Government surveillance

FBI impersonated an AP reporter

Good morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. FBI impersonated AP reporter

    FBI director James B. Comey wrote a letter to The New York Times saying an undercover officer investigating some bomb threats "portrayed himself as an employee of The Associated Press, and asked if the suspect would be willing to review a draft article about the threats and attacks, to be sure that the anonymous suspect was portrayed fairly." (NYT) | Statement from AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll: "This latest revelation of how the FBI misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press doubles our concern and outrage, expressed earlier to Attorney General Eric Holder, about how the agency's unacceptable tactics undermine AP and the vital distinction between the government and the press." (AP) | Previously, we learned the FBI "created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect." (The Seattle Times) | Comey says the operation "was proper and appropriate under Justice Department and F.B.I. guidelines at the time" but a letter the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote Comey and Holder yesterday says attorney general's guidelines "restrict the circumstances under which FBI agents may impersonate the news media during the course of an investigation." RFCP asks the FBI to "release additional information regarding when and under what circumstances it uses links to what are or appear to be news media websites to digitally impersonate the news media in the course of criminal investigations." (RCFP)

  2. BuzzFeed doesn't do clickbait

    "If your goal — as is ours at BuzzFeed — is to deliver the reader something so new, funny, revelatory, or delightful that they feel compelled to share it, you have to do work that delivers on the headline’s promise, and more," EIC Ben Smith writes. (BuzzFeed) | Smith links to an interview I did with Nilay Patel in July: "Most clickbait is disappointing because it’s a promise of value that isn’t met — the payoff isn’t nearly as good as what the reader imagines," he said. (Poynter) | In September, Sam Kirkland argued that cheap content -- "takes," for instance -- are an opportunity for publishers "to be exposed to news that matters, too — the stories that might be less likely to take off on Facebook." (Poynter) | "OH YEAH???" the Internet cried in response. | "Confused by people who think pointing out low-brow articles BuzzFeed publishes refutes @BuzzFeedBen's point." (@pkafka) | I am not confused. Write an article with "BuzzFeed" and "journalism" in the hed or tweet and watch the snide remarks fill your @ column.

  3. NBC News financed a tunnel under the Berlin Wall

    The news organization in 1962 paid 50,000 Deutschmarks for exclusive film rights to a group of Germans and Italians who were trying to dig their way out of East Berlin. "The story was told in NBC News' documentary 'The Tunnel,' which was meant to air on Oct. 31, 1962 but was held after NBC came under pressure from the State Department not to exacerbate tensions after the Cuban missile crisis." The documentary aired Dec. 10. (NBC News) | The Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, and you do not have to listen to the Scorpions to commemorate it, but no one's going to judge you if you do.

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  4. Matt Taibbi will talk about his departure from First Look today

    He's scheduled to appear on HuffPost Live at 3:30. (HuffPost Live)

  5. Metered paywalls work better than hard paywalls

    73 percent of "global newspaper companies" polled by Peter Marsh and the International News Media Association say they have some sort of paywall in place. And "Retention rates appear to be significantly higher for newspapers that use metered pay models as opposed to hard paywalls." (INMA, via The Guardian)

  6. Tampa Tribune ceases publication of Hernando Today

    "A tough newspaper advertising climate made the printing and distribution of the twice-weekly newspaper cost-prohibitive, said Ken Koehn, managing editor of The Tampa Tribune." (Koehn's byline is on the article.) (Hernando Today) | The Tribune competes with the Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns and which has had troubles of its own. Tribune officials "declined to return calls from the Tampa Bay Times to discuss the status of Hernando Today or other publications." (Tampa Bay Times)

  7. More trouble at the OC Register

    Two shareholders claim the newspaper's parent company, Freedom Communications, is "insolvent" and ask for it to be placed in receivership. Gustavo Arellano: "The most interesting part of the complaint, however, is how much of the complaint remains redacted and under seal. One section, for instance, has the titillating headline 'Defaults and Liens Under the Company Pension Plan.'" (OC Weekly) | "Freedom spokesman Eric Morgan called the petition 'meritless and unfounded.'" (LAT)

  8. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare

    Australia's Daily Telegraph fronts news about AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd with a typeface that recalls the band's logo. It is important to note that prosecutors in New Zealand dropped the murder-for-hire charge that let a thousand "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" jokes bloom, though! Rudd "still faces charges of possessing drugs and threatening to kill," Rose Troup Buchanan reports in The Independent. (Front page via Kiosko)


  9. Speaking of typefaces

    Dylan Lathrop writes about ITC Serif Gothic, a typeface shared by "Star Wars" and "Star Trek." "It also doesn't hurt that The Verge logo is based on the same font," Lathrop writes. (The Verge)

  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin

    Leah Kauffman, Robert McGovern and Matt Romanoski have joined Philly Voice. Previously, they were executive producers at ( | Marina Marraco will be a reporter at WTTG in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a reporter at WESH in Orlando. (Media Moves) | Scott Levy is now news director at WIVB in Buffalo. Previously, he was news director for WTAJ in Altoona, Pennsylvania. (TV Spy) | Job of the day: ASNE is looking for an executive director. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

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Twitter sues U.S. government for right to disclose info about surveillance requests to users

Twitter | Associated Press

Twitter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, “seeking to publish our full Transparency Report, and asking the court to declare these restrictions on our ability to speak about government surveillance as unconstitutional under the First Amendment.”

Ben Lee, the company’s legal VP, writes in a blog post:

It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received. We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.

The AP reports:

Twitter’s filing follows lawsuits by Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and others to gain permission to share more information on surveillance requests with the public. The government has said that it will publish the total number of national security requests for customer data annually. But Microsoft and Google maintain that they should be able to break out how often the feds request specific user content, such as email conversations, for example, from how often they demand subscriber data associated with an email address.

The fight for the right to even talk about surveillance requests has proven difficult for tech companies, never mind the fight against those requests in the first place. The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg reported last month that Yahoo was threatened in 2008 with a $250,000-per-day fine “if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user communications.”

Companies including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have called for government surveillance reform.

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Government says Sotloff video is real

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Steven Sotloff video is real: National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden says a video showing the journalist’s execution by Islamic State “is authentic.” (AP) | Sotloff “began many of his articles with personal anecdotes and sprinkled his reporting with mundane details like the precise price of bread, reminding readers that faceless forces like Syria’s civil war and Egypt’s military coup were fundamentally altering the lives of real people, in divergent but no less devastating ways.” (The Atlantic) | President Obama: “His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.” (Politico) | Time Editor Nancy Gibbs: Sotloff “gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world.” (Time) | “It appears from chatter on ISIS forums that the initial video release was an unintentional leak from within ISIS circles” (Vocativ)
  2. Fred Ryan meets Washington Post newsroom: The news organization’s new publisher declined to say how he got the job, said “a key for Wapo is winning the morning.” (@erikwemple) | Washington Post reporters figure out how he got the job: He told Jean Case he was interested, and she introduced him to Post owner Jeff Bezos. (WP) | Ryan “likewise preferred to remain vague about his vision for the Post, saying it was too early to get into strategy specifics.” (Capital)
  3. News orgs ask oversight board to investigate effects of government surveillance: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 24 signatory news organizations “have asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to investigate whether journalists’ confidential sources and other newsgathering is being compromised by widespread national security surveillance programs.” (RCFP)
  4. AOL content shakeup: Susan Lyne steps down from running brand group. Luke Beatty will “get the tech, automobile and entertainment brands,” Kara Swisher reports, and Maureen Sullivan will continue to run “ and the various lifestyle and money content brands.” Also: “no shockeroo, Arianna is still in charge of Arianna.” (Re/code) | “When I asked if the brand group is being scaled back as AOL invests more on the ad-tech side of the business, another AOL spokesperson on the call jumped in, saying that even though AOL has shut down some existing sites (and it spun out hyperlocal news effort Patch), it’s investing more in its existing brands.” (TechCrunch)
  5. Florida International University credentials Miami Herald reporter after all: David J. Neal “attended Saturday’s 14-12 loss to Bethune-Cookman with a ticket and sat in the stands, but did not write a game story or post-game blog, as he would have were he credentialed.” (Miami Herald) | “What good is a football team nobody covers? Chances are, FIU didn’t want to find out.” (Deadspin)
  6. Boston Globe launches site covering Catholicism: “The problem with the Vatican as a beat is it’s too far away, too weird, and utterly unlike any institution people cover,” John Allen says. “It’s hard to penetrate and it’s expensive to have someone who has the luxury to focus full time on that beat.” (Nieman)
  7. Dept. of Irony: Study about how misinformation spreads becomes the star of a poorly informed story. (CJR) | Related: The Huffington Post is running a multipart series on V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email. “Huffington Post is either not disclosing a paid-for series of posts (which would be a massive ethical breach) or they’ve been taken for a ride.” (Techdirt)
  8. New York’s shield law protects another journalist: Wall Street Journal reporter Gregory Zuckerman won’t have to deliver his notes to Sue Ann Hamm, who is divorcing Harold Hamm. (Village Voice) | The Hamm divorce “appears it will be the most expensive divorce in history.” (CNN)
  9. Newspaper front of the day, selected by Kristen Hare: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel fronts the murder of Steven Sotloff, who was from Pinecrest, Florida. (Courtesy the Newseum)


  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Fred Ryan has been named publisher of The Washington Post. Previously, he was president of Allbritton Communications Company. (Poynter) | John Reiss is now executive producer of “Meet the Press.” Previously, he was executive producer for “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” (TV Newser) | Emily Bazelon will be a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. Previously, she was a senior editor for Slate. (New York Times) | David Weigel is joining Bloomberg Politics. Previously, he was a political reporter for Slate. (Slate) | Chuck Culpepper will be a college football reporter for The Washington Post. Previously, he was a staff writer for Sports on Earth. (The Washington Post) | Susan Lyne will join AOL’s venture division to run the Build Fund. Previously, she was CEO of AOL’s brand group (Recode) | Craig Silverman will be a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. He is an adjunct faculty member for Poynter. (Poynter) | Zach Wolf is now managing editor for digital at CNN Politics. Previously, he was managing editor for news at Politico. (Fishbowl DC) | Job of the day: Women’s Wear Daily is looking for a copy editor. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

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Police shouldn’t harass reporters, Obama says

Good news for media organizations: The police shouldn’t be able to bug you while you work, the president says.

Apparently exempt from that guidance: the federal government. In the past two years, the U.S. Department of Justice has secretly seized AP phone records and tried to force New York Times reporter James Risen to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, and the FBI has called a Fox News reporter “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in another leak case.

The Obama administration has prosecuted more people under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. Risen called it “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” It’s even tightened access to White House photos.

But cops, though, they should totally back off. Read more


Edward Snowden is designing tools for journalists

The Guardian

Edward Snowden is using some of his time in Russia to design “encryption tools to help professionals such as journalists protect sources and data,” Alan Rusbridger and Ewen MacAskill write in The Guardian. They interviewed the NSA whistleblower in Moscow.

Snowden is “negotiating foundation funding for the project,” they write.

“Journalists have to be particularly conscious about any sort of network signalling, any sort of connection, any sort of licence-plate reading device that they pass on their way to a meeting point, any place they use their credit card, any place they take their phone, any email contact they have with the source because that very first contact, before encrypted communications are established, is enough to give it all away,” Snowden told them.

Journalists had to ensure they made not a single mistake or they would be placing sources at risk. The same duty applied to other professions, he said, calling for training and new standards “to make sure that we have mechanisms to ensure that the average member of our society can have a reasonable measure of faith in the skills of all the members of these professions.”

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Jill Abramson: Being first on a story is a ‘point of pride’

PRX | The Daily Beast

At a talk at the Chautauqua Institution Wednesday, an audience member asked former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson why being first is “so important for the press.”

Abramson admitted she sometimes asks herself the same thing: “sometimes given the speed at which even a tweet gets picked up, sometimes I did say to myself why is it so darned important because everybody knows everything — the boom effect in the media is so immediate now and so loud,” she said.

But: “again being candid with you, it’s kind of a point of pride.” Read more


Dean Baquet is now ‘much more skeptical’ about government claims of harm

NPR | The Intercept

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told David Folkenflik it was “really painful” to lose the Edward Snowden scoops to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Snowden’s decision to take the documents to those outlets “was the bitter harvest of seeds sown by the Times almost a decade ago,” Folkenflik writes:

In the fall of 2004, just ahead of the November general elections, the Times’ news leadership spiked an exclusive from Washington correspondents James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, disclosing massive warrantless domestic eavesdropping by the NSA.

White House officials had warned that the results of such a story could be catastrophic.

The Times, in a decision led by then-Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman and then-Executive Editor Bill Keller, quashed the story, despite the objections of the two reporters, their editor Rebecca Corbett, and several of their colleagues.

“I am much, much, much more skeptical of the government’s entreaties not to publish today than I was ever before,” Baquet said.

Glenn Greenwald writes that the Snowden revelations occasioned a “desperately needed debate about journalism itself, and the proper relationship of journalists to those who wield political and economic power.” He’s encouraged by Baquet’s words, but wary.

“As is always the case, the stream of fear-mongering and alarmist warnings issued by the US Government to demonize a whistleblower proves to be false and without any basis, and the same is true for accusations made about the revelations themselves,” Greenwald writes. “But none of that has stopped countless US journalists from mindlessly citing each one of the latest evidence-free official claims as sacred fact.”

Greenwald notes Baquet once killed an NSA story, when he ran the Los Angeles Times. It was about “‘secret NSA rooms’ being installed at an AT&T switching center in San Francisco.”

Baquet “said that story proved overly technical and difficult to verify,” Folkenflik writes, and “he said the subsequent New York Times article on the same subject proved vague and was buried inside the paper.” Read more


CIR raises funds for investigation into ‘neighborhood NSA’

The Center for Investigative Reporting hopes to raise $25,000 to report on surveillance by local authorities, a practice speeded by technological improvements and federal money. Subscribers get benefits on a sliding scale — from a tote bag and a tour of CIR’s newsroom if you donate $350 to email alerts when new stories go up if you pledge $5 per month.

Beacon, which is handling fundraising for the series, refers to those alerts as “subscriptions,” but CIR spokesperson Lisa Cohen tells Poynter any stories that come from this project will be available on the CIR website, and “CIR will be working with partners as the stories warrant,” Cohen writes.

“During the past year, we’ve learned a lot about the federal government’s surveillance program, but we still know very little about how local police collect and mine data,” CIR reporter Amanda Pike says in a video accompanying the pitch.

If the project gets funded, CIR says it will use the money to secure public records, travel around the country reporting and “Create community engagement events where local citizens can learn about and debate the rise of surveillance.”

Last year, ProPublica raised $24,000 to help report on internships. ProPublica Community Editor Blair Hickman told Poynter the crowdfunding was an experiment somewhat at odds with the usual methods of funding investigative journalism: “With investigative stories you don’t often know where they will lead, but most crowdfunding is looking for very definite product to deliver,” Hickman said. Read more


U.S. joins ‘Enemies of the Internet’ list

Electronic Frontier Foundation | Reporters Without Borders | The Washington Post

The United States made Reporters Without Borders’ “Enemies of the Internet” list for the first time, Jillian C. York reports. The U.K., Russia and India join the same freshman class.

“While the US government doesn’t censor online content, and pours money into promoting Internet freedom worldwide, the National Security Agency’s unapologetic dragnet surveillance and the government’s treatment of whistleblowers have earned it a spot on the index,” York writes.

York also suggests some countries that could have made the list: Turkey, Jordan and Morocco deserve inclusion for various policies, she argues.

Reporters Without Borders includes a list of “Corporate Enemies” in this year’s report — firms that “sell products that are liable to be used by governments to violate human rights and freedom of information.”

And it talks about the responsibility of news organizations and journalists for information security: “Protection of sources is no longer just a matter of journalistic ethics,” it reads. Read more

The sign that serves as the backdrop for press briefings at the Department of Justice is seen before a press conference Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

DOJ releases new rules about obtaining media orgs’ records

The New York Times | Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Justice Friday released new rules for how it will try to obtain records from journalists in the future. They “create a presumption that prosecutors generally will provide advance notice to the news media when seeking to obtain their communications records,” Charlie Savage reports.

The Justice Department didn’t win rave reviews last May, when news broke it had seized AP phone records without notifying the organization. Read more

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