Aiding a publisher as aiding the enemy?: There were quite a few developments on the leaks/government surveillance front this week, led by the revelation that the U.S. National Security Agency is collecting phone records and Internet data from millions of Americans on a daily basis. There are tons of places to read up on the implications of the former story (I’d encourage you to start at Memeorandum), and we’ll probably find out more about the latter one today. I’ll focus here on two other stories with more direct connections to journalism — the Bradley Manning trial and the Department of Justice’s seizure of journalists’ records in leak investigations — but first, a few notes on yesterday’s news about the PRISM Internet data collection program.
According to The Washington Post, which broke the story, the program was launched in 2007 and is designed with a focus on foreign data. The Post reported a who’s-who of tech giants involved — Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple (though, notably, not Twitter). Several of those companies issued denials of their involvement last night, though The New Republic’s Lydia Depillis noted that tech companies seem to be better at protecting privacy than phone companies. Christopher Mims of Quartz wondered whether foreign users will drop their U.S. tech services as a result of this disclosure.
Now for the other two stories: First, Manning, the U.S. Army private who was the source behind WikiLeaks’ biggest publications in 2010, went on trial this week. As The New York Times explained in its coverage of the trial’s first day, Manning has already acknowledged that he gave the classified information in question to WikiLeaks; the question is whether that constituted espionage and aiding the enemy. The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington also has some helpful primers on the issues at play and the key people involved.
Adrian Lamo, the hacker who initially alerted authorities to Manning’s identity, testified that Manning did not express any desire to aid the enemy, while The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson explored the prosecution’s troubling definition of aiding the enemy — essentially, helping WikiLeaks publish information that might be viewed by enemies. At Reuters, Ari Melber made a similar point, stating that “history shows we should be wary any time our government announces that working with a news publisher, to criticize the government, is equivalent to working with an operational enemy.” At The Nation, Chase Madar argued against some misconceptions about Manning, and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi ridiculed the “hero or traitor?” framing of coverage of Manning’s trial.
The Associated Press addressed the unusually secretive nature of the trial, parts of which will be closed to the public, with many of its documents redacted as well. Some of that secrecy is common to military court-martials, while some of it can be attributed to a judge who may want to keep the intense civilian interest in the case in check. The Freedom of the Press Foundation raised $57,000 to hire two stenographers to create daily transcripts of the trial, but their press credentials were rejected, prompting a letter of protest signed by numerous news organizations. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Susan Armitage gave some more background on that situation.
DOJ pledges changes to seizures: The other big media-centric leaking story had its biggest development late last week, when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with representatives from news organizations about his department’s seizure of journalists’ phone and email records. The New York Times reported that Holder is looking at tightening rules on when and how prosecutors can seek such records, and Reuters had a more media-focused account of the meetings. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon had a good roundup of perspectives on the meetings, and Reuters’ Jack Shafer analyzed the power dynamics at play between Holder and the press.
Holder also told Congress this week he won’t prosecute journalists and is directing his leak investigations at leakers, not journalists. The New York Times reported on what this all means for Holder’s future as attorney general, and The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple looked at the implications of Holder surviving this episode, noting that “the critical ingredient in the respect of press freedoms is precisely what it has long been: the self-restraint of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Wemple also dove into the background behind the question of the legality of the government’s seizures, as some journalists continued to decry the DOJ’s actions, with The New York Times’ Jill Abramson saying that journalism is being criminalized and Bill Keller calling for a stronger shield law. But Politico’s Dylan Byers summarized the case against the media regarding these leaks, while Wemple also questioned whether Fox News gave the government advance notice on James Rosen’s stories (the investigation into which involved the seizure of Rosen’s phone and email records), and whether it should have.
Can photojournalists be replaced?: We’ve seen a lot of movement toward freelancers and away from full-time staff at traditional news organizations, but the Chicago Sun-Times took one of the most drastic steps yet in that direction late last week when it laid off its entire photo staff in favor of freelance photographers and reporters’ photos, which for the latter entails mandatory training in iPhone photography basics.
The Chicago News Guild picketed the Sun-Times building, and legendary Sun-Times photojournalist John White lamented the culture that was lost in interviews with Poynter and CNN, telling the former that “Humanity is being robbed by people with money on their minds.” Another Sun-Times photographer, Rob Hart, who created a Tumblr about being laid off, talked to The Daily Dot about it, saying that what makes photojournalists valuable isn’t their tools: “Reporters use a different part of the brain. They show up and ask, ‘What happened?’ Photojournalists show up before something happens.”
ReadWrite’s Dan Rowinski did say the tools matter, though, and argued that smartphones aren’t enough to equip reporters to take consistently good photos. Chicago Tribune photojournalist Alex Garcia ripped the Sun-Times’ plan, arguing that not only is the equipment insufficient, using freelancers is a logistical nightmare and an untenable situation long-term, and reporters’ photo quality will suffer.
Mathew Ingram of paidContent countered that outsourcing to freelancers is a logical approach to the hard reality that professional journalists no longer have a monopoly on journalistic skills, and the cost structure that supports them isn’t sustainable. CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis struck a middle ground, mourning what’s given up with the loss of professional photographers, but suggesting that their jobs be retooled into a combination of crowd coordination and expert photojournalism.
Allen Murabayashi of PetaPixel looked at some big-picture factors in the decline of professional photojournalism, pinning it on the web’s glut of images on the supply side and shrunken attention spans on the demand side. The New York Times’ Lawrence Downes made a similar argument about cheap content online, though a bit more sarcastically.
The Post’s metered model plans: A few bigger stories floated by this week on the never-ending stream of paywall news. The Washington Post announced the details of its paywall, which will go into effect next week. The Post’s metered model will look a lot like many of others put in at American newspapers over the past few years, with 20 free stories a month available before users have to pay $9.99 per month for unlimited web access or $14.99 for web and app access. (Visits from search or social links won’t cause people to bump up against the cap.)
As the Lab’s Justin Ellis noted, two areas interestingly exempt from the paywall are video content (as at The New York Times) and any student, educator, government employees, and military employees signing in from school or work. Blogs like Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog will be behind the “pay meter,” too.
Sarah Marshall of Journalism.co.uk summarized the advice of John Stackhouse, editor-in-chief of the Toronto daily The Globe and Mail, from his experience implementing a paywall — paying readers are more engaged and demanding, papers should promoted both metered and free content, and other nuggets. The Lab’s Joshua Benton noted the unusual complexity of The Globe and Mail’s paywall. Finally, NYU’s Jay Rosen took New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson to task for mischaracterizing the conventional wisdom around The Times’ paywall launch in 2011, arguing that there was no consensus warning against it, as Thompson claimed.
Reading roundup: A few other interesting stories floating around this week:
— A Wisconsin Legislature finance committee voted this week to kick the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off the University of Wisconsin campus. They wouldn’t say who proposed it or precisely why, but vague complaints about “bias,” stories looking into legislators’ bills and donors, and some funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute (the center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan entity that has received funding from a variety of foundations) have been suggested as possible reasons. The center vowed an “aggressive response,” and the decision was bashed by commentators, legislators, and journalists.
— Billionaire conservative Charles Koch confirmed that he’s interested in buying newspapers, though he wouldn’t specify anything regarding any papers from the Tribune Co., which they are rumored to be pursuing. He also said he sees a need for “real news,” as opposed to news with an agenda. Here at the Lab, Ken Doctor gauged the Kochs’ political and financial interest in the papers.
— News Corp. announced its Wall Street Journal will be launching a new business-oriented social network, and Bloomberg is retooling one of its own as well. Mathew Ingram of paidContent was skeptical of their ability to add any real value for users.
— Two interesting pieces published here at the Lab: Jan Schaffer of J-Lab laid out the course for a new kind of solution-oriented activist journalism, and Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy wrote some reflections on his new book on changes in local journalism.
— Finally, a few great pieces from around the web: A thought-provoking Twitter conversation on newsroom innovation Storified by the University of Florida’s Mindy McAdams, some ideas from The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf on why the American media screws up big stories, and an analysis of social media-fueled protest by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, inspired by the current protests in Turkey.
Photo of Bradley Manning being escorted out of a Fort Meade courthouse June 4 by AP/Patrick Semansky. Photo of Eric Holder at Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing June 6 by AP/J. Scott Applewhite. Photo of June 6 pro-photog protest outside the Chicago Sun-Times by AP/M. Spencer Green.