Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that Nolberto Herrera Rodríguez, a cameraman and reporter with Canal 9 TV news, was found murdered in his home in Guadalupe, in the north-central state of Zacatecas, on 29 July. He had been stabbed more than 20 times.
He is the fourth journalist to be murdered this year in Mexico in a possible or proven connection with their work. The federal prosecutor's office, which is investigating Herrera's murder, seems to think it may be a crime of passion but the authorities have not ruled out a link with his work.
“We urge the prosecutor in charge of the case to carry out a swift but thorough investigation. Given the large number of journalists who are threatened, attacked or murdered in connection with their work, especially outside the capital, it is essential that the possibility of a link to the victim's work should be fully examined in this case,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk.
Zacatecas is notorious as a drug-trafficking hub. Journalists are under constant pressure from both organized crime and the local authorities, with the result that censorship or self-censorship is common.
The Zacatecas state government reached an agreement with certain local media in March 2013 for coverage of violent events to be limited “for the sake of our image.”
Mexico is ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
BuzzFeed is hiring product and editorial leads to build a new news app for the company, starting a team which will eventually include up to six editorial staffers. The app will focus solely on news as it unfolds online, differentiating it from BuzzFeed’s existing app, which is currently ranked sixth among free iPhone news apps.
“I think the main reason to download that [existing] app is to be entertained,” says BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith. “There’s also, we think, people who want to have an app that’s primarily about telling them what’s going on in the world and what the big stories are. We felt like it made sense, given that we have this really strong news organization now, to really take advantage of that and build one.”
As the main architects of the new product haven’t yet been hired, Smith doesn’t have all the facts on what the news app will look like — but he does have a few ideas. For example, he’s not sure the traditional news story is the best format for sharing information in an app, a view frequently espoused by apps like Circa. In addition, push notifications are a top priority — Smith says he’s very interested in NBC News Digital’s Breaking News app.
But he also doesn’t want the content to sound like it was written by a robot, he says. “We’re planning on doing something that reaches a reader who wants something more than a list of what just happened,” he says. The challenge will be to create a content stream that’s interesting to the individual user while also delivering top headlines.
“There’s a general news audience of people who don’t want to know what’s happening every four minutes, but are informed, educated people who want to know what’s happening in the world — people who in some sense used to be known as daily newspaper subscribers,” says Smith. “They probably want their news a bit more than daily, and when something big happens, they want to know immediately, but are also looking for a trusted voice to help them navigate this incredibly noisy, messy social news web.”
To get a sense of what such a guide would look like, Smith plans to have the project’s editor start out by writing an email newsletter — he compared it to afternoon roundup email The Skimm. BuzzFeed will use the email product to sound out a voice for the new app while it’s being built. (Smith has an interesting way of defining the voice he’s looking for, writing in the job posting that applicants should “write in warm, clear, non-telegraphic English.”)
To get a sense of what to expect content-wise from the app, Smith says to look to Twitter. “If you look at the @BuzzFeedNews Twitter feed…it’s not trying to push BuzzFeed content. It’s trying to be a great feed for people who want to know what’s going on. I think that’s been very successful for us,” he says.
Both the Twitter feed and the planned app are framed around the idea that there is a demand for better summarization in the current social news landscape. Smith believes that news organizations today have a responsibility to curate news feeds for their audiences that are separate from the central task of reporting and news production — a belief which will also inform his hiring decision.
“The pulse of news now is Twitter,” he says. “You need someone who really, deeply understand how news travels now and how to be both first and right with stuff — which is the perennial news challenge that everybody faces — and to be able to do that in that incredibly noisy ecosystem.”
Part of understanding that ecosystem means acknowledging that many readers don’t care what outlet their news comes from — they care about getting it quickly. When it comes to breaking news, Smith says, the team working on the app won’t wait for BuzzFeed to publish a story if someone else has a scoop. “I don’t think you can do news well if you think that your news organization produces the only content of value. That’s crazy,” Smith says. “There’s a humility required in doing news well now. It requires being open to the Internet, and realizing you’re a part of a collaborative project with other news outlets.”
BuzzFeed gets more than half of its total traffic from mobile. But a very small percentage of that traffic comes from their app — 3.2 percent in February 2014, according to Digiday. Despite that, Smith says the new app won’t be concerned with driving traffic.
“If it’s a story people are talking about and reading, we’re not going to try to push people to our aggregated version,” he says. “If it makes sense to summarize it in the stream, we might, but this isn’t about trying to steer people to BuzzFeed content. The app itself is the goal.”
Uh, oh, the sky is falling.
This month, AbridgeME.com launched as the first user-generated summation tool for news articles. Weird timing, right? At a moment when everyone is dedicated to providing stacks of digital flashcards and explainers for the news, founder Eric Rems wants to cut to the chase.
His reasoning? Everyone explains and comments — just look at your Twitter feed right now and count the links to opinions on the news — and he wants to provide readers with fact based summaries of the news. This way, you can start to delve into the topic with the facts and only the facts. Then you can create your reading adventure across the web and decide for yourself as you dig in rather than start with the editorial and have them choose sides for you. (more…)
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
On July 31, 2013, after the layoff calls came, some of the current and now-former staff of The Plain Dealer got together for drinks at Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland. Newsrooms around the country called in and bought drinks for those gathered — $4,933 worth of drinks, Eric Sandy reported the next day for Cleveland Scene.
That day, more than 50 people had been laid off from The Plain Dealer.
“We drank for free all night,” John Horton remembered.
“It was bittersweet because we were together, we were supporting each other but we knew that so many of us, myself included, were not going to be going back to the building ever again,” Ellen Kleinerman said.… Read more
High-profile nonprofits that invest millions of dollars in political campaign ads regularly omit from their tax returns information about the companies they hire, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.
These annual tax documents are signed under the penalty of perjury when submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. Nevertheless, deep-pocketed groups — both conservative and liberal — appear to have bungled reporting rules requiring nonprofits to disclose the names of their highest paid independent contractors.
Three of these groups — Crossroads GPS, the Club for Growth and Patriot Majority USA— acknowledged their errors when informed of them and said they plan to correct them.
At least four others — Americans for Tax Reform, the American Future Fund, the 60 Plus Association and the Revere America Association — also appear to have made reporting mistakes but did not respond to requests for comment.
The groups’ mistakes ranged from the relatively minor — excluding one particular vendor from a longer list — to the wholesale omission of vendor information.
Take, for instance, Americans for Tax Reform and Patriot Majority USA — ideologically opposed “social welfare” nonprofits that each unleashed a barrage of political attack ads ahead of the 2012 election.
Both groups hired media buying firms and consultants to help execute their spending plans and produce advertisements, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
But when the IRS asked each group how many independent contractors received more than $100,000 in compensation, both said “zero.”
Americans for Tax Reform, a Republican-aligned group headed by anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, paid seven firms nearly $16 million for TV ads and other messages that advocated for the election or defeat of politicians, according to FEC filings. And Patriot Majority USA, a Democratic-leaning operation led by strategist Craig Varoga, told the FEC it spent about $7.5 million on such expenditures.
In an email, Varoga said his group’s answer on its tax return amounted to “an inadvertent omission.”
He said Patriot Majority USA would file an amendment that showed the nonprofit had actually paid 17 firms more than $100,000 in 2012, with media buying firm Waterfront Strategies garnering the top spot at nearly $9.4 million.
Waterfront Strategies, which is closely tied to President Barack Obama’s political machine, is favored by several high-powered liberal political committees, as well as union and environmental organizations.
Patriot Majority USA’s other top vendors were: The New Media Firm, a media buying company (paid $2.8 million); Bynum Consulting Group, a direct mail firm ($1.6 million); Mullen & Co. for “digital media buys & production” ($1.2 million) and Fieldworks for “voter registration” ($1 million).
This type of vendor data omission could be an “intentional misstatement” to understate a nonprofit’s political activity, said Greg Colvin, a San Francisco-based attorney who specializes in nonprofit tax law — although Colvin added that they could also arise from “inadvertent mistakes.”
Marcus Owens, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who previously served as the director the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt organizations, agreed, noting that these groups “are players with sophisticated counsel.”
“These are not scout troops and soup kitchens,” Owens said.
This is not the first time Americans for Tax Reform’s tax returns have attracted scrutiny.
In its 2012 return, Americans for Tax Reform told the IRS that it spent $9.8 million on “direct and indirect political campaign activities” — about $6 million lower than it reported spending to the FEC on ads that endorsed or denounced specific candidates. The higher FEC figure amounted to 51 percent of the group’s spending in 2012, as previously reported by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an advocacy group, has previously filed complaints with the IRS against Americans for Tax Reform, alleging that it underreported its political expenditures and may be abusing its tax-exempt status.
Likewise, CREW officials have criticized the 60 Plus Association for characterizing the bulk of its FEC-reported political spending as “educational” rather than “political campaign activities,” as the Center for Public Integrity first reported Wednesday.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, social welfare nonprofits — which are organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code — have been allowed to use funds to call for the election or defeat of federal candidates so long as they do not coordinate such spending with the candidates they seek to aid.
Such overt political spending, however, must not be these groups’ primary purpose, according to federal rules. And too much spending on elections could lead the IRS to strip 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status from a group.
That’s what happened to a Democratic-aligned nonprofit called Arkansans for Common Sense earlier this year. The group spent more than $1 million in a failed effort to help Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., win re-election in 2010.
In recent years, activists and lawmakers have called on the IRS to ensure that groups are not abusing their tax status. These social welfare nonprofits are allowed to keep their donors anonymous, unlike candidates, parties and political action committees, which must publicly disclose their funders.
The IRS is also supposed to enforce rules that prohibit a nonprofit from using its funds for the private benefit of its officers.
Tax filings for other politically active nonprofits appeared to be missing information about at least one vendor that should have been listed among the top five highest paid. These nonprofits appeared to fully report their overall political spending elsewhere in the filings.
For instance, the conservative Club for Growth paid Arizona-based political consulting firm Blue Point LLC about $660,000 in 2012 for “mail production costs” and “postage,” according to FEC records. The Club for Growth failed to disclose this relationship in its IRS filing.
And while Republican-aligned Crossroads GPS paid media buying firm Mentzer Media Services about $7.75 million in 2012 and about $650,000 in 2010, the firm was not listed among Crossroads GPS’ top five highest-paid independent contractors either year.
Moreover, the Republican Jewish Coalition didn’t list media buying firm Jamestown Associates in its IRS filing for either 2010 or 2012, despite paying the company at least $1.1 million in 2010 and $4.5 million in 2012, according to FEC records.
Jeffrey Altman, an attorney for the Republican Jewish Coalition, maintained that the group correctly filed its disclosures, citing “different reporting requirements” for the FEC and IRS. Media buying expenses, Altman argued, did not need to be reported to the IRS as “payments for services.”
But other tax lawyers contacted by the Center for Public Integrity expressed skepticism at this rationale.
“The media buyer is acting, presumably, as an agent or something like an agent of the nonprofit for the purposes of acquiring air time,” said Owens, the former IRS official. The firm “should show up on the list of independent contractors.”
The IRS itself instructs nonprofits that the definition of independent contractors encompasses "organizations as well as individuals and can include professional fundraisers, law firms, accounting firms, publishing companies, management companies and investment management companies."
A spokesman for the IRS did not respond to requests for comment.
Journalist suspects security services, RWB calls for an investigation
Reporters Without Borders condemns Payam TV presenter Ayhan Saeed's severe beating by unidentified assailants in Dohuk, in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, on the night of 27 July and calls on the Kurdistan regional government to conduct an independent investigation, one that does not rule out the possibility of a link to the victim's work as a journalist.
Saeed, who has worked for Payam TV for the past two years and presents its Kurmanji-language news programme, was hospitalized for treatment to the severe injuries he received.
“One the eve of Eid, I went to a café in the bazaar to meet friends,” he said. “Afterwards, I was waiting for a bus to go home when four or five individuals approached and one asked me if I was Ayhan. When I said I was, I received a violent blow to the head with a metallic object and lost consciousness. But they continued to hit me. I regained consciousness when a passing coffee vendor splashed water on face. He was the one who took me to hospital.
“Ten days ago, the Asayesh (security services) in Dohuk were asking questions about me, my family, my university studies and my daily movements. They had been following me from the café."
When contacted by Reporters Without Borders yesterday, Payam TV CEO Faruq Ali said the police began investigating a few hours after the attack and told him they had arrested two people, who immediately confessed. He said he feared that any connection with Saeed's work would be ruled out although journalists have been killed in connection with their work in Iraqi Kurdistan in the past.
He added that Saeed is not the first journalist to have had problems in Dohuk, which is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK), the party headed by Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani.
Aged 21, Saeed is from Dohuk but is studying in Sulaymaniyah, where Payam TV has its headquarters. The station is affiliated to the Kurdistan Islamic Group, a political party that is represented in Kurdistan's parliament and is participating in Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Idris Barzani's new coalition government, which took office in June.