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‘The imperatives of the news cycle': A licence to steal?

Last week we highlighted some of the criticism being directed at Rolling Stone magazine for its decision to hold off publishing the now notorious General McChrystal article online.

The magazine’s hold-for-the-newsstand tactic led Time.com and Politico to make full PDF copies of the printed article available through their websites – copies which were not provided directly by Rolling Stone, as was first thought, but by third parties.

In the wake of Rolling Stone’s much-derided decision, New York Times’ Media Equation blogger David Carr turns his attention to the behaviour of Time.com and Politico, which later linked back to Rolling Stone’s website when the magazine finally published online.

Publishing a PDF of somebody else’s work is the exact opposite of fair use: these sites engaged in a replication of a static electronic document with no links to the publication that took the risk, commissioned the work and came up with a story that tilted the national conversation. The technical, legal term for what they did is, um, stealing.

Jim VandeHei, executive editor and a founder of Politico, defended the site’s move by claiming that “the imperatives of the news cycle superseded questions of custody”.

Full story at this link…

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When interview subjects strike back…

June 3rd, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

Two separate examples of how journalists can be challenged/brought to task by the subjects of their interviews post-publication:

1. Freelance journalist Kat Brown gives an account of how she believes her case study interview for a feature on depression in Stylist magazine was misreported.

2. The singer M.I.A. has posted audio clips on her website that she secretly recorded whilst being interviewed by the New York Times, challenging some of the statements and quotations attributed to her in the published piece.

As the New York Observer’s write-up of the M.I.A. story explains:

The duel between reporter and source has spooked the journalism world, reminding writers that, thanks to Twitter and Facebook and other online sources, they may no longer have the final word.

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#Amnestyawards: A reminder of the content in the paywall chatter

Ahead of yesterday’s Amnesty Media Awards 2010 ceremony, shortlisted nominee duckrabbit (@duckrabbitblog) tweeted:

If last year is anything to go by … take a valium before heading up to the #amnestyawards … sobering stuff

And they were right: the audience saw harrowing images and heard troubling narration, as the introduction to each of the shortlisted pieces of human rights journalism, across 10 categories in digital, print and radio.

It was the BBC Radio 4 Today programme’s Justin Webb, presenting the national newspaper prize, who reminded us of the substance behind the ‘future of journalism’ conversation. Joking that he’d undergone hardship in his own reportage (sometimes they went half-an-hour without a snack on the Obama campaign trail!), he said it was testimony to the diligence of the shortlisted contenders that they had completed this journalism. They, he said, had put aside the “chatter” of the organs for which they work and “talk of paywalls” to pursue their subject matter.

It was a particularly timely day for the awards – Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen mentioned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla activists by Israel, and the media’s vital role in reporting events. A special award for journalism under threat has been given to independent media workers in Burma, to raise awareness of the plight of 2,200 political prisoners held by the ruling junta, including more than 40 journalists.

In addition to the main prizes, two young entrants were named Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year winners, in a new prize set up by Amnesty International UK in collaboration with the Guardian Learnnewsdesk. Their pieces on bullying and child detention at Yarl’s Wood can be read on the Guardian site, along with the other shortlisted entries.

I’ve link to some of the shortlisted videos shown last night. Not all content is available to watch/listen in full, but even these snippets are a reminder of the kind of content that should be protected – and  prioritised – in the trade and in discussions on the future of journalism.

Gaby Rado Memorial Award

International Television and Radio

Nations and Regions

National Newspapers

Digital Media

Periodicals – Consumer Magazines

Periodicals – Newspaper Supplements

Photojournalism

Radio

Television Documentary and Docudrama

Television News

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Reportr.net: ‘Does new media require new journalism ethics?’

Professor Alfred Hermida reports on today’s conference at the Center for Journalism Ethics at UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which will look at changing media ethics in an online environment.

At the heart of the ‘New Journalism, New Ethics?’ conference is whether new forms of media require new standards. Or do established ethical principles still apply?

Ahead of the event, the Center has released a report – ‘Ethics for the new investigative newsroom’.

You can view the report at this link [PDF].

Full post at this link…

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#ReutersEthics: Trust and Twitter debated at Thomson Reuters

“It’s good for trust in journalism to be low,” the Evening Standard’s executive editor said last night, “and we should feel like our back is against the wall”.

Taking part in the ‘What Price The News?’ debate on the ethics of modern journalism hosted by Thomson Reuters, the Evening Standard’s Anne McElvoy said that while society as a whole is less trusting, ‘it’s right for people to be skeptical’ about where their news is coming from.

Journalism will benefit, she claimed. “We’re not Mother Teresa – we don’t expect to have a high trust rating.”

Twitter ethics

The debate inevitably covered Twitter, and its value as a source of news. “Twitter was not designed to cover the world. It was designed to give a flavour of the conversation at the moment,” said Joe Lelyveld, Pulitzer prize winner and former New York Times journalist.

The panel also saw a use in ‘getting privileged information out there fast’, as with the Guardian-Trafigura case, but were wary of it becoming more than ‘just a tip-off service’ for journalists without subsequent fact checking.

BNP on BBC

While Nick Griffin sat in a BBC studio recording his appearance on the Question Time panel, the panel at Thomson Reuters considered how they would have dealt with the issue.

“It’s the responsibility of journalists in this country to report the hell out of this situation. You need to give your readers and viewers a truthful view of who this character is, and do so clearly, intelligently and aggressively,” said Lelyveld.

Sean Maguire, Reuters political and general news reporter, could see himself ‘making the same decision’ to allow Griffin on the programme. “It’s about time he showed himself up (…) Let’s turn the stone over and see what comes out.”

The situation paralleled the BBC’s contact with the Taliban, added Simon Robinson, European editor of Time magazine. “It was never going to change the outcome, but it is important to know what local people are thinking.”

Meanwhile Ray Snoddy, BBC Newswatch presenter and chair of the panel, wondered whether the BBC had ‘jumped the gun’ by letting Griffin appear before knowing the outcome of the court case concerning BNP membership.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has produced an Ethics Handbook, copies of which have also been printed in Arabic and distributed to journalists in the Middle East thanks to a fund left by journalist Mona Megalli. The debate could be followed on Twitter (#ReutersEthics) and Reuters ran a live blog on its site.

Marion Dakers (@mvdakers) is an MA newspaper journalist student at City University.

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The $10m lawsuit against the New Yorker – Papua New Guineans challenge Jared Diamond article

A curious case is fast-escalating in the US: it involves a $10 million defamation lawsuit, two Papua New Guineans who feel they have been inaccurately portrayed, the New Yorker magazine, the research site StinkyJournalism.org… and Jared Diamond, the well-known UCLA professor and author.

A summary of major events, in brief:

  • In April 2008, Jared Diamond [linguist, molecular physiologist, bio-geographer] publishes an article in the New Yorker entitled ‘Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?’
  • The article, about blood feuds in Papua New Guinea, featured the story of Daniel Wemp and an account of how he spent three years pursuing revenge for his uncle’s death. Allegedly, the feud resulted in six battles and the deaths of 300 pigs.
  • Diamond reports that Henep Isum Mandingo, the man Daniel Wemp was alleged to hold responsible for his uncle’s murder, was shot by a hired hitman in the back with an arrow, leaving him paralysed and in a wheelchair.
  • In 2008, the media ethics and research site, StinkyJournalism.org, begin an investigation in Papua New Guinea into the facts of Diamond’s article.
  • On April 21, 2009, The research team report that The New Yorker fact checkers ‘never contacted any of the indigenous Papua New Guinea people named in Jared Diamond’s article as unrepentant killers, rapists and thieves, before publication’.
  • The team also reports that Henep Isum Mandingo is not paralysed in a wheelchair with spinal injury, as Diamond claimed.

“He [Henep Isum Mandingo] and Daniel Wemp, Diamond’s World Wildlife Fund driver in 2001-2002, and only source for The New Yorker’s revenge story in Papua New Guinea, as well as dozens of tribal members, police officials, deny Diamond’s entire tale about the bloody Ombal and Handa war, calling it ‘untrue’.”

  • On April 20 2009, Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum file a summons and sue for $10 million in the Supreme Court of The State of New York. They charge Jared Diamond and Advance Publications (publishers of The New Yorker magazine and Times-Picayune newspaper) with defamation.

Now, news of the law suit is gathering pace:

Reported by the Associated Press here at this link, it has also been picked up by the New York Post and other publications.

The New York Post reports that New Yorker magazine is standing by its story, as does the Associated Press.

StinkyJournalism.org co-founder, Rhonda Roland Shearer believes that while Wemp may have shared his experiences with Diamond, that does not mean Diamond’s report is accurate, she told Journalism.co.uk.

Shearer reports this quote made by Wemp in an interview: ‘The facts are totally wrong in The New Yorker story. I have given all those stories to Diamond and those stories are very true and those names are not fake.’

“In other words, Wemp says he told the true stories to Diamond with real names but Diamond retold them wrongly by jumbling up information,” Shearer reports in her article, co-written with Michael Kigl, Kritoe Keleba and Jeffrey Elapa.

“I wish the circumstance wasn’t true. It’s so ugly,” Shearer told Journalism.co.uk.

A 40,000-word report (‘Real Tribes / Fake History: Errors, Failures of Method and the Consequences for Indigenous People in Papua New Guinea’) will be released by StinkyJournalism.org in coming weeks.

Shearer herself has received criticism in a comment from ‘Mi Tasol’ under the research for exaggerating the implications of the original article. “I don’t think I sensationalised the gravity of what Diamond has done. But you are entitled to your opinion,” Shearer responded. While applauding the report, and condemning Diamond’s piece, another commenter, ‘ples223,’ points out the difficulties of ‘getting stories straight’ in Papua New Guinea.

Journalism.co.uk will attempt to contact Jared Diamond and the New Yorker magazine for further comment.

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StinkyJournalism.org: ABC News ‘exploitation of medical conditions’

StinkyJournalism.org flags up what it thinks is an example of mainstream media’s “recent venture into commercial exploitation of what former generations unkindly called ‘freaks’.”

“The ABC News photo gallery titled ‘Medical Marvels’ might just as easily have appeared in a lurid grocery store tabloid from the 1950s. It titillates viewers with a black screen and the cautionary words: ‘WARNING: Some of the following pictures are of a graphic nature. Viewer discretion is advised’.”

Full story at this link…

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Guido to introduce community rating system to blog

(or, ‘how many times can we use the word ‘comment’ in one blog post’?)

Guido Fawkes got the comments going today with a post that said he is ‘mulling over’ whether to moderate comments over the holiday period. He also announces that in the new year a ‘community rating’ element will be introduced to his blog (details at end of this post).

Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, referred back to November, to the Goldsmiths seminar on media ethics and a comment from the Times Comment editor, Anne Spackman, who said that TimesOnline spends ‘six figures’ on pre-moderating online comments [unclear over what time period - Journalism.co.uk will follow-up soon. UPDATE 19/12: Anne Spackman told Journalism.co.uk that the paper cannot currently clarify exact details, but that a six figure bill is paid to another partner.]

Fawkes said today on his blog:

“It is certainly expensive in time, every morning Guido deletes a load of comments which have, in his rather arbitrary judgement, just gone too far.”

Journalism.co.uk was also at the Goldsmiths event and spoke to Fawkes afterwards. He told Journalism.co.uk that he doesn’t moderate comments – ‘it has to get pretty gynecological before I do’.

In regards to the BNP list (which had leaked that week): “I did allow it. oh terrible, terrible, terrible. Oh well…”

“I deleted the stuff about Baby P,” he told Journalism.co.uk.

“I noticed it [information about Baby P] was still on the BBC’s website. I called them up, and they said ‘we’re not taking it down because the order doesn’t apply’.  I said ‘well, is it because it’s an order or because it is right or wrong?'”

Fawkes said that if he is found to be ‘in the wrong’ he’ll take something down, but added that ‘it’s very difficult to send me a writ.’

“Unless you catch me having a drink here, where are you going to send the writ?”

“There’s no bricks and mortar,” he said.

While Guido Fawkes says on his blog post that he takes a ‘sticks and stones view to a large extent’, he outlines a number of changes to be introduced in the New Year:

“[Y]ou [the users] will still be able to say what you like (within somewhat arbitrary inconsistent limits) without pre-moderation or registering. However there will be incentives for those who produce better quality commentary based on a new element of co-conspirator community rating.

“Good comments will be more prominently displayed, disliked comments will be less prominent. The biggest innovation is that it will be possible for readers to set their own tolerance thresholds. Poorly rated comments will be invisible to those who set their preferences accordingly.

“If you only want to see comments judged by co-conspirators to be witty, amusing or illuminating, set your threshold to ‘Recommended’. Don’t want to read foul language? Set your threshold to ‘U’. Want to see all and any comments no matter how foul? Set your threshold to ‘XXX’.

“If your commentary is consistently recommended your comments will automatically be more prominent in the future and may even get highlighted on the frontpage.”

Unmoderated comments follow his post.

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Naming Baby P is not about giving into a Facebook campaign

November 18th, 2008 | 12 Comments | Posted by in Press freedom and ethics

Naming Baby P and his mother is not about giving into a hysterical Facebook campaign group; this is about confronting the reality of the online age.

I can’t link to it here, because it would be breaching reporting restrictions, but I know Baby P’s name, the baby’s mother’s name and the name of her partner.

So does anyone with even a little bit of Google cache savvy about them: it’s on a BBC report from 2007. Google cache preserves a page even if, as the BBC has done, original articles have been removed.

As the Independent reported, Facebook groups have published the details, despite the court order not to.

My argument is not about revealing the names for justice, it is about having a law which can actually be enforced.

If it had been reported abroad, on non-UK websites, they would be not be held accountable under the UK Contempt of Court legislation. Court orders, such as the one in this case protecting the names of the defendants, are simply not feasible in the web age.

I believe that whatever ensures fair trials without prejudice, protects the innocent people involved in the case (other people connected or in the family, for example) is necessary, and if keeping the names secret does that, then that should be done: I certainly won’t be joining any Facebook group to force their disclosure.

But it should be done in such a way where they really are secret, which has not happened in this case:

Jason Owen’s name is known; the mother’s name has also been previously published and is reachable with a quick search; the baby’s photograph is in the press.

One of the Facebook groups has a description reading: ‘For sum [sic] reason the press have seen it fit not to reveal the sick people who killed this poor helpless child.’

The press has not chosen to keep quiet (they certainly would print the names if they could); they are bound by law not to. But what happens when the wider community who have not been taught about reporting restrictions and contempt of court choose to publish, using blogs and social network sites?

I imagine that most people in that community, and wider geography, knows who the family are. Last night’s BBC Panorama showed that the research team were able to access things the mother wrote on social networking sites.

Yet the names cannot be disclosed by the British press without contravening the Contempt of Court Act. This means that disclosures are made through people who aren’t necessarily so concerned about, or even think about, media ethics or face any kind of editorial process.

As I reported in September, Bob Satchwell from the Society of Editors believes the legislation is out of date and redundant, as do many others.

Orders, such as those under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, for example, allow a court to ban publication of specific information, in addition to statutory reporting restrictions. But how on earth to enforce this in an online world?

This is starkly proven in the case of Baby P.

It’s time to readdress our laws, as Satchwell has urged the Attorney General, and make trials really fair.

Postscript: I’ve just found Martin Belam’s blog post, which makes a similar point, and also focuses on the ‘sheer scale of useage of the internet’ in the UK as compared to 2000 when Victoria Climbié case was reported, for example.

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