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Investigative journalism news site ExaroNews launches

A new investigative journalism site is today marking the launch of its “field trial”, during which time it will test the platform and carry a selection of articles “to give people an idea of what is coming”.

ExaroNews aims to “hold power to account” and will launch as a fully-fledged, paywalled investigative news site “in a few weeks”, with a focus on appealing to readers in the business community, Mark Watts, the site’s editor told Journalism.co.uk.

The new organisation plans to encourage WikiLeaks-style whistleblowing, hoping those with a potential story will contact the Fleet Street-based editorial team or leave the documents in an anonymous drop box, which will launch at a later date, Watts explained.

The server is physically located outside of the jurisdiction which means it makes it much safer in terms of attempts to find out who has passed information on.

As well as hoping to have leaked documents to investigate, the team of mainly freelance journalists will spend the majority of time “crawling public data for stories that are generally going missed”.

The journalists will be “investigating governments in the widest sense of that word, investigating public bodies and what they are up to” by analysing the “increasing volume of public data available”, Watts said.

Journalists working for a mainstream media title don’t really have the time to assess and make sense of that data.

The team of journalists

The growing team of journalists working for the organisation includes “people who have worked on both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, people who have worked in broadcasting and people from trade magazine backgrounds”, Watts told Journalism.co.uk.

One of those is former Westminster correspondent for the Guardian David Hencke, he said, plus there are “those who are much fresher out of journalism college, particularly those who have learned a bit about data journalism and a bit about how to make use of information that is put in the public domain by an array of public bodies”.

Watts himself ran the investigations unit at the now-defunct Sunday Business, and has worked on the Sunday Times and on TV programme World in Action.

Sample stories

One of the stories currently on the site is on negotiations between the new Libyan government and the UK, which, according to Watts, was later reported in the Sunday Times.

Former Guardian journalist David Hencke has a series of stories on the site “how auditors found crazy examples of misspending by all sorts of Whitehall departments and all this was gathered from audit reports that were in the public domain but had not been picked up on”, Watts said.

Subscription costs

Paywall prices have not yet been set and readers will be able to access the site by paying for a subscription or can opt to micro-buy articles, Watts explained.

The site is particularly, but not exclusively, aimed at a business and City audience,  simply because we think that that’s probably where the paying audience will be, as distinct from the general consumer, which has got used to the idea of having content for free.

Once the paywall is launched readers will see a homepage with introductions to articles and will be then prompted to micro-buy or subscribe.

Investigative journalism does cost money and although people are getting used to the idea of getting news content for nothing, of course what they are often getting for free is just regurgitated, rehashed, or, to use that phrase, churned material which its no wonder is free as really it is pretty valueless.

ExaroNews is holding a launch party this evening (1 November).

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#wef11: Why Der Spiegel and the Hindu used WikiLeaks as a source

In today’s session on WikiLeaks and whistleblowing at the World Editors Forum in Vienna, the panel included a number of news outlets which have chosen to publish WikiLeaks material, and some which hadn’t, who shared their thoughts on the platform and process. Some interesting opinions were discussed.

First up, N Ram, editor-in-chief of India’s the Hindu told the conference that his publication had a clear understanding with WikiLeaks and as a result the newspaper was able to offer a “series of worthwhile insights”.

It is an astonishing achievement for any journalistic venture, not to mention a not-for-profit that relies on volunteers. It shows the power of new technology but even more the power of ideas of justice and freedom including the idea that information wants to be free and you have to show very good cause if it is not to be free.

WikiLeaks has a role on the global media stage, as a reliable source, as an enabler. My contention is that there’s nothing nebulous about WikiLeaks or OpenLeaks as a source and we need to cut through the muddle. The muddle is not out there but in our mindsets as professional journalists who often work on the assumption that we have to follow clear standards for dealing with a source. This is a myth. Market practice takes in an astonishing range, from ethically sound rules to an anything goes approach e.g. paying sources, corrupting high value sources, stings purely for sensationalism.

He added that it is not just sources which have an agenda, as do news organisations.

There is no special reason to be suspicious of the agenda of WikiLeaks etc. You just have to apply good journalistic verification procedures and standards.

Another newspaper which partnered with WikiLeaks was Der Spiegel in Germany. Editor-in-chief Mathias Muller von Blumencron discussed the pressures of this form of work, saying there is a lot of credibility at risk if it emerged that such processes were not safe.

It seems in the digital age every step is traceable. Perhaps we all focus too much on technical aspect. In the end it all becomes a very human factor, which I think is more important than the technical aspect. It’s called credibility and trust. Does the audience feel the news organisation handled it in protective way?

He said the paper decided to deal with WikiLeaks last year, as it had the impression that “the material was so important that we had to find a way to publish it in a responsible way”.

We were also thinking it was valuable to work with partners in other parts of the world. Things change. sources change, We don’t know about the future, but what happened during the last month was not making us very happy [a likely reference to WikiLeaks' decision to publish the US embassy cables in full unredacted form].

It was interesting to then hear the viewpoint of Tom Kent, standards editor and deputy managing editor of the Associated Press, which did not publish the material and is, in his words, a “virgin” as far as working with WikiLeaks is concerned.

Leaked information becomes really valuable when combined with interviews and analysis and leak sites tend not to do a lot of this. If leaking does become a new way of reporting, leakers will face the same issues as news outlets. How do you know what stuff is real? It will be increasingly possible to forge what seem to be authentic documents, or thousands of documents, so they may eventually find their credibility at serious risk. I would not like us to get to a place where we ask for information and authorities say “it’s secret, just try to steal it”.

Looking forward to the next step for newspapers, N Ram said papers need to be bolder and collaborate with hackers, “in a legitimate sense”.

The most elegant way will be to have an open-door approach. This can be a very powerful way of enabling although not soliciting sensitive material relating to security. We all have to gear up, take this seriously, because if we don’t do it other newspapers will.

During this panel session OpenLeaks co-founder Daniel Domscheit-Berg said why he feels journalists must become more aggressive.

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Andy Dickinson: Ethics, online and journalism

March 3rd, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

On Monday Andy Dickinson posted his ‘deliberately challenging’ lecture on ethics, online and journalism, which he gave to his third year journalism students a few weeks ago, up on his blog. Within it there are some interesting questions raised about the ethics of online journalism in light of recent examples.

It’s journalists who get to decide what journalism is. And because large media organisations have lots of journalists, they are the ones who exert most influence in defining it’s norms. They are the ones who play the biggest part on defining the practice, and the moral and ethical constraints.

So it isn’t the web changes things. It has neither the power (or, collectively, the will or desire) to do that. It’s the journalists reaction to it that shapes journalism.

So, as a journalist:

  • Is using information from WikiLeaks any different than using information from ‘hacked’ mobile phones?
  • Is pretending to be someone you are not on Facebook or a chatroom any different than pretending to be a constituent of Vince Cable?
  • Is saying something outrageous on Twitter worse because you are journalist just like it is because you are a civil servant?
  • Does it matter what party you voted for in the election or what your political beliefs are if you are journalist?

The full post on the lecture is at this link.

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New whistleblowers’ site UniLeaks writes open letter to US college presidents

UniLeaks, which calls itself  ‘a version of Wikileaks aimed at universities’ has published an open letter to US college presidents informing them of the existence of the site.

UniLeaks, which started in Australia, says it aims to have a global reach and wants to expose corruption and mismanagement in academic institutions.

The whistleblowing site has published a media release.

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New Brussels-based WikiLeaks spin-off to target EU

December 13th, 2010 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Politics

This article was first published by the European Journalism Centre and is reposted here with permission.

WikiLeaks spin-off Brussels Leaks launched out of the blue last Thursday to much excitement in the European capital and Twittersphere beyond.

The European Journalism Centre’s exclusive email interview with an anonymous representative is amongst the very first media contact with the fledgling European whistleblower organisation.

Image by quinn.anya on Flickr Some rights reserved.

Why did you feel the need to set up a Brussels/EU focused Wikileaks spin-off? What do you want to achieve?

We have all worked in Brussels for a while and have constantly seen, or heard about, documents floating around which ‘would be great if they could get out in the open’. People didn’t know how to do this most of the time. In our day jobs we did this, using our networks and contacts, but there were a lot of limits. Having personal connections with ‘people in the know’ means their jobs could be on the line if we revealed the information.

Brussels has more than 15,000 lobbyists attempting to have an impact on international decisions. It’s naïve to think things do not happen behind closed doors (such as European President Barroso attending a Plastics lobby dinner – weird?).

This isn’t really for media as much as to help society, and perhaps namely civil society, get their hands on the right information to make their jobs easier.

What do you plan to focus on?

Obviously it’s EU focused which is as broad as you can get. At the moment we try the best with what we get, but obviously anything social or environmental takes priority. We’ll see.

Can you give us a clue as to what leaks, if any, you have in the pipeline?

Transport and energy.

What kind of people have/will leak information on the EU to you? What are their motives?

We meet people all the time working for EU institutions, lobby and industry groups and even NGOs who want to get information out there. They’re often good people who see something they know is wrong, and want to get it known whilst keeping hold of their jobs.

Do you have any direct connections/contact with WikiLeaks? Have they or similar whistleblowing/hacker organisations been in contact with you, or given you advice or assistance?

No, not yet but we are very open to advice and assistance.

What has been the response so far to Brussels Leaks from the institutions/organisations you plan to ‘leak’ information about?

Very quiet publically but we have heard they have at least half an eye on us.

How do your security and technical capabilities match up to the organisations who may try to stop you?

At the moment, it’s hard to tell. We’re not really anticipating in the short-term anything which would put us under the kind of pressure WikiLeaks witnessed, as many of the leaks we have so far are quite low key. This is Brussels after all. Of course we want to build, improve and develop over time – we have a plan and we won’t overstep our capacities.

Is there anything you would not publish?

We are a small group of people who will try to work to a moral code. We’re not interested in gossip or slander. We are doing this because we want to get important information out in the open, but if it looks to endanger somebody, i.e. lives or jobs, then we will not. We also have high level media contacts outside of this who we can refer leaks onto. We’re not here to get publicity, just to get the information out there.

Are any of you journalists?

Yes, all are either journalists or working in communications capacities in Brussels.

What is your code of ethics?

Obviously as we are staying anonymous we need to build credibility and a reputation. We will always be truthful, accurate, and fair and want to hold everything up to public accountability.

What can people do to get involved with Brussels Leaks?

We particularly need technical help, which is always appreciated. Otherwise, we’d just want people to be patient with us. We’re probably not going to bring down EU global diplomacy or anything like that, so we just need time.

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Wired.com: ‘Why WikiLeaks is good for America’

Wired magazine has had a somewhat fractious relationship with whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks since the latter rose to prominence.

Speaking at the beginning of October at City University London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hit out at the magazine for allegations it made about infighting at the organisation.

Later in the month he made further criticisms of two particular blogs on Wired.com:

We condemned Wired magazine for that conduct and the magazine has been oppositional ever since. The two blogs concerned, “Threat Level” and “Danger Room”, while having produced some good journalism over the years, mostly now ship puff pieces about the latest “cool weapons system” and other “war tech toys” as befits their names – “Threat Level” and “Danger Room”.

But Wired.com editor-in-chief Evan Hansen, writing yesterday on the Threat Level blog, clearly thinks the organisation is a force for good in the world, or in the US at least:

WikiLeaks is not perfect, and we have highlighted many of its shortcomings on this website. Nevertheless, it’s time to make a clear statement about the value of the site and take sides:

WikiLeaks stands to improve our democracy, not weaken it.

See the full post – Why WikiLeaks is good for America – at this link…

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Leaked US military video boosts donations to Wikileaks

April 8th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Press freedom and ethics

Whistleblowing website Wikileaks has received more than £150,000 in donations since Monday, when it published a leaked US military video of the killing of 12 civilians – including two Reuters staff – in Iraq in 2007. According to the Wikileaks site, the project requires $600,000 a year to run.

The video has been hailed as a turning point for the controversial site (see this Wired article from 2009), which uses a network of volunteers to release information and promises full confidentiality for its sources.

As the Editors Weblog summarises:

Many news outlets might find themselves in a love-hate relationship with the news outlet. Wikileaks is situated at an important spot within the news industry as the only place willing to publish stories others can’t or wont. The website can function as a voice capable of breaking high profile scandals news outlets don’t want to break.

While Wikileaks acts as an important watchdog against corruption, the sometimes-paranoid tone of the site might undermine the website’s value while making it a target for criticism. To an extent, Wikileaks has every right to indulge in their paranoia. Several democratic governments around the world, all of whom have laws protecting free speech, have passed or discussed creating new laws which block the public’s access to the website. Just last night, the UK passed the digital economy bill, which contains a clause that could be used to justify blocking Wikileaks. The site is also blacklisted in Denmark and Australia.

Democracy Now is claiming videos it has obtained feature eyewitness accounts of the 2007 attack from the day after event; while international media organisations have called for a fresh investigation of the incident by the US military.

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CNN: Wikileaks editor on why it posted video of Reuters journalists’ deaths

Julian Assange explains the process involved in receiving and breaking the encryption on the US military video published by the site earlier this week, which shows the slaying of 12 people including two Reuters journalists in an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007.

Any assertion that Wikileaks selectively edited the video is “an outrageous straw man”, says Assange.

“We have a mission to promote political reforms by releasing suppressed information,” he explains, when asked about Wikileak’s mission.

This is a special circumstance for us, because this is not what we normally report. This is an attack on our own, this is an attack on journalists in a difficult situation trying to report the truth and we have a responsibility to our sources who give us this sort of material to get it out there. In fact, our promise to them is that if they give us this type of material that is of significance and has been suppressed we will release it and try to get the maximum political impact for it.

Video available at this link…

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Wikileaks releases video showing Apache shooting of Reuters news staff

Wikileaks today released a video depicting the slaying of more than 12 people – including two Reuters news staff – by two Apache helicopters using 30mm cannon fire.

The attack took place on the morning of 12 July 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. Two children were also wounded.

Among the dead, were two Reuters news employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Chmagh was a 40-year-old Reuters driver and assistant; Noor-Eldeen was a 22-year-old war photographer.

An investigation by the US military concluded that the soldiers acted in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own rules of engagement.

Reuters has been unsuccessfully trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act since the time of the attack.

More information can be found on the Collateral Murder website.

Warning: the following video contains highly disturbing imagery.

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Could Iceland’s journalism haven create a ‘ripple effect’?

Al Jazeera English’s Listening Post has an excellent film about the new Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) proposal, which, if successful, could make Iceland an investigative journalism haven.

  • Read more about IMMI here: http://immi.is/?l=en: “The goal of the IMMI proposal is to task the government with finding ways to strengthen freedom of expression around world and in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers. To this end the legal environment should be explored in such a way that the goals can be defined, and changes to law or new law proposals can be prepared. The legal environments of other countries should be considered, with the purpose of assembling the best laws to make Iceland a leader of freedoms of expression and information.”
  • Wikileaks.org, which helped draft the law, also has more information here (its site currently has restricted content, as it prepares for relaunch and seeks more funds).

In the Listening Post film, which also features Index on Censorship news editor Padraig Reidy, Wikileaks’ editor Julian Assange explains IMMI’s limits as well as its potential: “It’s important to remember that the IMMI appears to be a good bullet, but it’s not a magic bullet, so there will be many cases where there is brutal suppression of the press that IMMI doesn’t have substantial effect on.”

IMMI’s proponents hope new legislation will help change tough libel laws around the world, with a “ripple effect” in the EU and beyond.

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