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Sept. 6, 2013, 11:04 a.m.
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This Week in Review: Bezos’ vision for The Post, and covering Syria on the ground and abroad

Plus: the latest in government surveillance, studies on online anonymity and campaign journalism, and the rest of the week’s future-of-news news.

Bezos visits The Post: The Washington Post’s new owner, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, made his much-anticipated first visit to the Post newsroom this week, engaging in a series of meetings and Q&A’s with Post staffers in which he articulated a vision for the organization built around growth — not just profitability — producing a “daily bundle” that’s compelling to readers, and centering on readers, rather than advertisers. He sounded the same themes in a pre-visit interview with a Post reporter as well. (The Lab’s Joshua Benton captured the discussion about why that interview appeared in the digital dressing of the Post’s Style section.)

As The New York Times noted in its account of Bezos’ introduction, Post employees seemed to take an immediate liking to Bezos; Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon collected many of their tweets from the meetings. Many outside The Post were reading the tea leaves of Bezos’ statements: paidContent’s Mathew Ingram wondered what his plan would be for charging for access to the paper online, while Business Insider’s Henry Blodget concluded that Bezos’ strategy would be built around getting readers to pay for it, speculating about how he would implement that plan and calling it great news for The Post and for journalism.

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Likewise, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias was reassured by Bezos’ commitment to a model built around readers, rather than advertisers, and PandoDaily was encouraged by Bezos’ optimism about the power of storytelling. Post media critic Erik Wemple and Digital First’s Steve Buttry pushed back against Bezos’ retrograde-sounding view of online news aggregation, with Wemple writing, “This duality between originality and aggregation, however, has become all but obsolete on the newsy Internet.” Likewise, The Post’s Timothy Lee and Ingram argued with Bezos’ conception of the bundle as a central element of a successful news plan. “No matter how good your news organization is, most of the best journalism is being done somewhere else,” Lee wrote.

Jessica Meyers of Politico was the latest to note Bezos’ iffy track record on freedom-of-speech issues with Amazon, but Forbes’ Greg Satell was optimistic about the prospects of Bezos’ plans for The Post. At The Guardian, journalism professor Dan Gillmor offered several suggestions on how to remake the paper — leverage the location of Washington, focus on serious journalism, create conversation around its work, and invest heavily in R&D. He expressed confidence in Bezos’ vision for the paper, but did object to Bezos’ statement that he’ll be patient in changing things: “Patience is a virtue, but I hope in this he will make an exception.”

pgp-encryptionThis week in the surveillance state: Another week, another set of new revelations about the extent of surveillance by the U.S. government, and the U.S. and U.K.’s attempts to monitor and censor citizens, including journalists. The big story, co-published by The New York Times, ProPublica, and The Guardian based on the documents released by Edward Snowden, was on the U.S. National Security Agency’s extensive efforts to break into encrypted communication online.

Additionally, The Times reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has access to a larger set of phone records than even the NSA, and Der Spiegel reported (from the Snowden documents) that the NSA spied on Al Jazeera. Reuters reported that the U.K. government asked The New York Times to destroy its Snowden material, though The Guardian noted that the U.K. took three weeks to act once it knew The Times had the documents.

There was also an update to the U.K. detention last month of David Miranda, Brazilian partner of The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, as a U.K. national security adviser filed a statement to Britain’s High Court defending Miranda’s detention, claiming that he had digital copies of the Snowden documents as well as a password to de-encrypt them. He also grossly mischaracterized the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum in his statement, as Chittum pointed out.

On another front, the big tech companies continue to fight the U.S. government’s secrecy over its requests for their user data, as Wired detailed in a feature late last week. The U.S. government announced that it would annually publish the number of customer data requests it makes, but Microsoft and Google are pushing it to go further. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington urged the companies just release the information themselves: “You believe you have the right. You know it’s the right thing to do. Forget the lawsuit. Just release the damn information.”

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Examining local and U.S. Syria coverage: As the United States deliberates whether to take military action, its mainstream news organizations — especially in television — have begun to descend on Syria and the countries that surround it. As The New York Times reported, those organizations are pretty extensively using video and updates from Syrian social media users to supplement their on-the-ground reporting. The New Republic’s Nora Caplan-Bricker provided a useful guide to Syrian citizen journalism outfits, and KPBS talked to the manager of two Syrian news organizations about getting news to the public there.

In the U.S., the specter of the Iraq War, especially the media’s failures in its run-up, looms over news coverage of the debate over Syria. The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone gave a helpful overview of the parallels and concerns, and Salon’s Patrick Smith chastised the news media for playing the lapdog once again. The New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, examined her paper’s coverage of the issue in that light and rendered a fairly damning verdict, concluding that while the paper’s coverage of Syria has been rich, its tone “cannot be described as consistently skeptical,” and noting that “sometimes writes about the administration’s point of view in The Times’s own voice.”

Reading roundup: It was a relatively slow holiday week (in the U.S., anyway), but there were a few other stories lurking:

— The Columbia Journalism Review’s latest cover story posed the question, “What is journalism for?” and provided a wide variety of answers from several dozen contributors, including NYU’s Jay Rosen, as well as explorations of Ukrainian protests for press freedom, journalistic identity and freedom of expression, and non-journalists buying a small, local Wisconsin newspaper. Here at the Lab, CUNY’s C.W. Anderson issued a smart response to Rosen’s piece.

— The Pew Internet & American Life Project released one of its typically comprehensive studies this week on anonymity, privacy, and security online. Poynter and TechCrunch have good summaries of the most interesting findings, with Poynter focusing on anonymous comments and disclosure on social media, and TechCrunch looking more at privacy and security.

— The New York Times’ David Carr reported on the state of modern campaign journalism in an environment dominated by Twitter, focusing on a recent study (pdf) done by CNN reporter Peter Hamby while a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard. At the Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Nyhan argued that access-based political journalism is a dead end, and New York magazine analyzed who members of Congress follow on Twitter.

— Finally, a few more interesting pieces in the ongoing discussion about the future of journalism school: The Lab’s Adrienne LaFrance wrote about Columbia’s work in launching a post-baccalaureate program in journalism and computer science, the University of Nebraska’s Matt Waite proposed the idea of the Minimum Viable Participant in the future of digital journalism, and Tsinghua journalism professor James Breiner reflected on the difficulty of teaching journalism students everything they need to know.

Images of The Washington Post by niawag, imagine Post logo by outtacontext, PGP screenshot by Linux Screenshots, and Zaatari refugee camp by Russell Watkins/UK Department for International Development all used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Sept. 6, 2013, 11:04 a.m.
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