Reporters Without Borders welcomes the imminent release of Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, two French journalists who have been held for the past 11 weeks in Indonesia's eastern province of Papua on a charge of misusing their tourist visas to do investigative reporting.
After being sentenced today to two and a half months in prison by a court in Jayapura, Papua's capital, they are to be released next week. The prosecutor requested a four-month sentence but the judge decided to sentence them to a period similar to what they had already spent in pre-trial detention.
Reporters Without Borders nonetheless regrets that were found guilty despite their right under international treaties to gather information as journalists.
“It is a big relief to know that Dandois and Bourrat will soon be released,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “Any other outcome would have set a terrible precedent for media freedom in Indonesia. We stress that, according to the principles of international law, they did not commit any crime by courageously undertaking their investigative reporting in Indonesia.”
The journalists' lawyer, Aristo Pangaribuan, told Reporters Without Borders: “On a practical perspective it's a good news, on monday they will be free. But legally speaking it isn't. This judgement sets a precedent which might be used by the authorities in the future to justify surveillance or arrests of foreign journalists in the region.”
Dandois and Bourrat had received a great deal of international support in recent weeks, including extensive media coverage, many statements by human rights NGOs, appeals by their support committee and a petition for their release with more than 14,000 signatures.
Indonesia's low ranking in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, 132nd out of 180 countries, is due in part to the lack of transparency and restrictions on reporting in Papua.
There was the voice of Jon Miller, baseball’s best and wittiest game caller, setting the scene for me, some 5,000 miles away from San Francisco’s AT&T Park. As Travis Ishikawa strode to the plate, my Shinkansen bullet train was headed north out of Kanazawa, Japan — quite ironically, the seat of Ishikawa Prefecture. As Ishikawa powered a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark, winning the game with a walk-off and sending the San Francisco Giants to the World Series, I heard live the fan euphoria, and the familiar voices of the Giants’ radio crew picking apart the pivotal plays of the game.
It seems like magic — but it’s just radio, pushed beyond the ionosphere by the Internet, with the help of some of the 500 tech people employed by MLB Advanced Media.
Chuck Richard, my friend and Outsell colleague, and I rhapsodize about MLB.com. We enjoy it as baseball fans. “Let’s say you’re a Red Sox fan living in New York — you can listen to the local Boston broadcast from WEEI with Joe Castiglione every night,” Chuck says. “When you’re a Red Sox fan flying home from Brazil in October 2013, during the exact time of the clinching game in the World Series, you can use the American Airlines on-plane wifi to listen to the game live at 35,000 feet. Now you can see the strike zone with every pitch of every game to see whether the ump got it right using the PITCHf/x data that MLB funded the development of and installed at every stadium. Now the FIELDf/x defensive digital tracking stats are beginning to show up.” (Bob Bowman, president and CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or BAM, explains the “revolutionary” innovations to Grantland.)
Along with our fan exultations, we’ve noted the digital smarts inside the MLB products, and how their innovations could apply to publishers of all types. So today, in the midst of the World Series, let’s focus on what MLB.com does so well, and what news publishers can take away from its leadership. Let’s especially focus on its success in mobile — probably the area of greatest challenge and opportunity for publishers today.
Major League Baseball launched MLB.com just 12 years ago, to mild derision and deep suspicion about the idea that a sport league could cover itself well enough to win a major audience. MLB.com has done that and more. Its numbers are impressive:
- It’s the No. 1 sports streaming service, with 3.5 million paying subscribers. An early mover into streaming — remember how recently hitting a video’s play button felt like a slot machine gamble? — that service began in 2002, three years before YouTube.
- More than 20 percent of current subscribers have owned the product for at least the past six years.
- More than 400 mobile and connected devices are supported by MLB.TV, a behind-the-scenes buildout that makes watching fairly seamless. The average MLB.TV subscriber uses 2.6 devices, putting everyday reality into the promise of all-access subscriptions. “Connected” devices include that screen in your living room, as Roku, Apple TV, and other apps provide easy-to-choose big view watching.
- It’s strong on mobile, with more than 60 percent of overall traffic on smartphones and tablets. What’s more, 51 percent of its monthly livestreams now arrive via mobile and connected TV devices.
One secret of innovators like MLB and Pandora is early investment in new tech — before the opportunity is universally apparent. Back in 2005, Bob Bowman made his first investment in mobile, hiring two staffers. That was pre-app, pre- the time we thought about an age of mobile majority. Today, about 500 of its total staff of 750 do tech, and 60 or so work on mobile alone. That’s how you optimize experience across those 400 devices. About 100 fill out the editorial staff, including 30 beat writers (one for each team) and a growing roster of columnists.
MLB.com, of course, is only part of how the web changed baseball coverage. Long the semi-exclusive province of daily newspaper beat writers and columnists, along with a handful of national magazines, it’s been democratized. ESPN, of course, is a major player. Further, ESPN’s Grantland, Gawker Media’s Deadspin, Vox’s SB Nation, and Turner’s Bleacher Report lead a parade of decidedly unofficial sites, offering an alternative to MLB.com’s very civil approach to a boisterous sport, with often highly spirited, sometimes profane voices. MLB.com does host some good and strong MLB Voices — including former newspaper columnists like Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Hal Bodley, and Mike Bauman – though sometimes they’re harder to find than they should be.
One reason those columnists may be harder to find: MLB.com is about the day-to-day flow of the game. Fans pay their money, and they get a steady stream of baseball basics. Many think of it as a utility. In part, that’s because it’s monopoly of a sort, the league presenting itself and, of course, controlling video rights. As Chuck Richard points out, though, it’s an ususual monopoly. “We can give MLB Advanced Media some well deserved credit. Most other monopolies, including utilities, telephone companies, cable companies and governments, have never developed diddly squat online.” We can also give the league credit for its self-acknowledged ownership position — the tagline “This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs” runs at the bottom of every story — though it does seem to remind us too much of the box in which journalists color. One lesson, though, says Richard, “Some will do self-coverage better, more journalistically, than others.”
We come this week, though, not to just celebrate the National Pastime and MLB.com’s digitization of it, but to ask how to learn from this pioneering model. If MLB can serve as the official town crier of baseball, serving its village, how can newspaper-based and local broadcast-based companies take pointers from its impressive scorecard?
Even before MLB.com embraced mobile and streaming, its web product excelled. It is, though, its smartphone and tablet products that offer best-practice models for publishers and product creators. Let’s quickly breakdown what works so well, and may be applicable, about MLB.com.
- Customization. Where does a fan want to start? With her favorite team, of course. It’s a snap to pick one or several teams, and the top one becomes the home page.
- The toggle. Print legacy publishers fight their text reflexes; broadcasters most reflexively turn to video to lead presentation. Too much time has been spent by both parsing, abstractly, the nature of the new multimedia world. MLB’s news screen largely puts the decision in the index finger of the audience. Pick either videos or stories, as simply as you can; switch back whenever you want to. It’s a simple, elegant way to respect the power of both words and images, and to put the choice in the right hands, the reader’s. The toggle could work for words/video, words/pictures, or news/opinion.
- Fit and scale. The longstanding publisher cry: How can we possibly fit what we need to on such a small screen? Check out the MLB iPhone screen, which offers that small real estate. In the stretch of four diagonal inches, fans see much choice. On a team page, everything from news and video entry points to schedules, tickets and shopping are right there. On a game page, the multiple choices range from story wrap and box score to video highlights and inning-by-inning scorecard, with useful persistent navigation at the bottom of the screen. It would seem to be a lot to fit on one screen, but it fits well.
- A little interactivity. Many of the words are links, so punchable and the navigation to the various parts of the site is easy to figure out. In addition, a slider works in several places, in choosing highlight videos or seeing who the next two batters may be in the midst of a game. It’s not flashy, but it’s highly usable.
- Data-friendly. Baseball fans love data — we just call it stats. The wonkiest numbers can be a swipe away, an extension of a story – or a lead-in to it.
- Time travel. Video and audio can be confusing. What’s live, what’s on-demand? What’s older? MLB.com puts those choices together fairly well. Streaming works, and provides choice, of home team or visiting team broadcasts and, if available, a Spanish-language alternative; the site can be natively multilingual. Listeners can even listen to a game that was completed earlier in the day, at least on some versions of the product.
- Read, watch — and buy. E-commerce, in form of tickets and merch, flows naturally into the structure of the sites. That’s something that’s gotten lost since newspapers — a hallowed format of both news and commerce — went digital.
- Price. Prices range from the low of $19.99 to $129.99 per season. It’s a segmentation that’s been tweaked a number of times over the years, supported by an analytics operation. Millions of registered users provide lots of data on usage and pricing. That $130 price is the all-access price, pointing to the enduring marketplace power of that simple concept in the age of paid digital content. Pay one price, and you can get full TV coverage, choices of your favorite audio, and wide portability across devices. It’s not cheap, but seems to be a fair price for all-access, a promise of multidevice availability that is richly fulfilled. Of those who take MLB.TV, the video product, more than 90 percent opt for the premium $130 version; the remainder opt for the $100 less-fully featured “basic.”
How can publishers take all those advances and apply them to their own businesses?
Baseball is a passion, but it’s also a big village. It’s a group of people with shared interests — and shared information needs and enthusiasms. News companies serve many villages, some geographical, some topical.
Let’s take one opportunity and challenge that CJR gave an excellent airing last week: the kind of election and endorsement information and opinion that local newspapers used to routinely supply in print. Writer Anna Clark pointed to good experimentation here and there with forums and video, and one editor said he’d love to produce an a robust online voters guide, but couldn’t afford the resources.
Apply the MLB.com model here, and we see a template of voter access impossible in the pre-digital age. In fact, the creation of a video-friendly, interactive-enabled, story-and-picture toggling, archives-accessing template could be done once (calling Jeff Bezos or the Knight Foundation) and filled to perfection across the country.
Or take another topical area that many local newspapers used to excel in: music coverage. Again, it’s pictures, video, and stories, and a good amount of data. Templatized, it becomes a great mobile experience on its own and a further model for other arts and entertainment coverage.
Finally, let’s consider the local or hyperlocal conundrum. Since AOL reduced and jettisoned Patch, we haven’t heard as much about local news. In part, that’s a resource allocation question for dailies. Yet given the run of news from metro- or city-wide to neighborhood news — news that runs through a print paper and haphazardly on websites – it’s as much an organizational issue. Think of “the paper” again as a utility, as many readers do. It’s a daily compendium of stuff. Increasingly, if fitfully, in the digital age, it becomes a storehouse of relational, retrievable data. Replace the team metaphor of MLB.com with that of an area or neighborhood, and consider how a new organization of local content can unlock much value for the reader. Here, as in music or politics, the time-travel, bring-archives-alive dimension profoundly advantages those who have published for decades or centuries.
White-boarded, MLB.com-adaptive brainstorming is particularly timely for companies like Gannett and Advance, which are thoroughly re-thinking traditional beats. The beat, and its coverage, is one thing; the presentation of the beat will equally important.
Real multimedia – so long promised, now technologically easy – has proven to be a tough exercise for legacy publishers. Ironically, former newspaper journalists — including Dinn Mann, top editor and executive vice president of MLB Advanced Media and a Kansas City Star alum — invented MLB.com. They’ve paved a way. Now can publishers and journalists follow, not needing to invent, but simply to borrow and innovate?
Photo of AT&T Park by Mobilus in Mobili used under a Creative Commons license.
For podcasters, it’s been a busy month of fundraising. First, “Snap Judgment,” reached their fundraising goal to produce the best next season ever and then, this Tuesday, Radiotopia reached their Kickstarter goal with 23 days left to go.
Maybe it really is a radio revolution — centered on good storytelling and journalism. PRX has estimated that it takes about 50,000 core subscribers to ensure a podcast will be of interest to sponsors and pay its staff. By relying on listener support, philanthropy, and subscriptions, Radiotopia has grown substantially since its launch this past year. So when did radio become cool again?
PRX CEO Jake Shapiro says that:
It hasn’t been until really in the last two years that podcasting has become a mainstream audience format, it was always a niche format, because it was hard to use as a user. But now that everyone has been trained to think about on demand media, like Netflix, audio has now had this huge opportunity to become a mainstream platform of news and entertainment. (more…)
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German publishers warring with Google — and the link and the internet — have now completed their humiliation at their own hands, capitulating to Google and allowing it to continue quoting and linking to them. How big of them.
The pathetic sequence of their fight:
1. German publishers under the banner of a so-called trade group called VG Media and led by conservative publisher Axel Springer called in who knows what political chits to get legislators to create a new, ancillary copyright law — the Leistungsschutzrecht — to forbid Google et al from quoting even snippets to link to them.
2. In negotiations in the legislature, snippets were then allowed.
3. The publishers went after Google anyway, contending that Google should pay them 11 percent of revenue over the use of snippets.
4. Google, being sued over the use of the snippets, said it would take down the snippets from those publishers this week.
5. The publishers said that for Google to take down the snippets they were using to blackmail Google amounted to Google blackmailing the publishers. And you thought Germans were logical.
6. The publishers went to the government cartel office to complain that Google was using its market power against them.
7. Officials laughed the publishers out of the cartel office.
8. Now the publishers have said that Google can use its snippets for free while this legal matter is being ironed out.
Of course, the publishers never wanted the snippets taken down because they depend on those snippets and links for the audience Google sends to them … for free. It is all their cynical game to try to disadvantage their new and smarter competitor. Those who can, compete. Those who can’t, use their political clout.
I have written a much longer essay about the damage these German publishers are doing to Germany’s standing that I am trying to place in a print publication — so I can speak to the print people. I’ll link to it when that happens. Here’s the lede:
I worry about Germany and technology. I fear that protectionism from institutions that have been threatened by the internet — mainly media giants and government — and the perception of a rising tide of technopanic in the culture will lead to bad law, unnecessary regulation, dangerous precedents, and a hostile environment that will make technologists, investors, and partners wary of investing and working in Germany.
LATER: Ah, there’s another chapter already.
9. Like Japanese soldiers stuck on an island thinking the war continues, Axel Springer has declared that Google must take down snippets from four of its brands: Die Welt, and the auto, sport, and computer subbrands of Bild. Note well that they didn’t do that with superbrand Bild, their largest newspaper and the largest in Germany. They need the eggs. So as it loses its argument that Google is a cartel, the German publishers’ cartel crumbles.
Flipping through old magazine and newspaper ads is like throwing the switch on the world’s simplest time machine. Suddenly it’s 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts have just made the round trip from the moon, Abbey Road just dropped, and for the low price of $29.95 you can enjoy an “electric computerized football game [that] lets you and your opponent call offensive and defensive plays.”
This is the benefit a paper like The New York Times finds in its archive: the ability to pluck moments from the historical record out of the past — the small steps and giant leaps, but also the assembled fragments and cultural artifacts that often share space on the page. While you can dig deep into the stories of the past with TimesMachine, uncovering specific ads isn’t as easy. The team in The New York Times R&D Lab wants to rectify that with Madison, a new tool for identifying ads across the newspaper’s archive. What makes Madison different is that it relies on Times readers — not a bot or algorithm — to do the tricky work of spotting and tagging the ads of the past.
“We have 163 years of what is often referred to as the first draft of history, and I think one of the areas we’re interested in is finding new ways to bring that archive to life,” said Alexis Lloyd, creative director for the R&D Lab.
RELATED ARTICLEThe New York Times’ Chronicle tool explores how language — and journalism — has evolvedNovember 13, 2012The Times R&D Lab sometimes seems like the newspaper equivalent of Q Branch, tasked with developing fun, futuristic tools that can serve the institution in unusual ways. Instead of jetpacks and exploding pens, the R&D Lab tries to find ways to make it easier for the public to get their hands on Times content. Sometimes that’s demonstrated in finding new surfaces to display news throughout the home, or tools that visualize how news spreads across social channels. And, sometimes, it’s a broach that lights up when someone mentions something you’ve been googling.
RELATED ARTICLENo windows, one exit, free drinks: Building a crowdsourcing project with casino-driven designMarch 20, 2013Madison is just a part of a bigger R&D project called Hive, a platform for creating crowdsourcing projects off any collection of data. News organizations are asking readers for help sifting through collections of data more and more often. Sometimes its asking readers to help track spending on campaign ads, or detail the expenses of their member of parliament. Hive was designed to simplify that process by making it easier to “import assets, define tasks, and set validation criteria,” Lloyd explained in an email. That means the Times could find plenty of inward and outward looking uses for Hive in the future. And they plan to let others in on the fun as well by making Hive open source.
Lloyd said one of the things the R&D Lab is focused on is the idea of semantic listening — pulling clues and ideas about the meaning of something by looking at what surrounds it. Chronicle, which visualized word usage in the Times, and Curriculum, which creates a list of topics based on R&D Lab members’ web browsing, are two examples of that. Madison, by extension, is an effort to figure out what ads are in relation to stories, and what those ads might be selling. The benefit to the Times is being able to build new products and tools that could be useful to historians, journalists, or researchers for period-specific TV dramas to dig into the past.
RELATED ARTICLEThe New York Times is building a new TimesMachineJuly 11, 2013Madison serves a few purposes. With the release of TimesMachine, the company made it easier for people to browse old editions of the paper. But it’s an incomplete corpus compared to the print original. With Madison, the Times can build a more complete archive of everything published in the paper since it first ran off the presses in 1851, Lloyd said. But it’s also a way of getting Times readers more engaged with the paper through a little lightweight media archeology. “I think it gives our readers a look into a piece of the archive and history that has not traditionally been easy to see,” Lloyd said.
Getting the crowd involved also happened to be an efficient way of separating ads out from other parts of the paper, said Jane Friedhoff, a creative technologist with the R&D Lab who worked on Madison. Writing on the R&D Lab blog, Friedhoff outlined why using algorithmic methods to hunt for ads was difficult:
However, the digitization of our archives has primarily focused on news, leaving the ads with no metadata —making them very hard to find and impossible to search for…Complicating the process further is that these ads often have complex layouts and elaborate typefaces, making them difficult to differentiate algorithmically from photographic content, and much more difficult to scan for text.
There are three basic tasks users can perform in Madison: finding, tagging, and transcribing ads. With any crowdsourcing project, you have to balance the need for the right information against how you incentivize users to do a job, Friedhoff told me. “When we were designing Madison, we had to think of the kinds of data we were trying to get, but also ways to make it easier for people to participate,” Friedhoff said. Rather than asking people to fill out a long form, they broke it up into smaller, simpler jobs, she said.
One challenge: 163 years of newspapers is a lot of ads. Asking readers to dive into that on their own, to pick somewhere on a continuum from the Spanish–American War to the War on Drugs, is tough. Lloyd said their solution was to limit Madison by decade, starting with only ads from the 1960s. As they amass metadata on those ads, they’ll open up Madison to other years.
Friedhoff said one of the biggest motivations for using Madison is the search for “interestingness” — the discovery of ads that capture the zeitgeist of the era or, alternatively, show how far we’ve come. The ability to show off weird Canadian whiskey ads and announcements from the Record Club of America is pretty fun, as far as enticements go. “That, to me, is where the delightful part of this is, the part you want to share with your friend,” Friedhoff said.
For journalists, it can be easy to overlook advertising as the thing that helps pay the bills and adds a little color to a daily sea of black and white. But ads can also provide context and meaning around the news, telling us just as much about the past. “The news gives us that real narrative about what’s happening in the world, and the editorial judgment and control that goes into creating an objective and reliable narrative in that,” Lloyd said. “Advertising is content, but freer from those constraints and gives a look at history and what was happening at the time.”
At long last we can retire Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as the icons of investigative reporting. With his second book probing the dark tunnels of the so-called war on terror, James Risen has established himself as the finest national security reporter of this generation, a field crowded with first-rank talent at The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and the New York Times, his employer and sometimes bane.
Bane, because in 2004, the executive editor of the Times, cowed by Bush administration officials, twice spiked Risen’s story revealing that the National Security Agency had launched a massive, covert wiretapping program that was riffling through the personal communications of hundreds of millions of Americans without even a secret court order. Unbowed, Risen got a contract for a book that would reveal the NSA’s extralegal program. Only when the publication of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration appeared imminent did his editors, cornered, allow Risen to publish a version of it (co-authored with his colleague Eric Lichtblau) in the paper. And that disturbing saga provides the backdrop to Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.
After turning the last page of his latest volume, one might wonder what other important stories the Times has spiked in recent years. Although parts of Risen’s new revelations have been published in the Times or elsewhere, here they are fleshed out in richly reported chapters studded with eye-popping new charges. Read together, they offer an original and deeply disturbing perspective on the war on terror. It is, Risen writes, a story of “how greed and the hunt for cash have all too often become the main objects of the war on terror.”
In fine detail, he demonstrates how the courts, Congress and the national security and law enforcement agencies of the executive branches – aided and abetted by the high priests of the media – have been corrupted in the hugely profitable business of pursuing terrorists. “[T]he search for money and power have become the hallmarks of the war on terror,” Risen writes of one of the many unsavory episodes in the book. “The story,” he says of another episode, “shows how, during the war on terror, greed and ambition have been married to unlimited rivers of cash in the sudden deregulation of American national security to create a climate in which clever men could seemingly create rogue intelligence operations with little or no adult supervision.”
The U.S.-led war in Iraq, as we already know, was rife with lax supervision and thievery. But Risen adds an astonishing new chapter to that reprehensible folly. He tells the story of how billions of dollars intended to rebuild Iraq, shrink-wrapped in packets of $100 bills, were shipped out of a Federal Reserve warehouse in New Jersey to Baghdad and eventually made their way to secret Lebanese bunkers (an account excerpted by the Times last week).
“Approximately $2 billion of the money that was flown from the United States to Baghdad” to prop up the Iraqi government after Saddam Hussein was toppled, “was stolen and secretly transported out of Iraq in what may be one of the largest robberies in modern history,” he writes. “...In addition to cash, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold was stolen from the Iraqi government and is also being hidden in Lebanon, current and former U.S. officials have said.”
One might assume that U.S. officials would be deeply interested in finding out what happened to that money, not to mention eager to get it back. But, no. “The CIA and FBI, along with the Pentagon and State Department, have all been told about the theft of the cash, and have received evidence about the bunker in Lebanon and other locations where the cash is believed to be hidden,” he writes. “But the agencies have not tried to retrieve the money. Nobody went after it during the Bush administration, nor has the Obama administration tried. Instead, the US government has kept the entire matter secret.”
Why? Too many hands are dirty. “Like so many things about the Iraq war, the cash flights from New York started with good intentions. But ideology, chaos, and finally greed all got in the way.”
Stuart Bowen, a U.S Treasury official who tried to get to the bottom of those stolen billions, is one of the rare good guys in Risen’s book. Most of the stories feature hustlers who conned gullible White House, Pentagon and intelligence officials into backing multi-million dollar counterterrorism scams.
Take, for example, Dennis Montgomery, a habitué of the gambling tables in Reno, who “saw the post-9/11 age for what it was, a time to make money.” Montgomery scammed investors and CIA Director George Tenet into believing he had invented software that could detect hidden messages in al Qaeda videos broadcast on Al Jazeera. In late 2003, Montgomery’s scam stampeded the White House into grounding European U.S.-bound airliners and thinking about shooting them down.
In the war on terror, Risen shows again and again, anything goes, no matter how monkey-brained the scheme, especially if huge sums can be made. One of his chief culprits is the U.S. Special Operations Command, which emerges in Risen’s telling as a kind of slow witted younger brother to James Bond. “U.S. Special operations command, the military command involved in the raid to get Osama bin Laden, experienced rapid growth in power and status within the Pentagon after 9/11…. “ he writes. “With an expanded global role, [it] began to think that it needed its own version of the CIA. One idea was to set up front companies through which to conduct intelligence operations.”
All sorts of opportunists and oddballs show up in these operations. One of the most intriguing is Mike Asimos, a 1984 West Point graduate and former stockbroker with a criminal past who pops up in several wacky Pentagon spy schemes, one of which funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to front companies to gather intelligence and carry out assassinations in the Middle East. “In that, Asimos was hardly alone in the post 9/11 world,” Risen writes. “He was one of many dream weavers who flourished in Washington's global war on terror, cashing in on the counterterrorism gold rush. What the stock market in the Internet bubble were to the 1990s, the counterterrorism bubble was for the first years of the new millennium, and there was a cadre of men willing and able to take advantage.”
One of them was a Jordan-based Palestinian by the name of Nazem Houchaimi, a con man Asimos helped set up as an intelligence front with $600,000, no matter that Houchaimi ran the company “as a family enterprise, bringing in his father… as a paid intelligence asset and his sister… to manage the business.” Houchaimi ended up, “right in the middle of what appeared to be a runaway covert action program that had triggered a top-secret criminal investigation by counterintelligence agents from the FBI, amid allegations of attempted money laundering, illicit arms dealing, and other questionable activities.” Meanwhile, such operations produced tons of “intelligence” reports that “languished” because the Special Operations Command “had not yet developed the infrastructure needed to process and analyze the information once it began to come in.”
And so on, and on and on... Not even the American Psychological Association, whose internal emails obtained by Risen reveal its complicity in spurious CIA torture methods, is beyond the financial blandishments of the war on terror.
Risen’s journey down this rabbit hole was propelled by the sad story of Diane Roark, “perhaps the most courageous whistleblower of the post-9/11 era… who fought a lonely battle against the most powerful forces unleashed in Washington in the global war on terror, yet her story has never been fully told.”
In the mid-1990s Roark, a Republican staffer on the House intelligence committee with particular responsibility for oversight of the NSA, became concerned that the super-secret, hide-bound agency, then headed by Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden (later to become CIA director) was ignoring the kind of technological advances sweeping through Silicon Valley. One eavesdropping program in particular, code-named Trailblazer, was an outdated and massive waste of money, she thought. “A massive computer crash that lasted for three days at the NSA in January 2000 only increased her skepticism, and made her realize that the agency had to undergo fundamental change,” Risen writes.
Meanwhile, “her doubts made Roark a natural ally for a brilliant maverick like Bill Binney,” a senior NSA manager who had championed a cheaper, better rival to Trailblazer that had the added virtue of built-in privacy protections to shield U.S. citizens from the NSA’s robotic spies.
“After listening to Binney, Roark believed that [NSA spying operations] violated the Constitution.” So did two other NSA officials, Kirk Wiebe and Thomas Drake, who also tried to reform the program from within. In the end, however, their efforts to derail Trailblazer and other wasteful and reckless spying programs not only failed, but ended in career suicide and government retaliation (including the prosecution of Drake on espionage charges--later dropped). But as in many such cases, their concerns finally found an outlet with Risen (who has had to spend the last several years fighting off Justice Department threats to jail him for refusing to reveal his sources on another CIA fiasco in Iran).
As he fearlessly recounts here once again, however, the Times spiked his stories on the NSA misdeeds. This time around, he writes, he wasn’t going to be dissuaded. Indeed, the closing paragraphs of “Pay Any Price” amounts to a bitter “J’Accuse” against the paper’s editors, who so often set the news agenda for the rest of the American media.
“I was frustrated and deeply concerned that the truth about the war on terror was being covered up. Before the invasion of Iraq, my stories that revealed that CIA analysts had doubts about the prewar intelligence on Iraq were held, cut and buried deep inside the Times,” he writes, “even as stories by other reporters loudly proclaiming the purported existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were garnering banner headlines on page one.”
No such weapons, of course, were ever found. But the invasion of Iraq, enabled by phony intelligence reports trumpeted by the credulous media, quickly spiralled into chaos, eventually giving birth to the fractured nation's Rosemary’s Baby, the Islamic State.
“I decided,” he says of his decision to reveal the NSA spying, “I wasn't going to let that happen again.”
This time, alas, it's too late.
Reprinted with permission from Newsweek.
Jeff Stein is a Newsweek contributing editor and SpyTalk columnist based in Washington, D.C. A veteran journalist covering U.S. intelligence, the military and foreign policy, he previously was the SpyTalk columnist for the Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly's website.
Update: The project reached its funding goal in roughly 24 hours of being posted.
Griffin Dunne, nephew of famed journalist Joan Didion, launched a Kickstarter campaign today for a documentary of his aunt. Titled We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live after that memorable first line out of Didion’s The White Album, the film will be the first and only documentary made about the writer.
On its first day of funding, the Kickstarter campaign has already surpassed half of its $80,000 goal. Dunne is an Oscar-nominated director, and is partnering with director Susanne Rostock for the project. From their campaign page:
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”What we do is not actually journalism” is the catchy title of a study into how online journalists in Slovenia and Serbia perceive their work and their professional role within the newsroom.
The study’s title – a quote by an online journalist working at the Slovenian daily Delo – shows the dilemma faced by online journalists. Their main task consists of shoveling in-house print content online, reassembling press agency news or simply copying them, and translating foreign media news. Due to time pressure they only seldom produce original content. For this reason they do not regard themselves as “true journalists”.
However their answers suggest that they provide “fast news” and “credible information” and also see themselves as timely impartial mediators of social reality.
For their study Igor Vobič (University of Ljubljana) and Ana Milojević (University of Belgrade) conducted in-depth interviews with five (out of ten) online journalists from the Slovenian Delo and four (out of nine) online journalists from the Serbian Novosti. All interview partners were under 35 years at the time of the survey in 2011.
Delo as well as Novosti were established in the 1950s and were “societally owned” until the fall of socialism, then they were privatized. Both newspapers started their news websites in the late 1990s. In the 2000s, they set up online departments, which were separated from the print department in terms of space and staff. Two years before the survey by the media researchers the managements of Delo and Novosti started to rethink the role of their online journalists and online news and to integrate the print and online newsrooms. At the time of the interviews the print and online journalists at Delo were already working in a common newsroom, at Novosti they were trying to integrate the print and online processes and content without a common newsroom.
The interviewed online journalists from both newspapers complain that they are not “not regarded as equal” by their print colleagues. An online journalist from Delo says: “Some print journalists are arrogant. They regard us as a bunch of students. It is constantly implied that ‘old-school’ print journalism is the real thing. Nothing will change until online journalists become older“.
If at all, cooperation between print and online only takes place in the morning and afternoon editorial meetings; ad-hoc arrangements are rare. There is also a big difference in the employment status: Most of the interviewed online journalists are engaged in short-term contractual, casual, temporary and freelance work. Most of their print colleagues have a permanent contract, with paid sick leave better career development.
Both at Delo and at Novosti the online journalists feel “underestimated” by their print colleagues. An online journalist from Novosti said: “It seems that print journalists do not understand or do not want to understand that speed is essential online. The mindset is ‘let’s take it easy’ “.
The quick pace of work is however also one of the main problems of the online journalists. They emphasize that they do not have time for one of the most fundamental principles of journalism: to verify information. They rather rely on the accurateness of their colleagues who are their primary source of information.
On the one hand the online journalists from Delo and Novosti are of the opinion that they don’t do “true journalism” and regard themselves as “recyclers”, “robots” and “copy-pasters”. On the other hand however they call attention to the importance of online news in the process of opinion making and political participation. “With the news we provide, people can act not just like a flock of sheep, and they cannot be manipulated easily. They can make better decisions”, says a Delo online journalist.
However they hardly ever write critical articles, they are far away from taking a role as a watchdog. The answers from the Slovenian journalists however suggest that they absolutely would be able to “reveal stuff” and “control the powerful” if they had more time and the financial incentive.
A Serbian online journalist acknowledges, “journalism is pure economy. We hunt for clicks by following what is out there online and what might get our readers’ attention. Maybe I was naive, but I pictured journalism differently”.
Vobič, Igor; Milojević, Ana (2013): „What we do is not actually journalism“: Role negotiations in online departments of two newspapers in Slovenia and Serbia. In: Journalism, published online 10 December 2013
- Trushar Barot, Assistant editor of the UGC and Social Media Hub, BBC News, ‘The changing face of newsgathering in the social and digital age’
- RISJ seminar, Wednesday 11 June