Posts tagged: journalism
Nick Schou writes about Jesse Katz’s “apology” for ruining Gary Webb’s life:
The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times each obscured basic truths of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. But no newspaper tried harder than the L.A. Times, where editors were said to have been appalled that a distant San Jose daily had published a blockbuster about America’s most powerful spy agency and its possible role in allowing drug dealers to flood South L.A. with crack.
Much of the Times’ attack was clever misdirection, but it ruined Webb’s reputation: In particular, the L.A. Times attacked a claim that Webb never made: that the CIA had intentionally addicted African-Americans to crack.
Webb, who eventually could find only part-time work at a small weekly paper, committed suicide.
No journalist played a more central role in the effort to obscure the facts Webb reported than former L.A. Times reporter Katz. […]
“As an L.A. Times reporter, we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury News and kind of wonder[ed] how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope,” Katz explained. “And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the L.A. Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.” […]
As Katz admitted to Mantle, “We really didn’t do anything to advance his work or illuminate much to the story, and it was a really kind of tawdry exercise. … And it ruined that reporter’s career.”
The Crack Up, Webb’s 1998 follow-up for Orange County Weekly.
From Ars Technica:
WikiLeaks remains under a near financial blockade, its founder under effective house arrest after having been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The group has yet to release anything as substantial as last year’s “Detainee Policies”—Balkanleaks remains one of the few “leaking sites” still going strong. Its recent insurance-key move comes precisely out of the WikiLeaks playbook.
More than two years ago, a flurry of new WikiLeaks clones sprung up around the world inspired by the world’s most famous transparency-driven organization. They had all kinds of names: QuebecLeaks, BaltiLeaks, EnviroLeaks, and more. PirateLeaks (based in the Czech Republic), BrusselsLeaks (Belgium) and RuLeaks (Russia) all did not respond to Ars’ requests for comments. […]
So how does Balkanleaks thrive where others haven’t?
Tchobanov, the site’s co-founder, boils it down to one word: Tor. It’s the open-source online anonymizing tool that’s become the de facto gold standard for hiding one’s tracks online. Balkanleaks provides instructions in Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and English, and the submission website is only available on its Tor-enabled server.
Full Story: Ars Technica Whither whistleblowing: Where have all the leaking sites gone?
The article goes on to detail the state of some other projects, including OpenLeaks and GlobalLeaks.
Journalist Nate Thayer kicked things off by published an e-mail exchange between him and an The Atlantic editor in which he was asked to rewrite an article he had written elsewhere for free. The editor also wrote that she could only pay $100 for original pieces.
Andrew Sulivan points out the damage this does to The Atlantic‘s brand following the recent Church of Scientology sponsored content fiasco.
Paul Carr outlined some of the reasons that journalists need to get paid and called on publishers to reject advertising in favor of permeable pay walls and ad-free print editions.
A couple things that occur to me that I haven’t seen elsewhere:
1. There may be a certain amount of rosy retrospection going on here. I don’t doubt that it’s harder now for journalists, freelance or otherwise. But I’m not sure there’s any golden age to go back to. I’m too young to have any real perspective on this. But I do remember hearing an interview with Seymour Hersh on Democracy Now (though I can’t find the transcript for this episode) talking about how he actually had a hard time finding someone to publish his story on the My Lai Massacre. If I recall correctly, he’d already written the story. He wasn’t looking for someone to finance the story, just to pay him and publish it. Eventually the Dispatch News Service published it, a few newspapers picked it up and, as they say, is history. But I take it the Dispatch wasn’t exactly his first choice of publishers for the story that went on to earn him a Pulitzer.
2. Among the various reasons that journalists need to get paid — most of which are covered by Carr above — is the reason that we pay congress people so well. That is, you want them to be financially independent enough that they don’t need outside streams of income. Journalists shouldn’t have to choose between making rent or taking a side gig that might introduce a conflict of interest. No, a $60k a year salary sure as hell doesn’t guarantee that a journo won’t be temped by the opportunity to make some compromising money on the side. I’m sure Malcolm Gladwell has handsome salary at the New Yorker and that doesn’t stop him from earning big money giving talks to big corporations.
But if you can’t make rent or put food on the table, then you’ve got to find money somewhere. It could just be a good honest day job or moonlighting gig. But with every white paper for a political organization, every guest blog post for a tech startup and every corporate consulting gig makes you just a that much less independent of faction.
Commercial airspace laws are holding back drone journalism, but it’s coming:
The benefits for journalists are evident too, especially for those who are in the field, like many science journalists. Journalists can use drones to report on disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Having an above-the-ground view may give journalists a better perspective of the extent of a disaster. By making use of sensors attached to drones, journalists can measure numerous parameters such as radiation levels in inaccessible areas. An environment journalist may also be keen to use drones to collect specimen such as polluted water samples while an exploring nature journalist can use them as communication relays so that they can touch base when reporting from remote areas.
Drone journalism appears to make so much sense that two universities in the US have already incorporated drone use in their journalism programs. The Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska and the Missouri Drone Journalism Program at the University of Missouri both teach journalism students how to make the most of what drones have to offer when reporting a story. They also teach students how to fly drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and ethics.
No, it’s not about Discordianism. It’s about the real world discord and human misery that is the political situation in Greece. It’s written by Laurie Penny and illustrated by Molly Crabapple, and it’s worth your time.
It’s not just political journalism, either — it touches on youth culture, the way a movement’s drug of choice reflects the zeitgeist, art, feminism and more.
The Guardian did a group interview of five of the six nominees for the the Royal Society’s Winton prize for science books 2012 — Steven Pinker, James Gleick, Brian Greene, Lone Frank and Joshua Foer.
Here’s an exchange between Greene and Pinker:
How has the formal, technical way scientists write journal papers affected popular science writing?
BG: I was looking back over some quantum mechanics papers from the 1920s and in one article the scientist described an accident in his laboratory when a glass tube exploded, a nickel got tarnished and he heated it to get rid of the tarnish – he went through the whole story himself in the technical article. You don’t really see that much these days. I don’t know if that is a one-off example, I haven’t done an exhaustive study, but have journal articles moved away from telling the story of discovery to just a more cut-and-dried approach?
SP: They have; I think that’s been documented. There is scientifically a problem with that, as opposed to narrating what happened. The problem is that since you’re under pressure from the journal editor to tell your story leading up to your conclusion without talking about all the blind alleys and accidents, it actually distorts the story itself because it inflates the probability that what you discovered is really significant. If you tried 15 things that didn’t work and one thing that did work and didn’t talk about the 15 that didn’t work, then the statistic that makes it significant is actually mistaken. The statistic has to be computed over all of the experiments you ran, not just the one that happened to work. In the social sciences especially, we’re seeing that there’s a lot of damage done by the practice of only reporting the successes and telling the story as if it was a straight line to a successful result.
Lehrer spent much of August writing about the affair, trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong. He came to the conclusion that he’d stretched himself too thin. His excuses fall along those lines: He told Seife that his plagiarized blog post was a rough draft he’d posted by mistake. And his latest explanation for those fabricated Dylan quotes is that he had written them into his book proposal and forgotten to fix them later. Even by his own account, then, the writing wasn’t his top priority.
The lectures, though, were increasingly important. Lehrer gave between 30 and 40 talks in 2010, all while meeting constant deadlines, starting a family, and buying a home in the Hollywood Hills. It was more than just a time suck; it was a new way of orienting his work. Lehrer was the first of the Millennials to follow his elders into the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.
The Insight is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.
The next big idea? The end of big ideas. See:
(I could swear Wired had a similar column from the editor a couple months ago, but it doesn’t seem to be online and I toss my print editions out after I read them)
Science journalist Jonah Lehrer, whose articles I have linked to from Technoccult in the past, stepped down from the New Yorker today after admitting to fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his book Imagine. Here’s Lehrer’s statement, as quoted by Julie Bosman for The New York Times:
“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”
“The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers. I also owe a sincere apology to Mr. Moynihan. I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.”
(via Coe Douglas)
The Curse of Knowledge (a critique of inaccuracies in Imagine)
Disclosure: I write for Conde Nast’s Wired Enterprise property. Conde Nast is the publisher of The New Yorker
Books like The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel and The Information Diet by Clay Johnson examine the responsibilities of journalists and other information producers and what the public should expect, and demand, of its news and information outlets.
I just came across, via the Wikipedia entry on the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhism, a quote from The Abhaya Sutta on “Right Speech.” I think it has a lot to say about what we as journalists should write and what you as the public should demand:
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.
Wikipedia puts it: “In every case, if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it.”
Or, for modern times: Write, and/or read, things that are true, timely and informative. Don’t troll. Don’t spread rumors. Don’t read gossip. Don’t create or click on linkbait. Don’t read substanceless content just because it affirms what you already believe.
This fits nicely with “The Essence of Journalism is Verification” (from the Principles of Journalism) and Clay Johnson’s summary of his thinking: “Consume deliberately. Take in information over affirmation.”
You can listen to or download the interview at Disinfo. Here are some of the points Ellis made:
I love Thompson’s work but think he can be a bad influence on writers and journalists who wind up writing crappy prose in an attempt to be edgy and play it fast and lose with the facts to be “gonzo.” And because of his image and style, his message was often lost. Too many people remember him as a character.