Net Neutrality, Press Freedom and the Future of Journalism

Tuesday’s court decision, which struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order and threatened the future of Net Neutrality, has huge implications for the future of journalism and press freedom.

According to the Pew Research Center, half of all Americans now cite the Internet as their “main source for national and international news.” For young people the number is 71%. While we are nowhere near stopping the presses or tearing down the broadcast towers, the Internet is increasing how we distribute and consume the news today.

The future of journalism is bound up in the future of the Internet. Continue reading

What Do Kids’ Books Teach Us About the Future of Journalism?

I may read most of my news online, but I still get a print newspaper delivered to my doorstep everyday. I have lots of reasons for doing this but mostly I do it support local journalists and to have journalism be a visible presence for my kids.

At any given point we have a few days’ newspapers lying around the house, along with a few magazines we still subscribe to. The kids see an interesting picture or headline that captures their attention. It sparks conversation, makes them curious about their community and the world around us. We’ll often go from discussing an article in the paper, to looking up something on YouTube and reading more about it online. So I’m not opposed to screens in any way, but I do appreciate the serendipity and spontaneity the physical paper provides.

It is also a way for my kids to understand first-hand the work I do every day on press freedom and media policy.

I’m lucky that my kids are voracious readers and are drawn to anything that has words on it. In the piles of children’s books around our house I began noticing that a lot of them depicted newspapers. I decided to document representations of newspapers and journalism in kids’ books we owned.

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Ira Glass on Storytelling and Surprise

A few weeks ago I saw Ira Glass speak about This American Life and how he and his team think about storytelling. Looking back through my notes today, I discovered this little sextet of quotes that all seemed to flow together nicely. This is a bit like playing refrigerator poetry with Glass’s words since each of these lines had a lot of other context around them, but nonetheless, here they are:

Surprise is a remarkable weapon when telling a story.
Surprise brings hope.
Journalists need to be cunning.
Storytelling is highly inefficient.
We harness luck as an industrial tactic.
It is like wandering in the rain hoping lighting will strike.

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The Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2013

In 2012 I posted a round-up of the best online journalism of the year, which grew as others added their favorites. My list focused on journalism that could only be done online, the kind of storytelling that take advantage of the unique opportunities the Internet provides. This tended to be deeply visual reporting that wove together text, audio, images and videos.

As I created my 2013 list however, I saw much more data journalism and an increasing use of tools that engaged readers or rethought the basic flow of storytelling for a more participatory audience.

The ghosts of the New York Time’s “Snow Fall” article from 2012 haunted debates about online journalism in 2013 – it even became a verb. Joe Pompeo, the media reporter at Capital New York, defined “snowfalling” this way: “To execute the type of expensive, time-consuming, longform narrative multimedia storytelling that earned the Times’ ambitious ‘Snow Fall’ feature a Pulitzer last month.”

But 2013 also saw innovative journalists and newsroom developers taking interactive, multimedia storytelling in new directions too. And while I don’t cover them in-depth below, there were

Be sure to also check out the Online Journalism Award winners, which includes a number of amazing projects not listed here. And, in terms of a meta look at the field, I think Eric Newton’s “Searchlights and Sunglasses” is both a critical tool for rethinking journalism education and a model of online storytelling itself.

As in 2012, consider this list a provocation, a challenge to you to fill in the blanks and tell me what I missed. This list is by its nature biased around topics and people I followed this year, I don’t suggest it is comprehensive, so please take advantage of the comments section to add your favorites (or send me a note on Twitter). Continue reading

United We Stand. United We Encrypt.

At the end of October, as thousands of activists gathered in Washington, D.C., for the largest U.S. rally against domestic spying, the head of the National Security Agency sent a message to journalists reporting on surveillance and Edward Snowden’s revelations.

“I think it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents … and are selling them and giving them out,” NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander told a Department of Defense blog. “We ought to come up with a way of stopping it.”

This statement mirrored comments from U.K. authorities who told Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger, “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

That message came just weeks before agents from the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ came to theGuardian office and forced staff to destroy computers and hard drives that contained documents Snowden leaked.

Snowden’s leaks have exposed a largely secret and unaccountable surveillance state, ignited a new era of watchdog reporting on national security issues, and sparked protests in the streets.

Revelations about these surveillance programs have also highlighted an array of new threats and challenges to press freedom and basic newsgathering around the globe. We now know that all our communications are being collected, and increasingly are being used against journalists and their sources. Continue reading

Fighting for Our Rights to Connect and Communicate in 2014

In my first months on the job here at Free Press I traveled to Chicago and did a bunch of workshops all over the city about media consolidation. I was pretty new to media policy issues, and spent most of the time listening to community members talk about why the media was a life and death issue for them.

I listened to them talk about not hearing anyone who sounded like them on the radio, not seeing any issues that they were struggling with in the newspapers, and constantly seeing their community misrepresented on the evening news.

But I also heard from amazing organizers working in youth radio, journalists who were helping residents start their own newspaper, and digital activists working to connect more people to high-speed Internet access.

These are the stories that still motivate me today. These are the kinds of stories that inspire a lot of the work we do here at Free Press. And I’m lucky to work with an incredible team of people everyday, who inspire me with their passion, smarts and tireless work.

Free Press has been at this for ten years, and I believe this is a turning point. We’ve had one of our most successful years ever, but we have much bigger plans. Some of our biggest fights to defend press freedom and Internet freedom are ahead of us. Continue reading

FCC Moves to Beat Back Covert Consolidation

In a rare move, the Federal Communications Commission has thrown a wrench into a company’s plans to consolidate.

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FCC has intervened in the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to buy seven TV stations from Allbritton Communications. The agency asked Sinclair to “amend or withdraw” its plans to sidestep ownership rules that limit how many stations one company can own.

Earlier this fall, Free Press pushed the FCC to block this deal, citing Sinclair’s use of outsourcing agreements and shell companies to skirt the rules. In new research, we revealed how Sinclair and other companies are using all kinds of shady tactics to grow their empires at viewers’ expense.

In response to our report, Sinclair argued that it “completely complies” with the law. However, it would seem the FCC disagrees and is raising significant concerns about this kind of covert consolidation. Continue reading

On Press Freedom, Love of Country and Journalist Solidarity

This week the British Parliament held an anti-terrorism hearing and the main witness was a newspaper editor, Alan Rusbridger.

Rusbridger’s paper, the Guardian, has been under enormous pressure from U.K. authorities for its reporting on U.S. and U.K. mass surveillance programs. Indeed, the partner of former Guardianjournalist Glenn Greenwald was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport under a U.K. anti-terror law last summer for carrying documents related to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The hearing began with the committee chairman, Keith Vaz, asking Rusbridger if he “loved his country.” It only got more bizarre from there.

Another member of Parliament, Michael Ellis, suggested that publishing stories based on the Snowden leaks was akin to treason. He asked Rusbridger, “If you’d known about the Enigma Code during World War II, would you have transmitted that information to the Nazis?”

It would be easy to laugh at the implications of this line of questioning if the outcomes for press freedom were not so serious. Not long after the hearing, Reuters reported that Britain’s senior counter-terrorism officer and British police are “examining whether Guardian newspaper staff should be investigated for terrorism offenses over their handling of data leaked by Edward Snowden.” This isn’t that far off from the troubling suggestions the NSA chief made here in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Continue reading

Making Journalist Security Ubiquitous

One year ago I joined the Freedom of the Press Foundation to launch an effort to rethink how we fund and fight for hard-hitting journalism. In the last year the Foundation raised over $480,000 for nonprofit journalism projects focused on government transparency and accountability. The donations came from more than 6,000 people and supported critical investigations into drones, Guantanamo, Pentagon spending and funded a daily public transcript of the entire Manning trial for all journalists and the public to review and use.

Today, the Foundation is launching its next crowd-funding campaign. This time, however, we are not funding journalism directly but instead we are investing in the next generation of open-source encryption tools for journalists. Since the Foundation launched a year ago, the revelations about government surveillance and the US government’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers has raised new concerns from journalists and free expression advocates worldwide.

“Protecting the digital communications of journalists is turning into the press freedom fight of the 21st Century,” said Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm. “The Obama administration has been able to prosecute a record number of whistleblowers largely by subpoenaing emails and phone calls. It’s clear that journalists can’t protect their own sources by just refusing to testify anymore, so we need tools that will help them.” Continue reading

The Need for Listening and Empathy in Journalism

Two recent blog posts raise this question: Just how often do news organizations actually listen to their communities?

In his post, former News & Record editor John Robinson argues that his paper doesn’t dedicate time or resources to the issues he and many other readers face on a daily basis. And the News & Record isn’t unusual. In fact, Robinson says this problem isn’t limited to newspapers: “TV news has the same news diet,” he writes, “and it’s not in touch with mine.”

In a response to Robinson, Kevin Anderson notes that many newsrooms are “subsisting on the fumes cast off by official life: crime, council meetings and planned events.” They’re spending much less time, Anderson says, on “the lived experience of their communities.”

Being Zoned Out of the News

This debate reminded me of a talk that longtime editor Tom Stites gave at UMass Amherst in 2006. “Why is it that less-than-affluent Americans are being zoned out of serious reporting?” Stites asked.

Stites noted at the time that newspapers were increasingly aiming to serve the audiences that advertisers want to reach. “Is there any wonder that less affluent Americans have abandoned newspapers and are angry at the press?” Stites asked. “They’ve abandoned newspapers … because the newspapers have abandoned them.” Continue reading

Ethics for Anyone Who Commits Acts of Journalism

Right now there are three major efforts under way to rethink journalism ethics for our changed media landscape. The Online News Association and the Society for Professional Journalists have both launched ethics discussions with their members, and the Poynter Institute recently published a major book on “The New Ethics of Journalism.”

Poynter is using the occasion of the book to jump-start a broader conversation about truth and trust in the 21st century, the first event of which happened this week in New York City. Sponsored by PBS MediaShift, craigconnects, the Ford FoundationAmerican University’s School of Communication and NewsCred, the event featured a panel of journalists and academics from the New York Times, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, NYU, AP, and the Seattle Times. There were some great discussions on sponsored content, the nature of truth versus facts, and the intersection of reporting, opinion and activism. But I won’t get into those here. Instead, I want to talk about the one theme that seemed to undergird the entire evening: journalism’s relationship with its community.

One of the most important points of the evening was made by Mark Glaser of PBS MediaShift in his opening remarks. He said, “These are not ethics for journalists, but ethics for anyone who commits acts of journalism.” And indeed, Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, the editors of the new Poynter book, have worked hard to think about an ethical framework that can be relevant and meaningful to the wide array of people who are participating in journalism today.

Rosenstiel echoed this point later in the evening when he argued that today ethics has to be embedded in every piece of journalism, not just a set of values ascribed to by a newsroom or organization. The way content spreads online means that journalism is often disconnected from its source so we can’t rely on brands to establish trust with the reader. Audiences need to see, within the journalism itself, why this piece is worthy of trust and how it reflects ethical reporting. This is why Rosenstiel and McBride put more emphasis in their new book on transparency over independence, a decision which itself has sparked some useful debate. Continue reading

U.K. Criminalizing Journalism Under Anti-Terror Laws

David Miranda’s case against U.K. authorities who detained him for nine hours at London’s Heathrow airport this summer is just got underway last week.

Meanwhile, in court documents the U.K. government submitted last week, authorities accused Miranda, who is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, of terrorism and espionage for transporting documents between Greenwald and journalist Laura Poitras.

Though authorities admit that Miranda was not engaged in anything violent, they assert that disclosing documents or even suggesting such disclosure, when “designed to influence a government and … for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause … falls within the definition of terrorism.” Continue reading

NSA Chief Keith Alexander Slams Reporters

In a recent White House briefing, a journalist asked Press Secretary Jay Carney if the Obama administration is considering any legal action against journalist Glenn Greenwald. “I certainly know of none,” Carney said. “I don’t have anything on that for you.”

That a journalist even has to ask this question is a sign of the troubled relationship between the administration and the press.

A week before this briefing, the embattled head of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, sent a warning to journalists reporting on the NSA and Edward Snowden’s leaks. In an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog, Alexander said:

I think it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 — whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these — you know it just doesn’t make sense. We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on.

Other than a brief article in Politico and a few other blog posts, there was little coverage of the general’s comments. But his remarks are part of the growing culture of intimidation and violence directed at journalists in the U.S. The recent report on press freedom from the Committee to Protect Journalists showed just how dire this situation has become.

Given all of this, it’s no surprise that journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras question whether they can safely return to the U.S. without facing prosecution for exercising their First Amendment rights. Continue reading

Solidarity in the Face of Surveillance

One way for journalists to build more secure newsrooms and safer networks would be for more of them to learn and practice digital hygiene and information security. But that’s not enough. We also need journalists to stand together across borders, not just as an industry, but as a community, against government surveillance.

The Obama administration, in its attempt to control government leaks, has issued subpoenas and conducted unprecedented surveillance of journalists, as CPJ documented in a report this week. But the United States is hardly the only democratic nation that has been trying to unveil reporters’ sources and other professional secrets.

In August, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained by U.K. authorities at London’s Heathrow airport as he was flying back to their home in Brazil. Greenwald’s editor at the London-based Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, soon revealed that the British government had been trying for months to stop the Guardian from reporting on mass surveillance programs revealed by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, threatening unspecified action. Finally, two agents from the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters, a British intelligence agency, oversaw the physical destruction of computer hard drives in the basement of the Guardian‘s London offices.

The Guardian continued reporting, however, but it also forged partnerships with The New York Times and ProPublica. A Guardian spokeswoman told BuzzFeed, “In a climate of intense pressure from the U.K. government, The Guardian decided to bring in a U.S. partner to work on the GCHQ documents.” This partnership goes beyond a simple editorial collaboration, and seems tantamount to a journalistic act of civil disobedience in order to serve the public. One colleague, Laura Poitras, a Berlin-based U.S. filmmaker and journalist, with whom Greenwald has broken some of the U.S. surveillance documents provided by Snowden, last month shared a byline with New York Times intelligence reporter James Risen, who himself remains subject to a U.S. court subpoena for his reporting on other U.S. intelligence activities. (Greenwald’s partner Miranda was stopped in London after meeting with Poitras in Berlin.)

Increasingly, journalists are finding strength in this kind of global solidarity that connects newsrooms and crosses borders. Continue reading

SecureDrop: A New Infrastructure for Strong, Secure Investigative Journalism

This post was co-authored by actor and filmmaker John Cusack and originally posted at the Huffington Post.

In February Chelsea Manning delivered a lengthy statement to the military court that would eventually sentence her to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military secrets to Wikileaks. In her statement she revealed that before approaching Wikileaks she tried to deliver her cache of documents to the Washington Post and the New York Times.

According to her statement, she spoke to someone at the Post, but was dissuaded by the reception she received. At the New York Times she first called the public editor and then tried a few other numbers, eventually leaving her Skype name in hopes someone would call back. No one did.

Whistleblowing has long played a critical role in government accountability but in an age of expanding government secrecy leaks are increasingly part of how journalism is done. New York Times journalist Declan Walsh has gone so far as so argue that leaks are “the unfiltered lifeblood of investigative journalism.” As such, it shouldn’t be this hard for a potential source to reach journalists.

Today, the Freedom of the Press Foundation is launching a major new initiative to ensure that any newsroom can create a simple and secure way for whistleblowers and sources to anonymously contact journalists. The project is called SecureDrop and it is built on the open source whistleblower submission system originally designed by the late Aaron Swartz. Continue reading