Press Freedom on the Decline

B-ArtS6CIAA6pVY (1)


Worldwide press freedom is on the decline, according to Reporters Without Borders.  Finland, Norway and Denmark have the freest media, while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea are at the bottom of the list.  China slid to 176 out of 180, and the US dropped 29 spots to number 49 out of 180 countries meaning its press is less free than that in Burkina Faso, Salvador or Botswana.  Why the precipitous slide?

“We consider that the Obama administration has launched a war against whistleblowers,” [RSF US Director Delphine] Halgand said. “This year is a continuation of the concern we already expressed that national security protection has been more and more threatening freedom of information in the U.S.”

The organization is also concerned about the impact of Ferguson, where at least 15 journalists were arrested.

Last week, blogpost of the week was Collin Fifer’s on disaster porn.

Please come to class on time tomorrow, since we will be watching a film.

Reading: Dexter Filkins “The Forever War” 168-277

Into the Valley of Death (Sebastian Junger, Vanity Fair)

ASSIGNMENT: For Thursday Feb 26th 9 am:  How developed is citizen journalism in your country?   Write a 500 word blog profiling one prominent citizen journalist (extra credit if you manage to interview them!)  Make sure to also provide the context for your country, such as how many citizen journalists there are, what challenges they face and which social media tools are the most popular.   If there are no citizen journalists, write a piece analyzing the obstacles to the emergence of citizen journalism – or, if you have touched upon that before – whether there are prominent citizen journalists in exile.


Anonymous Sources


Washington Post/2005

Following our class discussion on anonymous sources, here’s a poem on the use/abuse of anonymity in the New York Times.   The most recent Public Editor blog, by Margaret Sullivan, on the use of anonymous sources is here.  She too mentions the @NYTAnon twitter feed.   I’ve put a link to the class slides in Ctools, and hopefully the readings (up to page 181 of Amnesia) will be there within the next day or two.

ASSIGNMENT:  Write a 500 word post on the use of sources and the level of danger they face in your chosen country. You can write about sources in general, or you could write about one specific example where an anonymous source was used or a source’s identity was divulged perhaps unwillingly or at a cost.   Remember to source each statement, and link to your sources within your post. (to be posted by Jan 20th at 8am)

And finally, on the topic of free speech, here’s a warning one publisher to her journalists to stop swearing in the newsroom. Apparently, the cause of the cursing is likely to be the disappearance of junk food from the newsroom vending machine.  No junk food.  No swearing.  Doesn’t sound much like a newsroom to me.



AFP/Martin Bureau

AFP/Martin Bureau

The new Charlie Hebdo has been printed with the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.  The cartoonist who drew the picture, Renald Luzier, explained it at a press conference where he repeatedly broke down.  “It was not the front page the world wanted us to make, but it was the one that we wanted to make,” he said. “It was not the front page the terrorists wanted us to make, because there are no terrorists in it, there is just a man crying, a guy crying – it’s Mohammad.”

In the US, the Washington Post printed the picture, so for the first time depicted the Prophet Mohammed, while for its part the New York Times did not take this step, but instead warned about the possibility of reprisals.

In Hong Kong, a pro-democracy tycoon who runs the Apple Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai, had a petrol bomb thrown at his house, sparking a #jesuisjimmy hashtag, while a German correspondent in China wrote this sobering account of the arrest of her Chinese assistant.   Before Thursday’s class, please read the first 82 pages of the People’s Republic of Amnesia, and make sure that you have filed your first blogpost by 8am.




After a weekend of extraordinary rallies attended by 3.7m people in France, here’s the cover of the new Charlie Hebdo magazine.  The latest reports say that three million copies will be printed.



Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer, Richard Malka, said it will carry cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, “We will not give in otherwise all this won’t have meant anything,” he told France Info radio on Monday, which broadcast from the magazine’s heavily guarded temporary offices at Libération newspaper.

“Humour without self-deprecation isn’t humour. We mock ourselves, politicians, religions, it’s a state of mind you need to have…..The Charlie state of mind is the right to blaspheme.”   Meanwhile, as the Obama administration regrets not showing up at the march, questions are being asked about exactly who was ‘supporting’ press freedom.  Question is: was it really a solidarity march for them or a photo-op?


And to finish, a quick reminder that tomorrow’s class will be a WordPress session in the Mac lab on the 2f of the Modern Languages Building.   Come armed with your own wordpress site.


Welcome to Comm 439!

download (30)

Welcome to Comm studies 439!   This is a class website, and I’ll be posting assignments, reading lists, random thoughts and other general info here.

On a day we should all be thinking about media freedom, here are some cartoon tributes to the murdered Charlie Hebdo journalists in France.   Interesting to see which news outlets refused to publish the cartoons – AP, CNN, The Daily Telegraph, New York Daily News and many others, while the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and Huffpost were among those that did.  As for the New York Times, there was a lot of back-and-forth, as described by Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who explained the thinking of Editor Dean Baquet, “I sought out a lot of views, and I changed my mind twice,” he told her, “It had to be my decision alone.” He decided against, citing the sensibilities of Muslim readers, “We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire. Most of these are gratuitous insult.”


On another topic, there are some great opportunities for student journalists on the horizon – there’s a position at Michigan radio for students with work/study funding which would allow for some writing and reporting experience.    Also the deadline is approaching for the Pulitzer Center’s student fellowship.  Email me for more details, or I’ll post shortly.  And finally, the deadline is fast approaching for the AP paid internship over the summer, which offers posts all over the US as well as Bangkok; Berlin; Johannesburg; London; Mexico City; New Delhi; Paris; Rio de Janeiro; Seoul and Tokyo.   Start filing your applications now!