October 9, 2014


Coming soon (-ish, by January of next year at the latest) The Christian Science Monitor will launch its first vertical, Passcode a “modern field guide to security and privacy.”

“The Monitor saw a real opportunity to do something different, especially in this space that I think is well-covered, in a way, but mostly by trade publications on the security front,” said Mike Farrell, editor of the new project, in a phone interview.

The field of reporting on cybersecurity and privacy isn’t a lonely one. There are already sites and journalists dedicated to covering it from various angles, including The Intercept, Farrell said. PRI also has SafeMode, “A new generation takes on global security.”

With Passcode, though, “there was a chance to do something different,” said Farrell, who has previously written about the Web and tech for The Boston Globe.

Passcode, edited by Farrell and Deputy Editor Sara Sorcher, will try to be a place that readers can learn about what’s happening with the tech in their lives, while the journalists there work to reveal issues of security and privacy in a connected world.

Freelance writers for the project include Jaikumar Vijayan, Paul F. Roberts, and Fruzsina Eordogh. There’s also a fellowship named for the late Monitor journalist Mark Clayton, whose reporting and coverage of cybersecurity inspired Passcode before his death earlier this year.

Passcode plans to take a global approach to their coverage, Farrell said, “starting with the privacy debate in Europe, unpacking the right-to-be-forgotten issues, CryptoParties, a look at how the backlash to the NSA revelations are playing out and how people personally interact with technology,” he said.

In places where tech is developing and booming, including India and Africa, they’ll look at what mobile technology means for security. And in the U.S., where a lot of government and private money is going into security, Passcode will look at a new kind of goldrush, as well as business and government aspects of security.

“The Monitor is basically a 106-year-old start-up,” said Abe McLaughlin, the Monitor’s content strategy director, in an email. “We’re taking the ideals and values developed during our first century and adapting them to the Web era. We’ve always been about providing global, in-depth reporting that focuses on where progress is happening — and identifies solutions.”

Soon after the launch, Passcode plans to take a deep look at the anonymizing network Tor, Farrell said.

“That’s one of the things people may read about but they don’t really understand it or why people might use it,” he said.

They also want to unpack stories that we face more and more often, including security breaches at big companies such as Target or Home Depot.

The challenges of that, and of the site’s content itself, are translating a very technical world for a general audience, Farrell said, and finding journalists who can bring together knowledge of the tech world, privacy policies, cybersecurity and the impact it has on people.

“That’s one layer of challenge, becoming a translator for a broader audience,” he said. “The other challenge will be telling those stories in an engaging way. We want to have great reads about subjects that some people think are really boring and don’t really matter, but they do matter to them.”

Passcode doesn’t want to be a blog only people in the industry read, he said.

“We’re in a fortunate time where more and more people are aware of these issues. Certainly the NSA leaks opened up a lot of people’s eyes to what’s happening in the government.”

Farrell is based in Boston, and Sorcher is in Washington, D.C., but there was debate about having the project itself based in the capital.

Instead, they’ve chosen to be outside the bubble, not just focused on policy and politics, but also on creators of the technology. And some of that is happening in Boston.

Passcode also wants to be a place for exchanging ideas, Farrell said, with regular columnists who can lead reasoned debates. They’re planning events, as well, which started with a kick-off event at 9:30 Thursday morning with White House cyber chief Michael Daniel at the Center for National Policy.

Coming next from the Monitor, McLaughlin said, “revamped science and tech coverage that’s focused on the amazing breakthroughs happening across the space. Also coming: energy, which is having its moment in terms of revolutionary changes that affect individuals and nations.”

Passcode is an experiment for the Monitor, Farrell said, and something they’re committed to making work.

“We do think there’s a real hole that can be filled with the sort of work that we’re trying to do.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

More News

Back to News