[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on Sept. 13, 2013.]
Encryption, surveillance, and academic freedom
: There were a number of developments on the U.S. National Security Agency surveillance front this week, including reports on the NSA's ability to grab data from smartphones
and court documents
revealing that a judge ruled in 2009 that the NSA's phone-records program "frequently and systematically violated" the procedures it said it was following.
There was also continued fallout from last week's reports
that the NSA has succeeded in breaking most online encryption by writing the standards for it. The U.S. government agency that recommends those standards
tried to reassure the public that it would make its process more open, though it prompted incredulous responses
from people like Techdirt's Mike Masnick.) Johns Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green offered a good explanation
of why it's so troubling that the NSA is getting in through the computer security industry's back doors. (More on his post in a bit.) Green also pointed out that this could destroy trust in the security industry, and BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel expanded on the angst running through that sector
Security expert Bruce Schneier advised people to continue to use strong encryption
to protect their online communication, though former Delicious president Albert Wenger countered
that "Surveillance is a political and legal problem, not a technical problem."
At The Guardian, Cory Doctorow proposed
using a dead man's switch to alert users when a site has been compromised.
Meanwhile, Reuters' Jack Shafer raised the alarm
about the NSA's moves to systematically subvert technical or legal opposition, and North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci argued
that there's no way to prove that the NSA isn't abusing its massive powers. On the journalistic front, The New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan talked about the paper's decision to publish the story
, and Source talked to ProPublica's Jeff Larson
about his work on it.
The Matthew Green post
I mentioned earlier led to its own bit of controversy when his university, Johns Hopkins, asked him to take the post down
because of a concern about linking to classified material. The post was initially flagged by someone within the university's Applied Physics Laboratory, which does extensive work with the NSA. (Ars Technica pulled together Green's account
of the episode via Twitter.) A Johns Hopkins dean apologized
soon afterward and allowed Green to restore the post.
Techdirt's Mike Masnick tore apart the legal justification
for the takedown, while Philip Bump of The Atlantic Wire tied it to a series of cases of surveillance-related censorship and self-censorship
. Several academics denounced the move
to the Baltimore Sun, including NYU j-prof Jay Rosen, who raised dozens of critical questions
about the incident in a Guardian piece, concluding that if America's research university system "becomes captive to government and handmaiden to the surveillance state, that would be an economic and cultural crime of monstrous proportions."
I should note, too, that there is another side to the surveillance argument: Slate's Thomas Rid argued that the leaks have done more harm than good
, and news organizations should consider destroying the Snowden documents. And Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that it's "treason" for her company to disobey the NSA's orders
, betraying a quite impoverished understanding of the meaning of that word.
Riptide and overlooking women in media
: The Lab made a rare dip into longform publishing this week with Riptide
, an oral history of the collision between journalism and digital technology over the past three decades. The report was produced by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, and Paul Sagan during their fellowships at the Joan Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. Poynter's Rick Edmonds has a good, basic overview of the project
Most of the conversation about Riptide revolved around who the authors talked to — 0r, specifically, who they didn't talk to. Of their 61 interviews, all but five were men, and all but two were white. That narrowness of perspective sparked a backlash (summarized well
by Poynter's Andrew Beaujon) that touched on touched on some important points about narrow and oppressive aspects of the cultures of the news media and Silicon Valley.
Journalist Meg Heckman lamented
that despite their fresh format, "the authors of Riptide make an old mistake by continuing to devalue the contributions of women." Slate's Amanda Hess contrasted Riptide's narrative
about undermining old professional hierarchies with the hierarchies reinforced in its story: "This is a discussion about democracy led by three white men interviewing a group of overwhelmingly wealthy, powerful, white, male people. It’s embarrassing."
Andrea Peterson of The Washington Post tied in the long-running gender and racial diversity problems
the news industry has had, and at LinkedIn, Rachel Sklar drew on this week's controversy
about the "Titstare" app as an example of the type of thinking that emerges from such a male-dominated culture. Riptide's authors responded to the outcry with a post
saying that many of the key technological people at key institutions during the period they were studying were white and male, and noting that they plan to expand the project with more voices. Several of those objecting, including Heckman, Peterson, and Hess, suggested women they should have (or should) talk to.
In other discussion about the project, Mathew Ingram of paidContent argued
that the riptide metaphor absolves all of these executives of blame as if it was something no one could have seen coming. Many people did see it coming, he said, but they weren't listened to in mainstream news organizations. Blogging and RSS developer Dave Winer also talked about what inhibited technological innovation
at places like The New York Times.
Twitter's going public
: Twitter announced yesterday (via a tweet
, naturally) that it had filed an initial public offering, a long-awaited development. The IPO is secret, which, as this Quartz piece explains
, means that it doesn't have to disclose its financial details until a few weeks before it goes public, and that it has annual revenues below $1 billion. Fortune's Dan Primack suggested
that it may file that public document soon, though.
That secret filing means we don't know Twitter's valuation yet, but GigaOM estimated it
at $14 billion. BuzzFeed's John Herrman predicted
that a public Twitter would revolve around real-time, keyword-oriented ads built around live media events. "It can contain and monetize the internet’s constant eruptions, including the unpredictable ones but especially the predictable ones,"
he wrote. And Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker said Twitter would be built around a mobile- and media-centric design
Slate's Will Oremus offered a similar explanation
about how Twitter makes money (or is about to make money) — targeted advertising built around TV-related conversation. The Week's Ryu Spaeth gave some reasons
Twitter is in better shape than Facebook was pre-IPO, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM gave an appreciation
of just how far Twitter's come.
: A few other media stories worth noting this week, led by a few acquisitions and splits:
— Tina Brown, the magazine veteran who presided over the end of Newsweek's print run, will leave The Daily Beast
, which she co-founded, to start her own events company. BuzzFeed broke the story
, and The New York Times has a good review
of the falling out between Brown and The Daily Beast's parent company, IAC. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported
that IAC is considering selling The Daily Beast as Brown leaves. The Guardian's Michael Wolff
and paidContent's Mathew Ingram
both critiqued Brown's time at The Daily Beast and mused on her failures there as the marker of the end of an era.
— The Washington-based Robert Allbritton, who owns Politico, reached into the New York media scene this week with the purchase
of the online local news organization Capital New York. As The New York Times noted
, Capital has a Politico-esque model of a small staff breaking media and political stories, and Politico's Jim VandeHei told Digiday
of the plans to beef up Capital's operation and apply Politico's business model. The Lab's Joshua Benton explained
why that model might not apply as well to Capital, and Poynter's Andrew Beaujon talked to Capital co-editor Tom McGeveran
about the move.
— A U.S. Senate committee passed a media shield law
on to the full Senate with a definition of journalists that would include students and longtime freelancers in addition to traditional professional journalists, though would very specifically exclude WikiLeaks or any similar organizations. Politico's Dylan Byers gave some background
behind the compromise, and Techdirt's Mike Masnick criticized
the narrowness of the definition of journalists.
— The social curation tool Storify was bought
by the commenting platform Lifefyre. The Lab's Justin Ellis
and GigaOM's Mathew Ingram
explained the company's plans to expand and refine Storify. (Don't worry, it's still going to be free.)
— Facebook announced new tools
that allow news organizations more ability to search for and analyze real-time information from conversations there. The New York Times' Vindu Goel
and GigaOM's Mathew Ingram
explained how Facebook is trying to catch up to Twitter on conversation around media with these moves.
— Apple had one of its big product announcements this week, but as the Lab's Joshua Benton noted
, it didn't include much for journalists. The BBC's Marc Settle did offer a guide
to Apple's new operating system for journalists, though.
— Finally, the Jeff Bezos/Washington Post analysis has been coming fast and furious for the last month or so, but two insightful pieces emerged this week: French news exec Frederic Filloux proposing
"Washington Post Prime" and the Lab's Ken Doctor breaking down the "runway"
Bezos' cash is giving the Post.