Media

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.” (more…)

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. (more…)

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.” (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

Breaking Down Breaking News To Its Atomic Elements

Today Circa released version 2.0 of its mobile-native news app. Normally I don’t write about apps, but something about Circa’s new app caught my attention. Not only have they rethought the basics — design, navigation, etc. – they also introduced a new feature focused on rethinking breaking news reporting.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing Farhad Manjoo argued that “Breaking news is broken.” However, most of the hand wringing about breaking news has focused on a rather narrow set of issues related to news accuracy and crowdsourced investigations. Other issues regarding how our communities get access to the news and information they need, and how they understand and act on that information, have received less attention.

How might reporting during breaking news need to change to help add clarity to the flood of updates, provide context, and make news more usable and actionable to people? Circa thinks it has at least part of the answer and it is rooted squarely in the company’s strategy to atomize the news and reconsider the article as the atomic element of journalism.

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Unconstitutional Searches and an Unaccountable Government

The U.S. border may be the next battleground for press freedom.

Last week, actor, filmmaker and press freedom advocate John Cusack called on Attorney General Eric Holder to “guarantee the safe return and safe passage of journalists who have exercised their rights under the First Amendment.” The detainment and intimidation of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at London’s Heathrow Airport prompted Cusack’s question.

Miranda was held for nine hours, without access to a lawyer, and without any explanation. This incident is part of a growing trend at international borders: no answers, no accountability.

Miranda had returned from a visit to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in Berlin. Earlier this year, Poitras traveled with Greenwald to meet with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong and has since been at the center of the reporting on the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Poitras herself has been detained, interrogated and searched more than 40 times at the U.S. border. Now she and Greenwald do most of their reporting abroad — in part, they say, because they don’t think they will be free to do this kind of work in the U.S. (more…)

From Journalism’s Five W’s to Journalism’s Five C’s

The five W’s of journalism remain a cornerstone of newsgathering today, but I have been increasingly thinking about five C’s as well: Context, Conversation, Curation, Community and Collaboration

Below I try to define each, with particular attention to how they intersect, and I link to one good piece of writing on the topic.

Nothing about this is supposed to be comprehensive, nor is it particularly original, it’s just a list of the things I’m thinking about right now and an invitation for you to add your thoughts.  (more…)

Building Conversation and Community Around the News

This summer a number of news organizations announced new projects designed to rethink how readers engage with the news. Some will fail, no doubt, and all of them need more testing and development. However, these are all creative responses to critical questions about how journalists relate to their readers. I look forward to following each one. (more…)

What Should Readers Demand from Their Reporters?

Over at The Morning News Brendan Fitzgerald has a fascinating piece for those thinking about the role of journalism in our communities. He asked a bunch of journalists what readers should demand of local newsrooms. I was grateful to be included along with folks like Laura Sydell and Robert Krulwich of NPR, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and Tim Burke of Deadspin, and Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Here is what I said (but be sure to go read the rest of the piece):

Given the fundamental shift in the media, from a one-way broadcast model to a two-way participatory model, both journalists and the audience should welcome the chance for deeper dialogue. Readers, viewers, and listeners should demand a conversation from their local newsroom. At their best, truly reciprocal conversations are a path of discovery for both stakeholders, and we should want that same kind of discovery from the journalism we create and consume. A good conversation provides context, accountability, and questions. It honors the knowledge both people bring to the table, and it moves towards clarity and understanding. Conversation builds trust. If journalism today is a process, then conversation is the engine that drives the process forward. We should be demanding more conversation from our journalists and looking for it from our communities.

What would you demand of your local newsroom?

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Community Engagement and Press Freedom: Building More Resilient and Sustainable Journalism

Next week I’ll be speaking at the Reynolds Journalism Institute for its five-year anniversary, which will focus on the next steps we need to take to sustain journalism.

The event organizers have outlined five critical areas for exploration, but there are two that I’ll focus the most attention on: press freedom and community engagement. For me, these two issues are deeply woven together in a participatory, networked fourth estate, and both are in a moment of terrific flux.

I have written previously that regardless of whether your business model relies on ads, paywalls or donors, journalism will rise and fall with its communities. Editor Melanie Sill argues that “we must reorder the fundamental processes of journalism toward the goal of serving communities.”

We need our communities to invest, fund and support our work, to share it and help it make an impact on the world. We need our communities to be sources, to give feedback, to help us report.

But we also need our communities to fight for our rights to gather and disseminate news, to access information, to assemble and speak freely. This has never been truer than it is now, when the threats to journalism are not just economic, but legal. (more…)

Syria, War and the Democratic Demands of Journalism

Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike on Syria is a critical moment for our nation, and our nation’s media. It is a realignment of executive power, which has for years been expanding, especially in terms of international affairs, surveillance and national security. And it is a reassertion of the role of citizens in a self-governing democracy.

The president made clear that his decision was not just a matter of involving lawmakers, but also involving the nation in this decision. “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” he said on Saturday. In calling on Congress to take up this debate he is also calling on the American people to make their voices heard.

While he asserted his right to move forward without a Congressional vote, he argued, “The country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”

In a moment of such profound consequence, what is the role and responsibility of journalists? If we are to have a meaningful debate about our next steps in Syria, what do we need from our media to facilitate that? (more…)

From Audience to Allies: Building a Public Movement for Press Freedom

After British authorities detained the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald for nine hours and forced the Guardian, where Greenwald works, to destroy its computers, The Columbia Journalism Review declared this a “DEFCON 2 journalism event” — a reference to the code used when the country is one step away from nuclear war.

And they weren’t alone. A number of leading journalists have weighed in over the past week arguing that we have reached a crisis moment for global press freedom. Amy Davidson, in The New Yorker, writes that the events of this week remind us that we are “lucky in this country to have a press with a better shot at avoiding prior restraint.”

However, she argues, both the Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden cases raise doubts about that “better shot.” Indeed, many saw Manning’s 35-year sentence, handed down this week, as yet another effort to chill the newsgathering process. All of this comes on the heels of a long string of press suppression and intimidation that came to light in the United States this summer. Taken together, argues Davidson, these cases show “why it’s worth pushing back, and fighting.”

That sentiment was echoed by Philip Bump at the Atlantic Wire: “In the battle with the security state, those who might commit acts of journalism have three choices: acquiesce, push back or step away.”

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A Growing Culture of Violence Against Journalists

On Saturday, Time Senior National Correspondent Michael Grunwald tweeted, “I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”

He has since deleted the tweet, but the ugliness behind it lingers. Around the world journalists are facing threats, intimidation and violence.

In a few unfortunate cases, these threats come from other journalists like Grunwald. More often they’re attacks from outside the profession.

Just days before Grunwald’s tweet appeared, three journalists were killed in Egypt.

A few days before that, the New York Times reported that “[a]bductions of journalists inside Syria have increased sharply this year.” At least 15 journalists have gone missing in the country in just the last six months.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders dubbed 2012 the deadliest year for journalists in recent memory. 2013 hasn’t been too great either.

On Sunday, British authorities detained the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist at the center of the recent NSA revelations, for nine hours at Heathrow and questioned him under a British anti-terror law.

Having a journalist like Grunwald musing about violence against someone else is concerning. It’s particularly troubling that the target of this journalist’s violent imagination is a person whose work has enabled critical reporting at newsrooms around the globe. (more…)