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Transformation in channels of news delivery and the ascendence of the blogger-reporter raise challenges for citizens and the Republic. The JUST Journalsim Section examines the nascent obligations of those who shape public opinion and purvey "news" in emerging media.

Marty PerlmutterPatricia Mendoza



Journalists? Spies?

Marion Brown
September, 2013

Decades of media consolidation have reduced the depth and breadth of reporting, cutting investigative reporters, relying on syndicated news and in some cases eliminating photographers completely. The influence of corporate and politically-driven private money is increasingly commonplace and many consumers are leaving traditional news outlets. Online media, dependent on advertising, weakened by a reliance on unpaid reporting and diluted by contributors untrained in journalism, have also provided a space for hackers, whistleblowers, leakers, and citizen journalists to take on roles previously held by investigative journalists. 

As the definition of journalist shifts and the new fact-checkers are not bound by an ethical code or allegiance to any news organization, government surveillance is on the the rise, fed by compliant ISPs and telecommunications giants. Vast amounts of previously protected data are open to new scrutiny, leaving journalists increasingly vulnerable to surveillance and prosecution and fearful of communicating with each other and with sources. Laws and law enforcement are creating a repressive environment for news and combined with the increased surveillance capabilities makes even the act of investigating sensitive stories a risky proposition

The Obama administration, along with the NSA's long reach into an expanding list of communications, not including email and texts, is now considered to be waging a war on the press or even free speech, citing national security and terrorism concerns as cause for a massive surveillance expansion. This leaves open the question of not only who is a journalist, but what rights does the press have in this new world? Are we left with any check on the government?


Paying Attention to the Shield Law’s Critics

Eric Newton
Columbia Journalism Review, September 24, 2013 

Journalists shouldn’t blindly support the shield law without taking in the whole picture

When a Senate committee this month approved the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2013,” applause was heard from scores of media shield law supporters, from theNewspaper Association of America to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. To them, the news came as a relief after revelations the feds had secretly seized Associated Press phone records and labeled a Fox News reporter a criminal “co-conspirator” as an excuse to get his emails.

An all-star lineup of industry groups supports the bill. They see it as the best step yet toward extending First Amendment freedoms into the newsgathering process. The critics, however, have been journalists who do the hardest stories, the national security stories. At an event I organized at the Newseum last week, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff generously allowed one of them, longtime investigative journalist Scott Armstrong, to debate the rest of the panel.

“There’s not a national security reporter that I can find who supports the shield law,” Armstrong said, “because it won’t protect us. We’re going to get exempted out of it one way or another.” Read more…


Lessons from Manning and Miranda: Press Freedom Advocates Must Fight Back

Josh Stearns
MediaShift, August 23, 2013

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.

Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Photo by Gage Skidmore and used here under the Creative Commons license.

However, she argues, both the Chelsea (formerly Bradley) 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 tochill 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.” Read more…


Which World Governments Are Most Likely to Snoop on Your Facebook?

John Metcalfe
The Atlantic Cities, September 27, 2013

For the first time this year, Facebook released a transparency report listing (among other things) the instances when it felt legally obliged to give a government "some data" belonging to certain of its billion-plus users. Bradford took information from the report, which covers the first six months of 2013, melded it with other statistics and whipped up his visualization for this month's EU Hackathon. He weights each country's ranking by its population, number of Facebook users, and frequency of official demands for data. Then he gives the amount of time that would pass before each nation's users have a great than 1 percent chance of being infiltrated by the CIA, NSA, GCHQ, FSB, or god-knows-what intelligence or judicial agency. Read more…


Americans Show Signs of Leaving a News Outlet, Citing Less Information

Jodi Enda and Amy Mitchell
Pew Research Center

Faced with shrinking revenue and dwindling audiences, news organizations in recent years have slashed staffs and reduced coverage. Most news consumers are little aware of the financial struggles that led to these cuts, a new Pew Research Center survey finds. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of them not only have noticed a difference in the quantity or quality of news, but have stopped reading, watching or listening to a news source because of it.

The newspaper industry alone shed 28% of its employees since its peak in 2001, according to The American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census, and in 2012, that number is estimated to have dipped below 40,000 employees for the first time since the census began in 1978. Read more…


Shield Law Broadens Definition of 'Journalist'

Dylan Byers
Politico, September 12, 2013 

UPDATE: This bill and the amendment passed 13-to-5 in committee.
A new media shield law expected to pass committee on Thursday broadens the definition of "journalist" to include, among other things, any individual deemed appropriate by a federal judge.

The original amendment, as proposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin, had limited the defnition of journalist to someone employed by or in contract with a media outlet for at least three months in the last two years; someone with a substantial track record of freelancing in the last two years; or a student journalist. 

The new amendment, brokered by Sen. Chuck Schumer, significantly expands on that definition. Now, a journalist would be defined as someone employed by or in contract with a media outlet for at least one year within the last 20 years or three months within the last five years; someone with a substantial track record of freelancing in the last five years; or a student journalist. Read more…


Journalism, Free Speech Under Attack in the Surveillance State


What is Journalism For?

Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times, September 4, 2013

Sarah Coleman/CJRA detail from an illustration for an article on the purpose of journalism in the Columbia Journalism Review. “What is Journalism for?”

The Columbia Journalism Review asked this question of a bunch of people — mostly journalists, me included — and has published the results. The editors’ note introducing the collection begins this way:

In his 1999 book, “What Are Journalists For?”, which told the story of the civic-journalism movement, Jay Rosen suggested that the question in the title is one our society must ask itself periodically, as times change and the demands on and of journalism change with them. Now is one of those moments. Everything about our profession is up for debate. Congress is arguing about the definition of “journalist”; startups are experimenting with new business models and ways to deliver news to a mobile audience; people all over the world who don’t call themselves journalists are using social media and smartphones to record, broadcast, and comment on “news.”

The answers, supplied by communicators ranging from online innovator Arianna Huffington to incoming University of Maryland freshman Michelle Chavez, are well worth exploring. 

Here’s how I replied:

On a complicated, fast-forward planet enveloped in information, journalists who thrive will be those who offer news consumers the same sense of trust that a skilled mountain guide provides to climbers after an avalanche. A sure trail cannot be guaranteed, but an honest effort can. 

Read more…


Bezos, Heraclitus and the Hybrid Future of Journalism August 14, 2013

Arianna Huffington
LinkedIn, August 14, 2013

The future will definitely be a hybrid one, combining the best practices of traditional journalism -- fairness, accuracy, storytelling, deep investigations -- with the best tools available to the digital world -- speed, transparency, and, above all, engagement.

Though the distinction between new media and old has become largely meaningless, for too long the reaction of much of the old media to the fast-growing digital world was something like the proverbial old man yelling at the new media kids to get off his lawn. Many years were wasted erecting barriers that were never going to stand.

One of the first people who came to mind when I heard the news last week that Jeff Bezos was buying the Washington Post was a fellow countryman, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who around 2,500 years ago said, "No man ever steps in the same river twice." Or, as James Fallows put it, the sale was "one of those episode-that-encapsulates-an-era occurrences." But as it encapsulates one era that has passed, it also has the potential to expand the era we are in. This combining of the best of traditional media with the boundless potential of digital media represents an amazing opportunity.  Read more...


Advantage: Liars. Fact-checking vs. Lying Liars

Marty Perlmutter
August, 2012

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” —Winston Churchill

There may be more opportunities to fact check and debunk than ever, but this actuality bumps up against a human tendency this is even more stubborn. "People seem to find it easier to believe rumors that they wish were true or that seem to fulfill a desire to hear the worst," writes Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News city editor Katherine K. Lee. Liars and manipulators can be more persuasive than the press, even with a growing corps of fact checkers and verification specialists. Reporting and fact checking is not the same as convincing people of a verifiable truth.

The author sums up the conundrum this way: "The forces of untruth have more money, more people, and … much better expertise. They know how to birth and spread a lie better than we know how to debunk one. They are more creative about it, and, by the very nature of what they're doing, they aren't constrained by ethics or professional standards. Advantage, liars."

We may hope that we are on the threshold of a new age of Internet curation and fact verification. But in truth, the struggle between liars, manipulated information consumers and rumor debunkers is only now being joined, and must be fought on proliferating platforms. The future of journalism and indeed of verifiable truth hangs in the balance.


A New Age for Truth

Craig Silverman
Nieman Reports, Summer 2012

In a handbook for aspiring journalists published in 1894, Edwin L. Shuman shared what he called one of the "most valuable secrets of the profession at its present stage of development."Join the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #NRTruth

He revealed that it was standard practice for reporters to invent a few details, provided the made-up facts were nonessential to the overall story.

Truth in essentials, imagination in nonessentials, is considered a legitimate rule of action in every office…The paramount object is to make an interesting story.

A reporter following Shuman's advice today would likely find his fabrications swiftly exposed on social media. Bloggers would tally offenses and delve deeper. People with firsthand knowledge of the story in question might step forward with photos and videos to contradict the invented details. Media watchdogs, press critics, and others would call out the reporter and his employer.

In the same vein, a politician or public figure who publicly asserts a falsehood is likely to be called out by fact-checking organizations such as and PolitiFact.

Never before in the history of journalism—or society—have more people and organizations been engaged in fact checking and verification. Never has it been so easy to expose an error, check a fact, crowdsource and bring technology to bear in service of verification.  Read more…


Latest Word on the Trail? I Take It Back

Jeremy W. Peters
The New York Times, July 15, 2012

The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative.

They are sent by e-mail from the Obama headquarters in Chicago to reporters who have interviewed campaign officials under one major condition: the press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name.

Most reporters, desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists, grudgingly agree. After the interviews, they review their notes, check their tape recorders and send in the juiciest sound bites for review. Read more…


Study Finds Media Overwhelmingly Repeat GOP "Job Killer" Allegations With No Verification

Adam Shah
Media Matters, June 14, 2012

Media have overwhelmingly repeated claims by Republican politicians and corporations that government policies are "job killers" without citing any evidence for this claim according to a new study. And today's news reporting demonstrates the study's point.

Media MattersOccidental College professor Peter Dreier and University of Northern Iowa professor Christopher Martin found media stories in The Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostThe New York Times, and the Associated Press with the phrase "job killer" have spiked since President Obama took office and that since 1984, "in 91.6% of the stories alleging that a government policy was or would be a 'job killer,' the media failed to cite any evidence for this claim or to quote an authoritative source with any evidence for this claim." Read more…


Where to Find the Awkward Tweets Politicians Deleted

Eric Randall 
The Atlantic Wire, May 30, 2012

The Sunlight Foundation just launched a really fun, vast new site called "Politiwoops" that collects all the tweets that politicians have deleted from their Twitter feeds in the past six months. As Sunlight, which is dedicated to government transparency, explains in a blog post unveiling the site, the collection of thousands of tweets includes hacked missives,typos, and awkward lines that didn't land well. There's Rep. Jeff Miller asking, "Was President Obama born in the United States?" There's President Obama promoting articles in The Atlantic.(And then backtracking!) The site is very elegantly built, seeming to operate a lot like Twitter itself.

Who among us hasn't felt the sinking feeling when you hit send and realize that perhaps you shouldn't have? Read more…


Rupert Murdoch: ‘Not a Fit Person’

Martin Perlmutter
May, 2012 

After months of deliberation, Ofcom, the British broadcasting oversight board, submitted a report on the unfolding hacking case. They concluded that Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run a media conglomerate. In so stating they seemed to go beyond the scope of their purview, perhaps adumbrating more severe chastisements that pend – possible loss of broadcast licenses in Britain unless management of News Corp. and its broadcast holdings is radically revised.

In the immediate aftermath of the hacking scandal, they closed the News of the World, Britain’s leading scandal sheet and highest-circulation weekly. James Murdoch resigned the chairmanship of the broadcasting division of News Corp. Some forty individuals in the company and in government were arrested and testimony taken. 

All of this has triggered a round of reflection among journalists concerning what is, and what isn’t, acceptable behavior in pursuit of headlines and stories. Bill Keller of the NY Times took a particularly deep look at the foibles, and mortal sins, of Fox News, as it has continued to pretend to be a “news” outlet while abdicating any moral or practical claim to that stature. In his op-ed, he details his reasoning. It is a piece that any practitioner or aspirant to the Fourth Estate should internalize.

Major criminal and civil consequences continue to unfold. We seem to be only at the late morning of this corrosive but curative process. It will be clarification of the moral strictures of journalism and the mortal consequences of radical deviation therefrom.