Tag Archives: Alan Rusbridger

CJR: Strange Eruptions from the WikiLeaks Saga

At the end of last week, the Columbia School of Journalism has played host to the two newspaper editors credited with breaking the first major WikiLeaks stories.

The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger and the New York Times’ Bill Keller shared the stage to discuss their handling of the leaks.

It was not a night of revelations, except perhaps Keller going further than before in claiming that the email accounts of NYT staff working on the story had been “clearly hacked” around the time that the paper’s relations with WikiLeaks deteriorated.

WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Julian Assange is in Belmarsh Magistrates Court today to fight extradition to Sweden on charges of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.

Full story on Columbia Journalism Review at this link.

Guardian: The anguish of swapping to wapping

The Guardian has dipped into the archive and dusted off a 15-year-old article from by Guardian editor – then features writer – Alan Rusbridger about News International’s move to Wapping.

Rusbridger’s article charts the bitterly disputed move from Fleet Street in 1986, which he describes as “the new dawn of the newspaper industry”.

Journalists were reportedly given a choice between a pay rise and a move to Wapping, or the sack. There was rancour, but eventually they agreed and made the move.

And what a world awaited them. When they had left work on Friday night they had left behind them a slightly seedy office – paper-strewn, dog-eared desks with ageing typewriters and half-drunk cups of coffee. And there on Monday morning was a gleaming dust-free open-plan room. A clinic more than an office. The whole of it was bathed in soothing computer-compatible light. For there in front of them stood row upon row of gleaming dust-free computers.

Full story on Guardian.co.uk at this link.

Channel 4 News: Andy Coulson resigns again “over something he knows nothing about”

Calls for a police enquiry are mounting following the resignation yesterday of Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson. Coulson said that the continued coverage of the phone-hacking scandal surrounding the News of the World, where he was editor from 2003 until 2007, was making his job at No 10 impossible.

Watch this video for the full background:

Read the full story plus other video interviews with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, ex News of the World editor Phil Hall and former News of the World journalist Paul McMullan.

Alan Rusbridger on Coulson resignation: ‘This is not the end of the story’

Editor in chief of Guardian News & Media Alan Rusbridger released a statement today following the resignation of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson from his position as director of communications for Downing Street.

Coulson said in his resignation statement the “continued coverage” of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World made it difficult for him to give the “110 per cent” needed for the job.

Rusbridger credited Coulson’s resignation to the work of Guardian reporter Nick Davies:

From the moment he revealed the secret pay-out to Gordon Taylor in July 2009 it was obvious that Andy Coulson’s position was untenable. But this is not the end of the story by any means. There are many outstanding legal actions, and uncomfortable questions for others, including the police.”

Alan Rusbridger: ‘Why Twitter matters for media organisations’

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger offers 15 things that Twitter does well and why these matter to news organisations. It’s not groundbreaking, but a great summary that any sceptics should be pointed toward.

Including:

  • It has different news values;
  • It’s a fantastic form of marketing;
  • It changes the tone of writing.

Full list on Guardian.co.uk at this link…

The list was given as part of speech delivered by Rusbridger in Sydney last night (or earlier today Australian time):

[W]e journalists find it difficult to look at what’s happening around us and relate it to what we have historically done. Most of these digital upstarts don’t look like media companies. EBay? It buys and sells stuff. Amazon? The same. TripAdvisor? It’s flogging holidays. Facebook? It’s where teenagers post all the stuff that will make them unemployable later in life.

If that’s all we see when we look at those websites then we’re missing the picture. Very early on I forced all senior Guardian editors on to Facebook to understand for themselves how these new ways of creativity and connection worked. EBay can teach us how to handle the kind of reputational and identity issues we’re all coming to terms with our readers. Amazon or TripAdvisor can reveal the power of peer review.

We should understand what Tumblr or Flipboard or Twitter are all about – social media so new they’re not even yet Hollywood blockbusters.

I’ve lost count of the times people – including a surprising number of colleagues in media companies – roll their eyes at the mention of Twitter. “No time for it,” they say. “Inane stuff about what twits are having for breakfast. Nothing to do with the news business.”

Well, yes and no. Inanity – yes, sure, plenty of it. But saying that Twitter has got nothing to do with the news business is about as misguided as you could be.

Read the speech in full at this link…

‘Completely different ideas of size, scale, ambition’: Rusbridger compares his paper with the Times

Mark Colvin of Australia’s PM radio programme has an interview up today with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. It focuses on the recent publication of figures from behind the Times and Sunday Times paywalls and finds Rusbridger as determined as ever to keep his paper free and champion open online journalism.

Comparing the Times’ new ‘slimmed-down’ online audience – which Rusbridger estimates to be about 30,000-50,000 users a month, against 37 million for the Guardian – he says the two newspapers’ digital operations now represent “two completely different ideas of size, scale and ambition”.

Perhaps the most interesting thing the Guardian editor has to say concerns the effect of the paywall on print sales, which he was expecting to rise when free digital access disappeared. The Times print circulation hasn’t plummeted since, but it certainly hasn’t shown significant gains: circulation fell by 14.81 per cent year-on-year in September, second only to the Telegraph and higher than the 12.3 per cent average for quality titles. August saw the Times’ average daily circulation slip below 500,000 for the first time since 1994.

As Rusbridger points out, the digital arm of the newspaper, rather than acting as a plain substitute which draws readers away from the print edition when free and drives them to it when paid, may serve to promote the whole brand. It may well act “like a sort of marketing device for the newspapers”, he says.

If you put a gigantic wall around your content and disappear from the general chatter and conversation about your content then people forget to buy the paper as well. So it’s a kind of double whammy.

Rusbridger continues to be one of the industry’s most vocal objectors to the paywall. As he says here, he believes that “the journalist organisations that are best placed to survive are the ones that are going to go with the technology rather than decrying it and fighting it”. To that end, his “overwhelming aim is just to keep on producing the Guardian in a form which will suit whatever technology people invent”.

Colvin asks Rusbridger about the Guardian’s increasing digital revenue – “we’re up well over 50 per cent year-on-year and last year we earned about £40 million”, Rusbridger claims – but not, disappointingly, about the paper’s tactics in any detail, its success at bringing in money in through affiliate projects for example. Tim Brooks, managing director of Guardian News and Media, landed a blow for the Guardian’s approach earlier in the week, putting the Times’ new paywall revenue in a particularly unflattering context: “We’re probably making more money from our online dating service”, he told the MediaPro conference.

No mention of the Guardian’s own losses from Colvin or Rusbridger though. Despite the paper’s continued growth of digital revenue and laudable approach to online journalism, they are still running pretty high.

Read the full interview at this link…

Zeit Online: Alan Rusbridger interview – ‘I’m an economic realist’

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was in Berlin this week discussing the future of journalism with Zeit Online’s editor-in-chief Wolfgang Blau.

Rusbridger covers experimentation in the newsroom, Guardian journalists use of social media, collaborative journalism and – the elephant in the room – money and funding for journalism.

Being an economic realist I think it is likely that we’re going to have to operate with a smaller staff in the future because the money is not going to be there in the medium to long term. I think what I’m describing is economic realism too because if you an get over this hurdle where we have to produce all the content and we are the only people who are the authorities and the experts and other people can go along with us on this journey, you’re harnessing a lot of people who’s primary motivation might not be money…

I think we underestimate in journalism the value of publishing and having a voice. If you don’t understand that then you miss one of the most profound things about the web and the social web.

“We’re not opposed to charging for anything,” he later says, making particular reference to apps and the Guardian’s revenue of £40 million last year from digital products.

The Spectator: Alan Rusbridger backs Lord Lester’s defamation bill

Writing for the Spectator, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger gives his views on libel legislation in the UK and its effect on press freedom. Rusbridger gives his backing to Lord Lester’s defamation bill:

Lester is optimistic that the government will stick to its promise in its May coalition agreement to back libel reform. Let’s hope he’s right. We pride ourselves as the country which invented free speech – Milton, Wilkes, Cobbett and the rest. We’ve been in some danger of losing it.

Full article on the Spectator at this link…

WikiLeaks: The media industry’s response

Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has been online and publishing leaked documents and data since July 2007. Prior to this week, I wouldn’t have hesitated in initially referring to it as “whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks” and getting in a definition of what the site does and how it works.

Writing this afternoon though, that bit of exposition feels a lot less necessary. Last Sunday’s coordinated publication of the Afghanistan war logs by WikiLeaks, the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel has catapulted the small, independent organisation – and it’s director Julian Assange – into an entirely new realm of public notoriety.

This post is a round-up of some of the media industry’s responses to the biggest leak in US military history.

On Monday the story took up the first 14 pages of the Guardian, 17 pages of Der Spiegel, and numerous lead stories in the New York Times.

Too much, too soon, writes Slate’s media commentator Jack Shafer.

By inundating readers with Assange’s trove, the three news organization broke one of the sacred rules of journalism: If you have a big story—especially one based on a leak like this one—drip, drip, drip it out to your audience rather than showering them with it. The reader can absorb drips better than torrents.

Ultimately, more time, and care, was needed, says Shafer: “There was too much material for the newspapers and magazines to swallow on such a short deadline.”

His assessment echoes that of BBC College of Journalism director Kevin Marsh, who reports on Assange’s press conference at the Frontline Club on Monday.

[W]hat was danced around (…) was how much the three news organisations were able to verify and test the documents – and, crucially, their exact provenance – to which WikiLeaks gave them access. In the way they would if they were dealing direct with their own assessable sources.

How much did they know about the source or sources of the document pile? His/her/their motivation? Track record? What was not there and why not? What was incomplete about what was there?

This matters. A lot. Especially if WikiLeaks is to become – or has already become – a kind of stateless brokerage for whistleblowing.

NYU’s Jay Rosen also picks up on the ‘no-fixed abode’ quality of WikiLeaks, calling it the “world’s first stateless news organisation”:

If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that (…) WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system.

According to Assange, WikiLeaks, which is sort-of based in Sweden due to the country’s extremely progressive freedom of information laws, does “not have national security concerns” and is “not a national organisation.” He frequently claims the site’s loyalty is to truth and transparency. Writing for the Telegraph, Will Heaven (whose piece may smack ever so slightly of sour grapes), questions the idea that the organisation has no political agenda.

WikiLeaks is a website with no political agenda, its founder Julian Assange would have you believe. So I’m puzzled by today’s “Afghanistan war log” story. It doesn’t strike me – or many of my colleagues – as politically neutral to feed such sensitive information to three Left-leaning newspapers: namely the Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel. Even more puzzling that WikiLeaks would choose, very deliberately, to contravene its own mission statement – that crowdsourcing and open data are paramount.

It was Nick Davies of the Guardian with whom the possibility of this kind of publication was first discussed by Assange. The Guardian team threw everything but the kitchen sink at their run on the material, with all the interactive and data know-how we have come to expect of them. Editorially, they focused on bringing to light the abhorrent disregard for the lives of civilians detailed in parts of the logs but largely covered up by the military.

The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed “blue on white” in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents (…)

Accountability is not just something you do when you are caught. It should be part of the way the US and Nato do business in Afghanistan every time they kill or harm civilians. The reports, many of which the Guardian is publishing in full online, present an unvarnished and often compelling account of the reality of modern war.

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis asked Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger if he thought the newspaper should have started WikiLeaks itself, to which Rusbridger responded that he felt it worked better separately. Jarvis claims that the joint publication effort showed that the future of journalism lay in “adding value”:

If you don’t add value, then you’re not needed. And that’s not necessarily bad. When you don’t add value and someone else can perform the task as stenographer or leaker or reporter — and you can link to it — then that means you save resources and money. This means journalists need to look at where they add maximum value.

There were plenty of journalists in attendance when Assange appeared at the Frontline Club again on Tuesday night, this time for an extended discussion with both press and just the plain curious.

“We are not an organisation for protecting troops,” he told the audience. “We are an organisation for protecting human beings.”

To that end, WikiLeaks held back 15,000 of the 92,000 documents contained in the archive because, the organisation claimed, they had the potential to put the lives of civilians and military informers in Afghanistan at risk.

But on Wednesday morning the Times alleged that:

In just two hours of searching the WikiLeaks archive, the Times found the names of dozens of Afghans credited with providing detailed intelligence to US forces. Their villages are given for identification and also, in many cases, their fathers’ names. US officers recorded detailed logs of the information fed to them by named local informants, particularly tribal elders.

The backlash against WikiLeaks and its director gathered steam on Thursday when New York Times editor Bill Keller strongly criticised the organisation in an email to the Daily Beast for making so much of the material available without properly vetting it.

In our own publication, in print and on our website, we were careful to remove anything that could put lives at risk. We could not be sure that the trove posted on WikiLeaks, even with some 15,000 documents held back, would not endanger lives. And, in fact, as we will be reporting in tomorrow’s paper, our subsequent search of the material posted on WikiLeaks found many names of Afghan informants who could now be targets of reprisals by the insurgents (…)

Assange released the information to three mainstream news organizations because we had the wherewithal to mine the data for news and analysis, and because we have a large audience that would take this seriously. I think the public interest was served by that. His decision to release the data to everyone, however, had potential consequences that I think anyone, regardless of how he views the war, would find regrettable.

WikiLeaks has acted grossly irresponsibly in the eyes of some press organisations, but it has been lauded by others as a pioneer for both its commitment to increasing transparency – and in doing so encouraging reform – and for its approach to publicising the logs and trying to achieve the maximum amount of impact for material that people have risked a great deal to expose. From the Editorsweblog:

Getting media outlets involved early was a way to make sure that there was comprehensive coverage of the information. WikiLeaks is not trying to be a news outlet, it wants to get the information out there, but does not intend to provide the kind of analysis that a newspaper might. As Nick Davies told CJR, agreeing to release the information simultaneously let each of the three newspapers know that they had an almost exclusive story in which it was worth investing time and effort. And as Poynter noted, its exclusivity caused competitors to scramble and try to bring something new out of the story.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, it is difficult to deny that the method of the leak marks a significant change in the organisation’s relationship with the news media and in the role the industry has to play in events of this kind.

PCC defends phone hacking report: ‘We can’t do things that the police can do’

The Press Complaints Commission yesterday denied it had mishandled its report into phone hacking, even though the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee found the body’s findings “simplistic and surprising”.

Speaking to journalists at the launch of its annual review for 2009, its director Stephen Abell, and chair, Baroness Peta Buscombe defended the report that was condemned by the Guardian and the Media Standards Trust.

Where the self-regulation body had failed, Stephen Abell said, was in explaining its function and what its powers could achieve.

But he said it had done what it set out to do: to investigate whether it had been misled in 2007 and whether incidents of phone hacking were ongoing.

“We have to be extraordinarily careful,” said Buscombe, “not to do anything that would interfere with other investigative powers, i.e. the police … we’re very careful not to tread on other toes.”

The Guardian’s allegations in July 2009, however, concerned activity in 2006/7, a point Journalism.co.uk put to the PCC’s chair, Peta Buscombe and director, Stephen Abell.

“It was reported, there were claims that it was ongoing,” said Abell, with which Buscombe agreed.

“It was also a suggestion that it was ongoing at the time, it was certainly reported that way and we made clear in 2009 that’s what we were interested in,” he said.

The inquiry launched in 2009 was responding to “notions” made to the PCC that it was ongoing, said Abell.

“I have been very clear that on my watch if it was happening, if there was a whiff of it we would be onto it straight away but we would have to be exceedingly careful,” argued Buscombe.

“We can’t do things that the police can do, if we were to do that we would have to be regulated by the state, which I think is a very bad path for the press to go in,” she said.

But did the PCC consider it had been misled, considering the subsequent court settlements – with Gordon Taylor – for example?

“Were we materially misled in the context of what we were trying to do in 2007? It wasn’t the function of the PCC to duplicate the police investigation in 2007,” said Abell.

“What we did in 2007, was look prospectively not retrospectively,” he said.

Would the PCC act upon any new allegations, such as more recent ones made by the Guardian? If there was “material evidence,” said Stephen Abell. It was important not to go off “speculation,” added Buscombe.