Reporting

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New York Times reporter James Risen, via Twitter.

James Risen recently won the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Journalism Award for excellence in journalism.

The Pulitzer Prize winning national security reporter has long been hounded by the US Justice Department to disclose his confidential sources from his 2006 book State of War.

As the Washington Post wrote back in August, “Prosecutors want Mr. Risen’s testimony in their case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official who is accused of leaking details of a failed operation against Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Risen properly has refused to identify his source, at the risk of imprisonment. Such confidential sources are a pillar of how journalists obtain information. If Mr. Risen is forced to reveal the identity of a source, it will damage the ability of journalists to promise confidentiality to sources and to probe government behavior.”

While accepting the Lovejoy Award, Risen had this to say:

The conventional wisdom of our day is the belief that we have had to change the nature of our society to accommodate the global war on terror. Incrementally over the last thirteen years, Americans have easily accepted a transformation of their way of life because they have been told that it is necessary to keep them safe. Americans now slip off their shoes on command at airports, have accepted the secret targeted killings of other Americans without due process, have accepted the use of torture and the creation of secret offshore prisons, have accepted mass surveillance of their personal communications, and accepted the longest continual period of war in American history. Meanwhile, the government has eagerly prosecuted whistleblowers who try to bring any of the government’s actions to light.

Americans have accepted this new reality with hardly a murmur. Today, the basic prerequisite to being taken seriously in American politics is to accept the legitimacy of the new national security state that has been created since 9/11. The new basic American assumption is that there really is a need for a global war on terror. Anyone who doesn’t accept that basic assumption is considered dangerous and maybe even a traitor.

Today, the U.S. government treats whistleblowers as criminals, much like Elijah Lovejoy, because they want to reveal uncomfortable truths about the government’s actions. And the public and the mainstream press often accept and champion the government’s approach, viewing whistleblowers as dangerous fringe characters because they are not willing to follow orders and remain silent.

The crackdown on leaks by first the Bush administration and more aggressively by the Obama administration, targeting both whistleblowers and journalists, has been designed to suppress the truth about the war on terror. This government campaign of censorship has come with the veneer of the law. Instead of mobs throwing printing presses in the Mississippi River, instead of the creation of the kind of “enemies lists” that President Richard Nixon kept, the Bush and Obama administrations have used the Department of Justice to do their bidding. But the effect is the same — the attorney general of the United States has been turned into the nation’s chief censorship officer. Whenever the White House or the intelligence community get angry about a story in the press, they turn to the Justice Department and the FBI and get them to start a criminal leak investigation, to make sure everybody shuts up.

What the White House wants is to establish limits on accepted reporting on national security and on the war on terror. By launching criminal investigations of stories that are outside the mainstream coverage, they are trying to, in effect, build a pathway on which journalism can be conducted. Stay on the interstate highway of conventional wisdom with your journalism, and you will have no problems. Try to get off and challenge basic assumptions, and you will face punishment.

Journalists have no choice but to fight back, because if they don’t they will become irrelevant.

Bonus: The NSA and Me, James Bamford’s account of covering the agency over the last 30 years, via The Intercept.

Double Bonus: Elijah Parish Lovejoy was a minister in the first half of the 19th century who edited an abolitionist paper called the St. Louis Observer. He was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837. More via Wikipedia.

Images: Selected tweets via James Risen.

“I want to be a news anchor.”
“Is there any special reason?”
“My father was a journalist; he died in action while doing investigative reporting. That happened in 1997 when I was six years old. That year Hwang Jang-Yop (a famous high-ranking North Korean defector) escaped from North Korea, and his daughter said she would give an interview, so my grandfather went to China. However she suddenly canceled the interview. My father thought that since he already went to China he couldn’t just go back. So, in order to get a more accurate report, he went to the Tumen river which is located adjacent to North Korea’s border; there, his car rolled over.”
“Is it okay if I share this story with other people?”
“It’s okay if people want to appreciate and remember the story, but I don’t want them to feel sorry for me. I grew up loved by my mother and proud of my father.”

“전 앵커가 되고 싶어요.”
“앵커가 되고 싶은 특별한 이유가 있나요?”
“아버지께서 기자이셨는데 취재 도중 순직을 하셨어요. 그게 1997년이었는데 제가 그 때 6살때였죠. 그 해 황장엽씨가 탈북했을 때 그 분의 따님이 인터뷰를 해주시겠다고 해서 아버지가 중국으로 가셨어요. 근데 그 따님이 돌연 인터뷰를 거부하셨어요. 그래서 아버지가 중국까지 가셔서 그냥 돌아오실 수 없다고 생각하셨고, 좀 더 정확한 정보를 알기 위해 북한과의 국경 인근 두만강으로 가셨다가 차가 전복되었다고 들었어요.”
“이 내용을 사람들에게 알려도 괜찮으신가요?” 
“사람들이 알아주시고 기억해주셔도 괜찮은데, 저를 동정하지 않았으면 좋겠어요. 저는 어머니의 사랑 아래 잘 자라 왔고, 아버지가 자랑스럽습니다.”

Finding Stories in Wikipedia Edit Wars

Journalists from Metro News Canada have launched a prototype to track edits in Wikipedia. Called WikiWash, the tool lets you see who’s editing articles, observe the frequency of those edits and how often those editors edit across the site.

Why might you use it? Via WikiWash:

The Beta version of WikiWash is a proof-of-concept prototype that allows journalists, citizens and activists to uncover spin and bias on Wikipedia by tracking page edits in real time. The platform aims to make political and corporate spin on Wikipedia more visible, and to promote transparency through crowdsourcing.

Nerd Notes: WikiWash was created with Node.js, Express.js, Socket.io and Angular.js, and is an open source project. It’s available on GitHub here.

Alternatives: If you want to hear what Wikipedia sounds like, check L2W. Yes, you read that sentence right. For even more on what people are doing with Wikipedia API’s, check our Wikipedia Tag.

Watch on tumblr.thefjp.org

The Day There Was No News

On April 18, 1930, the BBC decided there was no news worth reporting. Solution: the then eight-year-old broadcaster played piano music instead.

If only there were a Monty Python reenactment of that.

Slaves of Happiness Island: Molly Crabapple on Abu Dhabi and the Dark Side of High Art

"My message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,” said Tariq,* a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.

“See our living conditions and think about the promises they made,” Tariq told me through a translator.

Last year, in his mid 30s, Tariq left his job at a Pakistani textile mill with dreams of being a crane operator in the Gulf. He showed me his certificate of crane proficiency, pulling the worn piece of paper out of the pocket of his beige salwar kameez. Recruiters promised him a salary of $326 a month—for a $1,776 recruitment fee to be paid in advance. With a cousin guiding him through the process, Tariq flew to Abu Dhabi to work for the Regal Construction company, one of roughly 900 construction outfits that employ foreign workers in the emirate.

But when Tariq arrived, Regal didn’t need him. For 24 days, he waited without pay, living in a squalid workers’ camp. When work finally materialized, he learned he would make only $176 a month. His boss confiscated his passport so that he couldn’t change jobs or leave the country. He sends half his salary back to his family. After 11 months in the Gulf, he still has not paid back the loan he took out to get there.

“How can I stay happy with a salary of $176?” Tariq asked, with an uncomfortable smile.

Continue

[T]o be honest, there aren’t a lot of jobs that are cooler than being a reporter. I mean, that’s what Superman was.
—  John Horton, former columnist for The Plain Dealer, to Poynter, before adding, “I miss the daily challenge that you had, the feeling that you were doing something larger that made a big difference, fighting that fight every day. I think journalism is one of the few jobs that really has that aspect to it.” How mass layoffs in 2013 changed the lives of former Plain Dealer staffers.
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VICE News: Meet Ben Anderson

VICE News is launching soon. Meet host Ben Anderson, whose award-winning reporting from the world’s crisis and conflict zones gives us a new perspective on the cost of war and the price of politics as usual.