A Night Talking Terrorists

Eric Schmitt’s signature graces the inside cover of Counterstrike, a 2011 publication with New York Times colleague Thom Shanker.

“We need to be lucky and good everyday,” said Thom Shanker, a reporter for the New York Times. Even though the United States hasn’t had a terrorist attack in 10 years, doesn’t mean we’ll be safe forever.

Mr. Shanker and co-author Eric Schmitt, also from the New York Times’ Washington bureau, discussed their book, Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Midtown Manhattan on Monday September 12, 2011 – one day removed from the 10th anniversary memorial ceremony of the Sept. 11 attack.

The book traces the development of United States policy in the fight against terrorism, taking the reader from the first confused moments of that Tuesday morning, to the orchestrated strike against Osama bin Laden’s fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan which took the Al Qaeda leader’s life.

While the book contains insider notes on the workings and workers of the American intelligence and security community, it also paints a stark picture of U.S. preparedness on September 11.

“There were people in the Pentagon who were asking ‘al Who’?” said Mr. Shanker, who was shocked that state officials were unaware of  Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the 9-11 attack. This fact is made worse given that Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Mr. Schmitt and Mr. Shanker also discussed the propensity for President George Bush’s “capture of kill” anti-terrorism strategy to feed Al Qaeda recruiting networks, citing concerns expressed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the US approach was increasing, not reducing, the ranks in terrorist organizations.

In response, the authors argued that a new deterrence strategy took form in 2003-2004 which focused on attacking what terrorists hold dear – issues of reputation, financial restitution and the security of terrorist networks.

To deter terrorists Shanker and Schmitt said that the new strategy demanded spreading responsibility across the government more broadly, while simultaneously stressing inter-operabililty between intelligence (and I.T.) frameworks, transparency amongst government branches and cooperation between sectors of the national security apparatus – most noticeably the CIA and the FBI.

The night’s more animated conversation and debate surrounded warrantless wire-tapping which prompted questions on liberty and security. However, this line of questioning led the Timesmen to recite persuasive evasions, instead of measured answers.

However, Mr. Schmitt and Mr. Shanker did highlight technology as both a progenitor and salve of modern terrorism.

“The Internet is the ultimate safe haven for terrorism,” said Mr. Schmitt, as websites or forums provide the space for extremists to indoctrinate others, while the Internet’s online gaming communities, replete with its anonymous and atomized user experience,  are penetrated by terrorists transmitting coded information without detection.

The Internet also provides an opportunity for law enforcement to lay in wait for extremists to expose themselves, leading to identification and potential capture.

In writing this book, Mr. Shanker and Mr. Schmitt said they intended bring the challenges of anti-terrorism policy and practice into relief. It isn’t easy to quell the fires of extremism, but Mr. Schmitt admits that it is possible over time.

One method is attacking the narrative used by terrorist organizations.

As terrorism derives its strength from others sympathetic to their cause, this support is a function of controlling the narrative, (i.e. the way actors’ roles are understood in the world),

“The United States struggles with the ‘say-do’ gap,” said Mr. Shanker. By this, Mr. Shanker means that regardless of national security concerns which necessitate the presence of American troops abroad, their deployment – almost exclusively – in regions like Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya makes them vulnerable to Al Qaeda’s argument: the West has waged war against Islam.

“The American narrative is hard to defend,” said Mr. Shanker.

Finally, as the discussion opened up to audience questions, Mr. Shanker’s expertise on the Washingston/Pentagon beat was put to use in the discussion of new Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta.

Mr. Shanker reminded the audience that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was selected to deal with Iraq, and stayed on to handle Afghanistan. Mr. Panetta, however, will have to wage war with the budget, said Mr. Shanker.

As economic trends have the potential to erode U.S. capacity fight terrorism, the question becomes, “how much security do you want to pay for?” said Mr. Shanker

In the night’s final response, the Times’ reporters took delicate jabs at the state of  U.S. politics.

“Washington can’t take two big ideas at the same time,” said Mr. Schmitt.

Unfortunately, and as Counterstrike demonstrates, the ‘big ideas’ do not have simple solutions. Particularly when national security is the subject of debate.

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Business of Journalism Assignment

Name three trends that have significantly changed economic models for news organizations in the digital age. (no more than 500 words total)

While the economic changes for new organizations have been profound in the “digital era,” three trends that have greatly impacted the business of news are the eroding relationship between audience size and revenue; the shift from scarcity of content to surplus of content; and persistent supply and demand challenges within the news industry.

First, as traditional print had to pay for their content, the provision of news online was thought to have a similar market price. It made sense, theoretically, that as more people wanted to read a newsroom’s content, their revenue should increase. However, the Internet was a triumph of open-source, and that meant that news organizations were forced to produce content for free. Soon, the relationship between audience size and revenue was severed.

Pay-walls, then, became the means to an economic end. If news was a consumer good, they argued, it should be treated as any other commodity.

Second, the decision to demand pay for content was a function of supply. For instance, the value of The New York Times’ content can only be understood relative to content from other competing media/news organizations. In the digital era, competition increased as news content shifted from scarcity to surplus.

Specifically, the Internet boom provided a platform and economic space for media organizations (both large and small) to capitalize on the its faster distribution capacity at lower costs that traditional print journalism.

News was still covered by ‘legacy’ organizations like the New York Times or the Washington Post, but bloggers, start-up media outfits, anyone else who had the capital to cover the modest start-up costs were also generating content.

While the New York Times might claim that it had, and still has, “all the news that’s fit to print,” the Internet it made clear that there was much more content fit to produce, and there were many vying to produce it.

Third, this surplus of information upset the balance between supply and demand, particularly in terms of advertising dollars. As critical revenue streams for news companies, advertising firms became weary of their old models’ profitability. If there were more people exposing themselves to more pages, sites, and online communities, advertisers were uncertain whether the audience exposed to their ads would be sufficient to justify the costs of the ads themselves.

Thus, the power shifted to consumers and away from providers, and advertising companies had to base investment of inconsistent online consumer patterns. As a result, advertising became more challenging for most news organizations, and it was only the largest that could profit from the use of small, or ‘remnant,’ ads. And only then because of the size of their online communities (i.e. Facebook or Google News.)

These trends leave us with a media environment today, that may privilege smaller, Internet and advertising savvy media organizations who recognize the strengths of Internet branding. Thankfully, many of these groups seem to share a desire to promote sustainable growth that permits free and independent journalism at the highest level.

List up to three advantages that a new, digitally based news company has over a traditional print or broadcast organization. (no more than 250 words)

The advantages of today’s digital newsroom include the speed at which news can be covered, the increased variety if offers consumers of news media, and the cost of publication and production.

First, with the interconnectivity of the Internet, content is procured, produced and published faster than traditional print and broadcast operations were capable of. The seamlessness of continual uploads, amendments and updates to news published online, makes the digital newsroom a more dynamic and responsive environment.

Second, lower barriers to entry in the market (low start-up costs) allow more individuals and groups into the industry. In theory, this should be a net benefit for consumer who will have more choices in media. An Internet media group, for instance, need not pay rents on paper to print on, nor does it need to invest in printing equipment or the transportation costs to distribute the information. With computers, tablets and mobile devices growing in dominance, content streamlined for the Internet also has a wider audience than broadcast, too. After all, there is a reason I can watch Chinese programming on YouTube and not on my television.

Third, a digital newsroom has the ability to deliver more news, to more people, more intelligently. Online analytics, viewer comments or response and targeted branding allows digital companies to provide tailored content to the consumers who desire it the most. Making news personal, makes it more desirable. In turn, it is likely to make it more profitable, too.

List up to three advantages that a traditional print or broadcast organization has over a new, digitally based news company. (no more than 250 words)

Traditional print or broadcast media, while challenged by the digital boom, still retains some critical advantages.

The first is reputation. Many traditional news organizations have procured a reputation for effective, objective or refined news coverage and analysis. This stamp of approval – public consent, as it seems – provides an edge to these organizations when compared to individual bloggers or start-up media companies who have yet to demonstrate their comparable skills.

Secondly, as discussed by Prof. Grueskin, print and broadcast companies provide an immersive, “lean back” experience which changes the way consumer interact with the news product. It should also be noted that print and broadcasts tradition of wide aggregation (covering a wide array of topics) serves to inform individuals of multitude of topics. This diversity of information can languish in an online environment where individual preferences aggregate news on the receiver’s behalf, allowing the viewer to read what interests them without ever seeing other content.

Finally, a recent report by two researchers from the University of Oregan have found that, as the title of their work suggest, “Medium matters.” Readers of newspapers are shown to retain more knowledge about the topics covered, than similar information covered online. Because the strength of journalism is not simply to inform, but to educate, newspapers’ ability to instill knowledge that remains longer, should not be dismissed. In this regard, print still has an important role to play.

Law Assignment

What are the elements of a defamation claim, whether it is libel (written) or slander (oral)?

Defamation is defined as a false statement of fact (not opinion) about a specific person or entity – this could include a company, NGO or individual – published to someone, other that the subject of the statement, which can be shown to have caused, or has the potential to cause, harm. In the United States, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff (the accuser of defamation) to show that the statement in question is false.

For the journalists, if the statement(s) made is (are) true, the plaintiff has no cause or claim for defamation.

For a statement to be defamatory, the message must be deemed negative in a larger social sense, and it must be specific to an individual entity. For example, it is not defamatory to say that all doctors are swindlers, but it would be if you spoke only of one doctor.

Again, it must be a statement about a person or entity that is published to someone else. Publication is an essential part.

It is critical to understand that libel and slander can occur at any point in the communication (not just publication). Even if you make the statement in an interview to another person, you’ve published that claim, about someone, to another individual. If discovered by the subject of the defamatory statement, it can be cause for suit.

Remember that email and texts are publications as well even though that they private. Thus, it is prudent when communicating with sources and colleagues to either avoid the use of questionable assertions that are not verifiably true, or to specifically include a line in the legend of your communication that explains that these are just questions, they are not statement of fact and they are not intended to be published.

If someone gives you her name and password to access her employer’s website, should you use that information to access the site?

The rule of thumb for a journalist is to limit your activities to those reasonably undertaken by a sane person. Therefore, don’t pretend to be someone that you are not. This is a criminal act that can be adjudicated under hacking and wire-tapping laws.

On the topic of access to private space, such as a company’s website or database, the journalists can attempt to gain access provided their attempt does not demand they appear to be someone they are not. If you leave the sign-in fields blank and press enter, and it works, you are free to use the information you find. In this situation, they have not secured it and can therefore not expect this information to remain secure.

Additionally, it is acceptable to listen to a conference call between associates if invited to do so in the presences of one of the rightful participant’s. This, of course, is juxtaposed to signing in to a conference call for which you were not invited, and thus need to appear as someone else.

How much time should you give the subject of an article or video to comment before publication?

One of the most important rules is not to allow the source to determine the publication timeline for your work. That said, it is important to provide enough time for the subjects to comment on your content as is reasonable under the circumstance.

If the questions are quick and simple to answer, you need not provide excess time for the subject to do so. If your story demands that they verify a longer series of comments or facts, then extra time will likely be reasonable and necessary.

While it is not advisable to send subjects a list of questions before the interview, it is likely worthwhile to prime the interviewee with the subject of your story or the themes which will be of interest. This can expedite the interview and response process.

What is the rule on reading back quotes to sources?  (Something of a trick question)

There is no hard and fast rule on reading back quotes. For some journalists, this is an activity they strictly do not support; others choose to do so each time they interview a source.

While accuracy of reporting is key, anytime a person is allowed to hear or be read their comments, there is a chance of speaker’s remorse. However, the journalist stands a better chance of avoiding speaker’s remorse if the quotes are verified immediately after the interview.

Again, while there is no industry standard on the topic, reciting your quotes for the interviewee will provide a general overview of your content without betraying the argument that you will be crafting. The more you can keep the subject comfortable while ensuring they are removed from the production process, the easier the process will be.

 

Responses to Tips for Social Media

Name some effective ways for journalists to use social media?

First, Twitter provides a constantly updating trove of interesting people and personalities. Whether connecting (following) people in media organizations you respect or aspire to work for, building a brand within the platform’s extensive journalist/writers communities, or ensuring exposure to a vast swath of material to motivate interested story ideas of your own, Twitter can ensure that you stay more connected in a variety of ways.

Second, recognizing and harnessing the power of LinkedIn can be a critical asset for any journalist (or particularly journalism student.) If properly prepared, LinkedIn can provide a platform to promote yourself, your education and your experience in aand connect you to many professionals and colleagues that can be critical as you seek employment. A service like LinkedIn also allows you to retain contacts as you move between positions over time.

Third, Facebook can be harnessed for a more intentioned way. While useful to remain connected to friends and family, it is also becoming more important for potential employers and followers of your work. It is critical to curating a public profile that reflects the qualities, interests and tastes specific to you, while minimizing content that could be risky for interested potential employers. However, Facebook remains another engine for the creative process: establishing connections with interesting people doing interesting work, is fodder for original ideas. These are only some of the advantages for journalists who effectively harness todays’ social media.

Over a one-week period, you might send out dozens of tweets. Please cut and paste a representative sample of 10 tweets you actually sent out any time after Thursday, Aug. 4. These should reflect the kind of tweets you send on a regular basis.

Tornado uproots eight trees on Grand Street and FDR Drive. Story to follow @CUJIreneWatch website. #Irene http://yfrog.com/gytt1hwdj

New photos are up @CUJIreneWatch: On the Ground: Battery Park and Ground Zero http://wp.me/p1NMZS-J

@lexinyt covering #Irene through the night with @ErinCauchi on @CUJIreneWatch. Would you like extra footage?

For my UofT anthropology folks. Only a year ago… @mpoppel: At least 12 dead after ferry sinks in east. Indonesia http://dlvr.it/j3fX2

Read @erincauchi/@hellerjake) via @taylor_owen: unbelievably misguided RT @daeaves: Quickest way to corrupt the media RT http://bit.ly/mRGJIi

Great interview with #CBC High Risk Deployment Manager re: journalists in conflict. Informative and honest.

Let’s do this!! @hellerjake: @adammccauley still in? RT @ClintonGlobal Journalists: Join us at #CGI2011 http://bit.ly/pressreg2011

Read #cuj12 (via @taylor_owen) @futureJproject: 10 things every journalism student should know: http://bit.ly/qIjPud (via @journalismnews)

Great aggregation discussion by @amichel. If social agg is dangerous (reduces exposure to types of news) can robust agg. be the solution?

Amen @Quotes4Writers: “The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone.” Martin Amis (Born 1949) Novelist

 

Please identify five journalists’ Twitter accounts that you have started following after Thursday, Aug. 4.  List each handle and describe, in a sentence why you are following that person.

 Jim Roberts, Assisting Managing Editor of The New York Times

@nytjim

Added to my Twitter community as his position offers a unique look at the editorial community at the New York Times; particularly when he flags good examples journalism in the field today.

Philip Gourevitch, Staff Writer at The New Yorker
@pgourevitch

Long-time fan of his reportage – particularly the accounts published in his book We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. He writes primarily long-form investigative pieces and does now what I hope to do in the industry.

C.J Chivers, Senior Writer at The New York Times
@cjchivers

Chivers is a foreign correspondent, reporting primarily from conflict zones (the latest in Libya). His descriptive and prolific writing – both for the Times and on his personal blog – stands as an example worthy of emulation for anyone trying to break into the news industry.

Ashley Gilbertson, Photojournalist with VII Network
@ashgilbertson

I am currently writing a piece on photojournalists in war and connected with him through a Facebook friend. Extremely well connected and experienced, Gilbertson’s tweets provide steady updates of his work and the talented photojournalists in VII’s community and beyond.

Matthew Chance, Senior International Correspondent for CNN
@mchancecnn

During his detainment in Libya, Chance tweeted extensive updates about the situation on the ground and the conditions for the detainees (fellow journalists and crew).

Name some ways your use of Facebook might change now that you are in J-school (no more than 150 words).

Facebook has typically been an amorphous social media resource sink for me personally. While it does keep friends and acquaintances connected, if properly curated, it can be a more efficient tool to publish to, read about, and converse with others in the industry. For example, using lists allows you to better organize the extensive amount of information filtered through Facebook each day. This has become a new and helpful tool personally.

More importantly, Facebook should be recognized as yet another aspect of a digital – and personal – footprint. What is listed on your pages, what trends on your profile and how you interact with your contacts, will either strengthen or weaken your brand. This is not to say that social media should be flat or conservative, but that it should – at all times – be a reflection of the person you are and want to be.

 

Audio: Learning my ABCs

On Sunday night, our second audio assignment in Columbia University’s J-School bootcamp, offered me the opportunity to profile one of the most musically rich events in NYC.

16 of the best beatboxers in the nation had descended upon Le Poisson Rouge in New York’s Greenwich Village to battle for the nation’s top prize at the American Beatboxing Championships.

While this 2 minute and 24 second audio clip paints (I hope) a fairly compelling picture of what transpired that night, I’m currently re-editing/mixing the sample over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

Until then. Enjoy!

The Art of the Audio Profile

Consider this frosh week at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. We gather together in small groups, get to try out the new equipment, walk around the buildings which we’ll call home for the next 10 months, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll do an assignment or two.

For Ojito’s RW1 course, we are on audio rotation. We’ve been introduced to FCP (Final Cut Pro), we’ve been entrusted with audio recorders, we’ve traipsed through the city of New York in search of profile-able characters and now we’ve got something to show for it.

Posted below are two audio profiles I’ve completed in the last 24 hours. While they are both about the same individual, the tone and character of the pieces are quite different.

My subject was Ret. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Fanning – formerly of the New York National Guard. As a 34-year veteran of the Guard, Paul has responded to 18 state and national emergencies, including September 11, and served in Afghanistan in 2008. Starting this November, Paul hopes to be guiding his own tours for the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in ground zero.

Profile: Paul Fanning (v1)

Profile: Paul Fanning (v2)