Friday, September 30, 2005

45570083 no more: Judith Miller out of prison

I received an alert on my watch at 8:01 p.m. that Judith Miller has been released from prison. (A link to the UPI report is the only freely accessible, persistent one I found.) And it seems that the New York Times, Miller's employer got scooped:

New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been released from jail after being held for 86 days for refusing to identify a source.

Miller was jailed in Alexandria, Va., July 6 for refusing to cooperate with a federal investigation into the disclosure of a CIA operative`s name.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday Miller was released earlier in the day. The New York Times subsequently reported on Miller`s release, saying her lawyers reached agreement with a federal prosecutor for her to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the matter.

As I've previously said, it's the best thing that could have happened to her. Before this, she was widely reviled by those opposed to the war in Iraq for her copious use of anonymous sources and what many saw as flawed coverage that helped the Bush adminstration make a case for war, while some journalists quietly distanced themselves from her.

Now she's the poster child for media freedom.

DISCLOSURE: I have a writing contract with the New York Times.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

TV journalism & truth... in fiction

It appears there may be more to ABC's new weekly, hour-long Invasion television series than a cursory look might offer. Along with the Invasion of the Body Snatchers plot line, this interpretation of irrational post-millennium, post-9/11 fears masquerading as alien paranoia drama served up some biting commentary on journalism and journalists in its first episode, last night.

Case in point, in the aftermath of a hurricane, TV investigative journalist Larkin Groves Varon (actress Lisa Sheridan) and teenager Kira Underlay (Alexis Dziena) have this exchange following Varon's live hit:

KIRA UNDERLAY: I'd like to be on TV someday.


Kira: I don't know. Maybe 'cause you can help people. Like when my mom died, I really couldn't believe it, you know, until I saw the story on the news. Even though there were all of these reporters going on about how terrible it was, but two minutes later they were laughing and talking about the weather. So in a way, it made me feel better.

Larkin: I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

Kira: Me either. But my dad says television's important because it distracts people from the truth. Like with this hurricane. I mean, you know, it's terrible but on the news it'll just be a story. And at first, reporters will be serious about it but after a while they'll be laughing and making jokes. And then everyone will be distracted from what's really going on.

Larkin: What IS really going on?

Kira: The truth.


RSF guide aims to help bloggers, foil censors

Reporters Sans Frontieres has released a guide for bloggers to help them create and maintain a blog that adheres to ethical and journalistic principles, and bypass censors in countries that seek to limit how, when and from whom information flows.

RSF's Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents hits bookstore shevles today, or is available as a free download [1.6 MB PDF], or can be read online in English, French, Chinese, Arabic and Persian.

Here's RSF's reasoning behind creating the manual:

Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-DissidentsBlogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.

Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.

It looks like an excellent guide for novice (and even some experienced) bloggers, and covers many of the points I often discuss in my seminars, talks and panels on blogging and journalism. Based on my initial scan of the publication, I expect I'll henceforth end up recommending it whenever I speak about blogging.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

68th journalist killed in Iraq war: RSF

Reporters sans frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) condemned the apparent execution of Fakher Haydar Al-Tamimi, the 68th journalist killed in Iraq in this latest war there.

Fakher Haydar Al-Tamimi, an Iraqi journalist who worked for several foreign news media including the New York Times, was kidnapped and shot in the head yesterday in the southern city of Basra.


He is the 68th journalist to be killed in Irak since the start of the war in March 2003, and the 19th since the start of this year. A total of 63 journalists were killed in the Vietnam war, which lasted from 1955 to 1975.

UPDATE: CPJ on the killings.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Mexico's Vicente Fox to bolster free expression fight

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that in a meeting with the organization's officials in New York, Mexico's President Vicente Fox vowed to fight crimes against the media.

Mexican President Vicente Fox said today he will ask his nation's attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate crimes against free expression, a commitment made after a series of deadly attacks against journalists in Mexico's northern states.

Fox further said he would consider establishing a panel to study other ways to bolster media freedom, including through increased federal involvement in protecting journalists.

The move follows a wave killings of journalists probing crime and corruption.

It's encouraging to see the top leadership in a country an officials at the highest level of a government, but it's unfortunate that it takes the deaths of journalists to prompt action. Other governments should follow Fox's lead and work to address pressing issues that affect the news media and free expression.

In Canada, federal and provincial governments should improve access to information, and legislate whistleblower protection, and pass a shield law to protect journalists from being forced to reveal sources.

That would be a good start.

U.S. military routinely fails to probe journalist killings in Iraq: CPJ

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says the U.S. military consistently fails to investigate the slayings of journalists by its forces in Iraq.

The CPJ report lists and summarizes 13 confirmed cases of journalists killed in Iraq by U.S. Forces between March 2003 to August 2005 and the status of investigations -- if any.

U.S. troops have killed 13 journalists since the U.S.-led war began in March 2003. At least 40 other journalists have been killed covering the conflict. Several of the 13 deaths suggest indifference by U.S. soldiers to the presence of civilians, including members of the press.... Another 21 media support staff have been killed in Iraq, two by U.S. forces.

Without getting into suspicions, theories or allegations by some that journalists have been targeted by U.S forces in Iraq, this state of affairs is unacceptable.

That's not to say that it doesn't matter whether there is any truth to such allegations, but that is a secondary or even tertiary concern. The first one is to put an end to the killings.

These deaths are more likely to be the result of negligence or casual indifference, but that doesn't make them any less egregious. That also doesn't rule out the possibility that there is something more sinister going on, most likely at the level of the individual soldier or unit.

The problem is that we just don't know. And that's the point. Until the U.S. military comes clean and does a proper investigation that they make public, they'll remain open to criticism for not doing the right thing and allegations about the reasons for that.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Anderson Cooper, news anchor of the future?

CNN's Anderson Cooper is the news anchor of the future.

So says Jonathan Klein, president of CNN U.S., in a New York Times article about Cooper's convention-busting lack of cool artifice when he presents the news. As the story's headline reads, Cooper is "An anchor who reports disaster news with his heart on his sleeve".

The 38-year-old anchor has dressed down officials in interviews with polite righteous indignation in behalf of hurricane victims. At least twice he choked up on air, once abruptly stopping his commentary about lost homes and waving away the camera as he looked about to burst into tears. CNN's camera occasionally has caught him playing with stray dogs. He says he has no intention of returning to his hip New York existence any time soon.


Mr. Cooper's Sept. 1 interview with Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, marked a turning point in the tone of hurricane coverage as he snapped [at her - ed.] when she began thanking federal officials for their recovery efforts.


His comments pushed right up to the line between tough questioning and confrontational advocacy journalism, but viewers responded.


"He is the anchorperson of the future," Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN/U.S., said in an interview. He is "an anti-anchorperson," he said, adding: "He's all human. He's not putting it on."

The late Bill Cameron -- whose cool on-air wit, playfulness with language, assertiveness in interviews and soft-spoken professionalism won him admiration and praise in the CBC anchor's chair -- once told me, "People already think news anchors are robots. Why would we want to do anything to encourage that idea?"

If anything, Anderson Cooper seems to prove that Bill Cameron was the future of anchoring.

In the face of a generation that is abandoning or rejecting (does it matter which?) traditional, mainstream news, and little more than a month after Peter Jennings' death, perhaps it's time to re-examine the convention of the coolly detached anchor. Few were able to do it with the finesse and humanity Jennings did, instead coming across as stentorian icons of omniscience decreeing what was News. The news-seekers of tomorrow (today) don't buy that.

Young people are used to getting information mixed with opinion, argument or advocacy from a variety of sources, much of it online, and differentiating and distilling it for themselves.

Maybe we (journalists) should start trusting that they're intelligent enough to do so.

An anchor who reports disaster news with his heart on his sleeve []

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Speaking at editors' conference

I'll be speaking about blogs and journalism at the Metroland editorial conference later this month. With luck, I'll live-blog some of the sessions.

Looks like a good conference, with talks on communicating with readers, reinventing the newsroom and more.