[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on May 31, 2013.]
Blame for both the DOJ and journalists
: The story of the U.S. Department of Justice's seizure of news organizations' phone and email records moved into "who knew what and when" stage, especially regarding the case of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Fox didn't know Rosen's phone records and emails had been taken until it became public last week, but The Wall Street Journal reported
this week that its parent company, News Corp., was notified by the DOJ in 2010 but didn't tell Fox.
News Corp. issued some mixed signals in response, initially saying it had no record of notification
from the DOJ but eventually conceding that it didn't dispute the DOJ's claim that notification was sent. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza put forward a theory
as to why it's in News Corp.'s interest to be more deferential to the Obama administration DOJ, but in Fox News' interest to be more antagonistic. However, The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve noted
that Fox News doesn't have a very good track record on advocating for journalists' freedom in these cases.
The metastasizing issue — coupled with the DOJ's seizure of what the Associated Press claims is "thousands and thousands
" of its phone records — has led Attorney General Eric Holder to plan a meeting
with the top representatives of several major news organizations to hash out guidelines for DOJ intrusion. Several news organizations, including The New York Times and AP, announced, however, that they wouldn't attend the meeting
because it's set to be off the record. The Daily Beast's Daniel Klaidman wrote a thorough piece
on Holder's regrets in these cases, saying that it's not part of the progressive image in which he views himself, and Salon's Alex Pareene explained why Holder's likely to keep his job
despite the outcry.
In a pair of stories, The New York Times reported on the remarkable scale
of many of the Obama administration's leak inquiries and journalists' charges that such efforts are creating a chilling effect
on investigative journalism on the federal government. Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian expressed his dismay
at journalists' lack of action against the administration's actions: In the current climate, he said, "it's very difficult to imagine the US press corps taking any meaningful steps to push back against these attacks. And as long as that's true, it's very hard to see why the Obama administration would possibly stop doing it."
At the same time, several others argued that the press's self-defense reaction is a bit too knee-jerk in this case. Slate's Fred Kaplan
and The Washington Post's Walter Pincus
both argued that Rosen's source was not a whistleblower exposing corruption but someone simply breaking the law and revealing harmful information. And Reuters' Jack Shafer contended that Obama has not declared war on the press
, as his crusade against leaks has been much more on the supply side than the demand side.
Still others, including Peter Sterne
of the New York Observer and Matthew Cooper
of the National Journal, were concerned that the proposed shield law wouldn't do enough to protect journalists. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones tried to find a middle way
between their concern for journalists and the objections of those such as Pincus.
Facebook, hate speech, and censorship
: Yet another debate over Facebook's control over its users' content simmered this week, though it was a bit different from the privacy flaps of the past. A coalition of feminist groups called Women, Action, and the Media wrote an open letter to Facebook
last week urging it to remove content that trivializes or glorifies violence against women, noting that Facebook already moderates what it considers hate speech and pornographic content.
The groups also campaigned to Facebook's advertisers, succeeding in getting several of them to pull their advertising until Facebook took some action. Facebook ultimately responded by posting a statement
saying it hadn't policed gender-related hate speech as well as it should have and vowing to take several steps to more closely moderate such content. The New York Times has a good, quick summary
tying together the advertiser campaign and Facebook's response.
While Valleywag's Sam Biddle argued
that all Facebook did was try to placate those protesting rather than commit to any real action, while Forbes' Kashmir Hill
and Reuters' Jack Shafer
noted that Facebook probably didn't do this out of any morally consistent concern over content, but simply because of advertiser pressure. Hill concluded that "the procedure appears to be that they will draw the line when advertisers start complaining to them,"
and Shafer argued that Facebook has only pushed this discourse underground, further away from the voices of reason and shame.
And while everyone seemed to agree that Facebook's well within its rights to police speech on its own platform (and that it's clamping down on a particularly heinous form of speech in this case), they also wondered about the precedent. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wondered
about the slippery slope of what Facebook considers hate speech.
Newsweek on the block (again)
: Variety reported
that IAC is attempting to sell Newsweek, a month after its chairman, Barry Diller, called his purchase of the magazine a "mistake." IAC shut down Newsweek's print edition at the end of 2012, turning it into a web-only publication. As Variety noted, most every indicator at Newsweek — subscriptions, traffic, cash flow — is trending downward.
Newsweek confirmed the attempted sale with an internal memo
, saying that Newsweek is drawing resources away from its sister site, The Daily Beast. Forbes' Jeff Bercovici offered a more detailed explanation
: Diller bought Newsweek thinking he needed a print publication to supplement its digital ad base, but since it's failed at that, it's become a mere distraction (and drag on the bottom line). Gawker's Hamilton Nolan urged prospective buyers to stay away
, though Mathew Ingram of paidContent offered some tips
for its new owner: drop the paywall, aggregate, go deep on particular topics, develop a strong voice, and embrace mobile.
: Despite the quiet week overall, there were several smaller stories to watch:
— Rob Fishman of BuzzFeed wrote a thoughtful piece
questioning whether the social media editor might be an endangered species at news organizations, as engagement with social media becomes a deeper part of each journalists' work and routines. Digital First's Mandy Jenkins countered
that many news organizations (especially smaller ones) still have a need for someone dedicated to newsroom-wide social media integration and gave some useful advice about how to do it. Elsewhere in social media, Twitter said it wants to partner with media companies
rather than become one of them, and Jeswin
and Jesse Koepke
talked on Medium about how undo Facebook's massification of online social interaction.
— One of the news' most prominent social media editors, Anthony De Rosa, announced he's leaving Reuters to join Circa
, a startup that summarizes top news stories by breaking them down into "atomic units." PaidContent's Mathew Ingram explained what Circa's up to
, and Fast Company's Anjali Mullany published a Q&A
with De Rosa about his plans there.
— A few News Corp. pieces: It announced
it will officially split into a publishing company (called News Corp.) and an entertainment company (21st Century Fox) on June 28. It introduced its retooled News Corp. logo
, and the new News Corp.'s head, Robert Thomson, declared that it would have "relentless" cuts in store after the split.
— BuzzFeed announced a new YouTube channel
featuring video through a partnership with CNN. The Wall Street Journal explained
what's behind both companies' move deeper into online video.
— Finally, a couple of smart pieces on the native advertising phenomenon: J-prof Jeff Jarvis made the case
against news orgs getting into native advertising, and Publish2's Scott Karp laid out some of the difficulties
of making native advertising scale.