The State of Journalism




Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, when American soldiers civilians killed more than 500 Vietnamese in 1968.  Now he’s gone to the scene of the crime to My Lai for the New Yorker.  CJR has a great Q&A where he talks about the state of journalism today:

What is your advice to younger journalists?

It’s real simple. One is: Read before you write. And the other one is: Get the fuck out of the way of the story. There’s no such thing as a sensational story. There’s a story that if you write it right is sensational.

Can you say more about the BuzzFeeds and the Gawkers of the world becoming good for investigative journalism?

There will probably always be a New York Times. And The New York Times, for all my kvetching, it’s still the paper. And it still does great investigative reporting. I can’t stand some of its foreign coverage because it’s instinctively anti-Russian, anti-Iran, anti-Syrian. I don’t like that. My own preference and my own view is: Things are more complicated than you think. There’s nothing like The New York Times, but its prognosis is it can’t be good. I’m not suggesting that its necessarily hemorrhaging money, but it can’t be good…..

What I hate to see, and what I think I see even in the mainstream papers, even in the Times, a story that, they get a tip on something, and they run the tip. Like the whole story about Hillary Clinton’s emails, they did break the story and they got a lot of credit…..I get to the point where I want to know who’s telling what. And because normally if the story hadn’t come, let’s say, from the Clintons—I’m just speaking heuristically—normally if you really got that story from someone on the inside, you would then make an effort on the inside to try and do more with it. You wouldn’t have to pay it off right away. Because when you broke the story you really didn’t know much.

And I’m not crushing his reporting. It was a fine story, and I’m glad it was done. But I just wonder who they owed that story to, because they went real quick with it. I see too many stories that are tips when they get into the paper, when I would take more time and see what’s going on in the story before I make it public.

For my second piece, the CJR autopsy on the Rolling Stone rape story, which found “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”

“The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s [the main source’s] narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.”

Here’s are some useful summaries.  Basic findings:  CALL your sources.  VERIFY any information, no matter how sensitive, from numerous sources.  BEWARE of anonymity. Give those accused an opportunity to respond to the story. CHECK and DOUBLE-CHECK all details.

Details of Tuesday’s class below

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 21.23.46



Pulitzer Centre Guests

vietnam_002 PROJECTPAGE

Above are two images from projects by two Michigan alums, Jens Erik Gould and David Rochkind for the Pulitzer Centre.   They will talk to our class on Tuesday about these projects – respectively on TB funding in Vietnam and HIV in Honduras.  You may also want to look at Jens’ Bravery Tapes on the Huffington Post, which combines journalism, music and film.


Watch: The Islamic State (Vice)

Read: Everything You Need to Know about the Deadly Extremist Group Ravaging Iraq and Syria (Buzzfeed)

The Surreal infographics ISIS is producing, translated (Vox)

The Ukraine Crisis Explained in GIFS and Indepth Policy Papers (Clickhole)

Assignment: Write a 500-word piece analyzing one piece of coverage on your country by the non-traditional web-based media (ie Buzzfeed, Vox, Salon, Huffington Post, Vice etc).   How different is it from traditional media coverage? How effective is it? Do the same rules regarding impartiality apply for web-based media as for traditional media?

Robert Nickelsberg: On Capturing Afghanistan

For all who couldn’t make it out Monday afternoon to hear veteran photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg speak, here’s a quick synopsis and some thoughts about the talk (This is Yardain btw, filling in a blog post because my in-class presentation was cancelled).

Nickelsberg first covered Afghanistan for Time Magazine in 1988, when he grabbed a job opening at the New Delhi bureau. Since then, he’s traveled to the country over 50 times, documenting the rise and fall of the Soviets, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and US invasion, among other things.

A young Nickelsberg in Guatemala City in 1982.

Nickelsberg spent the majority of his presentation moving chronologically from ’88 to the present day,  painting a picture — or rather, expounding on already snapped pictures — of a war-torn region and its various groups, both native and foreign, fighting for power.

There were a lot of interesting facts and tidbits Nickelsberg touched on, and since Prof. Lim was kind enough to film the presentation, I transcribed a few of my favorites below:

On why photographers are cooler than writers (jk):

“You don’t get pictures by being behind the writer. And the writers can always push the photographers forward and say ‘tell us what it looks like up there’ and they hide. But that’s just the nature of the profession. It’s not a note of bravery or being crazy. It is where the pictures are.”

On the forgotten difficulties of the pre-digital era:

“I worked for a weekly so I had to get film out by Wednesday so it traveled Thursday to Europe, Thursday to Friday to New York, went straight to the lab and that was deadline for Time magazine, Friday night … And it was not simple and some the gray hair is not just from missing flights, but from trying to get my film onboard, and not get stolen or lost.”

On why the 9/11 plot wasn’t foiled:

“One thing to keep in mind is the United States closed its embassy on January 20th, 1989 and didn’t reopen it until December 17th, 2001. The United States had no embassy there, no representative, nobody picking up information … this was one of the most serious blunders that you can relate all the way back and forward to now into Iraq and Syria. We had no presence.”

And here’s his book!

The Viral President

download (51) download (52)


Images from Buzzfeed


He’s everywhere nowadays.  He’s done Vice.  He’s done Vox.  He’s done Buzzfeed.  He even made a funny vid for Buzzfeed.   The legacy media has stopped pretending not to care.   The Washington Post even ran a snarky article called Which image of Obama mugging for Buzzfeed’s cameras diminishes the presidency most, ranked.  Meanwhile, Michelle Obama danced with Ellen, having previously done push-ups with her.   For fans of the presidency, here are the White House pool reports or as one journalist called them ‘a mutually agreed upon plagiarism pact‘, courtesy of Gawker.

Thanks to Kasie Pleiness for the blog of the week.


Press Freedom in the US

China Daily


For the sake of novelty, above is a cartoon from the China Daily (note: not an unbiased source) on press freedom in the US, which accompanied an editorial called Myth of US press freedom.

For next Tuesday, please read:

The Obama Administration and the Press (CPJ) 

US Surveillance Harming Journalists, Lawyers (ACLU/HRW)

Where’s the Justice at Justice? (NYT)

BLOGPOST: We have spent a lot of time examining how journalists operate in the different countries we have chosen to blog about.  What about journalists in the US?  How much freedom do they have to operate?  Write a 500-word post about press freedom in the US in 2014 using sources such as the World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House.   Try to analyse the factors behind any change in US ranking when it comes to press freedom.

Wikileaks News



In Wikileaks news, Swedish supreme court has approved Julian Assange’s appeal hearing, a step forward for him after it was turned down in November.   Meanwhile, it has emerged that Google waited six months after the lifting of a gagging order to alert WikiLeaks that emails and other data belonging to its employees had been passed to the FBI. Other news:  Chelsea Manning will write a column for the Guardian from prison.

I forgot to name the Blog of the Week in class today: Kasie Pleiness did a nice job in unravelling the fallout from the Wikileaks cables in Turkey.

One interesting piece to read, about whether journalists should testify at tribunals.

Before Thursday’s class, please listen to The Arms Trader.   Read the Intelligence Factory and A Permanent War on Terror.   Also worth reading is To Catch A Terrorist.  And prepare some questions for Petra Bartosiewicz.

Censorship, Facebook and Travelling with Your Censor (1)

The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet via Daniel Dalledone/Flickr

This 19th-century painting by Gustave Courbet is at the centre of a dispute about Facebook’s censorship, after the social networking site closed down a French teacher’s account for posting the picture, which it deemed pornographic.  Now the man is suing Facebook for violating his rights to free speech and a Paris court is giving him a hearing.  The Verge wins the prize for the clickbait-iest headline, while Slate‘s take on it is as follows:

“Upon first glance, this news might seem like a big win for free expression. Facebook’s indecency policies, after all, are absurdly arbitrary and puritanical, calling for the censorship of nude drawings and breastfeeding photos. And a Courbet fan has a much better chance of winning a free speech claim against Facebook in France than in America: While the First Amendment only applies to government censorship, France’s free speech laws can sometimes be used to punish private censorship, as well…..But in reality, Thursday’s decision could clear the way for civil libertarian nightmares down the road.  European countries generally take a very lenient approach to free speech, granting the government broad powers to censor any expression deemed hateful. Allowing European courts to monitor the online speech hosted by American companies would ultimately result in punishment of unpopular views and chilling of vital expression”

In other censorship news, Peter Hessler wrote a magnificent New Yorker piece about travelling around China with his censor, which adds nuance to the debate.  Also, I can’t help loving this Onion piece about how grateful Chinese internet users are that censorship protects them from “endlessly looping GIFs of sitcom actors rolling their eyes or giving each other high-fives” and “overfiltered photos of food truck tacos or videos of high school students asking celebrities to accompany them to prom” (NOTE: THIS IS SATIRE).

ICYMI the Guardian had a great piece on abuse in a ‘black jail’ in Chicago that was far more reminiscent of pieces we are used to seeing from China or Russia, rather than the US.

READING (We will be discussing the following in class on March 10th, so woe betide anyone who hasn’t read them.)

The Forever War


New York Times/Ashley Gilbertson

As we prepare to finish our discussion on The Forever War, I thought this interview was worth reading:

Why did you write The Forever War, and why did you choose that title?

Whenever I went home to the U.S., people would ask me: what’s it like over there? What does it feel like? What’s it like to be shot at? What’s it like to be woken up by a car bomb? What’s it like to sleep in a village with no electricity? How do you talk to a warlord? Hence my book: I want to show people what it feels like to be in Iraq and Afghanistan: the ambiguity, the heartbreak, the fear and the joy. It’s a visceral book, not really an intellectual one.

As for the title, I should say: the book makes no argument. It is very explicitly not a political book. The title, “The Forever War,” is more metaphor than literal truth. (At least I hope it is). The first chapter of the book takes place in 1998, at the Kabul Sports Stadium, at a public execution carried about by the Taliban on a Friday afternoon. It’s 2008 now, and we are still at war. I’ve expended much of my life’s energies in those wars. Many of us have. It already feels like forever, and it isn’t even over yet.

You must have strong opinions about the war on terror, and both the Iraq war and the way in which operations in Afghanistan have been conducted. Yet the book is almost apolitical. Why?

I think we’ve all heard our share of arguments about these wars. We’ve all heard a lot of moralizing – who was right and who was wrong. I’m exhausted by it; I think probably most people are. But in a deeper sense, I think much of the moralizing we’ve heard is self-indulgent. Moralizing is something you get to do from a TV studio, what someone at a cocktail party gets to do. If you are actually in Iraq or Afghanistan, you don’t get a chance to do a lot of that. People are dying. If my book is about anything, it’s about the reality on the ground. Down there, politics is irrelevant.

Filkins spoke to Terry Gross last year about ISIS here.  On another topic, thanks to Christina No for this fascinating New York Times piece on a Chinese photographer who has published a book of negatives of pictures of 1989.

Gilles Sabrie/New York Times

Reading for next class is:  Revolution 2.0 ps 58-122 (in Ctools.)

Assignments:  1)  Write a 500-word blogpost on your response to Restrepo – was it balanced and impartial? How effective was it? Analyze your response to the film compared to the Vanity Fair article and the photographs in the New York Times. In your view, which was the most effective in conveying the reality of conflict?

2) How developed is citizen journalism in your country?   Write a 300-word blog providing the context for your country: do citizen journalists exist there? How is internet infrastructure and access? Is it censored? What social media tools are most popular among citizen journalists?   Mention one or two prominent or emerging voices.   If there are no citizen journalists, write a piece analyzing why.

And, just to clarify, there is NO midterm exam for this class.  So please channel your energies into your writing.