We wrote about the European Journalism Centre’s Verification Handbook this past year when it was released. In case you’ve been using it, they’re looking for some feedback for next editions. You can take the quick survey about what you like, don’t like, use, and ignore right here. If you haven’t heard the handbook, it’s a great resource with input from digital journalism’s finest thinkers: Craig Silverman, Steve Buttry, Mathew Ingram, among many others.
You can follow the EJC @ECJNET.
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The identities of thousands of wealthy offshore clients of a major Channel Isles private bank have been leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The individuals include donors to the British government, which has been outspoken against tax havens, and some of the most prominent people in British life.
The ICIJ has exclusively allowed The Guardian newspaper to analyze more than 20,000 of the names, all of whom had dealings with a discreet Jersey, Channel Islands branch of Kleinwort Benson, a famous London firm which specializes in “wealth management”.
In the interests of transparency, ICIJ and The Guardian will publish some of their findings over the coming days, detailing the offshore links of political donors; international celebrities; judges; sportsmen; businessmen; and British aristocrats.
Names include opera singer Placido Domingo, Dire Straits musician Mark Knopfler, vacuum cleaner tycoon James Dyson and Hollywood actor Mel Gibson.
Today The Guardian identifies party donors who over the years have paid more than £8m to the governing Conservative party.
One of the recipients of donations is Britain’s newly-promoted financial services minister, Andrea Leadsom, who has run into a “Cash for Office” allegation after she told The Guardian she was unaware of the size of large offshore donations to the Conservatives made by her own family.
Read the full story on ICIJ.org.
Clarification: Sir James Dyson’s former trust in the Channel Islands was through Orbis Trustees Guernsey Limited rather than Kleinwort Benson, which purchased Orbis after the trust was wound up in 1999, according to Dyson’s representatives. No income was derived from the trust, nor was any tax avoided.
ICIJ is a project of the Center for Public Integrity founded in 1997 to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power.
A super PAC created to support Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia's U.S. Senate race isn't yet a fundraising juggernaut — but its latest batch of donors boast elite political pedigrees.
Two former campaign bundlers for President George W. Bush — Howard Leach and Nicholas Taubman — each contributed $25,000 in April to the super PAC, known as the We Can Do Better PAC, according to documents filed today with the Federal Election Commission.
Leach, a businessman and investor, raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, according to Texans for Public Justice. In 2001, Bush selected Leach as U.S. ambassador to France, where he served until April 2005.
Meanwhile, Taubman, the former president and CEO of Advance Auto Parts, raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, according to Texans for Public Justice. Bush tapped Taubman to be the U.S. ambassador to Romania, where he served from December 2005 through December 2008.
Additionally, the pro-Gillespie We Can Do Better PAC scored $15,000 in April from Virginia businessman William H. Goodwin Jr., who is co-chairman of the Gillespie campaign's finance committee.
We Can Do Better PAC launched in January. Since then, it has raised $140,000, according to FEC records, including $65,000 during the second quarter.
Comparatively, several super PACs — both liberal and conservative in their leanings — have already raised into the tens of millions of dollars this election cycle.
The pro-Gillespie group's treasurer is attorney Michael G. Adams, who also serves as counsel to the Republican Governors Association and Republican Attorneys General Association. Paul Bennecke, a Georgia-based political consultant, also serves an adviser to the We Can Do Better PAC, according to the National Journal.
Neither Adams nor Bennecke immediately responded to requests for comment from the Center for Public Integrity.
Through mid-May, Warner's campaign had raised about $8.7 million, while Gillespie's had raised about $3 million.
For his part, Gillespie previously served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee and as an adviser in the White House to President George W. Bush.
Along with GOP strategist Karl Rove, Gillespie also helped found the super PAC behemoth American Crossroads, which, to date, has not aired advertisements in Virginia's Senate contest.
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On Twitter, @Mariners posted an image that revealed a secret code — but only when fans expanded the tweet.
Using Twitter’s exact dimensions for an image inline for half the message, the team was able to prompt fans to expand the tweet in order to view a secret code.
See the magic unfold by finding the tweet in their timeline and then expanding it here
Chattanooga, Tenn., officials plan to ask the federal government to allow it to expand the super-fast Internet service it offers city residents, a move that will likely unleash a torrent of lobbying and lawsuits by telecommunications companies that have spent years convincing states to curb city-run networks.
The city’s Electric Power Board, which operates a fiber-optic Internet service that competes with companies such as Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., will petition the Federal Communications Commission in the next couple of months to pre-empt the Tennessee law that prohibits the city from expanding the network, Danna Bailey, vice president of corporate communications for the EPB, told the Center for Public Integrity.
“We continue to receive requests for broadband service from nearby communities to serve them,” Bailey said. “We believe cities and counties should have the right to choose the infrastructure they need to support their economies.”
The move by Chattanooga will be a first salvo in an effort by municipalities and the FCC to reverse the laws in 20 states that ban or severely restrict local governments from offering Internet service to residents.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said numerous times since he took over as chairman in November 2013, including in testimony before Congress, that he plans to pre-empt state laws that ban or place barriers on cities that want to build or expand broadband networks.
Wheeler asked to meet with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in June to discuss the city’s plans for expanding its network. Wheeler told the mayor that any pre-emption of state laws would have to come out of the public utilities that operate the networks, Berke said in a phone interview.
“I did not talk to him about the overall plan of what he is going to do,” Berke said.
A day after his meeting with Berke, Wheeler wrote in his blog, “I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to pre-empt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.”
Chattanooga’s network, which covers 600 square miles and serves 60,000 customers, has received wide acclaim for attracting high-tech businesses to the area and providing residents with speeds they couldn’t purchase from the area’s private Internet and cable providers such as Comcast and Charter.
A state law passed in 1999 prohibits Chattanooga from offering service beyond the area it provides electric power.
The FCC declined to comment specifically on a possible Chattanooga filing. Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, said if a petition is filed “the commission would engage in a very fact-specific, case-specific, and statute-specific inquiry.”
Charter declined to comment, and Comcast didn’t respond to requests for comment.
More than 130 cities operate their own Internet network, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The Internet speeds are frequently faster than what private service providers offer and are comparable in price or cheaper. Cities view the networks as an economic development tool to create jobs and to offer service in areas that private companies view as unprofitable.
Telecommunications companies argue it is unfair for them to compete with government, which doesn’t have to make a profit or pay taxes.
It's not certain how the pre-emption process would work. Neither the city nor the FCC have offered up any details.
The state laws restricting municipal broadband have been backed, and sometimes written, by telecommunications companies led by AT&T Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast.
The companies are among some of the biggest contributors to state lawmakers’ campaigns and spend millions of dollars more on lobbying state houses. AT&T has given nearly $140,000 to Tennessee lawmakers’ campaigns in the 2014 election cycle, the most for any state, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Comcast gave $76,800 during the same cycle, also surpassing the totals for any other state it has given to.
The companies and Republicans in Congress will likely fight Chattanooga’s petition. Senators including Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, wrote a letter warning Wheeler not to act on the state laws, saying they were troubled by the agency “forcing taxpayer funded competition against private broadband providers.”
Sixty House Republicans led by House Energy and Commerce Vice Chairwoman Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee and Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio followed up with their own letter criticizing Wheeler for his intention to pre-empt state broadband laws “despite the states’ determination to protect their taxpayers.”
“I find it deeply ironic that those who claim to protect taxpayers want to limit Chattanooga's network expansion,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which supports municipal networks. “Big companies like AT&T receive numerous tax subsidies and refuse to invest in modern connections whereas allowing Chattanooga to expand would supercharge local economies while almost certainly reducing or entirely removing such subsidies."
A coalition of civil rights groups filed a nationwide class-action suit Wednesday alleging that putting children into immigration court without counsel violates both constitutional due-process rights and immigration law.
The plaintiffs in the suit filed in Seattle are eight children aged 10 to 17 who have resided in the United States for various lengths of time and are scheduled to appear in court, unrepresented, for deportation proceedings in the near future.
Two of the minors, 13-year-old and 15-year-old Seattle siblings, saw their father gunned down by gangsters who objected to the father’s anti-gang rehabilitation center in El Salvador, according to the suit.
Typically, “in court, the Department of Homeland Security will be represented by a trained lawyer who will argue for the child’s deportation.”
“On the other side of the courtroom, no lawyer will stand with the child,” says the suit, which was filed against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other federal officials.
Neither adults nor children have an established right to appointment of legal counsel in immigration proceedings. But lawyers on behalf of these children argue that they are nonetheless protected by due process and long-standing immigration law establishing the right to a fair hearing. A national network of pro bono attorneys has traditionally tried to pick up the slack in patchwork fashion.
The suit was filed by Public Counsel, a large nonprofit, public-interest law firm; the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Immigration Council in Washington, D.C.; K&L Gates, a law firm in Washington, D.C.; and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.
In response to the suit, Andrew S. Muñoz, public affairs officer for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, said: “As a matter of policy, ICE doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”
A Justice Department spokesperson said the complaint was being reviewed, and declined to comment further. Holder himself has actually spoken out in favor of young children benefitting from counsel in immigration court.
Lawyers said the suit—one of the plaintiffs is originally from Mexico—was in the works before officials began noticing a dramatic surge this spring of Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran children turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents along the Texas-Mexico border. The network of pro bono attorneys willing to represent minors was already stretched thin before the numbers of children began to surge, attorneys for the children said.
Some of the children in the lawsuit have already appeared in court multiple times without lawyers.
“The plight of these (plaintiff) children is not unique,” argues the suit, because thousands of minors are in court each year to face the “life-altering” possibility of deportation.
Without competent legal representation—and a professional who understands legal complexities—children’s established right to present evidence becomes “meaningless,” the suit argues.
Kristen Jackson, an attorney with Public Counsel in Los Angeles, said: “The fact that these children are immigrants, who may have lived here for some time, or are newly arrived here, does not take them out of due process protection.”
The law already establishes, Jackson said, that the “due process clause of our Constitution protects these children. The question is: What does due process require for these children? And what constitutes a fair hearing for a child?”
In 2013, in the wake of a separate suit filed by the ACLU and Public Counsel, federal officials began appointing counsel in cases involving people with serious mental difficulties who are in deportation proceedings.
In June, in response to the surge in kids, the Department of Justice announced that a project called Justice AmeriCorps would provide legal aid to child immigrants younger than 16 through a $2 million plan to recruit lawyers.
"How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings—many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse, or trafficking—goes to the core of who we are as a nation,” Attorney General Eric Holder said when the project was announced.
The child-focused effort, Holder said, would bolster the efficiency of immigration courts, which are so backlogged some children aren’t seen in court for more than a year after initially asking for a hearing.
Before the recent AmeriCorps plan, the government was already financing limited projects that provide pro bono aid to some immigrant children in a handful of cities.
But that effort and the $2 million Americorps plan to recruit more lawyers still won’t be enough to meet the developing needs, lawyers who work with immigrant kids have argued.
This week, President Obama asked Congress to allocate $3.7 billion in emergency funds to finance a range of responses to the influx of migrant kids, some of whom arrive alone and some with mothers.
Some of the spending would be for projects in Central America and for border enforcement and anti-smuggling actions, and some would be used to shelter kids and augment the ranks of immigration judges and government lawyers to more swiftly get minors into court to test their claims.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said not all children are going to qualify for refuge in the United States.
Bob Ekblad, a Seattle area pastor, is a friend of the family of three children—aged 10, 13 and 15— who face a deportation hearing in September.
Their dad was the man killed by gang members in retaliation for involvement in anti-gang social work, according to the suit. The children were later pressed to join the gang, the suit alleges, and the three fled in 2013.
Ekblad is named as a “next friend” of these child plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday.
“Who’s going to speak for these kids? We connect them to lawyers who do pro bono work but our contacts are really stretched,” Ekblad said.
He blames years of war in Central America—and U.S. involvement in those wars—for leaving the region destabilized and thus fertile ground for the spread of organized crime.
He said the kids he knows who have fled Central America—where Ekblad lived between 1981 and 1988—“don’t stand a chance” without legal representation.
Google News has created an experimental newsroom in San Francisco to monitor the World Cup and turn popular search results into viral content, NPR reports.
But interestingly, Google is choosing to steer clear of negative headlines.
"We’re also quite keen not to rub salt into the wounds," producer Sam Clohesy says, "and a negative story about Brazil won’t necessarily get a lot of traction in social."
Mobile marketing expert Rakesh Agrawal, CEO of reDesign mobile, says that’s just generally true. “People on social networks like Twitter and Facebook — they generally tend to share happy thoughts. If my son had an A in math today, I’m going to share that. But if my son got an F in math, that’s generally not something you’re going to see on social media.”
In old-school newsrooms, the saying goes: if it bleeds, it leads. Because this new newsroom is focused on getting content onto everyone’s smartphone, Agrawal says, editors may have another bias: to comb through the big data in search of happy thoughts.
RELATED ARTICLEThe Dallas Morning News dismantles its paywall in favor of a bisected reader experienceOctober 2, 2013In yesterday’s paper, The Dallas Morning News announced it was ending its experiment with a “premium” site. We wrote about it back in October, when it launched. (The premium strategy replaced a more traditional paywall, albeit one that had hard categories of free vs. paid stories, not the metered approach most American dailies have taken. And to get my disclosure out of the way, I worked at the Morning News for eight years and root for it still.)
The idea was that, rather than shut a lot of good content off from the free web, maybe you could increase digital revenue by creating a “premium” experience — a nicer look, getting rid of ads — and charging people 12 bucks a month to access it. As the DMN story notes, the premium experience was also “launched with promises of personalization and loyalty programs to come later,” which never really materialized.
I appreciate the Morning News’ willingness to stray from the newspaper norm in seeking revenue. It was an early leader in wringing more revenue out of its most loyal print subscribers; it’s tried out multiple approaches to a free targeted daily product; that paywall strategy went against the grain. But you could see this result coming a Texas mile away. The premium site was not some beautiful, immersive experience — it was aggressively ugly and a pain to navigate. I found it actively worse than the non-premium site, and far from good enough an offering to drive payment. From last fall:
All Dallas Morning News articles: free! All articles laid out onto rectangles with photo backgrounds: $143/year http://t.co/U5ZZWk3c4e
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) September 30, 2013
@saila Just frustrating. It’s my old paper! I love it! And this seems dumb. Hope I’m wrong!
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) September 30, 2013
My rough early estimate for how many people will pay for the DMN’s “premium” visual version of the same stories is 0 http://t.co/U5ZZWk3c4e
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) September 30, 2013
@abeaujon Bottled water offers convenience and portability. Those are real things! This is rectangles.
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) September 30, 2013
@abeaujon I am totally on board with the idea that dropping the paywall could be smart. Not on board with what the premium here offers.
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) September 30, 2013
• It’s hard to know what lessons were learned by The News because so much of what went wrong here was a result of disorganization instead of strategy. The central question the premium site tried to answer — would people money for a better web experience (what they internally called a “velvet-rope experience”) — was never answered because that experience never materialized. This was partly due to the suicidal timeline the project employed (which caused all other digital projects current and future to be neglected) but also because some elements were never rolled out. The experiment was supposed to have three components (what Dyer would often call “three legs of the stool”): 1) a better looking site; 2) one with little-to-no ads; 3) one that offered significant subscriber perks. The third part — which was Dyer’s responsibility — never really happened. [I'd argue the first never happened either. Dyer here is chief marketing officer Jason Dyer. —Josh] They imagined offering Christmas card photos taken for you by Pulitzer-winning photogs, or game-watching parities with beat writers. They ended up offering T-shirts. That was part of the problem. The other:
• The marketing/sales folks who were effing this cat never got newsroom buy-in. Top newsroom folks were against the premium site from Day 1. Once the premium site went live and starting siphoning traffic (not much, but some) from the basic site, the newsroom freaked. Understandable, since you were diluting the newsroom’s only real measure of success. And even if you think big gray corporate newsrooms need disruption, you’re not going to convince them when your efforts fail spectacularly. The number of non-subscribers who actually came to the premium site, looked around, and said, “I’ll pay for this” was “a fingers-and-toes” number, I was told today.
• The News is not thinking right now about how to squeeze more money out of subscribers. It’s just trying to find a way to reach a mobile audience so it can THEN figure out how to then monetize it. The mobile efforts to which Dyer refers is just a mobile version of the premium site — I know, I know, at least this time everyone will get it for free. But there is a comprehensive, integrated (advertising/newsroom/marketing/subscription) strategy being put in place for a mobile-first platform that should start rolling out this fall and continue for a few years. It’s another valiant effort by the DMN to be nimble, to figure this new-media landscape out before it kills them. But first …
• They have to do what Dyer wrongly says they’ve done: Take valuable lessons from their failures. The DMN learned NOTHING from this it didn’t already know. The paper learned it with its paywall, and its tablet app, and when it tried to charge for high-school scores: People won’t pay for content that is ubiquitous, and the newsroom will (perhaps rightly) sabotage any effort that doesn’t get its reporters the biggest audience possible.
The one thing every journalist knows (apart from how to get a source to return a call just before a deadline) is that we also have to be experts in something besides getting a good story. Business news. Sports. Tech. National security.
That’s why Content Runner’s new “Offerings” feature caught my eye. Content Runner specializes in matching writers up with people who need content. Yes, when I hear “content marketing,” I cringe a little bit, too. It can feel like making a deal with the devil. Unless that devil is paying you some extra cash. There’s no reason why working journos — especially freelancers — shouldn’t be able to make a little on the side.
It’s not just pennies per word either. Co-founder Chad Fisher explained to me that when they launched seven months ago, they attracted a lot of “users” looking for writers, but paying just pennies. “It was a race to the bottom, price wise. (more…)
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In a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations is currently drafting a new set of development goals with the aim of eradicating poverty by 2030. The Open Working Group (OWG) that was given the job of drafting the new goals will hold its 13th and final session from 14 to 18 July.
Goal 16, on the media and information, is the subject of heated discussion and opposition from certain OWG members such as Russia, Cuba and China. Protection of the right to information is in danger of being weakened or disappearing altogether, to be replaced a vague reference to freedom of expression.
“Including protection of the right to information and to free, independent and pluralist media in the development goals offers a historic opportunity to enshrine these principles as indispensible for the development of both the individual and society,” said Prisca Orsonneau, a member of the Paris bar association and coordinator of Reporters Without Borders' Legal Committee. “The drafters must take care to formulate Goal 16 in a precise way so as to guarantee media freedom and public access to information in a sustainable and concrete manner.”
An initial report by a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, posted online on 22 September 2013, envisaged the inclusion of a “transparency revolution” and “freedom of speech and the media.” But the latest version, posted by the Open Working Group on 2 July, has just a vague and general reference to “free and easy access to information” and “freedom of expression” in a single sub-goal, 16-7.
Reporters Without Borders urges governments to include freedom of information and the right to information as one of the development programme's specific goals, as the initial report recommended.
A video released by the Global Forum for Media Development stresses the essential role that the means of communication – newspapers, Internet, radio and TV – play in development:
Last February, RWB signed a statement circulated by the NGO Article 19 that is entitled “Post-2015: Access to information and independent media essential to development.”
The final version of the post-2015 development goals will be submitted to the UN General Assembly in August 2014.
The Georgia state legislature passed 322 bills during its 2014 legislative session that ended in March. From a bill that eased restrictions on guns in churches, bars, and schools to one that would require some food-stamp recipients to take drug tests, much of the legislation that passed will directly impact the lives of Georgia’s 10 million residents.
Despite the importance of what transpired at the statehouse, there were only 17 full-time reporters covering the legislature, according to a study released this morning by the Pew Research Center examining changes among the statehouse press corps across the United States.
Though Georgia was one of the few states to actually see an increase in statehouse reporters in recent years, the total number of newspaper statehouse reporters fell 35 percent between 2003 and 2014, outpacing the 30 percent decline in overall newspaper newsroom staffing over that time, the study finds. And as statehouse coverage from traditional news outlets has receded, there’s been an influx of for-profit and nonprofit digital startups, ideologically-focused organizations, and pricy subscriber services to try and fill the void.
There have been partnerships among legacy news organizations to cover the state governments — and even efforts from legislatures themselves to distribute news and information.
But these moves haven’t been enough to fill the void, said Amy Mitchell, Pew’s director of journalism research and one of the paper’s authors. Despite the positive impact of having reporting reach more people through alternative methods, there still is a need for more individuals actually reporting the news, she said.
“It also carries with it the potential downside of fewer perspectives — less really localized perspective — when it’s coming to looking at what’s happening and how this impacts my area of the state, and fewer bodies just watching what’s happening and raising their hands to ask questions day-in-and-day-out of what the legislative leaders are doing at the state level,” Mitchell said.
The study identified 1,592 reporters covering the 50 U.S. statehouses. Of those, 47 percent cover the statehouse full-time.
Even with newspapers’ decline, 38 percent of all statehouse reporters still work for newspapers, the most of any type of media. Television reporters make up the next most at 17 percent of all reporters, followed by what the report calls nontraditional outlets, with 16 percent.
RELATED ARTICLERon Royhab: Newspapers, like kindergartners, need to shareMarch 10, 2009While newspaper reporters make up the largest contingent among statehouse press corps, only 30 percent of the 801 daily newspapers followed by the Alliance for Audited Media have a presence at statehouses. Just 14 percent of local TV news stations assign at least one reporter, either full or part-time, to their statehouse. Still, the organizations that remain at state capitals are taking steps that would’ve been unthinkable a decade ago to try to maximize resources. In Florida, for example, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, longtime competitors for stories, merged their Tallahassee bureaus in 2008. The eight largest newspapers in Ohio also share stories on state government.
“I think the absence of competition affects what our editors demand of us,” Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas told the researchers. “Stories that in the past they would want us to be all over, it’s a little bit harder for us to make that sell now.”
Nontraditional organizations have the largest full-time reportorial presence in seven states — Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont, the report said. That includes the nonprofit Texas Tribune, which has the largest capital presence of any outlet in the country with 15 reporters covering the statehouse full-time.
In New York, Capital New York has the largest statehouse bureau, with five full-time staffers in Albany. The New York Times and Albany Times Union each have three statehouse reporters; the 24 other news organizations that cover New York state government each have two or fewer full-time reporters on the beat.
“My fear is that as journalism recedes down [and] fewer people are there on a full-time basis, that’s just going to set the stage for scandal if nobody’s watching,” Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, told the researchers. “I think we’re heading into a very dangerous territory in state government.”
The Pew study classifies nontraditional outlets into four different categories: nonprofit like The Texas Tribune; commercial digital natives like Capital New York; ideologically driven publications; and government insider outlets that charge steep subscription fees and are aimed at people who want deep, granular coverage of the legislatures.
Also taking on a larger role covering state government: college students, either through internships with legacy news outlets, university or student publications, or even programs through their journalism schools. 14 percent of the statehouse press corps is made up of college students, the study found.
This work can provide valuable training for aspiring journalists, and some journalism schools have recognized this by setting up programs to let student reporters get credit for reporting from the capitol. Print and broadcast students from the University of Montana, for example, receive a scholarship and credit to report from the Montana capitol, and their work is distributed by local outlets throughout the state that do not have their own state government reporters.
“There’s a real impact there that students are having on the coverage,” Mitchell said.
Photo of President Jimmy Carter addressing the Georgia state legislature from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Harsh sentences seen as grave setback for press freedom in Burma
In the latest in a series of reverses for media freedom in Burma, a court in the central region of Magway today sentenced five newspaper journalists to ten years in prison with hard labour on charges of violating state secrets for reporting the existence of a chemical weapons factory.
After considerable progress since 2012, the harsh sentences confirmed that Burma has done a U-turn on freedom of information.
“This decision by the Magway court is a grave setback for press freedom,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Desk. “Progress had been made but this case marks a return to a dark time when journalists and bloggers who did their job were jailed on national security charges or for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.”
The five journalists are Tint San, the CEO of Unity Weekly, and four of his reporters – Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw (Aung Thura) and Sithu Soe. They were arrested in February over an article reporting that a factory had been turned into a chemical weapons plant and was getting frequents visits from top generals.
Their conviction comes at a tense time for journalists, with police investigations and threatening statements by politicians being used in an attempt to intimidate them.
Burma is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Interrogation by intelligence officials and hostile comments by the president
Until recently, the media freedom situation in Burma was very promising but this is no longer the case. Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the interrogation of many newspaper editors since 20 June and by the president's recent expressions of hostility to freedom of information.
In a threatening comment on 7 July, President Thein Sein said: “If there is any media that exploits media freedom and causes harm to national security rather than reporting for the sake of the country, effective legal action will be taken against that media.”
The latest senior journalists to be detained for questioning were three of the daily Bi Mon Te Nay's editors – Ko Ye Min Aung, Ko Win Tin and Ko Naing Sai Aung.
They were taken from their homes on the night of 7 July for interrogation by the Special Intelligence Department, also known as Special Branch, about the previous day's front page, which said Aung San Suu Kyi and community leaders had been elected by the people to be part of an interim government.
Claiming that this front page could “cause misunderstanding among the readers and defamation of the government, undermine the stability of the state, and damage public interest,” the authorities announced that Bi Mon Te Nay will be prosecuted. Three computers were seized during a raid on the newspaper's offices.
“Amid continuing political, ethnic and religious tension, the actions of the Burmese authorities have betrayed a certain desperation,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “By adopting an authoritarian and repressive attitude with the media, the government is neither protecting national security nor solving problems related to news coverage.”
The editors of at least six publications – Unity Journal, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Post Weekly, People Era Weekly, The Voice and People Era Daily – were interrogated from 20 to 23 June about their newspapers' income, expenses and circulation.
Journalists' associations have publicly questioned the motives for these systematic investigations, while the Interim Press Council has asked parliament to take a position on their legality.
Deputy interior minister Kyaw Kyaw Htun has tried to be reassuring about the government's intentions, claiming that the authorities are only talking to editors, not interrogating them. “We want to know basic information such as which journals are successful and why. Which journals are not successful and why.”
Initial progress followed by decline
Burma saw major progress in freedom of information when the transition to democracy got under way. By 2012, no journalists were in prison and newspapers were no longer subject to prior censorship.
But since Ma Khine's conviction in December 2013, journalists and media have been the target of a growing number of prosecutions. In April, DVB reporter Zaw Phay was given a one-year jail sentence – reduced to three months on appeal – on charges of trespassing on government property and disturbing a civil servant.
The CEO of Unity Weekly and four of his journalists were given 10-year jail sentences today on charges of violating state secrets for reporting the existence of a chemical weapons factory (see separate press release).
After violence erupted in the eastern state of Arakan in June 2012 and again after an exploratory visit in 2013, Reporters Without Borders tried to explain to the Burmese authorities that media freedom should be seen not as the outcome of a transition to democracy but as one of its prerequisites.
Today more than ever, Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to encourage the media to play a vital role by promoting understanding between ethnic groups and a peaceful public discussion of political, ethnic and religious differences. Only the promotion of these values will effectively rein in the extreme polarization and the political manipulation of certain media.
Burma is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
No, Facebook and Google aren’t practicing mind control on us, are they? That’s just silly. Their business is the highly prosaic selling of advertising, less romantic than Mad Men, more lucrative than Midas. Mind control is just a side pursuit, one of those many auxiliary products in eternal beta, that might turn into something big.
But mind control is on our minds. The two companies — which now control 49 percent of the $50 billion U.S. digital ad market and about 68 percent of the fastest-growing ad market, the $32 billion global mobile ad sector — both play mind games with their customers. How well do they do it? We don’t yet know. In the biggest case, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg could offer only the lamest of apologies — “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you” — in trying to explain how Facebook had played mind games on 700,000 of its users in January 2012. The company disproportionately displaying positive or negative statuses for one week in its News Feed.
Is this cluelessness, or just a symptom of unbridled, lean-back-and-play-with-them arrogance? Or both? (Excellent, thoughtful Jay Rosen parsing of Facebook’s “having all the power” and its implications, in Atlantic, here.)
Yesterday, we learned, via Aarti Shahani of NPR, that Google’s “social newsroom” rejected going negative in its social selection of content about Brasil’s crushing World Cup loss to Germany Tuesday. “In Google Newsroom, Brazil Defeat Is Not A Headline,” reads the NPR story. It goes on to explain that a collection of “data scientists, translators, cultural experts and copywriters turn search results on the World Cup into viral factoids.” Well, not really the facts of the results, but a version of them meant to please readers and juice traffic. Factoid, rather than fact, perhaps. More in the pursuit of truthiness than truth.
Let’s be clear and fair: A Google news search does pull up “crushing,” “stunning,” “ruthless,” and more in way of adjectives that describe the, uh, reality of the game. This Google unit, though, chose its own version of reality to present as fact(oid). Or didn’t, as Shahani reports:
After the dramatic defeat by Germany, the team also makes a revealing choice to not publish a single trend on Brazilian search terms. Copywriter Tessa Hewson says they’re just too negative. “We might try and wait until we can do a slightly more upbeat trend.”
That puzzles me.
Google has powerful data to see exactly what the audience wants, and produce news-on-demand. The entire world was searching for Neymar — Brazil’s superstar player who sat out after fracturing a vertebra. Google could have looked for related search terms, and created content for people to grieve or laugh.
I ask the team why they wouldn’t use a negative headline. Many headlines are negative.
“We’re also quite keen not to rub salt into the wounds,” producer Sam Clohesy says, “and a negative story about Brazil won’t necessarily get a lot of traction in social.”
Take a look at the picture of the four data scientists pictured in the NPR story. Younger, earnest, undoubtedly brilliant. They are sitting in what Google calls a “newsroom.” It’s not the data scientists’ fault. Some of my best friends are data scientists — but they don’t pretend to be journalists. Google, and many of its fellow travelers, hold on to this pretense that they are “doing news,” because they publish news, all or almost of all it written by practicing, standards-observed, non-mind-control-seeking journalists.
Algorithms don’t make a newsroom. They may make a news product — some of which are highly useful to all of us — but they don’t operate newsrooms. Journalists do that. The best ones do that without fear or favor, and they certainly don’t do it with happy-face factory guidelines. Call it feeding the happy social network, if you’d like — which was Google’s justification for eschewing truthful headlines about Brazil’s humiliation — but don’t call it news or a News Feed, and please don’t say it came out of a “newsroom.” Words have meaning.
Google and Facebook provide many services to us that we now consider essential, almost irreplaceable. Yet they seem to have no boundaries. Business sector boundaries are a blur, as digital eats everything, but more troubling are their ethical boundaries. How can companies that seem to offer so much good — for free — do bad things? Ironically, for companies so interested in knowing how their customers think moment by moment (so they can monetize that thinking), they are sometimes thoughtless about their own actions.
One hundred years ago, the trust busters saw that too big is too bad for society and took steps to staunch runaway market dominance, steps that benefitted Americans for many decades. Today’s bigness seems so different than that of the early 1900s. Google, Facebook, and Comcast don’t seem to be in the same league as Standard Oil, American Tobacco, and the Northern Securities Company. Despite all the hardware they own, they seem to traffic largely in pixels and invisible packets. Outmoded antitrust laws and the accompanying regulatory apparatus, (FTC, FCC, and DOJ in the U.S., several E.U. entities in Europe) can’t keep pace, trying to apply old, sensible law to new sense-rattling innovation. Square peg, round hole; try it a thousand times, it won’t work. It’s not a fair contest; regulators are in a muddle (the Comcast/Time Warner Cable case is today’s best example), and meanwhile unbridled market power multiplies.
That market power is a big concern, but the two recent mind games that have surfaced (are there more?) raise greater questions. As odious as the NSA’s spying on Americans (and everyone else) has been, the potential implications of mood control strategies could be far larger. Sensory manipulation is no longer sci-fi; Aldous Huxley’s soma is going digital. What was the Facebook experiment on us about: gauging the power of “emotional contagion through social networks.” Imagine the uproar if Fox News or MSNBC had done that, or politicians.
I can almost hear the Facebook and Google replies before the question is asked: Who asked you to skew your mass-reaching content to produce cheerfulness? The people, as expressed through the social hive, did, they’d say. Google and Facebook as servers — and pushers. If “Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad,” as Slate’s Katy Waldman succintly put it in a smart column, some of us are just collateral damage.
Our wondrous digital hive is alive and growing exponentially. That’s largely a good thing, maximizing the reach of our too-small brains. It’s not the hive that’s at issue here. It’s the big, monopolistic beekeepers who should give us pause. It’s the ad business that should be fair game for Google and Facebook. It’s enough of a challenge for everyone else, fair or not, if they just mind that.
Photo by Maigh used under a Creative Commons license.
As online marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) practices have evolved, journalists have become increasingly sought-after by the agencies that compete to improve their clients’ rankings.
“For a long time there was a very poor practice in online marketing,” says Joe Sharp, Head of SEO at Hearst Magazines. “Generic advertorials were duplicated across multiple sites with strategic links engineered to increase SEO value.
“But Google has now become a lot better at picking out those kind of links and have substantially updated their search algorithms.
“Companies still using these tactics are likely to be landed with a Google penalty, knocking them way down in the search rankings.”
Algorithms now not only analyse the amount of links pointing to a page, but also factors that indicate the quality of the content, such as how much time users are spending on that page or how many social shares it has.
Outdated SEO practices such as participating in link schemes, including hidden text or links and filling pages with irrelevant keywords are now explicitly discouraged in Google’s quality guidelines.
The result is a general shift towards value for the user.
Matt Evans, Senior SEO Executive at digital marketing agency Pancentric Digital, says:
“The phrase ‘Content is king’ really defines the positive state that SEO, and digital marketing as a whole, is in. The industry is moving towards producing quality content.”
Speaking at the Brighton SEO conference in April, Matt even went as far to suggest that next year the conference might be called “Brighton Content”.
Why is this good for journalists? Joe Sharp thinks there is a strong need in the industry for the kind of skills journalists have.
“Marketing agencies are re-branding themselves as specialists in content marketing as fast as they can, but there is a shortfall in the skillsets required to tell a good story and create compelling content that appeals to large audiences.”
Content marketing is definitely growing in popularity. Google Trends suggests there are over four times more searches for the term compared to four years ago Tweet this! (see image above).
Has this had any effect on the journalism jobs market? Jan Goodey, course leader of the NCTJ journalism course at City College, Brighton, thinks it has:
“It’s a reality – some might say a sad one – that more NCTJ trained students go into the marketing side of journalism, that being copywriting, native advertising, sponsored copy etc.
“In terms of our courses – of the successful students around 85-90% end up in freelance or staff posts with more and more, it seems, ending up in marketing positions.”
Graduate statistics suggest there is a wider trend in this direction too. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which do not include NCTJ students outside of university, say only a quarter of students who graduated with a journalism degree in 2012 were working in a journalism job six months later.
In comparison, 15% of graduates were in PR or marketing roles six months after graduating. With such a significant number, should professional courses change to reflect the demand for journalistic skills in other industries?
Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, says it’s already happening:
“Many in the PR and communications industry prefer those with journalism experience and qualifications. The NCTJ has already broadened its range of qualifications and training to reflect this, such as the new Certificate in Foundation Journalism, and short courses for corporate communicators.
“While this is set to continue, we still retain our focus on providing an industry training scheme for professional journalists working in the media.”Nick Chowdrey is a freelance and staff writer, interested in technology, economics and alternative politics. He has contributed in the past to Vice and The Guardian and is currently technical writer at Crunch Accounting.
Filed under: online journalism, SEO Tagged: Brighton, City College, employability, Hearst Publishing, Jan Goodey, Joanne Butcher, Joe Sharp, Matt Evans, NCTJ, Nick Chowdrey, Pancentric Digital, training
Validity of case and conduct of trial are cause for concern as campaigning newspaper duo appear in court behind closed doors
Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned by the inconsistencies and procedural irregularities in the trial of the journalist and activist Valery Uskov, who has been held in pre-trial detention for five months, and his colleague Vyacheslav Baidariko, in the town of Zlatoust in the Chelyabinsk region of the Urals. Their trial continued today behind closed doors.
It is not the first time that Uskov has found himself in trouble with the local authorities. The journalist, who writes for the newspaper Pravda Goroda Zlatousta which he used to edit, also leads a local nationalist movement.
He regularly writes about the municipal council, which he regards as corrupt and incompetent. He was accused of “extremism” in 2011 and spent two months in pre-trial detention before being cleared.
He has been arrested again and appeared in a closed hearing today to answer charges of illegally possessing weapons and making death threats. At an earlier hearing on 9 June, the journalist pleaded not guilty and said the evidence against him had been fabricated.
“The circumstances of the journalists' arrest and the conduct of the trial are highly suspect and suggest the case was fabricated in order to silence them,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Given the disputes between the accused and the local authorities, the case should be heard elsewhere and there should be further investigation in order to ascertain the truth. Valery Uskov must immediately be released on bail and a serious investigation must be carried out into the allegations of procedural irregularities put forward by the defence.”
Uskov and Baidariko were arrested for illegal possession of weapons on 21 November last year. An unidentified person sent them a text message asking to meet them, claiming he had compromising information about the Zlatoust mayor, Vyacheslav Zhilin. However, instead of the informant, they found a bag containing firearms. The police, who were already on the spot, immediately arrested them.
The two journalists spent six days in custody, and a search was carried out and equipment seized at their editorial offices, in violation of the protection of their sources. The police have the telephone number of the fake informer but appear to have made no attempt to identify him.
Baidariko, currently free on bail, has also been charged in the case along with Uskov.
Uskov himself was arrested again on 24 February, and held in custody for making death threats. The complaint was filed by local councillor Alexander Negrebetskikh a few weeks after a trade union rally attended by the journalist on 26 January, degenerated into a brawl. One witness told the trial that Negrebetskikh had been convicted of perjury in another case several years previously. The pre-trial detention order against Uskov has been regularly renewed since February by the same judge who first imposed it in 2010.
Since 28 May, when a man facing charges of child molestation was called to testify against Baidariko, hearings have been heard in camera, preventing journalists and bloggers from attending the trial. Uskov has contested this restriction but there has been no response to his objections. It was only with great difficulty that he managed to ensure he was defended by a private lawyer.
Besides his investigations into alleged wrongdoing, Uskov launched a petition in 2010 to demand the dismissal of the mayor of Zlatoust and regularly organizes demonstrations against the local administration. At the time of his arrest, he was involved in a campaign to protect a forest owned by the local authority that was under threat from a construction project. The campaign has gained considerable local support.
Russia is ranked 148th of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Journalists are particularly prone to abuses by local authorities, as illustrated by the imprisonment of Sergei Reznik and Alexander Tolmachev, journalists in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, and the house arrest imposed on the Sochi-based independent journalist Nikolai Yarst last year.Два журналиста в опале у местных властей Златоустa
Репортеры без границ сильно взволнованы противоречивыми обстоятельствами и процессуальными нарушениями в судебном деле, заведенном на журналиста Валерия Ускова, который находится в предварительном заключении более пяти месяцев, и его коллегу Вячеслава Бойдарико в городе Златоуст, Челябинский регион (Урал). Суд заслушал их дело 10 июля 2014 года за закрытыми дверями.
Журналист и активист Валерий Усков находится в конфликте с местными властями не в первый раз. Бывший главный редактор, а ныне сотрудник газеты «Правда города Златоуста» также возглавляет местное националистическое движение. В своих статьях он регулярно высказывается с критикой в адрес местной власти, которую считает коррумпированной и недееспособной. После предъявления обвинений в ”экстремизме” в 2011 году он уже провел более двух месяцев в предварительном задержании, прежде чем был оправдан.
Задержанный снова журналист предстал перед судом 10 июля за закрытыми дверями по подозрению в “незаконном хранении оружия” (статья 222 уголовного кодекса) и в “угрозах убийством” (статья 119). В ходе первого заседания суда 9 июня журналист заявил о своей невиновности, подчеркнув фальсификацию доказательств против него, а также ложные заявления свидетелей.
“Обстоятельства задержания журналистов и то, как ведется следствие, вызывает сильные сомнения и наводит на мысль, что дело шито белыми нитками с целью заставить их молчать, - считает начальник отдела Восточной Европы и Центральной Азии Репортеров без границ Йоханн Бир. Учитывая конфликт между подсудимыми и местной властью, необходимо передать рассмотрение дела нейтральной судебной инстанции в другом регионе и провести дополнительное расследование для того, чтобы открыть всю правду. Валерия Ускова необходимо немедленно досрочно выпустить на свободу, а по подозрению в грубых процессуальных нарушениях, о которых было заявлено защитой, необходимо провести серьезное расследование”.
Валерий Усков был задержан вместе со своим коллегой Вячеславом Бойдарико 21 ноября 2013 года по подозрению в “незаконном хранении оружия”. Неизвестный назначил им встречу по SMS под предлогом того, что готов передать компрометирующие данные на мэра города Златоуст Вячеслава Жилина. Но вместо информатора журналисты нашли пакет с огнестрельным оружием. Полицейские, которые были уже на месте, их сразу же арестовали. Оба журналиста провели шесть дней в предварительном заключении, в офисе редакции был проведен обыск, все оборудование было конфисковано, несмотря на принцип защиты источников информации. У полиции есть номер телефона ложного информатора, однако все говорит о том, что меры для установления его личности не предпринимаются. По этому делу с Валерием Усковым также проходит досрочно освобожденный Вячеслав Бойдарико.
Валерий Усков был вновь задержан 24 февраля 2014 года и помещен под стражу за “угрозы убийством”. Жалоба была подана городским депутатом Александром Негребецких через несколько недель после того, как профсоюзное собрание с участием журналиста закончилось дракой 26 января. По словам свидетеля, фигурирующего в деле, Александр Негребецких был уже признан виновным в подачи ложных показаний в другом деле несколько лет назад. Меру предварительного заключения Валерия Ускова регулярно продлевает с февраля месяца тот же судья, который ее наложил в 2010 году.
После того, как к судебному процессу против Вячеслава Бойдарико привлекли 28 мая подозреваемого в педофилии для подачи показаний, дело рассматривается за закрытыми дверями. Ни журналисты, ни блогеры города не имеют права присутствовать в зале суда. Оспаривание этой меры Валерием Усковым ничего не дало, последнему только удалось со значительными трудностями добиться права на защиту частным адвокатом.
Валерий Усков, кроме своих многочисленных расследований предполагаемых фактов коррупции, написал в 2010 году петицию, требуя отставки главы города Златоуст. Он регулярно проводит демонстрации против местной власти. На момент задержания он был вовлечен в дело защиты городского леса, которому угрожает вырубка под проект строительства недвижимости, вызвавший волну негодования.
Россия занимает 148-ое место из 180 стран во Всемирном рейтинге свободы прессы 2014 года Репортеров без границ. Журналисты особенно беззащитны перед нарушениями местных властей, как тому доказательством стали недавние заключения в тюрьму Сергея Резника и Александра Толмачева в Ростове-на-Дону, или заключение под домашний арест Николая Ярста в Сочи.