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

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

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.”

Continue reading

Security, Secrecy and the Democratic Demands of an Informed Public

The American experiment is premised on the idea that an informed public is central to self-governance and a functioning democracy. But today that fundamental idea is being challenged, at times by the very people – journalists and the media – who should be its staunchest defenders.

In a new post, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen traces how the debate over Snowden and the National Security Agency has sparked what amounts to a de facto effort to “repeal the concept of an informed public.” This is a critical point, and I want to draw a few more threads into the debate.

“My sole motive,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian in his first public interview, “is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” Rosen describes Snowden as “the return of the repressed.” He writes: “By going AWOL and leaking documents that show what the NSA is up to, he forced Congress to ask itself: did we really consent to that? With his disclosures the principle of an informed public roared back to life.”

However, since that moment, there has been a profound effort by politicians and even some journalists to close down that debate. This opposition has taken many forms. Journalists and politicians have attacked Glenn Greenwald and tried to undercut the legitimacy of the Guardian. They have tried to write off NSA programs as balanced and well within the law. And most of all they have used fear and the threat of possible terror attacks to argue that any real debate about the details of America’s surveillance programs is simply a “discussion the public cannot afford to have.Continue reading