Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

July 26 2011

05:55

News of the World: final hours - Paul McNamara, former defense editor

New York Times :: News of the World hacked the phones of a murdered teenager, the victims of the 7/7 London bombings and possibly soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was on a 410-foot-long British Navy warship that was firing missiles into Libya, covering the war for News of the World. I called my boss. “It couldn’t be much worse, son,” he said. “Get home." - I went back.

[Paul McNamara:] News of the World has become an international punch line — but I grew up with it ...

Paul McNamara was formerly the defense editor of News of the World.

Continue to read Paul McNamara, www.nytimes.com

June 24 2011

17:20

News Media Face Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq

The U.S. government pumped an estimated half a billion dollars into revitalizing Iraq's news media after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. It was the first time in three decades that Iraqi citizens had access to a free press, but the current state of news media in the multiparty republic is not what some had hoped for, according to a new report.

Iraq media experts at a recent panel organized by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) hosted at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) discussed a CIMA report titled "Iraq's News Media After Saddam: Liberation, Repression, and Future Prospects." (You can download the full PDF report here.)

They included moderator Laith Kubba, senior director for the Middle East and North Africa program at NED; Shameem Rassam, an expert on Iraqi media; and Ammar Al-Shahbander, program director at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The report explores what kind of media will be left in the wake of the U.S. military and monetary withdrawal and provides a prognosis for Iraq's nascent independent press.

"The reality on the ground today is a far cry from what Pentagon planners envisioned for Iraq's reconstituted press system," said report author Sherry Ricchiardi, a senior contributing writer for American Journalism Review, who specializes in international issues. "Many of Iraq's media outlets have become mouthpieces for ethno-political factions with the potential to inflame sectarian divides that have led the country to the brink of civil war."

Ricchiardi's report says press freedom continues to be an issue in Iraq.

"While the Iraqi government boasted of freedom of the press and the variety of media outlets, the freedom of journalists to cover certain stories or have access to information remained severely restricted," she noted. "Iraq's new constitution, ratified in October 2005, provided a framework for the protection of basic human rights and free expression. However, criminal laws that were holdovers from Hussein's era remained on the books along with some put in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority, such as Order 14 on 'prohibited media activity,' which has been used to shut down media."

streetsforchange.png

Hayder Hamzoz, an Iraqi in his early 20s who runs the blog Streets 4 Change, told Ricchiardi: "You can't move around easily [in Iraq], because everybody knows you and everyone in Baghdad has a gun. They can stop your voice with one bullet, they can beat you and no one will care."

Despite not meeting expectations, some things have changed for the better.

"Today in Iraq you might pay the price if you investigate, but you defiantly paid the price under Saddam's regime. [Now] when a journalist shows his press badge in the Iraqi checkpoints, they are feared and respected for their work," said Al-Shahbander, adding that even Prime Minister Nouri Almalki gets nervous when the press publishes something he considers negative.

The majority of Iraqi journalists Ricchiardi talked to for the report had one simple message: "Please don't forget us."

ijnet-logo.jpg

The post originally appeared on the The International Journalists' Network's site, IJNet.org. IJNet helps professional, citizen and aspiring journalists find training, improve their skills and make connections. IJNet is produced by the International Center for Journalists in seven languages--Arabic, Chinese, English, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish--with a global team of professional editors. Subscribe to IJNet's free, weekly newsletter. You can also follow IJNet on Twitter or like IJNet on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

January 10 2011

19:00

How Peter Maass’ groudbreaking story on Saddam’s statue found a lifeboat in nonprofit funding

Magazine awards season approaches, and one of the stories likely to be gracing nominee lists is one that ran in last week’s New Yorker: an epic analysis — equal parts war report, personal narrative, historical correctionism, literary journalism, and media criticism — detailing how, ultimately, the press distorted the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, in the spring of 2003.

It’s a fascinating piece of backstory journalism. And one, it turns out, with its own rather fascinating backstory: “The Toppling” was financed largely by nonprofit sources. Without them, in fact, it might not have been written in the first place.

If you’re a freelancer, or a magazine writer, or both, you may find it either reassuring or horrifying to learn that even a story as exceptional as “The Toppling” went through several rounds of rejection before it found a home. “Not every magazine piece is right for every publication,” Maass, himself a freelancer, notes, and when the story was only an idea — albeit one based on the fact that Maass had actually been present to witness the real-life events that framed the iconic images — “it was hard to get somebody to sign on the dotted line to commission it.”

So Maass turned to a place that tends to be relatively comfortable with uncertainty: academia. He applied for — and received — a Shorenstein fellowship to work on the piece, spending Harvard’s 2010 spring semester researching the events that informed the images of Firdos Square and finding, as it were, the “there” there. (We got to know Peter then, since his wife Alissa Quart was a Nieman Fellow at the time.)

And yet, even after the research was completed — gird yourselves, mag writers — the pitch was rejected again. “It’s a big story — it’s a long, complicated story,” Maass told me. “And so it’s a big investment of space and time for a publication.”

So Maass turned to ProPublica, an outlet known for its willingness to invest, financially and otherwise, in time-consuming, resource-intensive investigations. The nonprofit provided additional funding money (though both the outlet and the author are mum on the specific amount, it was “significantly less” than the $30,000 Shorenstein stipend, Maass told me, but “not insignificant”). ProPublica also provided editorial guidance as Maass completed the piece’s complex narrative.

From there, ProPublica, which aims to maximize its stories’ impact by collaborating on them with other outlets, reached out to The New Yorker about a partnership…and the magazine got an excellent story, and that excellent story got another home.

“The Toppling” came about through a funding model that in some ways mimics the funding goals of journalism outfits more broadly: diversifying — which is to say, hedging — by way of multiple financial streams. The article’s initial reporting — Maass’s 2003 Baghdad trip, during which he witnessed the statue-felling that would provide the kernel of the story — was paid for by a for-profit magazine (Time); its research and editing were funded by nonprofits (Shorenstein and ProPublica); and its publication was paid for by The New Yorker. (Though Mike Webb, ProPublica’s director of communications, declined to get into details, he told me of the arrangement: “We paid Peter to do the story. Then when it was finished, The New Yorker paid a portion of Peter’s fee back to us.”)

It’s a model of financial cross-pollination that not only throws a potential lifeline to the (in)famously endangered species that is the long-form investigation, but one that also, Maass notes, offers a certain kind of freedom to authors themselves. One of the more liberatory aspects of working with several institutions to produce “The Toppling,” he says, is that the collaboration gave him even more freedom than usual to re-publish — and append and expand and otherwise contextualize — his own work with photos, maps, and other pieces of background information. “I’ve got the usual, inevitable author’s website,” he notes, and “what’s been nice is that I’m able to use material from The New Yorker and material from ProPublica and then throw my own material in there. And I don’t have to ask anybody.”

Financial freedom, though, is a different matter. Magazines, Maass says, are “kind of venture capitalists of the word”: In journalism, constrained as it is by the various inconveniences of reality, stories are always uncertain undertakings. And the risk involved in that uncertainty is only amplified for magazines, which tend to deal with journalism at the highest levels of scale and cost. In the past, Maass notes, publications underwrote that risk — the time wasted, the kill fees paid — as a necessary inefficiency: If you’re going to pan for gold, you have to be willing to sift through sand.

Now, though, magazines’ financial woes often manifest themselves in their generally reduced appetite for risk — the precise kind that willingly traded inefficiency for serendipity. In today’s context, Maass notes, “it’s much more difficult for almost all of them to take chances.” Which means that it’s much more difficult for writers to take chances, as well. “The Toppling” represents, in all, “probably a year’s worth of work,” Maass says; given the Shorenstein stipend, that works out to about a $30,000 yearly salary (plus the “significantly less” but “not insignificant” ProPublica money). “If you’re 25 or 30 years old, then it’s okay to get that kind of money for a year’s work,” Maass says. “But I’m not.”

It’s to the good, then, that freelancer investigative reporters have, in nonprofits, an alternative means of funding work: little lifeboats to help them stay afloat in the choppy seas of financial adversity and risk aversion. “The Toppling,” though, represents an exception rather than a rule. Ideally, Maass says, “it would be nice if one could assemble enough financing for a story like this and be able to support a family. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. But at least we’re somewhere.”

December 07 2010

08:47

One ambassador’s embarrassment is a tragedy, 15,000 civilian deaths is a statistic

Few things illustrate the challenges facing journalism in the age of ‘Big Data’ better than Cable Gate – and specifically, how you engage people with stories that involve large sets of data.

The Cable Gate leaks have been of a different order to the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs. Not in number (there were 90,000 documents in the Afghanistan war logs and over 390,000 in the Iraq logs; the Cable Gate documents number around 250,000) – but in subject matter.

Why is it that the 15,000 extra civilian deaths estimated to have been revealed by the Iraq war logs did not move the US authorities to shut down Wikileaks’ hosting and PayPal accounts? Why did it not dominate the news agenda in quite the same way?

Tragedy or statistic?

Generally misattributed to Stalin, the quote “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic” illustrates the problem particularly well: when you move beyond scales we can deal with on a human level, you struggle to engage people in the issue you are covering.

Research suggests this is a problem that not only affects journalism, but justice as well. In October Ben Goldacre wrote about a study that suggested “People who harm larger numbers of people get significantly lower punitive damages than people who harm a smaller number. Courts punish people less harshly when they harm more people.”

“Out of a maximum sentence of 10 years, people who read the three-victim story recommended an average prison term one year longer than the 30-victim readers. Another study, in which a food processing company knowingly poisoned customers to avoid bankruptcy, gave similar results.”

Salience

This is where journalists play a particularly important role. Kevin Marsh, writing about Wikileaks on Sunday, argues that

“Whistleblowing that lacks salience does nothing to serve the pubic interest – if we mean capturing the public’s attention to nurture its discourse in a way that has the potential to change something material. “

He is right. But Charlie Beckett, in the comments to that post, points out that Wikileaks is not operating in isolation:

“Wikileaks is now part of a networked journalism where they are in effect, a kind of news-wire for traditional newsrooms like the New York Times, Guardian and El Pais. I think that delivers a high degree of what you call salience.”

This is because last year Wikileaks realised that they would have much more impact working in partnership with news organisations than releasing leaked documents to the world en masse. It was a massive move for Wikileaks, because it meant re-assessing a core principle of openness to all, and taking on a more editorial role. But it was an intelligent move – and undoubtedly effective. The Guardian, Der Spiegel, New York Times and now El Pais and Le Monde have all added salience to the leaks. But could they have done more?

Visualisation through personalisation and humanisation

In my series of posts on data journalism I identified visualisation as one of four interrelated stages in its production. I think that this concept needs to be broadened to include visualisation through case studies: or humanisation, to put it more succinctly.

There are dangers here, of course. Firstly, that humanising a story makes it appear to be an exception (one person’s tragedy) rather than the rule (thousands suffering) – or simply emotive rather than also informative; and secondly, that your selection of case studies does not reflect the more complex reality.

Ben Goldacre – again – explores this issue particularly well:

“Avastin extends survival from 19.9 months to 21.3 months, which is about 6 weeks. Some people might benefit more, some less. For some, Avastin might even shorten their life, and they would have been better off without it (and without its additional side effects, on top of their other chemotherapy). But overall, on average, when added to all the other treatments, Avastin extends survival from 19.9 months to 21.3 months.

“The Daily Mail, the ExpressSky News, the Press Association and the Guardian all described these figures, and then illustrated their stories about Avastin with an anecdote: the case of Barbara Moss. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, had all the normal treatment, but also paid out of her own pocket to have Avastin on top of that. She is alive today, four years later.

“Barbara Moss is very lucky indeed, but her anecdote is in no sense whatsoever representative of what happens when you take Avastin, nor is it informative. She is useful journalistically, in the sense that people help to tell stories, but her anecdotal experience is actively misleading, because it doesn’t tell the story of what happens to people on Avastin: instead, it tells a completely different story, and arguably a more memorable one – now embedded in the minds of millions of people – that Roche’s £21,000 product Avastin makes you survive for half a decade.”

Broadcast journalism – with its regulatory requirement for impartiality, often interpreted in practical terms as ‘balance’ – is particularly vulnerable to this. Here’s one example of how the homeopathy debate is given over to one person’s experience for the sake of balance:

Journalism on an industrial scale

The Wikileaks stories are journalism on an industrial scale. The closest equivalent I can think of was the MPs’ expenses story which dominated the news agenda for 6 weeks. Cable Gate is already on Day 9 and the wealth of stories has even justified a live blog.

With this scale comes a further problem: cynicism and passivity; Cable Gate fatigue. In this context online journalism has a unique role to play which was barely possible previously: empowerment.

3 years ago I wrote about 5 Ws and a H that should come after every news story. The ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of that are possibilities that many news organisations have still barely explored. ‘Why should I care?’ is about a further dimension of visualisation: personalisation – relating information directly to me. The Guardian moves closer to this with its searchable database, but I wonder at what point processing power, tools, and user data will allow us to do this sort of thing more effectively.

‘How can I make a difference?’ is about pointing users to tools – or creating them ourselves – where they can move the story on by communicating with others, campaigning, voting, and so on. This is a role many journalists may be uncomfortable with because it raises advocacy issues, but then choosing to report on these stories, and how to report them, raises the same issues; linking to a range of online tools need not be any different. These are issues we should be exploring, ethically.

All the above in one sentence

Somehow I’ve ended up writing over a thousand words on this issue, so it’s worth summing it all up in a sentence.

Industrial scale journalism using ‘big data’ in a networked age raises new problems and new opportunities: we need to humanise and personalise big datasets in a way that does not detract from the complexity or scale of the issues being addressed; and we need to think about what happens after someone reads a story online and whether online publishers have a role in that.

October 29 2010

15:30

This Week in Review: WikiLeaks’ latest doc drop, the NPR backlash, and disappointing iPad magazines

[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]

WikiLeaks coverage gets personal: There were two big stories everyone spent the whole week talking about, and both actually happened late last week. We’ll start with what’s easily the bigger one in the long term: WikiLeaks’ release last Friday of 400,000 documents regarding the Iraq War. The Iraq War Logs were released in partnership with several news organizations around the world, including Al-Jazeera, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. (The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a good roundup of the initial coverage.)

The Guardian and The Times in particular used the documents to put together some fascinating pieces of data journalism, and The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner looked at how they did it. The folks at Journalism.co.uk wrote a couple of posts detailing WikiLeaks’ collaborative efforts on the release, particularly their work with the new British nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A French nonprofit that also worked with WikiLeaks, OWNI, told its own story of the project.

Despite all that collaborative work, the news coverage of the documents fizzled over the weekend and into this week, leading two reporting vets to write to the media blog Romenesko to posit reasons why the traditional media helped throw cold water on the story. John Parker pointed to the military press — “Too many military reporters in the online/broadcast field have simply given up their watchdog role for the illusion of being a part of power” — and David Cay Johnston urged journalists to check out the documents, rather than trusting official sources.

There was another WikiLeaks-related story that got almost as much press as the documents themselves: The internal tension at the organization and the ongoing mystery surrounding its frontman, Julian Assange. The Times and the British paper The Independent both dug into those issues, and Assange walked out of a CNN interview after repeated questions about sexual abuse allegations he’s faced in Sweden. That coverage was met with plenty of criticism — Assange and The Columbia Journalism Review ripped CNN, and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald joined Assange in tearing into The Times.

After being chastised by the U.S. Defense Department this summer for not redacting names of informants in its Afghanistan leak this summer, WikiLeaks faced some criticism this time around from Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici and Gawker’s John Cook for going too far with the redaction. A few other WikiLeaks-related strains of thought: Mark Feldstein at the American Journalism Review compared WikiLeaks with old-school investigative journalism, Barry Schuler wondered whether the governmental animosity toward WikiLeaks will lead to regulations of the Internet, and CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis wrote about the way WikiLeaks is bringing us toward the dawn of the age of transparency. “Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad,” he said.

NPR, Fox News and objectivity: The other story that dominated the future-of-news discussion (and the news discussion in general) was NPR’s firing last week of news analyst Juan Williams for comments about Muslims he made on Fox News. Conversation about the firing took off late last week and didn’t slow down until about Wednesday this week. NPR kept finding it tougher to defend the firing as the criticism piled up, and by the weekend, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller had apologized for how she handled the firing (but not for the firing itself). NPR got a bomb threat over the incident, and even PBS, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Williams, was deluged with angry emailers.

Conversation centered on two issues: First, and more immediately, why Williams was fired and whether he should have been. Longtime reporter James Naughton and The Awl’s Abe Sauer thought Williams should have been fired years ago because he appeared on Fox, where he’s only used as a prop in Fox’s efforts to incite faux-news propaganda. NYU professor Jay Rosen put it more carefully, saying that given NPR’s ironclad commitment to the objective view from nowhere, “there was no way he could abide by NPR’s rules — which insist on viewlessness as a guarantor of trust — and appear on Fox, where the clash of views is basic to what the network does to generate audience” — not to mention that that viewlessness renders the entire position of “news analyst” problematic.

Along with Rosen, Time media critic James Poniewozik and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau advocated for greater transparency as a way to prevent needless scandals like these. Former NPR host Farai Chideya emphasized a different angle, asserting that Williams was kept on for years as his relationship with NPR eroded because he’s a black man. Said Chideya, who’s African-American herself: “Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network.”

The other issue was both broader and more politically driven: Should NPR lose its public funding? Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said he would introduce a bill to that effect, and conservatives echoed his call for defunding (though NPR gets only 1 to 2 percent of its budget from direct public funding — and even that’s from competitive federal grants). Politico noted how difficult it would be to actually take NPR’s public funding, and a poll indicated that Americans are split on the issue straight down party lines.

Those calling for the cut got some support, however indirect, from a couple of people in the media world: Slate’s Jack Shafer said NPR and public radio stations should wean themselves from public funding so they can stop being tossed around as a political pawn, and New York Sun founding editor Seth Lipsky argued that NPR’s subsidies make it harder for private entrepreneurs to raise money for highbrow journalism. There were counter-arguments, too: The Atlantic’s James Fallows gave a passionate defense of NPR’s value as a news organization, and LSU grad student Matt Schafer made the case for public media in general.

Magazines disappoint on the iPad: Advertising Age collected circulation figures for the first six months of magazines’ availability on the iPad and compared it to print circulation, getting decided mixed results. (Science/tech mags did really well; general interest titles, not so much.) The site’s Nat Ives concluded that iPad ad rates might drop as result, and that “Magazines’ iPad editions won’t really get in gear until big publishers and Apple agree on some kind of system for subscription offers.”

Former New York Times design director Khoi Vinh gave a stinging critique of those magazines’ iPad apps, saying they’re at odds with how people actually use the device. “They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all,” he said. In a follow-up, he talked a bit about why their current designs are a “stand-in for true experimentation.”

Meanwhile, news organizations continue to rush to the iPad: The New York Post came out with an iPad app that The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer really, really liked, The Oklahoman became another one of the first few newspapers to offer its own iPad subscription outside of Apple’s iTunes payment system, PBS launched its own iPad app, and News Corp. is moving forward with plans for a new tabloid created just for tablets.

Two opposite paid-content moves: It was somewhat lost in the WikiLeaks-Williams hoopla, but we got news of three new online paid-content plans for news this week. The biggest change is at the National Journal, a political magazine that’s long charged very high prices and catered to Washington policy wonks but relaunched this week as a newsstand-friendly print product and a largely free website that will shoot for 80 updates a day. The Lab’s Laura McGann looked at the National Journal’s new free-pay hybrid web plan, in contrast to its largely paid, niche website previously.

Meanwhile, Politico said it plans to move into exactly the same web territory the Journal has been in, launching a high-price subscription news service on health care, energy and technology for Washington insiders in addition to its free site and print edition. And the Associated Press gave more details on its proposed rights clearinghouse for publishers, which will allow them to tag online content and monitor and regulate how it’s being used and how they’re being paid for it. We also have some more data on an ongoing paid-content experiment — Rupert Murdoch’s paywall at The Times of London. Yup, the audience is way down, just like everyone suspected.

Reading roundup: Outside of those two huge stories, it was a relatively quiet week. Here are a few interesting bits and pieces that emerged:

— The awful last few weeks for the Tribune Co. came to a head last Friday when CEO Randy Michaels resigned, leaving a four-member council to guide the company through bankruptcy. The same day, the company filed a reorganization plan that turns it over to its leading creditors. The Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner gave a good postmortem for the Michaels era, pointing a finger primarily at the man who hired him, Sam Zell.

— Wired’s Fred Vogelstein declared Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon our new (media) overlords. (No indication of whether he, for one, welcomes them.) MediaPost’s Joe Marchese mused a bit about where each of those four companies fits in the new media landscape.

— The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn wrote a thought-provoking expression of a popular recent argument: If the Internet gives all of us our own facts, how are we supposed to find any common ground for discussion?

— And since I know you’re in the mood for scientific-looking formulas, check out Lois Beckett’s examination here at the Lab of Philly.com’s calculation of online engagement, then take a look at her follow-up post on where revenue fits in.

September 06 2010

10:08

August 23 2010

16:21

One-Eight, Afghanistan: Social Media + U.S. Marine Corps

As the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."

In my case, I won a Knight News Challenge grant to launch an online, social media reporting network that follows a battalion of U.S. Marines throughout their deployment to southern Afghanistan. (Congratulations! You've won a year in Helmand Province, roadside bomb capital of the world...)

Although recently upgraded from "forgotten war" to "central front," the Afghanistan conflict exists on the periphery of the American consciousness. We're nearly a decade into the longest war in U.S. history, but most Americans still have a pretty fuzzy idea of what we're actually doing over there. "Counterinsurgency" is the new buzzword, but if we held a national pop quiz to actually define the term, I don't expect we'd get good grades.

Beyond social media, this project is really about the simple, literal question: "What are we doing in Afghanistan?"

A Year to Rediscover America

While the public is clearly disconnected, I somehow don't accept the notion that they aren't interested -- personal experience over the past year tells me the opposite. I spent that year at Stanford on a Knight journalism fellowship -- mostly impersonating a college student, but occasionally impersonating an "Afghanistan expert" on the lecture circuit. (Prior to the fellowship, I hadn't read a lot of books on the subject, but I'd spent years wandering the far reaches of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir as a photographer, sometimes embedded with military forces. My photos have appeared in publications including Time, Newsweek, Outside and National Geographic.).

For the first time I could remember, I spent a solid year in my own country. I saw a lot more of America than I ever had before, I don't think we've got a public that doesn't care -- I think we've got a profession that doesn't know how to communicate.

Flash forward to now, I'm at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina -- a week from departure, without so much as a domain name registered. I'm dusting off body armor, scrambling to locate satellite transmitters and solar panels, wondering what I was thinking, and what exactly an "online social media reporting network" looks like, and how I'm actually going to materialize all this vaporware.

As far as I know, the project is a bit of an anomaly in the technology-heavy spectrum of News Challenge winners. It promises no coding, no new widgets or algorithms, and not much that could really pass for a business model.

Ultimately, it comes down to the idea that we could do a lot more with the resources that we already have. Among other things, those resources include communication tools of incredible, and untested reach. (Consider the notion that 50 percent of the activity on the Internet occurs on a single website, Facebook).

To be honest, this thing wasn't actually my idea, and I had one foot out the door on the Afghanistan business, when I got the call.

The Idea

The idea came from a Marine I'd met in Afghanistan in 2004. Back then he was a captain, leading a hundred Marines through the mountains in eastern Afghanistan, just a few miles off the Pakistani border. I'd just come out of Iraq, and he was on his way over, and I remember sitting on a hillside, in total darkness one night, telling him what he was in for. I told him Iraq was a lot worse than he'd heard, and it was just starting to slide off the edge. Afghanistan, by comparison, felt like it was on the right track.

I was half right, at least.

He's a major now, with a mind-bending six tours under his belt. He's second-in-command of a battalion and about to return to Afghanistan with almost a thousand Marines. And he asked me: Did I want to come along? Would I ride out the entire tour with them?

One of these days, I have to learn how to say no.

Typically, embedded journalists spend a week or two with a military unit, reporting for a news agency or a magazine or a newspaper. The embed slot is like a revolving door, with one media outlet rotating out, as another one rotates in. Correspondents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan work on directives from editors in places like London and New York -- and if you're a photographer like me, you might find yourself in some remote desert or mountain range, hunting for scenes conjured in the imagination of a correspondent in Kabul or Baghdad.

What if we tried a different approach, something both more autonomous, and more collaborative?

Execution and distribution might come down to the question: What's the social graph of a thousand Marines? I have no idea, but when I run a Facebook app to analyze my own social network, my MacBook spins, chokes, and crashes as it attempts to crunch the data, and plot the connections around a single person. That might just be buggy code over at Facebook, but I'd still guess the numbers surrounding a battalion-strength network of 19 year-olds are some degree of real big.

It may be that the Marine Corps had the same question, because earlier this year, it lifted a long-standing ban on social media for deployed troops. Translation: Marines can tweet and Facebook from Afghanistan.

It's anyone's guess what that means practically, especially in a place that doesn't have a lot of Internet cafes. But it's worth watching how the military makes use of the social web. So far, on an institutional level, they seem to have made much more effective use of it than the professional media.

More soon from the other side...

16:21

One-Eight, Afghanistan: Social Media + U.S. Marine Corps

As the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."

In my case, I won a Knight News Challenge grant to launch an online, social media reporting network that follows a battalion of U.S. Marines throughout their deployment to southern Afghanistan. (Congratulations! You've won a year in Helmand Province, roadside bomb capital of the world...)

Although recently upgraded from "forgotten war" to "central front," the Afghanistan conflict exists on the periphery of the American consciousness. We're nearly a decade into the longest war in U.S. history, but most Americans still have a pretty fuzzy idea of what we're actually doing over there. "Counterinsurgency" is the new buzzword, but if we held a national pop quiz to actually define the term, I don't expect we'd get good grades.

Beyond social media, this project is really about the simple, literal question: "What are we doing in Afghanistan?"

A Year to Rediscover America

While the public is clearly disconnected, I somehow don't accept the notion that they aren't interested -- personal experience over the past year tells me the opposite. I spent that year at Stanford on a Knight journalism fellowship -- mostly impersonating a college student, but occasionally impersonating an "Afghanistan expert" on the lecture circuit. (Prior to the fellowship, I hadn't read a lot of books on the subject, but I'd spent years wandering the far reaches of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir as a photographer, sometimes embedded with military forces. My photos have appeared in publications including Time, Newsweek, Outside and National Geographic.).

For the first time I could remember, I spent a solid year in my own country. I saw a lot more of America than I ever had before, I don't think we've got a public that doesn't care -- I think we've got a profession that doesn't know how to communicate.

Flash forward to now, I'm at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina -- a week from departure, without so much as a domain name registered. I'm dusting off body armor, scrambling to locate satellite transmitters and solar panels, wondering what I was thinking, and what exactly an "online social media reporting network" looks like, and how I'm actually going to materialize all this vaporware.

As far as I know, the project is a bit of an anomaly in the technology-heavy spectrum of News Challenge winners. It promises no coding, no new widgets or algorithms, and not much that could really pass for a business model.

Ultimately, it comes down to the idea that we could do a lot more with the resources that we already have. Among other things, those resources include communication tools of incredible, and untested reach. (Consider the notion that 50 percent of the activity on the Internet occurs on a single website, Facebook).

To be honest, this thing wasn't actually my idea, and I had one foot out the door on the Afghanistan business, when I got the call.

The Idea

The idea came from a Marine I'd met in Afghanistan in 2004. Back then he was a captain, leading a hundred Marines through the mountains in eastern Afghanistan, just a few miles off the Pakistani border. I'd just come out of Iraq, and he was on his way over, and I remember sitting on a hillside, in total darkness one night, telling him what he was in for. I told him Iraq was a lot worse than he'd heard, and it was just starting to slide off the edge. Afghanistan, by comparison, felt like it was on the right track.

I was half right, at least.

He's a major now, with a mind-bending six tours under his belt. He's second-in-command of a battalion and about to return to Afghanistan with almost a thousand Marines. And he asked me: Did I want to come along? Would I ride out the entire tour with them?

One of these days, I have to learn how to say no.

Typically, embedded journalists spend a week or two with a military unit, reporting for a news agency or a magazine or a newspaper. The embed slot is like a revolving door, with one media outlet rotating out, as another one rotates in. Correspondents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan work on directives from editors in places like London and New York -- and if you're a photographer like me, you might find yourself in some remote desert or mountain range, hunting for scenes conjured in the imagination of a correspondent in Kabul or Baghdad.

What if we tried a different approach, something both more autonomous, and more collaborative?

Execution and distribution might come down to the question: What's the social graph of a thousand Marines? I have no idea, but when I run a Facebook app to analyze my own social network, my MacBook spins, chokes, and crashes as it attempts to crunch the data, and plot the connections around a single person. That might just be buggy code over at Facebook, but I'd still guess the numbers surrounding a battalion-strength network of 19 year-olds are some degree of real big.

It may be that the Marine Corps had the same question, because earlier this year, it lifted a long-standing ban on social media for deployed troops. Translation: Marines can tweet and Facebook from Afghanistan.

It's anyone's guess what that means practically, especially in a place that doesn't have a lot of Internet cafes. But it's worth watching how the military makes use of the social web. So far, on an institutional level, they seem to have made much more effective use of it than the professional media.

More soon from the other side...

August 06 2010

10:52

Iraqi journalists on the difficulty of dispassionate reporting

Writing on the Dart Center for Journalism site, Tanya Paperny discusses the experiences of Iraqi journalists who visited the US last month to share their thoughts on reporting in areas of conflict.

The discussion brought up the common moral dilemma for journalists – how should you act when a person’s life is in danger in front of you? The journalists said the impact of this decision can have serious consequences for their own safety.

Another participant, who explained that he frequently has to cover bombings and suicide, talked about the kinds of scenarios in which a bystander would attack a journalist. It’s a dilemma many journalists face when they are the first to arrive at the scene of a traumatic incident: Should one take pictures and take notes for a story or help the victims? Should one wait for a health worker to do the first aid? Some participants argued that by putting down their cameras and notebooks, even if to help an injured individual, they are failing to fulfill their role as dispassionate witnesses. But there is no easy answer; each situation is different. And if the reporter chooses to take pictures and conduct interviews, that is the kind of situation that the Iraqi journalists explained could lead to harrassment by onlookers.

See the full post here…Similar Posts:



July 07 2010

09:22

Women at war: Profiling the female foreign correspondents in Iraq

Despite the legions of women that have covered conflicts, whenever a female war correspondent is profiled the phrase ‘one of the few women to have made their name as a conflict reporter’ constantly creeps in. It creates a false impression that we are the few. Editors these days are as likely to send a woman correspondent into combat as a man.

A fascinating article looking at the network of female foreign correspondents reporting from Iraq, in particular Hannah Allam, a veteran reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, who is five months pregnant.

Full story on NPR at this link…Similar Posts:



June 08 2010

08:35

Wired: Army intelligence analyst arrested over leaked video of Iraq helicopter attack

A US Army intelligence analyst has been arrested in connection with a leaked video of a US Apache helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007, which killed more than 12 people, including two Reuters news staff, reports Wired.

According to Wired, Bradley Manning, was arrested nearly two weeks ago at an army base in Baghdad where he was stationed. Manning was reportedly turned in by a former computer hacker to whom he had spoken about leaking the Iraq video and several others to the website Wikileaks.

The attack took place on the morning of 12 July 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad killing two Saeed Chmagh, a 40-year-old Reuters driver and assistant, and Namir Noor-Eldeen, a 22-year-old war photographer.

Reuters, which had previously requested the release of the video from the US military, has pressed the army to conduct a full and objective investigation into the killing of its two staff.

Full story at this link…

Similar Posts:



March 09 2010

16:38

YouTube and Al Jazeera English create video archive of Iraq elections

Al Jazeera English’s latest project in partnership with YouTube’s CitizenTube channel really is a great showcase for the power of video as a medium and how aggregated, short-form video can be a valuable addition to coverage of a news event.

AJE and CitizenTube have been collecting videos from Iraqi citizens before, during and after Sunday’s nationwide parliamentary election in the country:

Each of these videos features the perspective of a regular Iraqi, whose viewpoints and experiences are rarely shared in the news reports coming out of the country. Through video, we can listen to their voices, see their faces, and gain a better understanding of what it was like inside Iraq on this important day.

The videos are featured on CitizenTube’s YouTube channel and as part of Al Jazeera English’s interactive site on the Iraq elections under the header ‘Iraqi voices’. Some will also be featured on AJE’s TV broadcasts.

While internet in the home is by no means ubiquitous in Iraq, as this OpenNet Initiative report on the country suggests, many Iraqis took to uploading YouTube videos during the last conflict. The Iraqi government also launched its own channel on the site last year.

Similar Posts:



February 03 2010

11:55

Iraq Inquiry: BBC training of Iraqi journalists was necessary for fledgling democracy

At yesterday’s hearing of the Iraq Inquiry, current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn, who previously served as International Development Secretary and as a minister in the Home Office, described how the BBC World Service Trust had been involved in training journalists in Iraq after the fall of Saddam:

(…) [T]he work we did with the BBC World Service Trust training journalists, because that was a whole new world for them, trying to report on what was happening, so people have information to enable the fledgling Iraqi democracy to function.

The training of journalists on the ground and basing that training within Iraq was as important a part of building a democracy as training judges or building new physical infrastructure, suggested Benn.

I suppose some of the training [could have been done outside of Iraq], but the purpose of it was for them to go out – this was Al Mirbad – to go and report, and for people in Iraq to see what was going on, and that involves going out as a reporter and asking questions and producing programmes and broadcasting them, and you have to do that in Iraq.

More on the BBC World Service Trust’s work in Iraq can be found at this link.

Similar Posts:



December 15 2009

15:00

New issue of Nieman Reports: Reporting on trauma

Our friends at Nieman Reports have put together their new edition, and it focuses on an important issue: the interaction between journalists and trauma. How can reporters respectfully cover communities that have been through devastating circumstances? How can they make sure their stories reach an audience overburdened by sad tales? And how do journalists themselves deal with the emotional impact of covering people in great pain?

Go check out the table of contents yourself, but I do want to single out this piece by Jerome Aumente on Muntader al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who gained fame/infamy for throwing his shoes at George W. Bush. Aumente — who was working as a trainer for international journalists in conflict zones — met al-Zaidi a few weeks before the world media did:

I was conducting a weeklong series of workshop lectures on the impact of the Internet and new media for about 30 journalists from Iraq. After class, one of the participants, Muntader al-Zaidi, a Baghdad-based Iraqi TV reporter with Al Baghdadia, approached me and shared with me that in the previous year he’d been kidnapped, then released unharmed a few days later by one of the militant factions. He’d also been detained by U.S. forces and released. According to family members, al-Zaidi was deeply affected by his coverage of the death and suffering of civilians, especially women and children. In Beirut, he asked me for help: he said he was nervous, unable to sleep at night, and was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Could I find him help in the United States?

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl