Sunday, August 22, 2004

More on torture killing by U.K. freelance journalist

More details on the murder of a U.K. drug dealer by an "undercover reporter" for BBC and Channel 4.

James Raven was a freelance researcher who had been imprisoned for violence, and whom the BBC describes as a "covert operative" who made no editorial decisions. He was paid 500 pounds a day, or about 40,000 pounds a year for his services by BBC and Channel 4. He had worked on more than 50 shows, the Guardian reports.

More from the Guardian:

The court heard how the killers had broken into the farmhouse and destroyed the cannabis farm.

They attacked Mr Razak and hung him from his ankles with his face and head submerged in a barrel of water. He was burned with chemicals, and a pillowcase covering his head was set on fire.

Waters arrived later at the farm and was also suspended upside down and used as a "human punchbag", the court heard. A bin bag was set alight and the molten plastic was allowed to drip on to him.

When Waters' son and daughter arrived at the farm they were abducted at gunpoint and tied up. Waters' wife, Julie, was also abducted from the family home in nearby Nantwich, Cheshire, and taken prisoner.

She was driven in the family car to the scene of the attack and found her murdered husband.

As if there aren't already enough reasons for people to hate journalists.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Gmail releases notifier

Google's Gmail Web-based e-mail service is offering Gmail Notifier, an application you can download to your computer desktop that alerts you to new e-mail, the subject, sender and a snippet of each message.

If you choose, it also enables you to use Gmail when you click on an e-mail link on the Web. When I tested it, I found that for mail links that also automatically include a subject line, Gmail drops all but the first word. For example, if a mail link's subject is set as "Product help request", Gmail would only include "Product" as the subject line.

Gmail Notifier v. is a beta version (still in tests) but it comes in handy. Why didn't any of the other Web-based e-mail services think of this before now?

The only drawback that strikes me initially: It's for Windows only. That makes business sense but is bound to irritate Mac users, or those who use both Windows- and Apple-based PCs.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

'Undercover reporter' for BBC, Channel 4 guilty in torture murder

British media are carrying reports of an "undercover reporter" for BBC and Channel 4 who was convicted of murder for torturing a man to death while forcing the victim's adult children to watch.

James Raven, 44, beat, whipped, burned and shot with an industrial staple gun 44-year-old drug dealer Brian Waters, then suspended the victim upside down and sexually assaulted him with a metal bar, causing fatal internal injuries.

Waters' son and daughter had been tied up and forced to watch the attack.

Something doesn't sound quite right about this. Most journalists are pretty easygoing and have a strong sense of social justice. Raven doesn't sound like the type of person who would fit into that environment.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Wired on Internet vs. internet, Web vs. web

Wired News has decreed that Internet will now be written "internet", Net: net, and Web: web.

In an article titled It's Just the Internet Now, Wired News copy chief Tony Long writes:

Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the "I" in internet.

At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net...

Why? The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was ... (Web will continue to be capitalized when part of the more official entity, World Wide Web.) ...

But now, by lowercasing internet, web and net, Wired News is simply giving the medium its proper due.

With all due respect to Tony Long, his 17 years as an editor at the San Francisco Examiner and six years at Wired News, he's wrong.

As news and technology editor at the No. 2 paper in the city, former copy editor at another daily, and former news editor at a six-figure-circulation weekly, I've consistently explained argued for, and enforced the capitalization of the three words in question:

  1. Internet. There is only one Internet. There's no such thing as "an internet" or "other internets", as one may discuss other types of networks. It is unique. It is a proper noun. Therefore, it carries a capital.

  2. Net is simply a contraction of Internet. It's no less a proper noun than its root, and for that reason must be capitalized.

  3. Web is similarly a contraction for the World Wide Web. There is just one Web, and it is clearly a proper noun, i.e. must be capitalized.

The change is odd coming from someone who once wrote "Standards do matter. The principles of good English are always relevant," and raised the ire of Wired readers by (correctly) changing the spelling of e-mail from email to its hyphenated form.

The flimsy and inaccurate reasoning for the switch sounds more like the old Wired, when it was a prescriptive and sometimes sneering evangelist of technology and its benefits for self-styled techno-elites.

Change can be good but improvement is better. Wired's move is neither.

Sometimes it's best to stick with what works.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Blogs double-edged sword for recording industry

Most people are familiar with the story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, or at least the version in Disney's Fantasia: A sorcerer's apprentice tries to control power he doesn't truly understand (magic) by animating a broom to comply to his will (fill a water basin) instead of doing the hard work himself. When he gets more than he counted on and the unrelenting servant does its task too well, flooding the house, he tries to destroy the product of his efforts only to find that he can't control the forces he has unleashed.

The tale is akin to how the recording industry repeatedly fails to seize technological opportunities that could be a benefit to it, and instead tries to bend them to their will, restrict and thereby -- or outright -- destroy them. The latest object of the recording industry's ire: Web logs.

A Billboard magazine article available via Reuters highlights the benefits and bane blogs represent for the recording industry:

Blogs are seen as a valuable viral marketing tool for labels looking to hype new acts. But many of the same Web sites are developing into the next possible headache for copyright owners.

That's because the individuals behind many blogs are using their sites to plug new music from under-the-radar acts, while hosting and distributing unlicensed MP3 files.

The article goes on to describe the success the recording industry has had promoting acts through blogs, focusing on the The Killers, then quotes an apparently nameless, faceless, sexless Recording Industry Association of America spokesperson:

"Those who choose an MP3 blog to boost attention -- that is their choice, because they're the ones making the decision, rather than some third-party profiteer deciding for them. In terms of piracy, it's an issue we're monitoring, and we could decide at any time to make this an enforcement priority."

This in spite of a recent Harvard/University of North Carolina empirical study that shows music file sharing has -- at worst -- a neutral or slightly positive effect on recording sales [PDF].

The more time passes, the more I am convinced that if the recording industry was the last group of people on earth, they would still find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.

So, what does this have to do with journalism? It's about people making their own news and redefining their culture as a result of it. It may not be capital-j Journalism, or journalism as professional journalists practise it, but it's something.

Blogs are the information and entertainment source of a generation -- one in which they can participate and make the rules and decisions. Trying to control it is like trying to hold back the tide. Better to get a surfboard and learn how to ride the waves.

Ethics and disclosure in blogging and journalism

Discussions of journalistic ethics seem to keep coming up wherever I look these days. (OK, so I'm usually the instigator.)

Last week I gave a talk on news writing at the Canadian University Press' annual Summer School journalism training conference. Most of my talk (which I delivered off-the-cuff to better address the specific needs of those attending the seminar) ended up being about reporting techniques and ethics, and how to go about being an ethical journalist -- something that doesn't get discussed too much since it's regarded as obvious, but in fact is not always as obvious as one might expect.

The week before that, before I gave an apparently out-of-left-field, feather-ruffling talk about ethics (or lack) in the "computer and video game press" as part of a panel on games journalism, I fired off an e-mail to a friend, David Akin (arguably Canada's top technology journalist and -- as I've mentioned before -- an all-around nice guy).

I sought his thoughts on the way in which games are covered, and particularly on the ethical gap between the game press and mainstream journalism. (He wasn't able to get back to me in time for my talk, but he's previously blogged about the need for serious arts criticism of computer and video games.)

Today I see that ethics are still on his mind, because David's blog has a new feature: a disclosure blurb on the bottom left of the page, under the heading "Who pays for this blog?"

In an entry about the disclosure blurb, David writes that the mainstream media's practice of making it clear who's paying them or funding them help to establish and maintain their credibility. He continues:

"That's why I think it important that bloggers who wish to challenge mainstream journalism or criticize should make some disclosures of their own in the interests of letting their readers assess the potential for bias or conflict.

"So, in that spirit, starting today, I'm walking the walk and talking the talk."

Hat's off to you, David, for putting into action something journalists talk about all the time but rarely highlight so publicly.

It seems like these facts should obvious but they may not be, so I'm adding my own disclosure blurb to this blog too.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Jayson Blair blogs

Jayson Blair has a blog [Archived].

In it, the disgraced former New York Times reporter writes about journalistic ethics, mental health and other musings.

I found out about the blog thanks to an e-mail Blair sent to me (and to others in his address book).

Whatever you (or I) may feel or have to say about Jayson Blair and what he did, at least he's putting his notoriety to good use:

From: Jayson Blair
To: [Recipients' names and addresses omitted]
Sent: 8/1/2004 2:03 PM


Please excuse me for the mass e-mail. Since my book came out in March, I have promised to undertake some charity work related to mental health and substance abuse. I believe this work is an important part of taking responsibility, making amends, healing and being the best person I can possibly be. One of those efforts involves donating the proceeds of autographed copies of Burning Down My Masters’ House to the following charities: the National Center for Disabilities and Journalism, the Mental Health Project at the Urban Justice Center, the Nick Traina Foundation and the Stanley Medical Research Institute. If you would like to participate, you can purchase one of the copies at

The donations will be made to each of the foundations on a quarterly basis. If you would like your contribution to go to one or a limited number of the charities on the list, just mention it on the “special instructions” form. Links to each of the charities can be found on that page mentioned above and each provides information on how to make direct donations. In addition, I would like to recommend another charity run by a friend out of New York called Kixabo. They are doing work increasing awareness about the plight of children in Cambodia and can be reached at

I won’t take anymore of your time, but if you have any questions or suggestions feel free to e-mail me at

All the best,


EDIT: Added link to Jayson Blair's archived blog.