Tag Archives: the New York Times

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.

White House seeks to advise reporters over WikiLeaks Afghanistan release

Last night Wikileaks, the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel simultaneously published more than 90,000 classified military documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Read our report on the publication at this link.

The New York Times has published a statement sent to reporters by the White House entitled “Thoughts on WikiLeaks”. The statement advises journalists of some things to bare in mind when reporting on the leak, and offers help “to put these documents in context”.

4) As you report on this issue, it’s worth noting that WikiLeaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.

The email quotes from the Guardian’s report, looking to stress the unreliability of the WikiLeaks and the information they have released.

From the Guardian:

But for all their eye-popping details, the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated.

(…)

If anything, the jumble of allegations highlights the perils of collecting accurate intelligence in a complex arena where all sides have an interest in distorting the truth.

The Times has explained its reasons for publishing the classified files in “a note to readers” entitled “Piecing together the reports and deciding what to publish“.

Full story at this link… (see entry at 6:46pm)

NYTimes.com most visited newspaper site in US last month

NYTimes.com was the most visited newspaper site in the US last month, according to statistics released by comScore.

The New York Times website had more than 32 million visitors and 719 million page views in May, with the average visitor to the site viewing 22 pages of content.

A short way behind was Tribune Newspapers, with 24.8 million visitors.

Jeff Hackett, comScore senior vice president, says the numbers prove online news is the future.

“The good news for publishers is that even as print circulation declines, Americans are actually consuming as much news as ever – it’s just being consumed across more media,” he said. “The internet has become an essential channel in the way the majority of Americans consume news content today with nearly three out of five internet users reading newspapers online each month.”

See the full statistics here.

Nieman Journalism Lab: Are news organisations thinking about linking?

“Links can add a lot of value to stories, but the journalism profession as a whole has been surprisingly slow to take them seriously. That’s my conclusion from several months of talking to organizations and reporters about their linking practices, and from counting the number and type of links from hundreds of stories,” writes Jonathan Stray.

Stray looks at the linking policies and strategies of BBC News, Reuters, Dow Jones, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Associated Press. There’s more to come from this research, but some initial conclusions suggest there’s a way to go when it comes to linking out:

Reading between the lines, it seems that most newsrooms have yet to make a strong commitment to linking. This would explain the mushiness of some of the answers I received, where news organizations “encourage” their reporters or offer “guidance” on linking.

Full post at this link…

AFP: Online pay model will be ‘critical second revenue stream’ says Sulzberger

New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger says that charging for the paper’s online content will provide a “critical second revenue stream”.

Speaking at the Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2010 Media Summit, Sulzberger also reassured readers that the print edition of the paper will continue for many years to come:

It’s a critical part of today, it will be a critical part I think for many years to come (…) The iPad is also going to be a critical part just the way the Kindle’s a critical part.

At the end of the day we can’t define ourselves by our method of distribution (…) What we care about at the end of day is our journalism, our quality journalism.

Full story at this link…

Live webcast from NYC: crowdsourcing and journalism

Via paidContent, we see that a live conference from the New York Times building is being webcast right now (not sure for how much longer), with a stellar line-up: Brian Stelter, media reporter & Media Decoder blogger, the New York Times (moderator) with Aron Pilhofer, editor, interactive news technology, the New York Times; Andy Carvin, senior social media strategist, National Public Radio; Amanda Michel, editor, distributed reporting, ProPublica; Jay Rosen, professor, New York University; and Joaquin Alvarado, senior VP, digital innovation, American Public Media.

Live Webcast Happening Now: Crowdsourcing For Journalists, at NYT Building | paidContent.

Watch live streaming video from smw_newyork at livestream.com

Jon Bernstein: Five innovations in news journalism, thanks to the web

What has the web ever done for journalism, except skewer its business model and return freelance rates to levels not seen since the early 90s?

Well, not much, apart from reinvent the form.

Amidst the doom of gloom in our industry it is easy to lose sight of how the web has transformed the way we tell stories, provide context and analysis, and cover live events.

This is arguably the most creative period in news journalism since movable type – new forms, new applications and new execution. Newspapers are embracing video and audio, radio stations do pictures, and TV has gone blogging.

You’re likely to have your own suggestions, and favourites. But here are five of the best:

1. Interactive infographics

Broadcast news was quick to adopt the graphic as a means of explaining complex issues or, more prosaically, make the most of a picture-challenged story. The web has taken the best examples from newspapers, magazines and TV and given them a twist – interactivity. Now you can interrogate the data, slice and dice it at will. Two of the best practitioners of the art can be found in the US – the New York Times and South Florida’s Sun Sentinel.

2. Crowdsourcing

From crime mapping to a pictorial memorial to the victims of post-election Iran to joint investigations, the crowd is proving a potent force in journalism. It took the web to provide the environment for a real-time collaboration and ad hoc groups are brought together by dint of interest, expertise, geography or some combination of all three. Not all crowdsourcing projects run smooth but the power of the crowd will continue to surprise.

3. The podcast

Just as cheap video cameras and YouTube democratised the moving image, so the podcast has made audio publishers of us all. Some podcasts mirror radio almost exactly in format, down to the commercial breaks at the top, middle and end of the show. Others break the rules. As Erik Qualman notes in his new book Socialnomics, today’s podcasters are taking liberties with advertising models (building in sponsorship) and with length of transmission (“If a podcast only has 16 minutes of news-worthy items, then why waste … time trying to fill the slot with sub-par content?”).

4. Over-by-over

A completely original approach to sports reporting, only possible on a real-time platform. Like Sky’s Soccer Saturday – where a bunch of ex-pros watch matches you can’t see and offer semi-coherent banter – over-by-over and ball-by-ball cricket and football commentaries shouldn’t work, but they do. And it’s not just the application, it’s the execution. The commentaries are knowing, not fawning, conversational and participatory. Over-by-over is CoveritLive and Twitter‘s (child-like) elder sibling.

5. The blog

The blog and the conventional news article are entirely separate forms, as any publisher who has tried to fob the user off by sticking the word ‘blog’ at the top of a standard story template will tell you. The blog allows you to tell stories in a different way, deconstructing the inverted pyramid and addressing the who, what, why, when, where and how as appropriate. Breaking news has become a narrative – early lines followed by more detail, reaction, photos, analysis, video, comment and fact checking in no defined order. It’s a collaborative work in progress. News is becoming atomised on the web and the blog is the platform on which it is happening.

I’ve named five but there are bound to be others. What have I missed?

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at jonbernstein.wordpress.com.

Charles Apple: Newsweek photo-cropping row

Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly is not at all happy with the way Newsweek magazine cropped his photo of former vice-president Dick Cheney at home with his family, Charles Apple notes on his blog. The original photograph shows Cheney leaned over a chopping board, with his family in the background. The cropped version shows the vice-president only, to illustrate quotes that he made about C.I.A. interrogators.

“This incident is another example of why many people don’t believe what they see or read. And America clearly notices these shifts in journalism,” wrote Kennerly in a piece for the New York Times site. Newsweek has defended its use of the photo.

Knight News Challenge winner DocumentCloud releases ‘CloudCrowd’ system

DocumentCloud, the New York Times and ProPublica-backed project, has released its first open-source code since its launch.

The project, which won funding from the 2009 Knight News Challenge, was created to make documents and data useable for anyone. It will include software, a website and a set of open standards to make original source documents easy to find, share, read and collaborate on. From its site:

“Users will be able to search for documents by date, topic, person, location, etc. and will be able to do ‘document dives’, collaboratively examining large sets of documents. Organisations will be able to do all this while keeping the documents -and readers – on their own sites. Think of it as a card catalogue for primary source documents.”

DocumentCloud is not a collection of documents; rather software to support documents hosted elsewhere, two of the team – Eric Umansky, senior editor at ProPublica and Aron Pilhofer, the New York Times newsroom interactive technologies editor – explained to Journalism.co.uk in June.

The new system announced this week – CloudCrowd – will work as ‘a heavy-duty system for document processing’, in particular for importing large documents for use with DocumentCloud, the project’s lead programmer Jeremy Ashkenas said.

“Our PDFs need to have their text extracted, their images scaled and converted, and their entities extracted for later cataloguing,” he explained, adding more detail about the process, which is called ‘parallel processing’ on its site.

“All of these things are computationally expensive, keeping your laptop hot and busy for minutes, especially when the documents run into the hundreds or thousands of pages.”

The parallel processing system, named CloudCrowd, will power DocumentCloud’s document import, a process described in detail on its site by the project’s lead programmer Jeremy Ashkenas.

Ashkenas encouraged other users with ‘batch-processing needs’  who need to process large number of documents to try the system. It fits into the project’s community ethos; the aim is to invite participation and feedback ‘from scaffold to deploy’.

CloudCrowd links:

NYTimes.com: The Sugar Inc. ‘little media empire’

The New York Times takes a look at Lisa and Brian Sugar’s ‘little media empire,’ Sugar Inc., composed of 12 blogs, 11 million readers a month and advertisers such as Chanel and Sony.

“In 2007, Sugar, which is backed by Sequoia Capital and has 105 employees, acquired ShopStyle, an e-commerce site. Today it brings in half of Sugar’s revenue. At ShopStyle, shoppers can browse online retailers’ selections, and Sugar gets paid when they click through to a retailer or make a purchase.”

Full story at this link…