Archive for the ‘Reporting’ Category

Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

From a tweet by @onthemedia, see their website: onthemedia.org.

If you follow #2:

2. Don’t trust anonymous sources.

Skip political reports in the New York Times and Washington Post.

Is there a market for delayed news?

I ask because I understand there was an explosion in Manchester Arena in England, 10:35 PM their local. Even as I type this, mis-information is flooding social media channels from any number of sources.

What if there was a news service with a variable delay, say minimum 7 days but maximum of 14 days, that delivered a coherent and summarized version of breaking events?

As opposed to the click-bait teasers that get shared/forwarded/re-tweeted without anyone reading the mis-information behind the click-bait.

Global Investigative Journalism Network: Russian Feed

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Global Investigative Journalism Network has added a Twitter feed in Russian: @gijnRu!

Great way for journalists to learn/reinforce their skills with Russian.

You can rely on The New York Times or the Washington Post as primary sources for the next 1339 days (as of today, Trump presidency) or you can strike out on your own.

As an editor, I would tire pretty quickly of “…as reported in NYT/WaPo….”

You?

Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics by Knight Center.

From the webpage:

Data journalists are the newest rock stars of the newsroom. Using computer programming and data journalism techniques, they have the power to cull through big data to find original and important stories.

Learn these techniques and some savvy computer programming to produce your own bombshell investigations in the latest massive open online course (MOOC) from the Knight Center, “Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics.”

Instructor Ben Welsh, editor of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk and co-founder of the California Civic Data Coalition, will show students how to turn big data into great journalism with speed and veracity. The course takes place from June 12 to July 9, 2017, so register now.

A high priority for your summer because:

  1. You will learn techniques for data analysis
  2. Learning #1 enables you to perform data analysis
  3. Learning #1 enables you to better question data analysis

I skimmed the post and did not see any coverage of obtaining concealed information.

Perhaps that will be the subject of a wholly anonymous MOOC. 😉

Do register! This looks like useful and fun!

PS: Developing a relationship with a credit bureau or bank staffer should be an early career goal. No one is capable of obtaining “extra” money and just sitting on it forever.

Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online – Overview

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.

The quick summary from the webpage:

“the spread of false or misleading information is having real and negative effects on the public consumption of news.”

  • Internet subcultures take advantage of the current media ecosystem to manipulate news frames, set agendas, and propagate ideas.
  • Far-right groups develop techniques of “attention hacking” to increase the visibility of their ideas through the strategic use of social media, memes, and bots—as well as by targeting journalists, bloggers, and influencers to help spread content.
  • The media’s dependence on social media, analytics and metrics, sensationalism, novelty over newsworthiness, and clickbait makes them vulnerable to such media manipulation.
  • While trolls, white nationalists, Men’s Rights Activists, gamergaters, the “alt-right,” and conspiracy theorists may diverge deeply in their beliefs, they share tactics and converge on common issues.
  • The far-right exploits young men’s rebellion and dislike of “political correctness” to spread white supremacist thought, Islamophobia, and misogyny through irony and knowledge of internet culture.
  • Media manipulation may contribute to decreased trust of mainstream media, increased misinformation, and further radicalization.

The full report, Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online by Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis.

A useful report but know up front that its concern is very much agenda driven. The following terms occur in the text, alt-right (89), racists (44), white supremacists (30), without treatment of similar groups but of different agendas.

I think the aforementioned groups are loathsome but when treating media manipulation/disinformation, a broader sampling would be more instructive.

There are extensive footnotes and a great bibliography if you are interested in reading further.

As an overview of the issues of media manipulation/disinformation, I don’t think I have seen a better one.

Suggestions of more detailed case study collections?

Local News: Willing Buyers/Willing Sellers

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

The reference to We Interrupt This Newscast and the quote being from @cjr, was enough to get me to read: Oy, the TRAFFIC. And it’s POURING! Do I hear SIRENS? by Simon Van Zuylen-Wood.

First things first, We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Win Ratings, Too, mentioned without linking by Zuylen-Wood, can be found at: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/939668347 (link is to WorldCat which will display copies held at libraries close to you).

Second, Zuylen-Wood’s definition of the “problem” of local TV news:


Local TV news has a problem. Broadcasts are dominated by sensationalistic crime stories, weather reports, and human-interest puff pieces. The format—two plasticky news anchors reading from teleprompters—has not meaningfully changed in 40 years. The end product tends to be irrelevant journalism packaged in an increasingly irrelevant way. The problem isn’t that the product is partisan or under-resourced or “fake.” The problem is that it’s lame.

isn’t shared by local TV news directors:


“You’d be hard-pressed to find a news director who isn’t saying we need to be [innovating],” Bob Papper says. And yet, none of them really is. “The biggest hindrance to innovation,” he continues, “is the success of TV news. The fact is, it’s doing well, and if anything it may be doing better and better. That’s not an impetus to change.”

Zuylen-Woods’ definition is not shared by local TV news viewers, who lap up stories of random, non-repeatable events. Generally speaking people are murdered only once, photogenic teenagers die in automobile accidents only once, tree limbs turn toddlers into life long medical cases only occassionally, although TV news does milk those stories for weeks, months, even years.

Zuylen-Woods is right, local TV news is “lame,” but it’s a product tailored to the taste of willing customers.

If “willing customers” are buying “irrelevant journalism” (Zuylen-Woods’ term), I don’t see the obligation of the media to create products, one assumes “relevant journalism,” for which there is no market.

If you do, is it because you are a better judge of what the public should be reading, viewing, discussing?

Careful.

Beginning with Plato, if not earlier, prescribing better, more appropriate content for others, censorship, has an unhappy history.

Tools and Resources to Help Facts Keep Pace with Fake News (June 30, 2017 Deadline)

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Tools and Resources to Help Facts Keep Pace with Fake News by Oren Levine.

From the post:

When fake news moves fast, you need the right tools and resources to help the truth keep pace.

To inspire you to enter TruthBuzz: The viral fact-checking contest, we have collected some useful tools, along with resources that shed light on fake and misleading news and information, and how it spreads online.

During our recent TruthBuzz webinar, my fellow contest judges, Aimee Rinehart, Shaheryar Popalzai and I shared several resources and tools that could be useful in helping you craft your TruthBuzz entry. We’ve also rounded those up here:

Enabling people to decide for themselves what is or is not “fake news,” gets my full support.

Filtering or suppressing “fake news” requires others to determine fake/not fake and is censorship whatever other label you want to use.

The resources listed can be helpful and the contest, TruthBuzz: The viral fact-checking contest, does have a $10K, $5K and $2.5K prizes.

FOIA Data Models for Everyone [If You Are Going To Ask]

Monday, May 8th, 2017

FOIA Data Models for Everyone by Jeremy B. Merrill.

From the post:

Listen to two FOIA practitioners describe their request strategies and you’ll probably get two very different answers. I know because I’ve done it. As someone with not much of a personal FOIA strategy—besides “wait and hope”—I was surprised that journalists skilled at prying obscure records from the government have wildly different approaches.

These differences in how to engage with the FOIA process can cover questions that are flashy—to us nerds—like whether to ask for “any and all” documents or to call the officer every week or so. But the idiosyncrasies in journalists’ mental models trickle down even into the little details, like how they keep track of agencies’ contact info.

When I began an internal FOIA tracker app for the New York Times, I knew I’d have to understand different mental models of the FOIA process in order to represent that process in a database. So, I put out a call to the friendly community of news nerds on Twitter and in the NewsNerdery Slack:

Tracking your FOIAs with a spreadsheet (or an app) is a best practice. But everyone’s chart is a little different and probably encodes different nuggets of hard-earned wisdom. Care to share the column headers from your spreadsheet?

Computers don’t know anything about FOIAs. Bless their hearts, but they’re dumb; data modeling is how we imbue computers with little morsels of our human wisdom hidden in row 1 of a spreadsheet. I collated the results—from eight individuals’ spreadsheets and two open-source FOIA tracker apps plus my own, so hopefully a lot of little morsels of wisdom—and analyzed them to see what I might have missed. I want to share the results back to the community.

A gold mine of curated advice and practices on FOIA data models.

Old pros and newbies at FOIA requests are going to benefit from Merrill’s post.

Be sure to ping him @jeremybmerrill to show your appreciation for this summary.

Tackling “Fake News” (So You Don’t Have To, How Nice)

Monday, May 8th, 2017

A Global Guide to Initiatives Tackling “Fake News” by Fergus Bell.

From the post:

Here’s a list of initiatives that hope to fix trust in journalism and tackle “fake news”.

There’s a lot.

I’ve tried to collect an extensive list of projects, initiatives and tools created to fix trust in journalism and false/fake news and misinformation. This also includes efforts and initiatives around verification. Where possible I’ve also tried to attach where the funding has come from for each initiative.

A great resource for tracking efforts with the self-appointed goal of:

Protecting you from “fake news.”

The arrogance of such efforts is almost palpable. They can recognize “fake news” but millions of benighted souls on the Internet are victims in waiting.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the efforts to teach readers how to evaluate information, the source of its reporting and consistency with other sources of information.

However, efforts like that of Google, are an attempt to privilege certain narratives with an imprimatur of truth.

Skip to the “guides” section of Bell’s post and preserve your own judgment in the face of the hue and cry over “fake news.”

The New York Times — Glory Days

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Hell hath no fury like The New York Times scorned by Hollywood by Thomas Vinciguerra.

From the post:

GOD, IT’S BEEN SAID, makes a lousy playwright. As far as an upcoming film that spotlights the Pentagon Papers is concerned, though, The New York Times is seething not at the Almighty but at the producers.

In March it was announced that Steven Spielberg would direct The Post, which offers as its backdrop the dramatic story of how the press exposed the federal government’s infamous secret history of the Vietnam War. Liz Hannah, who studied at the American Film Institute, sold her spec script to former Sony co-chair Amy Pascal’s production company last fall. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, Variety reported, are “attached to star” as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and executive editor Ben Bradlee.

But it was The New York Times—not the Washington Post—that broke the Pentagon Papers story. It is the Times whose name is on the landmark 1971 Supreme Court case that affirmed the right to publish the classified documents. And it was the Times that won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service for its labors.

Nonetheless, as its title implies, the Spielberg project emphasizes the ancillary role of the Post. Not unexpectedly, Times people from back in the day are incensed.
… (emphasis in original)

Any mention of The New York Times and the Pentagon Papers brings Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band to mind:

I had a friend was a big baseball player
Back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
But all he kept talking about was

Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

Well there’s a girl that lives up the block
Back in school she could turn all the boy’s heads
Sometimes on a Friday I’ll stop by
And have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it’s two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times,
She says when she feels like crying
She starts laughing thinking about

Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

To be sure, The New York Times (NYT) broke the story, fought for the right to publish up to the Supreme Court, but what has the NYT done for you or journalism lately?

The NYT, along with others, did publish the Afghan War Diaries, although sanitized as described by Bill Keller:


We used that month to study the material, try to assess its value and credibility, weigh it against our own reporters’ experience of the war and against other sources, and then tell our readers what it all meant. In doing so, we took great care both to put the information in context and to excise anything that would put lives at risk or jeopardize ongoing military missions.

What does that mean in practice? Obviously we did not disclose the names of Afghans, except for public officials, who have cooperated with the war effort, either in our articles or in the selection of documents we posted on our own Web site. We did not disclose anything that would compromise intelligence-gathering methods. We erred, if at all, on the side of prudence. For example, when a document reported that a certain aircraft left a certain place at a certain time and arrived at another place at a certain time, we omitted those details on the off chance that an enemy could gain some small tactical advantage by knowing the response time of military aircraft.

The administration, while strongly condemning WikiLeaks for making these documents public, did not suggest that The Times should not write about them. On the contrary, in our discussions prior to the publication of our articles, White House officials, while challenging some of the conclusions we drew from the material, thanked us for handling the documents with care, and asked us to urge WikiLeaks to withhold information that could cost lives. We did pass along that message.

Journalists have a role in supporting “…ongoing military missions[?]”

Pointers to any school of journalism that teaches that role? (Thanks!)

Worse, Keller describes the NYT consulting with and acting as a surrogate for the US government in urging Wikileaks to withhold information.

Isn’t withholding information contrary to creating an informed public?

Crowd-funding opportunity: Francis Ford Coppola directs: From Government Watchdog to Mouthpiece – The New York Times

Introduction: The New Face of Censorship

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Introduction: The New Face of Censorship by Joel Simon.

From the post:

In the days when news was printed on paper, censorship was a crude practice involving government officials with black pens, the seizure of printing presses and raids on newsrooms. The complexity and centralization of broadcasting also made radio and television vulnerable to censorship even when the governments didn’t exercise direct control of the airwaves. After all, frequencies can be withheld; equipment can be confiscated; media owners can be pressured.

New information technologies–the global, interconnected internet; ubiquitous social media platforms; smart phones with cameras–were supposed to make censorship obsolete. Instead, they have just made it more complicated.

Does anyone still believe the utopian mantras that information wants to be free and the internet is impossible to censor or control?

The fact is that while we are awash in information, there are tremendous gaps in our knowledge of the world. The gaps are growing as violent attacks against the media spike, as governments develop new systems of information control, and as the technology that allows information to circulate is co-opted and used to stifle free expression.

The work of Joel Simon and the Committee to Protect Journalists is invaluable. The challenges, dangers and hazards for journalists around the world are constant and unrelenting.

I have no doubt about Simon’s account of suppression of journalists. His essay is a must read for everyone who opposes censorship, at least in its obvious forms.

A more subtle form of censorship is practiced in the United States, self-censorship.

How many stories on this theme have you read in the last couple of weeks? U.S. spy agency abandons controversial surveillance technique

Now, how many of those same stories mentioned that the NSA has a long and storied history of lying to the American public, presidents and congress?

By my count, which wasn’t exhaustive, the total is 0.

Instead of challenging this absurd account, Reuters reports the NSA reports as though it were true and fails to remind the public it is relying on a habitual liar.

Show of hands, how many readers think the Reuters staff forgot that the NSA is a hotbed of liars and cheats?

There is little cause for government censorship of US media outlets. They censor themselves before the government can even ask.

Support the Committee to Protect Journalists and perhaps their support of journalists facing real censorship will shame US media into growing a spine.

What’s Your Best Star Wars Line?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Ben Child has gathered the forty (40) best lines from the Star Wars saga in: May the 4th be with you: the 40 best lines from the Star Wars saga.

No spoilers here!

Read Ben’s post and support the Guardian while you are there.

Seriously, do support the Guardian. They’re a bit conservative for my tastes but still worthy of support.

Practical Suggestions For Improving Transparency

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

A crowd wail about Presidents Obama, Trump, opacity, lack of transparency, loss of democracy, freedom of the press, the imminent death of civilization, etc., isn’t going to improve transparency.

I have two practical suggestions for improving transparency.

First suggestion: Always re-post, tweet, share stories with links to leaked materials. If the story you read doesn’t have such a link, seek out one that does to re-post, tweet, share.

Some stories of leaks include a URL to the leaked material, like Hacker leaks Orange is the New Black new season after ransom demands ignored by Sean Gallagher, or NSA-leaking Shadow Brokers just dumped its most damaging release yet by Dan Goodin, both of Ars Technica

Some stories of the same leaks do not include a URL to the leaked material,The Netflix ‘Orange is the New Black’ Leak Shows TV Piracy Is So 2012 (which does have the best strategy for fighting piracy I have ever read) or, Shadow Brokers leak trove of NSA hacking tools.

Second suggestion: If you encounter leaked materials, post, tweet and share them as widely as possible. (Translations are always needed.)

Improving transparency requires only internet access and the initiative to do so.

Are you game?

Journalism Is Skepticism as a Service (SaaS)

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Image from the Fourth Estate Journalism Association.

I applaud the sentiment and supporting the Fourth Estate is one way to bring it closer to reality.

At the same time, unless and until The New York Times, National Public Radio, and others start reporting US terrorist attacks (bombings) with the same terminology as so-called “terrorists” in their coverage, “Journalism Is Skepticism as a Service (SaaS)” remains an aspiration, not a reality.

Tiny Narratives – Upgrade Your Writing

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

8 steps to upgrade your everyday news stories with ‘tiny narratives’ by Katia Savchuk.

From the post:

BEFORE BETH SCHWARTZAPFEL became a staff writer for The Marshall Project three years ago, she spent a decade as a freelance magazine writer. She got used to spinning 4,000-word narratives for places like Mother Jones and the Boston Review. When she arrived at the nonprofit newsroom, which covers criminal justice, Schwartzapfel found herself tackling an entirely different animal: breaking news and hard-hitting features that put the facts center stage.

Schwartzapfel considered how she could bring her storytelling chops to these new formats. Her answer was what she calls “tiny narratives”: compact anecdotes, sometimes only a few lines long, scattered throughout a fact-driven article. “I think of them as raisins in oatmeal, or the signs people hold on the sidelines of a marathon. They’re little surprises or jolts of pleasure to remind people of what they’re reading and why it matters,” she explained in a session at the Power of Narrative Conference at Boston University in late March.

Those nuggets of humanity can help keep readers on the page at a time when news organizations are scrambling for the public’s attention. But it isn’t easy to do well. Injecting narrative elements into a news or investigative story can bring unnecessary clutter or overwhelm the essential facts.

Here are tips from Schwartzapfel and other speakers at the conference about how to get “tiny narratives” right.
… (emphasis in original)

A series of great tips, but if you want more examples of Schwartzapfel’s writing, try Beth Schwartzapfel, Staff Writer.

I count fifty-five (55) stories.

More than enough for a Hunter Thompson exercise of re-typing great stories:

Posted by Brian John Spencer in Hunter S. Thompson – Typing out the work of the best writers.

Think of Thompson’s approach as developing “muscle and verbal cadence” memory.

I’m much more likely to try that with Schwartzapfel’s stories than with XQuery, but it would be an interesting exercise in both cases.

😉

Fact Check now available in Google… [Whose “Facts?”]

Friday, April 7th, 2017

Fact Check now available in Google Search and News around the world by Justin Kosslyn and Cong Yu.

From the post:

Google was built to help people find useful information by surfacing the great content that publishers and sites create. This access to high quality information is what drives people to use the web and for contributors to continue to engage and invest in it.

However, with thousands of new articles published online every minute of every day, the amount of content confronting people online can be overwhelming. And unfortunately, not all of it is factual or true, making it hard for people to distinguish fact from fiction. That’s why last October, along with our partners at Jigsaw, we announced that in a few countries we would start enabling publishers to show a “Fact Check” tag in Google News for news stories. This label identifies articles that include information fact checked by news publishers and fact-checking organizations.

After assessing feedback from both users and publishers, we’re making the Fact Check label in Google News available everywhere, and expanding it into Search globally in all languages. For the first time, when you conduct a search on Google that returns an authoritative result containing fact checks for one or more public claims, you will see that information clearly on the search results page. The snippet will display information on the claim, who made the claim, and the fact check of that particular claim.

And the fact checking criteria?


For publishers to be included in this feature, they must be using the Schema.org ClaimReview markup on the specific pages where they fact check public statements (documentation here), or they can use the Share the Facts widget developed by the Duke University Reporters Lab and Jigsaw. Only publishers that are algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information will qualify for inclusion. Finally, the content must adhere to the general policies that apply to all structured data markup, the Google News Publisher criteria for fact checks, and the standards for accountability and transparency, readability or proper site representation as articulated in our Google News General Guidelines. If a publisher or fact check claim does not meet these standards or honor these policies, we may, at our discretion, ignore that site’s markup.

An impressive 115 separate organizations are approved fact checkers but most of them, the New York Times for example, publish “facts” from the US State Department, US Department of Defense, members of US Congress, White House, and other dubious sources of information.

Not to mention how many times have you read the New York Times supporting:

  • Palestinian Martyrs
  • State destruction of Afro-American homes as retribution for crimes
  • Supporting armed white encampments in traditionally Afro-American neighborhoods

No?

Do you think perhaps the New York Times has a “point of view?”

We all do you know. Have a point of view.

What I find troubling about “fact checking” by Google is that some points of view, such as that of the NYT, are going to be privileged as “facts,” whereas other points of view will not enjoy such a privilege.

Need I mention that not so long ago the entire Middle East was thrown into disarray, a disarray that continues to this day, because the “facts” as judged by the NTY and others, said that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction?

I have no doubt that a fact checking Google at the time would have said it’s a fact that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, at least until years after that had been proven to be false. Everybody who was anybody said it was a fact. Must be true.

As a super-Snopes, if I hear a rumor about Pete Rose and the Baseball Hall of Fame, Google fact checking may be useful.

For more subtle questions, consider whose “facts” in evaluating a Google fact check response.

Non-Fox News journalists: Investigate Bill O’Reilly & Fox News Reporters

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

Fox News journalists: Don’t stay silent amid Bill O’Reilly controversy by Kyle Pope.

From the post:

WHAT DOES IT TELL US WHEN advertisers get ahead of reporters in matters of newsroom ethics? It tells us something is seriously wrong at Fox News, and it’s time for the real journalists at the network (and beyond) to make themselves heard.

On Tuesday, more companies moved to distance themselves from the network and its host, Bill O’Reilly, in response to a April 1 piece in The New York Times detailing sexual harassment allegations against Fox’s top-rated host and cash cow. The alleged behavior ranges the gamut of smut, from unwanted advances to phone calls in which O’Reilly—he of an $18 million-a-year salary from Rupert Murdoch et al—sounds as if he is masturbating.
… (emphasis in original)

Pope’s call for legitimate journalists at Fox to step forward is understandable, but too little too late.

From campus rape at UT Austin to the conviction of former Penn State President Graham Spanier’s conviction for failing to report alleged child abuse, it is always that case that somebody knew what was going on and remained silent.

What did the “legitimate journalists” at Fox News and when?

Will the journalism community toss 0’Reilly to the wolves and give his colleagues a free pass?

That’s seems like an odd sense of ethics for journalists.

Yes?

Substituting Their Judgment For Yours

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Merrill Perlman captures in From cyberattacks to fake news: notable recent changes in AP style my complaint on reference free reporting.

Perlman quotes a recent change in Associated Press (AP) style:

Holding politicians and public figures accountable for their words often requires reporting or research to verify facts that affirm or disprove a statement, or that show a gray area.

Fact-checking also is essential in debunking fabricated stories or parts of stories done as hoaxes, propaganda, jokes or for other reasons, often spread widely on the internet and mistaken as truth by some news consumers.

The term fake news may be used in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet.

However, do not label as fake news specific or individual news items that are disputed.

In all cases, the goal of fact-checking is to push back on falsehoods, exaggeration and political spin. Be specific in describing what is false and back up those descriptions with facts.

… (emphasis added)

I would extend the AP’s

Be specific in describing what is false and back up those descriptions with facts.

to:

Be specific in describing what is false, back up those descriptions with facts, with links/references to resources for those facts.

Absent links/references for facts, I see two parties, both wanting to foist their judgment on “facts” onto me.

I appreciate the effort to save me from thinking for myself, but no thanks.

The absence of links/references to third-party resources is proof of intent to usurp the reader’s judgment.

The same reasoning applies to leak publishers who decide what you should or should not be allowed to see.

Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists by Jean-Paul Marthoz, published by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

From the Foreword:

It should be clear to everyone why a publication such as this, on the coverage of terrorism and violent extremism in the media, is urgently needed.

Around the world we see various actors staging violence against civilians to foster fear and suspicion of others. We see populations in many countries convinced that terrorism represents the most significant threat to their daily lives. We see political movements that take advantage of tragedy and pit citizens against each other in order to gain greater support. It is critical to reflect on how the media may be inadvertently contributing to this tense climate, and what steps should be taken to address this.

It is important to remember that terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Many countries have suffered for decades from groups, both internal and external and including both State and non-State actors, wielding violence against civilians as political strategy. In many cases, the local population emerged stronger and more resilient, proving that brutality is no match in the long term for the progress of unity and shared values.

In this context, the media are critical in providing verifiable information and informed opinion. During the tense environment of a crisis, with populations on edge and tempers flared, this becomes all the more important. The relationship between terrorism and media is complex and fraught. At its worst, it is a perverse symbiotic relationship – terrorist groups devising spectacles of violence to continue drawing the world’s attention, and the media incentivised to provide wall-to-wall coverage due to huge audience interest.

Of course, this is not to minimise the real human suffering that terrorism causes. Far too many lives have been cut short by it. These acts must always be deplored, and those accountable brought to justice.

It is important to remember that the goal of these violent actors is not to bring terror for terror’s sake. They do not wish to create fear in the minds of men and women simply because of their interests, hatred or ideology. Their real objective is to cleave society down the centre, turning people against each other by provoking repression, discrimination and discord. They aim to simultaneously prove themselves correct in their predictions of widespread persecution and to attract new followers to their violent cause. They seek to create a mood of defeatism in the face of attacks and polarised reactions.

The real risk of terrorism is that fear and suspicion will drive a new wave of nationalism and populism, and that the freedoms we have all worked so hard to achieve will be sacrificed on the altar of retribution. These are not attacks on one nation or people, but attacks on all of us as global citizens. We should be especially critical of any response that plays willfully into the hands of violent actors, and which generates its own victims who become martyrs for further terrorist recruitment.
… (emphasis in original)

If you found yourself nodding in agreement with that excerpt, be aware you have chosen a side without defining it.

That’s not a bad thing, even upon reflection we all choose sides, I’m simply advocating honesty and transparency in those choices.

Marthoz tries to be even handed, “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” (page 17) and “State terrorism generally escapes the notice of those who try to forge a common international definition of terrorism within intergovernmental organizations.” (pages 20-21), but the United States is not listed as a terrorist organization nor named as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Perhaps necessary to achieve publication by UNESCO but that omission is symbolic of the pressure journalists will face in reporting on “terrorism.”

What other name would you give an acts described at Airwars, a site that monitors US-led bombing in Syria and Iraq?

But you won’t find the media, Western media at any rate, denouncing US-led bombing in Syria and Iraq as terrorism nor will they out the pilots who are committing those acts of terrorism.

My suggestion is that you bookmark Airwars and when a non-systematic, indeed random act of terrorism occurs in your country, include in your story the latest terrorist acts by the US and its allies.

To give your account balance.

For example, on November 28, 2016, Abdul Razak Ali Artan injured 11 people with a butcher knife at Ohio State University. You could take any number of stories from Airwars but consider on November 29, 2016, Rawa, Anbar province, Iraq, ten members of a single family were killed in a bombing raid.

I don’t remember seeing the Rawa, Anbar province, Iraq story in Western media. Did you? Why are there no, repeat no reporters from any major news organization providing reports on such events?

Want balance in your coverage? Start funding reporters to provide first hand confirmation of air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

4 Billion “Records” Leaked In 2016 – How Do You Define Record?

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

The IBM X-Force Treat Intelligence Index 2017 report leaves the impression hackers are cutting through security like a hot knife through butter:

With Internet-shattering distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, troves of records leaked through data breaches, and a renewed focus by organized cybercrime on business targets, 2016 was a defining year for security. Indeed, in 2016 more than 4 billion records were leaked, more than the combined total from the two previous years, redefining the meaning of the term “mega breach.” In one case, a single source leaked more than 1.5 billion records.1 (page 3)

The report helpfully defines terms at page 3 and in the glossary (page 29) but never defines “record.”

The 4 billion records “fact” will appear in security blogs, Twitter, business zines, mainstream media, all without asking: “What is a record?”

Here are some things that could be records:

  • account, username, password
  • medical record (1 or more pages)
  • financial record (1 or more pages)
  • CIA document (1 or more pages)
  • Tax records (1 or more pages)
  • Offshore bank data (spreadsheet, 1 or more pages
  • Presentations (PPT, 1 or more pages)
  • Accounting records (1 or more pages)
  • Emails (1 or more pages)
  • Photos, nude or otherwise

IBM’s “…4 billion records were leaked…,” is a marketing statement for IBM security services. Not a statement of fact.

Don’t make your readers dumber by repeating IBM marketing slogans without critical comments.

PS: I haven’t checked the other “facts” claimed in this document. The failure to define “record” was enough to discourage further reading.

How Do You Spell Media Bias? M-U-S-L-I-M

Monday, March 27th, 2017

Disclosure: I have contempt for news reports that hype acts of terrorism. Even more so when little more than criminal acts by Muslims are bemoaned as existential threats to Western society. Just so you know I’m not in a position to offer a balanced view of Ronald Bailey’s post.

Do Muslims Commit Most U.S. Terrorist Attacks?: Nope. Not even close. by Ronald Bailey.

From the post:

“It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it,” asserted President Donald Trump a month ago. He was referring to a purported media reticence to report on terror attacks in Europe. “They have their reasons, and you understand that,” he added. The implication, I think, is that the politically correct press is concealing terrorists’ backgrounds.

To bolster the president’s claims, the White House then released a list of 78 terror attacks from around the globe that Trump’s minions think were underreported. All of the attackers on the list were Muslim—and all of the attacks had been reported by multiple news outlets.

Some researchers at Georgia State University have an alternate idea: Perhaps the media are overreporting some of the attacks. Political scientist Erin Kearns and her colleagues raise that possibility in a preliminary working paper called “Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?

For those five years, the researchers found, Muslims carried out only 11 out of the 89 attacks, yet those attacks received 44 percent of the media coverage. (Meanwhile, 18 attacks actually targeted Muslims in America. The Boston marathon bombing generated 474 news reports, amounting to 20 percent of the media terrorism coverage during the period analyzed. Overall, the authors report, “The average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles.”

While the authors rightly question the equality of terrorist reporting, which falsely creates a link between Muslims and terrorism in the United States, I question the appropriateness of a media focus on terrorism at all.

Aside from the obvious lure that fear sells and fear of Muslims sells very well in the United States, the human cost from domestic terrorist attacks, not just those by Muslims, hardly justifies crime blotter coverage.

Consider that in 2014, there were 33,559 deaths due to gun violence and 32 from terrorism.

But as I said, fear sells and fear of Muslims sells very well.

Terrorism or more properly the fear of terrorism has been exploited to distort government priorities and to reduce the rights of all citizens. Media participation/exploitation of that fear is a matter of record.

The question now is whether the media will knowingly continue its documented bigotry or choose another course?

The paper:

Kearns, Erin M. and Betus, Allison and Lemieux, Anthony, Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others? (March 5, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2928138

Transparency can have a prophylactic effect

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Farai Chideya set out to explore:

…who reported the 2016 election, and whether political teams’ race and gender diversity had any impact on newsrooms.

That’s an important question and Chideya certainly has the qualifications and support ( fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy) to pursue it.

One problem. For reasons best known to themselves, numerous media organizations refuse to provide diversity date. (full stop)


But the most important data point for this project—numbers from newsrooms on their 2016 political team staffing—has been the hardest to collect because very few managers or business-side staff are willing to disclose their data. One company admitted off the record that they were not responding to diversity requests, period. The Wall Street Journal provided the statement that it “declined to provide specific personnel information.” An organization sent numbers for its corporate parent company, whose size is approximately a thousand times the size of the entire news team, let alone the political team. Another news manager promised verbally to cooperate with the inquiry, but upon repeated follow up completely ghosted.

Concealment wasn’t the uniform response as Chideya makes clear but useful responses were so few and far. Enough so to provoke her post.

She captures my sentiments writing:


If we journalists can’t turn as unsparing a gaze on ourselves as we do on others, it speaks poorly for us and the credibility of our profession. If the press lauds itself for demanding transparency from government but cannot achieve transparency in its newsrooms, that is cowardice. If we say we can cover all of America with representatives of only a few types of communities, we may win battles but lose the war to keep news relevant to a broad segment of Americans. This is as strong a business argument as a moral argument.

If you need additional motivation, be aware that Chideya is proceeding in the face of non-cooperation and when her study is published, there will be a list of who has been naughty and nice.

Here’s how to self-report:


Whether or not you are a news organization I’ve already contacted, please email me at Farai_Chideya@hks.harvard.edu

For the purposes of the reporting, I’m looking for a race/gender count of 2016-cycle political staffers—full-time or at least 25-hour-per-week contract workers (but not freelancers paid by the story). People come and go during the election season, but these should be people who spent at least six months covering the election between September 2015 and November 2016.

If you want to add to the data you disclose, you can include separate counts for freelancers; or for staff who worked on politics less than six months of the cycle, but those should be broken out separately.

Want bonus points? Produce an org chart showing how your staff diversity played out across the ranks of reporters and editors. Feel free to annotate for self-reported class background or other metrics if you want, too. But race and gender are the minimum.

We’d like on-the-record numbers and interviews from people who we can use as sources in the report: managers, corporate communications staff, anyone authorized to speak on behalf of the newsroom. Please indicate if you are speaking on the record and in what role.

Because we are not getting this information, in many cases, we also welcome interviews and information on background. That is, if you are a staffer and can provide information, please do, and tell us who you are and that you don’t want to be quoted or cited. We’ll take what you provide to us into account as we do our research, but obviously it can’t be the final word. You could also offer quotes about the topic on the record, and your assessment of staff diversity on background.

As we conclude the report, we will release information on who has provided information, and who it was requested from who did not.

Self-reporting beats being on the naughty list and/or your diversity information extracted by a ham-handed hacker who damages your systems as well.

Who knew? Transparency can have a prophylactic effect.

See Chideya’s full post at: One question that turns courageous journalists into cowards

UK Proposes to Treat Journalists As Spies (Your Response Here)

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

UK’s proposed Espionage Act will treat journalists like spies by Roy Greenslade.

From the post:

Journalists in Britain are becoming increasingly alarmed by the government’s apparent determination to prevent them from fulfilling their mission to hold power to account. The latest manifestation of this assault on civil liberties is the so-called Espionage Act. If passed by parliament, it could lead to journalists who obtain leaked information, along with the whistle blowers who provide it to them, serving lengthy prison sentences.

In effect, it would equate journalists with spies, and its threat to press freedom could not be more stark. It would not so much chill investigative journalism as freeze it altogether.

The proposal is contained in a consultation paper, “Protection of Official Data,” which was drawn up by the Law Commission. Headed by a senior judge, the commission is ostensibly independent of government. Its function is to review laws and recommend reforms to ensure they are fairer and more modern.

But fairness is hardly evident in the proposed law. Its implications for the press were first highlighted in independent news website The Register by veteran journalist Duncan Campbell, who specializes in investigating the U.K. security services.

Comments on the public consultation document can be registered here.

Greenslade reports criticism of the proposal earned this response from the government:


In response, both Theresa’s May’s government and the Law Commission stressed that it was an early draft of the proposed law change. Then the commission followed up by extending the public consultation period by a further month, setting a deadline of May 3.

Early draft, last draft or the final form from parliament, journalists should treat the proposed Espionage Act as a declaration of war on the press.

Being classified as spies, journalists should start acting as spies. Spies that offer no quarter and who take no prisoners.

Develop allies in other countries who are willing to publish information detrimental to your government.

The government has chosen a side and it’s not yours. What more need be said?

Pre-Installed Malware – Espionage Potential

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Malware found pre-installed on dozens of different Android devices by David Bisson.

From the post:

Malware in the form of info-stealers, rough ad networks, and even ransomware came pre-installed on more than three dozen different models of Android devices.

Researchers with Check Point spotted the malware on 38 Android devices owned by a telecommunications company and a multinational technology company.

See David’s post for the details but it raises the intriguing opportunity to supply government and corporate offices with equipment with malware pre-installed.

No more general or targeted phishing schemes, difficult attempts to breach physical security and/or to avoid anti-virus or security programs.

The you leak – we print model of the news media makes it unlikely news organizations will want to get their skirts dirty pre-installing malware on hardware.

News organizations consider themselves “ethical” in publishing stolen information but are unwilling to steal it themselves, because stealing is “unethical.”

There’s some nuance in there I am missing, perhaps that being proven to have stolen carries a prison sentence in most places. Odd how ethics correspond to self-interest isn’t it?

If you are interested in the number of opportunities for malware on computers in 2017, check out Computers Sold This Year. It reports as of today over 41 million computers sold this year alone.

News organizations don’t have the skills to create a malware network but if information were treated as having value, separate from the means of its acquisition, a viable market would not be far behind.

Less Than Accurate Cybersecurity News Headline – From Phys.org No Less

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Skimming through my Twitter stream I encountered:

That sounds important and it’s from Phys.org.

Who describe themselves in 100 words:

Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

So I bit and visited New technique completely protects internet pictures and videos from cyberattacks, which reads in part:

A Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researcher has developed a new technique that could provide virtually 100 percent protection against cyberattacks launched through internet videos or images, which are a growing threat.

“Any downloaded or streamed video or picture is a potential vehicle for a cyberattack,” says Professor Ofer Hadar, chair of BGU’s Department of Communication Systems Engineering. “Hackers like videos and pictures because they bypass the regular data transfer systems of highly secure systems, and there is significant space in which to implant malicious code.”

“Preliminary experimental results show that a method based on a combination of Coucou Project techniques results in virtually 100 percent protection against cyberattacks,” says Prof. Hadar. “We envision that firewall and antivirus companies will be able to utilize Coucou protection applications and techniques in their products.”

The Coucou Project receives funding from the BGU Cyber Security Research Center and the BaseCamp Innovation Center at the Advanced Technologies Park adjacent to BGU, which is interested in developing the protective platform into a commercial enterprise.

Summary: Cyberattackers using internet videos or images are in little danger of being thwarted any time soon.

First, Professor Hadar’s technique would need to be verified by other researchers. (Possibly has been but no publications are cited.)

Second, the technique must not introduce additional cybersecurity weaknesses.

Third, vendors have to adopt and implement the techniques.

Fourth, users must upgrade to new software that incorporates the new techniques.

A more accurate headline reads:

New Technique In Theory Protects Pictures and Videos From Cyberattacks

Yes?

Covering Trump: … [LiveStream, 3 March 2017]

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Covering Trump: What Happens When Journalism, Politics, and Fake News Collide by Shelley Hepworth.

From the post:

AFTER SIX WEEKS OF HIS PRESIDENCY, the media covering Trump’s administration is beginning to get a feel for the challenges that lie ahead. The president has labeled the press “the enemy of the American people” and excluded some news outlets from briefings; the First Amendment feels like it’s under threat; and fake news and “alternative facts” abound. The unorthodox nature of this environment has raised questions: How important are press briefings? What are the ethics of using anonymous sources and leaked data? And how should we respond to a disinformation campaign targeted at the media?

To get a handle on this, the Columbia Journalism Review has partnered with Reuters and The Guardian to bring together some of the best minds in the business for a one-day conference on Friday, March 3, Covering Trump: What Happens When Journalism, Politics, and Fake News Collide. The event includes panel discussions on press coverage in a no-access era, the rise of fake news, investigating Trump’s connections to Russia, and the ethics of reporting on data leaks. There will also be a lunchtime keynote with New Yorker Editor in Chief David Remnick in conversation with Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll.

The conference will be livestreamed on this page from 10:30 am Friday, and we invite viewers to join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #coveringtrump.
… (emphasis in original)

Cadablanca fans will recognize that:

I’m am shocked, shocked to learn [government routinely lies to and about the press]

Still, media resistance to government, belated though it may be, is appreciated.

Catch this discussion live and carry the discussion forward in groups both in and out of the media.

White House blocks news organizations from press briefing [Opsec vs. Boromir, Ethics]

Friday, February 24th, 2017

White House blocks news organizations from press briefing by Dylan Byers, Sara Murray and Kevin Liptak.

From the post:

CNN and other news outlets were blocked Friday from an off-camera White House press briefing, raising alarm among media organizations and First Amendment watchdogs.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and BuzzFeed were also excluded from the meeting, which is known as a gaggle and is less formal than the televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room. The gaggle was held by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

In a brief statement defending the move, administration spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the White House “had the pool there so everyone would be represented and get an update from us today.”

The pool usually includes a representative from one television network and one print outlet. In this case, four of the five major television networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox News — were invited and attended the meeting, while only CNN was blocked.

And while The New York Times was kept out, conservative media organizations Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network were also allowed in.
… (emphasis in original)

Good opsec counsels silence in the face of such an outrage but as Boromir says in The Fellowship of the Ring:

But always I have let my horn cry at setting forth, and though thereafter we may walk in the shadows, I will not go forth as a thief in the night.” (emphasis added)

I trust this outrage obviates “ethical” concerns over distinctions between leaking, hacking, or other means of obtaining government information?

Congressmen Counsel Potential Leakers!

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Federal Employees Guide to Sharing Key Information with the Public.

From the webpage:

On February 16, 2017, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) and Congressman Don Beyer (D | Virginia) released the following resource guide for federal employees who wish to break the Administration’s communications blackout on federal agencies. The guide explains how to safely and responsibly share information, and encourages employees to “Know Your Rights” and “Know Your Options.” In the “Know Your Rights” section, federal employees can learn about which federal laws apply to them. In the “Know Your Options” section, employees can learn about how to safely disseminate information to agency inspectors general and the press. The resource guide also includes links to an in-depth list of federal whistleblower statutes and information about agency inspectors general. The full press release can be found here.

Links to whistleblower resources, etc. follow.

Here’s a screen shot of the top of their guide:

The links for whistleblowers are great but rely upon the you take all the risk, media reaps all the glory model.

Better than no leaks at all but having news organization step up with cyberexpertise to safely extract data sounds like a better model.

How to Listen Better [Not Just For Reporters]

Monday, February 13th, 2017

How to Listen Better by Josh Stearns.

From the post:

In my weekly newsletter, The Local Fix, I compiled a list of guides, tools, and examples of how newsrooms can listen more deeply to local communities. I’m sharing it here in case it can be useful to others, and to encourage people to add to the list.

See which of Josh’s resources resonate with you.

These resources are in the context of news/reporting but developing good listening skills is an asset in any field.

Here’s a free tip since you are likely sitting in front of your computer monitor:

If someone comes to talk to you, turn away from your monitor and pay attention to the person speaking.

Seriously, try that for a week and see if your communication with co-workers improves.

PS: Do read posts before you tweet responses to them. As they say, “reading is fundamental.”

Opening Secure Channels for Confidential Tips [Allocating Risk for Leaks]

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Opening Secure Channels for Confidential Tips by Martin Shelton.

From the post:

In Shields Up, security user researcher Martin Shelton writes about security threats and defenses for journalists. Below, his first installment. —eds

To make it easier for tipsters to share sensitive information, a growing number of news organizations are launching resources for confidential tips. While there is some overlap between the communication channels that each news organization supports, it’s not always clear which channels are the most practical for routine use. This short guide will describe some basics around how to think about security on behalf of your sources before thinking about tools and practices. I’ll also describe common communication channels for accepting sensitive tips and tradeoffs when using each channel. When thinking about tradeoffs, consider which channels are right for you.
… (emphasis in original)

Martin does a great job of surveying your current security options but doesn’t address the allocation of risk between leakers and news organizations that I covered in U.S. Leaking Law: You Go To Jail – I Win A Pulitzer and/or the option of leaking access rather than the risk of leaking data/documents, How-To: Leaking In Two Steps.

Here’s the comment I’m posting to his post and I will report back on his response, probably in a separate post:

Martin, great job on covering the security options for tips and their tradeoffs!

I do have a question though about the current model of leaking, which puts all of the risk on the leaker. A leaker undertakes the burden of liberating data and/or documents, takes the risk of copying/removing them and then the risk of getting them securely to a news organization.

All of which requires technical skills that aren’t common.

As an alternative, why shouldn’t leakers leak access to such networks/servers and enable news organizations, who have greater technical resources, to undertake the risks of retrieval of such documents?

I mentioned this to another news person and they quickly pointed out the dangers of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for a news organization but the same holds true for the leaker. Who very likely has fewer technical skills than any news organization.

Thinking that news organizations can decide to serve the interests of government (follow the CFAA) or they can decided to serve the public interest. In my view, those are not synonymous.

I am still refining ways that leakers could securely leak access but at present, using standard subscription forms with access information instead of identifying properties, offers both a trustworthy target (the news organization) and a multiplicity of places to leak, which prevents effective monitoring of them. I have written more than once about this topic but two of particular interest: U.S. Leaking Law: You Go To Jail – I Win A Pulitzer, and, How-To: Leaking In Two Steps.

Before anyone protests the “ethics” of breaking laws such as the CFAA, recall governments broke faith with their citizens first. Laws like the CFAA are monuments to that breach of faith. Nothing more.

Leakers As Lighthouses In A Sea Of Data

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

I was extolling my How-To: Leaking In Two Steps yesterday when a very practical problem suggested itself.

In sneakernet leaking (hard copy/digital), the leaker has selected/filtered the leaked content prior to delivery to a news organization.

Leaked access puts the burden on reporters to explore to find relevant data. Without some guidance from a leaker, reporters won’t know if a “big story” is in the next directory, file or spreadsheet.

Concern was also voiced that traditional news organizations might run afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

Governments enact laws like the CFAA in order to protect their own criminal activity and those of criminals like them.

Think of the last time your local, state or national government did something that would be universally admired and acclaimed but kept it secret.

Coming up empty? Some am I.

Good acts are never kept secret and that is a commentary on acts that are kept secret

I won’t suggest you violate the CFAA, if you are subject to it, but do consider if you are serving the government’s interest in obeying such laws or the public’s.

I’m re-factoring How-To: Leaking In Two Steps to keep the ease of leaking for leakers, preserve their role as lighthouses, and, perhaps even more importantly, to reduce if not eliminate CFAA liability for news organizations.