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Stephen Farrell’s kidnap raises the ‘media blackout’ question: it’s time for a debate in the UK

September 10th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Comment, Newspapers, Press freedom and ethics

This week’s operation in Afghanistan to rescue New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell, during which a British soldier, Farrell’s Afghan translator (Sultan Munadi) and two civilians were killed, has provoked national debate in the UK:

“One senior Army source told the Daily Telegraph “When you look at the number of warnings this person had it makes you really wonder whether he was worth rescuing, whether it was worth the cost of a soldier’s life.” (Telegraph.co.uk)

Many of the commenters on news stories feel very strongly that it was wrong for a journalist’s actions to lead to such tragic consequences, as Jon Slattery noted on his blog yesterday. Further still: “Members of the Armed Forces have expressed anger that he [Farrell] ignored warnings not to visit the site of an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers that killed scores of Taliban and innocent villagers,” the Telegraph reported. Others defend the role of journalists in Afghanistan: for example, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists.

This tragic incident also raised another issue, that of media silence. Today a special report by Joe Strupp on Editor&Publisher questions whether media blackouts are appropriate when reporters are kidnapped in war zones. It’s an excellent overview of recent events, that looks back at the case of another New York Times journalist, David Rohde – the paper managed to keep news of his kidnap off Wikipedia until his escape seven months later.

The question of media blackout is one Journalism.co.uk has raised in the past. In January, we reported on the silence surrounding the kidnap of the Telegraph’s Colin Freeman and José Cendon in Somalia. We had been asked not to report on the case by the Telegraph and the UK Foreign Office when the pair went missing at the end of 2008. The ban was lifted when they were released.

However, as we reported, some information was published before the blackout request was made clear: the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released information relating to the journalists’ kidnap on November 26 2008 and Roy Greenslade subsequently blogged about it at Guardian.co.uk – the post was removed but it was still captured in the RSS feed.

It’s a complex issue that Strupp raises in his E&P article:

“With Rohde’s escape, a major debate ignited in and out of the journalism community about how responsible the coordinated secret had been. Was this a breach of journalistic ethics, sitting on a story for so long mainly because a colleague was involved?”

Strupp quotes Edward Wasserman, a journalism professor at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, who echoed claims of other critics, that the Times and similar news outlets would not do the same for a non-journalist: “Some people are in a position to implore the press for restraint better than others”.

It is a debate we need to have in the UK too: the London-based Frontline Club would be an ideal venue in which to hold a discussion with representatives from the UK foreign office, press freedom and safety organisations and news organisations raising the reasons for and against media blackouts. The practicalities of enforcement also need to be discussed. We understand that such an idea is in the pipeline, so we’ll keep you posted.

Please do share links to existing debate online.

In the meantime, here is a link to an item on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme, featuring Frontline Club founder and cameraman (and former soldier) Vaughan Smith and the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen discussing the Stephen Farrell case.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8247000/8247681.stm

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Greenslade visits the local newsagent for his first Brighton Argus hyperlocal post

Hard (online) evidence that Roy Greenslade has now put his hyperlocal money where his hyperlocal mouth is, with his first Kemp Town piece for the Brighton Argus website. He even has a photograph to prove it too (see below)…

Greenslade, journalism professor and blogger at MediaGuardian, does his bit for local newsagents, with his report ‘that one Kemp Town retailer [The Kiosk] has just expanded his operations by opening a second outlet [News Buoy]‘.  Owner Guy Wright’s 22-year-old daughter, Danielle, ‘has forsaken her cabin crew job with Easyjet to become what I believe to be Britain’s youngest newsagent,’ Greenslade continues.

Full story at this link and you can subscribe to the new Kemp Town Community Correspondent’s feed here.

greensladehyperlocal

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Greenslade: ‘Putting my hyperlocal money where my hyperlocal mouth is’

A nice hyperlocal story in which Journalism.co.uk plays a wee bit o’ a role.

A few weeks ago a good discussion got going at the Frontline Club on the future of regional media.

Roy Greenslade, journalism professor, blogger and resident of Brighton said:

“It’s for the good of the whole community that it [a local newspaper] acts. That loss is something people won’t necessarily be fighting for because they don’t know they’re losing it. We as journalists – that’s our job – it’s for us to ensure that we try and fight to save it.”

In the audience, next to your very own Journalism.co.uk contingent (we didn’t quite out-number the ex-Press Gazetters) sat Jo Wadsworth, who started as web editor of the Brighton Argus in February.

Now – as context – Jo Wadsworth had corrected one ‘Weige’ on Greenslade’s blog a little while back. Weige had it on ‘good authority’ that the Argus didn’t have an online team. Oh yes it does, retorted its new web editor.

Fast-forward a few months: Greenslade’s comments at the Frontline got Wadsworth thinking. Wouldn’t it be good to get him to put his hyperlocal money where his hyperlocal mouth was, she cheekily joked to Journalism.co.uk afterwards. Go on… we egged her on. J.co.uk, for one, had been impressed by his local butcher knowledge over a drink in the bar afterwards.

So, today comes this announcement from Roy Greenslade:

“So, dear readers, since I happen to live – at least part of the year, anyway – in the city of Brighton and Hove, I am planning to become the community reporter for the Kemp Town area of Brighton.

“Now that’s what I call going back to basics.”

Jo Wadsworth had this to say to Journalism.co.uk: “We were talking after the Frontline event about Kemp Town, where I’ve just moved to, and it became very clear he was passionate about the neighbourhood he’s lived in for many years. From there, it was an obvious step to take to invite him to be our newest community correspondent – and the first, I hope of many more.”

And Greenslade? His patch is not exactly defined yet, he told Journalism.co.uk, but he has started to form some ideas.

“I hope to take up topical issues raised by the people who live in what is a very diverse community, whether it be the proposals to develop the marina and the Blackrock shoreline or the continuing annoyance of litter and rubbish on the streets. And I expect to open a dialogue with the city’s councillors who represent the area. What do they do? Who are the community police officers, and how do they operate?

“I want to highlight some of the characters who one sees on the streets and in the shops. I also plan to deal with some of the rich history of the Regency houses, which were originally homes to the titled, the famous and well-heeled.  Though there are  many blue plaques in this area, for example, many the names mean nothing to current residents. Who was Harrison Ainsworth, for instance, the man who once lived in the Arundel Terrace house where I have lived for 38 years?

“I guess I might get into arts and culture too, with the Bombay Bar as one obvious prospect.”

We’ll keep you posted with the link to Greenslade’s content when it goes live. Journalism.co.uk, also residents of Brighton, will definitely be making the most of his local contribution.

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What would a UK-based ProPublica look like?

April 6th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Online Journalism

In today’s MediaGuardian, City University of New York (CUNY) journalism professor Jeff Jarvis writes that that foundations will not take over newspapers, à la Scott Trust / Guardian relationship. He told Journalism.co.uk: “It is an empty hope for white knights to save news from inevitable change and business reality. But he says: “We’ll see foundation and public support able to fund a decent number of investigations.”

Yesterday, Journalism.co.uk published comments from New York University (NYU) professor, Jay Rosen, and ProPublica’s managing editor, Stephen Engelberg, as well as from Jarvis in a feature looking at the sustainability of ‘lump sum’ funded journalism – they all said that the point was not to look at ‘one solution’ but at a hybrid of funding opportunities (an issue picked up by Julie Starr here.)

US-based ProPublica, funded by the Sandler Foundation, for example, employs full-time journalists to conduct investigations which are then supplied to other media bodies. Journalism.co.uk raised the point with some of the NYJournalism interviewees (fuller features forthcoming) that similar foundation funding is a bit trickier to come by in the UK: just what would a UK version of ProPublica look like and could it be funded?

Would the equivalent of ProPublica work over here? Or, for that matter, something in the mould of Spot.Us, New America Media, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, or the Center for Public Integrity?

Last week the Guardian’s Stephen Moss mentioned Paul Bradshaw’s new project, HelpMeInvestigate.com in his giant G2 feature on the troubled regional newspaper industry. It’s a proposal not quite on the scale of ProPublica, which has an annual operating budget of $10 million, and it’s seen success so far, making it to third stage of the (American) Knight News Challenge 2009 and it awaits news of further progress.

How about existing organisations in the UK? There’s the Centre for Investigative Journalism with its annual summer school, but it doesn’t run and supply investigations in the way ProPublica does. There’s MySociety which can help journalists with stories, but is not designed as a primarily journalistic venture.

Author of Flat Earth News, Nick Davies, has previously told the Press Gazette (which has just announced its last issue) about his idea of models of ‘mini-media’.

“It may be that we are looking at funding mini-media or a foundation that will give money to groups of journalists if they can pass the quality threshold,” Davies said at an National Union of Journalists (NUJ) event in January, as Press Gazette reported.

“The greatest question in journalism today is what will be our ‘third source’ of funding,” Davies told Journalism.co.uk last week.

“If advertising and circulation can no longer pay for our editorial operation, we have to find this third source.

“I suspect that place by place and case by case, the answer to the question will be different, a matter of wrapping up whatever package of cash is possible, using donations or grants or sponsorship or micropayments from foundations, rich individuals, local councils, businesses, NGOs, universities – anybody who can understand that the collapse of newspapers is not just about journalists losing their jobs but about everybody losing an essential source of information.

“And in an ideal world, central government would lead the way by setting up a New Media Fund to provide seed money to help these non-profit mini-media to establish themselves and to find their particular third source.”

So could a third source-funded model work? And what shape would it take? It’s a question Journalism.co.uk will continue to ask. Please share your thoughts below.

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Criticism from blogosphere for journalist’s interview with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

March 10th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Social media and blogging

Business journalist Sarah Lacy’s interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the SXSW conference is being torn to shreds by bloggers, because of Lacy’s anecdotal style and rambling questions.

Lacy’s response: an angry message to Twitter (flagged up by CNET) shown below.

Sarah Lacy posts an angry message to Twitter

Lacy’s interview is now being touted as teaching material for journalism professor Jeff Jarvis’ classes. On his blog, Jarvis says Lacy’s biggest mistakes were not knowing or listening to her audience and her treatment of Zuckerberg – who apparently had to interrupt her ramble to suggest she asked a question at one point.

A post on Adam Tinworth’s blog details the lessons that should be learnt from this interview, namely: ‘engage, know your occasion, do your research and don’t confuse yourself with the story’.

Well said – these are basic interview skills, but Tinworth’s post highlights how these rules should be applied in a new media environment. He points out that despite working in a social media area, Lacy has ‘no direct means of replying that isn’t mediated by others’.

Lacy’s credentials as a business reporter covering technology for BusinessWeek and author on the subject of Silicon Valley and Web 2.0 should have stood her in good stead for this interview.

But it seems her reputation was not sufficient to endear her to or engage with her audience or the blogosphere – after all the interview wasn’t supposed to be about her…

UPDATE – Lacy gives her reaction to the interview in a video response (from Omar Galagga)

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wyrny8PP-M]

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Jeff Jarvis on mobile journalism

February 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Mobile, Online Journalism

Beet.TV has an interesting video interview with Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York journalism professor, on the advantages of mobile journalism.

In particular Jarvis has been testing out Reuters’ Nokia handsets at the recent World Economics Forum, where found practical advantages to the size of the device and the speed with which copy can be filed.

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