The Center for Public Integrity was honored today with four 2014 EPPY awards from Editor & Publisher. The winning entries, and the categories:
- Best News Website with under 1 million unique monthly visitors for www.publicintegrity.org;
- Best Investigative/Enterprise Feature on a Website for Big Oil, Bad Air: Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas (Tie with Post and Courier);
- Best Online Infographics on a Website for China Leaks: Who Uses Offshore Tax Havens, produced by The Center’s Chris Zubak-Skees with the Center’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists;
- Best News/Political Blog with under 1 million unique monthly visitors for Consider the Source and Primary Source, the Center’s money and politics investigative project.
For the best Investigative/Enterprise Feature, Big Oil, Bad Air: Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas, the Center partnered with InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel. The immersive digital experience of the investigation, produced by Center Engagement Editor Sarah Whitmire via the Shorthand application, used elegant prose, photos, video, and infographics to truly convey the breadth of what residents of the Eagle Ford Shale region in South Texas experience in their own backyards. The area is in the midst of an oil and gas drilling boom, and the investigation raised questions regarding the health risks of emissions of dangerous chemicals in the area, and the lack of oversight by state regulators.
The Center’s award-winning online infographic, China Leaks: Who Uses Offshore Tax Havens, was developed — in six different languages — by News Developer Chris Zubak-Skees. His work deftly illustrated exactly who among China’s elite had connections to offshore companies, and why those people mattered. The series was part of the larger series Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a project of the Center. The effort represented one of the largest journalistic collaborations in the world, involving more than 110 journalists in 58 countries.
Consider the Source and Primary Source were recognized for their comprehensive coverage of the rapidly changing world of money in politics. The 2014 elections are the most expensive and least transparent midterm campaigns of the modern era, and these projects have illuminated the shadowy political organizations flourishing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
Read more about the 2014 Eppy Awards winners at Editor & Publisher.
Congratulations to all of the winners.
The Atlantic and PBS NewsHour announced this morning that they are collaborating to bring stories from the magazine to the news broadcast. The first premieres tonight with NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff and The Atlantic‘s Hanna Rosin, whose story on teenagers and sexting is on the November cover.
It’s a first in a series of bringing Atlantic cover stories to broadcast television. In a statement the two news organizations said:
“The NewsHour” and The Atlantic plan to broadcast reports on a wide range of topics over the next six months. The partnership combines the strengths and sensibilities of both brands: The Atlantic’s ideas-driven journalism on issues of import, and the editorial depth and broadcast expertise of PBS “NewsHour”…This is the first broadcast venture of The Atlantic in a year when the brand has been experiencing record audiences and revenues. The Atlantic is having its most successful year in its history, has set new traffic records across all digital platforms, and has seen single-copy newsstand sales grow by more than 25 percent.
The show premieres tonight on PBS.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Two Cameroonian journalists face military court charges of failure to report a destabilization plot.
Journalists Felix Cyriaque Ebole Bola of the daily Mutations and Rodrigue Tongue of Le Messager, were charged following a 28 October military court hearing in Yaoundé with “non-denunciation” of facts potentially endangering state security. Baba Wamé, a former journalist and professor was accused of the same charges.
“This charge prompts great concern for freedom of information in Cameroon,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Africa desk of Reporters Without Borders. “Journalists should not become assets for state security agents. On the contrary, they must maintain their independence from government if they want to continue working as journalists. To demand that they become informants for government agencies is to destroy the essential quality of journalism. We ask the military court to drop these charges against the two journalists.”
Colleagues of the two journalists appeared in court to support them. They were ejected from the courtroom but gathered in front of the court to show their anger at the proceedings.
The two indicted journalists remain free under judiciary supervision. They must report to the court once a week, may not leave Yaoundé, and are barred from commenting about the case.
The matter began when Ebole Bola and Tongue learned of an Central African rebel chief stationed on the border of Cameroon claiming to be in possession of national security information. The editorial staff of Mutations told Reporters Without Borders that Ebole Bola wrote to the national security delegate informing him of this news and requesting confirmation. In response, the police asked the journalist to share information and to provide any updates he might gather in the future.
Communications ceased at that point. Then, Mutations was ordered to court for not having responded to the police request. But the journalist had never received an official subpoena. Can he be charged with not sharing information, when he was never asked to do so?
Xavier Messe, editor of Mutations, told RWB that the case poses grave worries for the status of journalists and their ability to protect sources. He said: “Cameroon faces a grave security situation. Attacks take place every day on the border with the Central African Republic. People are kidnapped. There are also security problems in the north caused by Boko Haram. The government holds that in these circumstances, journalists must cooperate...We are committed to being responsible. We receive information every day, but we don't publish it all because some items could disrupt public peace and order. We follow that policy because we are committed to journalistic responsibility, above all in wartime. But journalists cannot be asked to become intelligence agents. If I had wanted to be a police officer, I would have chosen that profession. To each his own. Our credibility and our journalistic conscience are at stake.”
Cameroon is ranked 131st of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.
(photo: Felix Cyriaque Ebole Bola and Rodrigue Tongue)
Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Documentary film and journalism are, in many ways, rooted in the same traditions. Though focus on narrative often differentiates film from traditional journalism, it helps to remember that the earliest films were straightforward recordings of real life, such as trains pulling into stations
Decades after L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, journalists like Edward R. Murrow made activist films that helped shape the documentary’s focus on social issues, while 1960s direct cinema filmmakers played with a journalistic sense of objectivity and realism.
Today, more and more documentaries are finding news publishers to be the ideal platforms for their work — especially interactive documentaries, like those mapped by Docubase. Meanwhile, journalism schools increasingly offer courses in software development and multimedia production. As both practices migrate into the digital space, they have a lot to learn from one another.
To further explore this convergence, earlier this month MIT’s Open Documentary Lab and the MacArthur Foundation hosted a daylong event called “The New Reality.”1 Participants represented old stalwarts with large audiences like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Frontline, younger upstarts like Vox and Storyful, documentary fixtures from Tribeca and Sundance, and a range of academics studying digital journalism and interactive media. The goal was to explore the synergies and fissures at the crossroads of interactive documentary and digital journalism; here’s a brief overview of what was discussed, what remains unsolved, and what went unsaid.The forms and platforms are converging
Journalists and filmmakers are increasingly using the same tools to tell stories, and they’re releasing them on the same platforms. Two panels at “The New Reality” — “Documentary Forms and Processes” and “Technologies in a Changing Media Landscape” — focused on these issues. Recurring examples of this technical merging were the many docs released by news entities, such as Katerina Cizek’s Highrise project produced by the National Film Board of Canada and published with the Times.
News organizations already have a built-in audience with stakes in social issues, an ideal springboard for a documentary filmmaker. In addition, entities like the Times and the Guardian have rich archives and technological firepower, allowing filmmakers to continue to push the boundaries of their form.
— Anika Gupta (@DigitalAnika) October 10, 2014
At the outset, Frontline’s Raney Aronson, a panelist, asked when a documentary should be interactive instead of linear. Panelists explored the tension between immersion and play, and the balance of experimentation with cohesion; web-native documentaries can take endless forms, each with endless capacity, but nobody wants to see a sprawling, sloppy product. The interactive form often requires the viewer to be an active and interested participant in the topic.
Cizek mentioned her favorite line, “I came for the technology, I stayed for the story,” but many storytellers are looking for a broader audience than activists and doc enthusiasts.
The unique form of each interactive doc also makes critical comparison and audience literacy difficult. Most agreed that projects should start with the story and build the form around it, but templates can serve as shortcuts to start developing a language for interactive features. Gabriel Dance of The Marshall Project called each story “a beautiful delicate flower…there is no template, there is no tool,” and AIR’s Sue Schardt stressed that it’s important to find the language before the funding models.
But too much experimentation may also keep the field from legitimizing. Some documentaries, like 18 Days in Egypt or Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo‘s Sandy Storyline, are about process and participation too; how can we judge these works critically? How will they be assessed for potential funding? And do they have a place in the newsroom, as CUNY’s new social journalism master’s degree might suggest?
There was also more practical discussion around technologies and platforms, and the challenge of balancing readymade templates and customized tools and code. Standardizing forms would also mean standardizing technologies and frameworks, which would streamline the process and reduce costs, but risk some of the creative experimentation. For now, storytellers are limited by the small screens of mobile devices and minimal capacity for interaction; the most exciting content-sharing platforms are too complex for mass audiences and commercial viability. Having conceded to Facebook and YouTube as the primary interaction and communication platforms, the trick might be to build tools that creatively remix them, though APIs may be unstable and engineers would end up taking on editorial responsibilities.Audiences, participants, and publics are in transition
Journalists and documentarians have always cared about the impact of their work, but now they can see, measure, and interact with it. Digital metrics have changed what constitutes a successful project, which increasingly contributes to choices made by the creators (and some argued that it certainly should). Moreover, the web has created new opportunities for crowdsourced and participatory works — journalists use their audience to land scoops, source data, and fund projects. At MIT, the depth of potential audience interaction was discussed on panels such as “Rethinking Participation: What Can We Learn from Documentaries?” and “Audience Engagement & Impact.”
But “the audience” and “the public” are two very different groups, as the Times’ Lexi Mainland pointed out. Times readers represent a limited demographic, and will only be able to contribute to a small subset of the paper’s journalism; this is even more true for the niche audiences at small startups and trade journals. Tapping into the web’s communication channels without falling into the audience bubble will be crucial as storytellers hunt for stories worth telling, and presenting them compellingly.
— Andrew DeVigal (@drewvigal) October 10, 2014
Some panelists claimed to have a clear picture of their audience, but none have a solid grasp on impact. This is unsurprising, given that even the audience turns out to be slippery — public institutions are there to serve the public, of course, but their viewership and donors must be a priority. Older demographics still reach for TV and traditional forms, while digital and interactive viewers will skew younger. We can measure some behaviors, but they’re continuously shifting. For example, panelist Kamal Sinclair of Sundance pointed out that, while nobody expected millennials to sit and watch a 45-minute video on mobile, Vice has proven that they will.
What does that mean for the definition of a “successful” video project, as compared to a few years ago? Panelist and Rutgers professor Philip Napoli suggested that time spent was a dangerous measure of quality, too, calling attention “the last bottleneck” for the media world. There was general agreement that while metrics for documentary skew towards qualitative and personal impact measurement, journalism skews more towards the quantitative and aggregative. A blurring of these lines seems healthy as the forms collide.
Another concern around audience was the necessity of closing the feedback loop with creators. Participant and USC professor Henry Jenkins championed networked “circulation” over traditional top-down “distribution,” saying it would afford a better afterlife to projects and inform newsroom processes and practices.The traditions, standards, and institutions remain divergent
Finally, a panel called “Journalistic Standards in Transition” focused on the balance between aesthetics and ethics in documentary and in journalism. For better or worse, journalism is a more codified institution than documentary, with its own degrees and standards about what journalism “is” or should be. Documentary is a more ramshackle affair, with its share of festivals and awards but less unified and established conventions.
The panel started with Aronson asking panelists to define journalism, which set the tone for complex questions: how do you deal with bias or media with an agenda, like an ISIS propaganda video? How many cameras need to be present to “verify” an event? Is it wrong for journalists to manipulate footage, even to add sound effects or music?
The current trend towards advocacy journalism can borrow ideas from documentary, but Jason Spingarn-Koff of the Times’ Op-Docs reiterated the need for fact-checking in order to maintain journalistic rigor. “We shouldn’t make everyone adhere to being journalists, but we do have journalistic standards at the Times,” he says.
— Lexi Mainland (@lexinyt) October 10, 2014
But outside the Times, the line grows ever blurrier — there is no journalism, only “acts of journalism,” as Jeff Howe said, reiterating a line of Jay Rosen’s. Some journalistic outfits, like the Center for Investigative Reporting, are making graphic novels and rap videos; Ariane Wu asked when this stopped being journalism and became something more like art. On the one hand, this is a question of semantics, but on the other hand, the question has major consequences for how nonfiction video and interactive projects get made, structured and funded.
Another major difference is that, while docs can take years to create, news is inherently fast-paced. Longform works emerge between these time scales, of course, and can be crucial for bringing the public’s attention to complex story arcs; this type of storytelling helps the audience place newsworthy events in the context of larger historical phenomena. Interactive features might have form and marketing challenges, but they can play a crucial role in balancing the time scale of the news cycle.What’s next — and what’s missing
While a few participants expressed relief at avoiding state-of-the-industry and revenue model discussions, such conversation was sometimes unavoidable. Beyond lamenting the lack of platform innovation in a crowded market, Larry Birnbaum of Narrative Science reminded attendees that advertisers lurk just around the corner of every new media innovation: there are people with much more money and much clearer goals who are eager for these tools and forms to be developed.
Looking further into the future, new platforms will mean new responsibilities for storytellers. Oculus Rift was cited as an example of a technology that raises the stakes, as do 3-D and tactile media. These platforms, like any others, have the potential to manipulate viewers and spread propaganda, but Birnbaum suggested that while computers can provide us with live data, immersive graphics and interactivity, they are still very far away from the higher-level field of complex storytelling.
Overall, “storytelling” was the word of the day. Participants preferred to self-identify as “storytellers” and “story-makers” rather than the platform-stereotyped “journalist” or “filmmaker.” It’s also telling that while everyone wants to be a storyteller, no one wants to be maligned as a “content creator.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Cizek spoke of “the people formerly known as subjects,” a phrase that resonated with many. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether we haven’t replaced “subjects” with “users,” a term that comes from the tech industry, which has fashioned better techniques for understanding its audience than the journalism or media industries. There could have been, I think, more discussion of these terms and who owns their histories.
Caught between advertisers and aggregators, journalists are not as in control of their message as much as storytellers typically like to be. In the age of the attention economy, gaining eyeballs often means producing work that triggers an emotional response, new ground for traditionalists. Is this journalism or documentary? Birnbaum, and others, called it loosely controlled chaos.
“Live with it,” he said. “It’s a haphazard field.”
Photo by Michael Saechang used under a Creative Commons license. Notes
- Disclosure: I’m a graduate student in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, which houses the Open Documentary Lab.
A man armed with a knife entered the headquarters of Klan Kosova TV in Pristina on 27 October and repeatedly stabbed journalist Milot Hasimja, apparently in retaliation for a report about him by Hasimja.
Police spokesman Baki Kelani said the attacker, identified as Sovran Syla, was immediately arrested.
Klan Kosova editor in chief Gazmend Syla said Hasimja was at his desk when the attacker entered and stabbed him several times in the neck. According to local media reports, he was allowed into the TV station after asking to speak with Hasimja.
Hasimja was hospitalized with three knife wounds, which hospital staff said were not life-threatening.
Both Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and the Kosovar journalists' association condemned the attacked. Thaci's office said: “Such acts are intolerable because they jeopardize freedom of expression and opinion (...) one of the most precious values of the state and society we are building.”
The journalists' association said: “attacks against journalist (...) must not be tolerated.”
Kosovo is ranked 80th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.