, local news organizations like his, and British j-prof Paul Bradshaw used WikiLeaks as a study in how to handle big data dumps journalistically.

Also at the Lab, CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson had some thoughts about this new quasi-source in the form of large databases, and how journalists might be challenged to think about it. Finally, if you’re looking for some deep thoughts on WikiLeaks in audio form, Jay Rosen has you covered — in short form at PBS MediaShift, and at quite a bit more length with Dave Winer on their Rebooting the News podcast.

How porous should paywalls be?: Meanwhile, the paid-content train chugs along, led by The New York Times, which is still planning on instituting its paywall next year. The Times’ digital chief, Martin Nisenholtz, dropped a few more details this week about how its model will work, again stressing that the site will remain open to inbound links across the web.

But for the first time, Nisenholtz also stressed the need to limit the abuse of those links as a way to get inside the wall without paying, revealing that The Times will be working with Google to limit the number of times a reader can access Times articles for free via its search. Nisenholtz also hinted at the size of the paywall’s target audience, leading Poynter’s Rick Edmonds to estimate that The Times will be focusing on about 6 million “heavy users of the site.”

Reuters’ Felix Salmon was skeptical of Nisenholtz’s stricter paywall plans, saying that they won’t be worth the cost: “Strengthening your paywall sends the message that you don’t trust your subscribers, or your subscribers’ non-subscriber friends: you’re treating them as potential content thieves.” The only way such a strategy would make sense, he said, is if The Times is considering starting at a very high price point, something like $20 a month. Henry Blodget of Business Insider, on the other hand, is warming to the idea of a paywall for The Times.

In other paid-content news: News Corp.’s Times of London, which is running a very different paywall from The New York Times, may have only 54,000 people accessing content behind it, according to research by the competing Guardian. The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle announced it’s launching an metered model powered by Steve Brill’s Press+, a plan Steve Yelvington defended and Matthew Terenzio questioned.

While one paid-content plan gets started, another one might be coming to an end: Newsday is taking its notoriously unsuccessful paywall down through next month, and several on Twitter guessed that the move would become permanent. One news organization that’s not going to be a pioneer in paid online news: The Washington Post, as Post Co. CEO Don Graham said at a conference this week.

Reading roundup: Other than the ongoing WikiLeaks brouhaha, it’s been a relatively quiet week on the future-of-news front. Here’s a bit of what else went on:

— Web guru Tim O’Reilly held his News Foo Camp in Arizona last weekend, and since it was an intentionally quiet event, it didn’t dominate the online discussion like many such summits do. Still, there were a few interesting post-Newsfoo pieces for the rest of us to chew on, including a roundup of the event by TBD’s Steve Buttry, Alex Hillman’s reflections, and USC j-prof Robert Hernandez’s thoughts on journalists’ calling a lie a lie.

— A few iPad bits: News media marketer Earl Wilkinson wrote about a possible image problem with the iPad, All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka reported on the negotiations between Apple and publishers on iTunes subscriptions, and The New York Times’ David Nolen gave some lessons from designing election results for the iPad.

— The Guardian’s Sarah Hartley interviewed former TBD general manager Jim Brady about the ambitious local online-TV project, and Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman looked at TBD and other local TV online branding efforts.

— Advertising Age’s Ann Marie Kerwin has an illuminating list of 10 trends in global media consumption.

— Finally, two good pieces from the Lab: Harvard prof Nicholas Christakis on why popularity doesn’t equal influence on social media, and The New York Times’ Aron Pilhofer and Jennifer Preston provided a glimpse into how one very influential news organization is evolving on social media.

December 09 2010

15:30

From Indymedia to Wikileaks: What a decade of hacking journalistic culture says about the future of news

The first time I ever heard the words “mirror website,” I was sitting at a debris-strewn desk, hunched over a desktop computer, on the second floor of a nondescript office building on East 29th in Manhattan. I’d recently started volunteering with the New York City Independent Media Center, an organization that would turn out to be one of the first “citizen journalism” organizations in the United States — though certainly no one would have called it that at the time. The IMC was in its third day of participant-powered coverage of protest actions taken against World Economic Forum (WEF) meetings in New York. It was less than five months after September 11; the city was cold and bleak, and people were tense. Really tense. And our website, NYC Indymedia, had slowed to a crawl.

“It’s going to crash,” I muttered.

“Don’t worry,” I was told. “We’ve got it mirrored on a bunch of backup servers. The updates from people using the Open Newswire won’t show up right away, but they will show up, and people will still be able to read the site.”

I wish I could say that the Indymedia site was crashing because we were — like Julian Assange — the targets of powerful governmental forces, but I suspect the website slowness had more to do with unexpected server load and a tenuous back-end infrastructure than with any sort of global conspiracy. Nevertheless, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was all going to be okay. Somewhere, a person who knew all about such complicated things like “mirrors” and “servers” was taking care of it.

I raise this old story from the prehistoric days of online citizen journalism because, when I read tweets like “the first serious infowar is now engaged, and the field of battle is WikiLeaks,” I think it’s worth taking a step back and trying to put recent developments in perspective. The battle over Wikileaks, and the journalistic questions that it raises, are genuinely new developments — but they’re new developments grounded in a few long term trends and a history stretching back nearly two decades. The impact of WikiLeaks on journalism is more an impact of degree than of kind; what’s happening isn’t entirely new, but it is happening on a greater scale than ever before.

I want to talk about two general trends I see shaping journalism, trends that are highlighted in developments at the leading edge of “journalistic hacktivism” over the past decade.

The Internet-powered introduction of new “objects” into the journalistic bloodstream

Collapsing business models aside, the primary change shaping journalism over the past ten years has been the introduction of strange new “digital news objects” into the traditional journalistic work flow. In the days of the coverage of the World Economic Forum by Indymedia, these new objects were first-hand citizen accounts, on-the-scene photos, and other forms of primitive “citizen journalism,” uploaded in real time to websites. Since 2002, we’ve seen these forms of first-hand eyewitness slowly be embraced by mainstream news organizations, from CNN’s iReport to The New York Times’ Moment in Time crowdsourced photo series.

Now we see news organizations struggle to integrate massive amounts of semi-structured data into their traditional workflow — some (though certainly not all) of it coming from non-traditional informational actors like WikiLeaks. Drawing on the pioneering work of media theorist Lev Manovich, Columbia professor Todd Gitlin has recently argued that

…the definitive informational metaphor of our epoch is the database. The database is not just a metaphor, in fact — it’s a certification of what knowledge looks like and how it is to be gained. A metaphor is a carrier, a condensation of meaning. A database is a heap.

While I don’t entirely agree with Gitlin about the political meaning of WikiLeaks (disclosure: Gitlin was my dissertation advisor), I do agree that the challenge traditional journalists now face is how to “come to terms” with the presence of these strange new objects. What journalistic status should we accord databases, and how should we manage them inside conventional news routines? Much like the first citizen photos from the scene of protests and natural disasters required journalists to rethink what counted as journalistic evidence, WikiLeaks’ slow-but-steady release of 250,000 diplomatic cables is prompting journalists to ask similar questions about what they do. The difference between citizen photos and databases is a difference in scale, and extreme differences in scale eventually become differences in kind.

So the presence of these strange new extra-journalistic news objects isn’t all that new. New “quasi-sources” have been hacking journalistic workflow for years. What’s new is the scale of the evidence that’s now bombarding journalism. The question of how to manage reader-submitted photos is a qualitatively different question than the dilemma of how to manage hundreds of thousands of leaked cables being provided by an information-transparency organization whose ultimate motives and values are unclear. Think of the State Department cables as a massive pile of crowdsourced evidence — only in this case the “crowd” is the U.S. diplomatic corps, and the first work of document collection and analysis has been done by an outside organization.

The long rise of the news geeks

In the case of both Indymedia and WikiLeaks, developments which have had a serious impact on the newsroom have been powered by what I like to call the “leading politicized edge” of the online geek community. It’s not surprising that, as leading hacker anthropologist Gabriella Coleman has noted:

Politically minded geeks bred during the era of cheaper PC’s, home-schooled programming, and virtual interactions chose to use Free Software for the implementation of the early proliferation of Indymedia centers. Mailing lists and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) — both widely available in free software versions at the time — were the main communication tools that facilitated conversation between dispersed tech-activists first establishing centers in different locations like Washington DC, Boston, London, and Seattle.

Ten years later, the story is largely the same. Today, working journalists are confronted by ideologies of “information liberation” and terms like “distributed denial of service attacks” (DDOS) and “website mirrors.” While these ideas and innovations have not been created within journalism, they impact the flow of information, and thus impact journalism itself. A few days ago I wrote that Wikileaks was “organized informational anarchism with journalistic consequences.” This new world of geek-powered information innovation requires an appropriate level of response from our centers of journalistic education and from our newsrooms

The occasional news-oriented hacker aside, it’s important for journalists to keep in mind that, despite some surface similarities, all denizens of hacker culture are not the same. Anonymous is not Wikileaks. Indeed, both Anonymous and hacker organizations are quick to point out that Anonymous and distributed denial of service attacks are not “hacking” at all. My tech-savvy friends who first taught me about website mirrors in 2002 were rather unique in the open source world; not everyone in that world cared much about either journalism or the World Economic Forum.

While it might be heartening to swell the ranks of journalism by drawing all advocates of digital transparency into our ranks, journalists need to ponder what aspects of these powerful online communities they want to embrace and what aspects they might want to leave behind. But they can only do that if they think historically about the path online journalism has taken over the past decade, and if they understand the way that today’s hackers and technologists are shaping our information flows.

(Many thanks to Gabriella Coleman for her comments on an earlier draft of this post.)

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