Tag Archives: bill keller

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.

New York Times considers creating own in-house WikiLeaks

The New York Times is considering setting up its own in-house version of WikiLeaks, according to editor Bill Keller.

Keller told Yahoo’s The Cutline blog that he is “looking at something along the lines” of Al Jazeera’s Transparency Unit, which was instrumental in the recent publication of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera and the Guardian.

“Nothing is nailed down”, according to Keller, but he has sketched out the idea behind the possible division:

A small group from computer-assisted reporting and interactive news, with advice from the investigative unit and the legal department, has been discussing options for creating a kind of EZ Pass lane for leakers.

The New York Times was one of three media partners – including the Guardian and der Spiegel – that worked with WikiLeaks on the release of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs.

The NYT was also one of five newspapers that had advanced access to WikiLeaks’ next release, the US embassy cables. It was subsequently revealed however that the NYT was forced to obtain its copy of the cable from the Guardian, having been cut out of the loop by WikiLeaks.

Given the difficulty Keller had in obtaining advanced access to the embassy cables, and the general risks of relying on organisations such as WikiLeaks, we may yet see many more national news organisations following suit and establishing their own sections to deal directly with leaks.

Full story on The Cutline 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.

Wall Street Journal: New York Times to start charging for online in January

According to the Wall Street Journal, its local rival the New York Times will begin charging for online content in January 2011. The announcement was made by Bill Keller, executive editor of the newspaper, at a dinner for the Foreign Press Association last night.

Wall Street Journal

Editor&Publisher: Bill Keller says future of NYTimes’ public editor still ‘much debated’

Bill Keller has responded to the New York Times’ public editor’s unflinching critique of errors made in a piece about Walter Cronkite by Alessandra Stanley, as part of a Q&A with James Rainey from the LA Times, published in full on Editor & Publisher.

Keller suggests that the public editor’s position is still ‘much debated’:

[James Rainey]

Q: Has the public editor helped build the Times’ reputation, or done more to knock the paper’s reputation down? It may help to address this question both as it pertains to this particular episode and, more generally, over the brief history of public editorship.

[Bill Keller]

A: On balance, I think the fact that we offer a paycheck and a platform to an independent critic to second-guess our journalistic judgments is good for, pardon the expression, the brand. I don’t always agree with our public editor, but I think he is fair-minded, his reporting is meticulous, and his targets – as in this case – are usually fair game. He doesn’t just blow raspberries. He tries to explain how bad things happen, and he reports what we are trying to do to avoid future mistakes. Whether a public editor should be a permanent, or at least continuing, fixture at The Times is a question much debated within our walls. I’ve kicked it down the road until we near the end of Clark’s term next year.

UK-related:

Journalism.co.uk is aware of full-time newspaper ombudsmen at the Guardian [Siobhain Butterworth] and the Observer [Stephen Pritchard] and yesterday learned that Sally Baker is feedback editor for the Times. Does anyone know of any other UK titles with full-time and independent readers’ editors? And do those without one need one?

Joey Baker: ‘Mr Keller, I’m calling you to account’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ is how Joey Baker, business director for college newsroom organisation CoPress, and an intern at NewsTrust, opens an open letter to the NY Times executive editor.

“Bill Keller,  (…) gave an interview to TIME magazine that showed a total lack of transparency, a fear that journalism itself was under attack, and a disturbing amount of the ‘old media’ mindset. This is a look at what he got wrong, how to fix it.”

Full letter at this link…

Baker reckons he’s killed his chances of ever getting a job at the Times. Jeff Jarvis thinks they should consider hiring him. We don’t know if it’s caught @nytkeller’s attention yet.

Advancing The Story: The role of the ombudsman in a cash-strapped newsroom

Advancing the story takes a look at the work of Alicia Shepard, ombudsman for National Public Radio (NPR).

While summing up Shepard’s approach to the role, the post raises an interesting point about transparency/the role of the ombudsman at a time of dwindling newsroom resources:

“It’s no doubt hard to justify spending money on an ombudsman when the newsroom budget is being slashed.  And it’s easy to dismiss an ombudsman’s defense of his value as simply self-interest. But there’s a difference between having citizens point out errors and flaws, and having an independent observer inside a news organization with ‘a hall pass and a platform,’ as New York Times executive editor Bill Keller describes an ombudsman,” writes ATS.

What price transparency? Or can readers pointing out corrections and clarifications be better used at a time of limited resources?

Full post at this link…

MediaShift: “Collaboration the key to future of investigative journalism”

Wonderfully comprehensive notes from MediaShift’s Mark Glaser, reporting on a panel about investigative journalism at the Logan Symposium at UC Berkley.

“The panel was lively, and included a lot of optimism for the future of investigative journalism despite the business cratering for newspapers and their investigative journos,” he says.

Check out his post for comments from host Lowell Bergman, and David Fanning of PBS Frontline, Esther Kaplan of the Nation Institute, Bill Keller of the NY Times, Chuck Lewis at American University, Robert Rosenthan of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Buzz Woolley, chairman of the board and primary funder of Voice of San Diego.

Full story at this link…

NY Times exec ed Bill Keller sparks online comment with Darfur remark

An extract from comments made by New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, at the opening of the Stanford Daily’s new building this week, has sparked a flurry of comment under the original Politico.com post, which was picked up by both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post.

Michael Calderone’s post uses quotes reported by Politico’s Tim Grieve, which include:

“Keller predicted that the Times will be ‘left standing after the deluge.'”

“Commenting on the keep-the-Times alive movement, Keller said: “Saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause.””

The comments below the article particularly pick up on the latter remark, many readers angered by what they perceive as Keller’s likening of the New York Times situation with that of the crisis in Darfur. “Talk about delusions. As important as Dafur!” writes ‘CLJ124’.

The link to the article on the front page of the Politico site, meanwhile, makes reference to the fact that Keller ‘joked’.

politico

Commenter ‘Michael Green’ writes: “Some of the comments about this piece miss a point or two. One is that Mr. Keller might have been ironic in referring to saving The Times as the equivalent to saving Darfur.”

Another, ‘Stacy Harris’, writes that it “is likely a poor choice of words that, upon reflection, Keller will regret.” An anonymous commenter, writes that it was a ‘parody’: “Regarding Darfur, Keller said that, considering all of the people who have offered to donate money to keep the Times alive, it appears that at least some people equate saving the Times with saving Darfur.”

Keller is also reported by Politico to have said “If you’re inclined to trust Google as your source for news – Google yourself.”

If he does that today he will find that a Google blog search on “bill keller” now returns: http://blogsearch.google.co.uk/blogsearch?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&hs=vih&q=bill%20keller&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wb and this is the result of a Google News search: http://news.google.co.uk/news?hl=en&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=%22bill%20keller%22&sa=N&tab=bn.

Update: Bill Keller has emailed Politico, in response to the comments on the Politico post. Of his remarks he said:

“I think it’s pretty obviously a reflection of my mild astonishment at the earnest fervor with which some people have suddenly embraced the cause of saving newspapers.

“That’s matched only by my mild astonishment at the silly literal-mindedness with which some people read my occasional public comments.”

A fuller context to his comment is given in a new Politico blog post, at this link.

OJR: New York Times ‘needs an online impresario’

Another look at paid content. From the Knight Media Center OJR blog: “The New York Times should indeed use its website to generate more revenue – but not by charging for any part of its presently all-free daily report. Executive Editor Bill Keller’s recent ruminations on the touchy subject of paid content have led to speculation that the dearly departed Times Select will be reincarnated in some more palatable form,” writes Tom Grubisich.

Full post at this link…