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Future of Journalism

WikiLeaks: Why It’s Now About Free Speech & Taking A Stand

December 8th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Forget what you think about Julian Assange. It doesn’t matter whether you like him or loath him.
Nor does it matter if you think Assange and company were wrong to have distributed the leaks, or alternately if you think he’s the champion of transparency and democracy…..

None of this is the point. Not anymore.

The issue now is the dangerous nature of the campaign launched against Assange and WikiLeaks and what it points beyond itself to portend. This is about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And it is a scary business.

My friend Marc Cooper has it right when he points to the column by Dan Gilmore at Salon as mandatory reading on the matter. Here’s the opening:

Journalists cover wars by not taking sides. But when the war is on free speech itself, neutrality is no longer an option.

The WikiLeaks releases are a pivotal moment in the future of journalism. They raise any number of ethical and legal issues for journalists, but one is becoming paramount.

As I said last week, and feel obliged to say again today, our government – and its allies, willing or coerced, in foreign governments and corporations — are waging a powerful war against freedom of speech.

WikiLeaks may well make us uncomfortable in some of what it does, though in general I believe it’s done far more good than harm so far. We need to recognize, however, as Mathew Ingram wrote over the weekend, that “Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity.” What our government is trying to do to WikiLeaks now is lawless in stunning ways, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald forcefully argued today.

These are also acts of outright censorship. No, Amazon is not bound by the First Amendment. But if it’s bowing to government pressure, it’s helping a panicked government tear up one of our most basic freedoms.

consitutional lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has taken the lead on a lot of this, also has a column on how so much of the mainstream media has been recklessly repeating falsehoods and misinformation about the leaks and their affect.

Yet, at the same time, a small but growing number of journalists and editors are speaking out with a rising sense of unease.

For instance here’s what senior editor Amy Davidson said at the New Yorker:

…Beyond Assange and his own legal situation, there is something disturbing going on: Joe Lieberman hounding private companies (before any legal actions has been taken); the way the site was repeatedly taken down; calls by politicians and journalists to kill the leakers or have them treated as enemy combatants (what does that mean? Guantánamo?); the Swiss bank account frozen (the Swiss say Assange had a false address on his form; but our ambassador there has also said some heavy-handed things to them); Visa and MasterCard stopping all transactions related to WikiLeaks. One could say that this is part of the bargain WikiLeaks signed up for—what did they think would happen? But, if it is permissible to use these measures against the site, why couldn’t they be used against any media organization that published classified information? Why WikiLeaks and not the Times, Guardian, or Der Spiegel (or The New Yorker)? If it’s because they and we are more respectable—what does that even mean? Any talk of creative uses of the 1917 Espionage Act, as by Senator Dianne Feinstein, should make one wary. (Glenn Greenwald has been following the legal side of the story.) Not that that much due process seems to have been involved in efforts to shut the site down. Does it just take the Administration saying something is illegal for it to be illegal?

Good question.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Free Speech, Future of Journalism | 15 Comments »

Must Reads: Thursday

November 11th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Geneva Overholser, director, University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, was on the PBS News Hour on Tuesday night, talking about Keith Olbermann and the whole realm of journalistic ethics.

(The students in my Monday journalism class at USC and I were talking about that very thing.)

Here are a few clips from the News Hour.

GO: Well, objectivity has been a central ethic of journalism in the modern era. And the thinking, Jeff, is kind of, as you know, that, if we can show that we have approached a story with a completely open mind, and been fair-minded about it, then people will have a stronger sense of the story’s credibility.

The trouble is that we are in a new kind of Wild West atmosphere now. It’s never been totally clear that the public thought about this as a safeguard with the same strength — strength that we did, as journalists, you know?

But, in this current environment, it’s kind of an anything goes. We’re headed toward a different mode of being transparent or figuring out what the new ethics are. And so, right now, we’re kind of looking at little thin slices of defending the turf.

We have Keith Olbermann saying: Oh, you know, I’m paid to give my opinions.

Or people are saying it’s no surprise that Keith Olbermann is giving his opinions, that he works for a larger corporation, NBC, which is still kind of hewing to the traditional standards of objectivity. It is a very interesting time.


GO: I think it really is going to be more and more about transparency, this is who we are, but not trying to stuff everybody into the same sock, because they’re not in that sock anymore.

Yep, exactly.


This is from ProPublica based on new data from Syracuse University. Here are some clips:

As deportations have increased under the Obama administration, immigration judges have also increasingly denied requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport people who were legitimately entitled to stay in the country [1], according to new data obtained by Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse.

From July to September of this year, for instance, almost a third of all deportation cases brought by ICE were rejected by immigration judges—up from twelve months earlier, when the rate was one out of every four. According to TRAC, judges have rejected removal orders for more than a quarter of a million individuals in the past five years.

Read the rest.

Of course, the irony of all this is that the president has repeatedly been painted as soft on immigration by people in a position to know better—even as the Obama administration, in its quest to be tough on immigration, has enthusiastically been gathering thousands of people into its net who don’t belong there, with all the attendant expense, stress, and upending of lives.


Do mothers have an advantage over fathers when it comes to getting citizenship for their kids born out of the US? The court may think so but will it do anything to fix the inequity?

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post has the story:

A majority of Supreme Court justices may be bothered by an immigration law that treats American fathers differently than American mothers. But it seemed unlikely after an hour-long oral argument Wednesday that a majority of justices thought they could do anything about it.

The court was considering a challenge to a federal statute that makes it easier for unmarried mothers than unmarried fathers to convey American citizenship to children born outside the country.

Ruben Flores-Villar, who was born in Mexico but raised by his father in San Diego, says he is a victim of the double-standard. Fighting criminal charges, Flores-Villar, now 36, was denied citizenship and deported because his father did not meet the requirements of the law.


See, now here’s someone whom it would be genuinely good to deport. If only we could find even a flimsy pretext.

Matt Coker at OC Weekly has the story:

Fred Phelps’ “God Hates Fags” crusade comes to Santa Ana Saturday night for another demonstration of a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, whose funeral was infamously picketed by the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.

The threat has prompted a downtown Santa Ana business leader to essentially warn merchants: steer clear of Bible-thumping nutbars.

“Please show great restraint and don’t allow the media an opportunity to once again depict Santa Ana in the ignominious manner they have portrayed us in the past,” Downtown, Inc. executive director Vicky Baxter writes in a letter to merchants…..

Posted in Free Speech, Future of Journalism, immigration, LGBT, media, Must Reads | 1 Comment »

Twitter Breaks Story on Discovery Channel Gunman

September 2nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

I continue to be astonished when reporter/editor colleagues
tell me with a roll of their eyes that they “don’t use Twitter.”

“I don’t really have the time,” they will say.

Right, I find myself thinking. Good luck to you, then.

Another illustration why if one expects to continue to make one’s living in the news business one would be wise to find the time to master Twitter may be found in the WaPo story excerpted below about how the news that a gunman was holding hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters broke, as more and more stories have, on Twitter.

…The news of a gunman at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters in Silver Spring indeed traveled fast on Wednesday, but none of it came through radio, TV or newspaper Web sites, at least not at first. As it has with other breaking news events — the landing of a jet on the Hudson River in 2009, the 2008 massacre in Mumbai — the story unfolded first in hiccupping fits and starts on Twitter, the much-hyped micro-blogging service that has turned millions of people into worldwide gossips, opinion-mongers and amateur news reporters.

Before camera crews and reporters could race to the scene, a shot of alleged hostage-taker James Lee was flashing around the world via Twitpic, Twitter’s photo-sharing service that lets people see whatever a cellphone camera captures seconds after the shutter snaps. The shot — full of menace and dread — was apparently taken by an office worker peering from a window several floors above the Discovery courtyard

Read the rest here.

Posted in Future of Journalism, media | No Comments »

Tweet or DIE! (Says CBS Radio News)

August 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Okay, on Monday when CBS radio head, Harvey Nagler
sent out the memo to all of the network’s reporters, he didn’t actually use the word “DIE,” but he was pretty emphatic.

Below you’ll find a copy of the emailed memo itself:

From: Nagler, Harvey
Sent: Monday, August 30, 2010 3:09 PM
To: @CND Radio
Subject: Twitter

Field reporters, beat reporters – it’s time to tweet.

More and more news consumers are turning to places like Twitter to keep up with the news, and we want to be there for them. That means that if you cover a beat, or if you regularly go into the field to cover stories, we want you to tweet. No exceptions.

If you haven’t joined Twitter yet, do so now, and start tweeting. If you’re already on there but you’re not tweeting regularly – please tweet more.

What should you tweet about? Breaking news, your observations when you’re out on a story, retweets of stories from other CBS News accounts…anything that can help inform our listeners and help them connect with you. Listeners love it because they have a connection with a knowledgeable news reporter that up to now has only been a voice on their radio. And you will have the opportunity to engage with them, and get feedback.

Twitter also is a great place to monitor sources…whether they be on breaking news or on your beat. Politicians tweet. Representatives of medical schools and journals tweet. And people in the middle of a developing news story tweet, to share what’s happening around them. It can work for you to give you a jump on your story.

In-studio anchors, we’d love your participation as well, when relevant.

See me if you have any questions about this new effort. See Dustin or Aliah if you need tips or if you need help creating your account.


Posted in Future of Journalism, media | No Comments »

The Annenberg Boot Camp Projects: Skid Row

August 23rd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Here are two more stories from the Boot Camp projects from the Annenberg Master’s in Specialized Journalism Program.

The two featured below each take different angles on Skid Row, the 55-square block area just east of downtown Los Angeles where one of the nation’s largest homeless populations resides.

Homelessness is one of our city’s most pressing problems. In the present economy that fact truer than ever. Yet it is a problem that is so complex and difficult to solve that, after a while, many of us simply tune the issue out. It his challenging, therefore, for a reporter to find a way to focus the reader/viewer’s attention on this important topic.

Christin Davis addressed the challenge by looking at one of Skid Row’s expanding demographics: single dads, which she examines through the lens of a newly-homeless father who sees Skid Row as a helpful place that may be used as a “great stepping stone” back to stability.

(Note: Kristin’s report first appeared on Neon Tommy.)

Jussi Jormanainen’s approach to humanizing the homeless issue was to do the first of what he imagined as a series of personal portraits, with the pilot portrait focusing on Skid Row’s best known (and arguably best-liked) cop, LAPD Officer Deon Joseph.


Christin Davis, B.A. in Journalism from California State University, Fullerton (2008). As an undergraduate, she lived abroad each summer and spent her time teaching English, running kids’ camps, and facilitating soccer game showings. Through her work with The Salvation Army’s magazine Caring, she has covered stories abroad, including The Salvation Army’s community involvement in the 2006 World Cup in Berlin and on their involvement in the education system in Hong Kong. Additionally, she has overseas Journalism experience in New Zealand, Romania, Scotland, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Italy. As the managing editor for Caring, she continues to travel for news stories while maintaining responsibility for all phases of editing and production of the magazine. Davis lives in Long Beach, California.

Jussi Jormanainen, Master’s Degree Studies in Journalism from University of Tampere in Finland (2000). Since 1999, he has been a freelance director and documentary director for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) where he has directed and helped to film, edit, and produce over 50 documentaries or documentary series. He has worked as a freelance television reporter with MTV3 and as a freelance news reporter with Finland’s national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. Also, he lectures and leads workshops on screenwriting for television and visual storytelling at the University of Tampere. Jormanainen speaks Swedish and Italian and resides in Helsinki, Finland.

By the way, I was on vacation when the LA Times ran its wonderful four-part series on Project 50,
the LA County initiative sponsored by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, to find and house the 50 most at risk Skid Row residents. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and take a look.

Posted in Future of Journalism, Homelessness | No Comments »

Boot Camp for Journalists

August 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Tuesday morning I attended the presentations of projects
by the brand new class of 21 candidates for master’s degrees in Specialized Journalism at USC-Annenberg.

Unlike the 2-year master’s program (where I taught last year), the SJ grad program is compressed into an intensive 9-month period. The students accepted are by-and-large working journalists who have decided to go back to school for specialization and/or to generally crank it up a notch or five. (To give you an idea, one of the new SJ candidates is Rebecca Schoenkopf, who was the editor-in-chief of at Los Angeles CityBeat and, before that, she wrote the popular Commie Girl column for the OC Weekly.)

In August, before the school term begins, the SJ students participate in a two-week “multimedia boot camp” to jump start the program —at the end of which they are required to research report and produce a four-minute multimedia story on a specific topic.

For this final boot camp project, they were divided up into 7 teams of three and each team was given a content adviser/assignment editor.

I was one such adviser.

Many of the students came to Annenberg from out of state–and in several cases—from out of the U.S. Thus most had little on-the-ground knowledge of Los Angeles.

Yet they plunged with enthusiasm into topics that included Skid Row, LA gangs, Farmlab, the canceled elections in the city of Alhambra, the new LA literary magazine “Slake,” issues surrounding the show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the gifted LA architect, Alice Kimm—who designed, among other buildings, the LAPDs new fabric-draped parking structure.

Tuesday all 21 presented their finished stories.

(I’m sure you can’t possibly guess which topic I oversaw. Hint: it was not “So You Think You Can Dance”—although those three final projects were inventive and loads of fun to watch.)

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some of the projects here. So stay tuned.

PS: One of the joys of university teaching is that it is simply impossible to teach and remain pessimistic about the future. While some of my non-teaching colleagues grow increasingly—and understandably—saddened by the belief that journalism is going to hell in a handbasket, I feel stupendously lucky because I get to spend time around the generation who will freshly reinvent journalism for the rest of us.

And that’s a good thing.

Posted in Future of Journalism | 3 Comments »

iCops: California’s Internet SWAT Team

May 5th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

LA Times reporters, David Sarno and Jessica Guynn, have a very good piece on REACT,
the task force that searched the home Gizmodo’s Jason Chen, the blogger who temporarily had possession the lost iPhone prototype.

(The Gizmodo/iPhone prototype story somehow still hasn’t gotten less interesting, even with its alarming implications.)

The LAT reporting begins like this:

When a top-secret prototype of Apple Inc.’s new iPhone went missing recently, the computer giant summoned Silicon Valley’s version of the cavalry — an elite squad whose main mission is investigating crimes against high-tech companies.

Little-known outside the tech world, the unit is suddenly in the spotlight for its April 23 raid on the Bay Area home of Jason Chen, the 29-year-old technology blogger who had gained possession of the missing phone.

The unit swept in after Chen posted a photo and details of the new iPhone on the website. But the raid itself has become secondary to a larger debate burning up Silicon Valley and the blogosphere: What is this high-tech police force, and who controls it?

“It’s the iPolice,” said Steve Meister, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney. “This whole thing appears, rightly or wrongly, to be law enforcement doing the bidding of a private company.”

The task force, called REACT (for Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team),
is a kind of SWAT team, chartered in 1997 to focus on “large-scale crimes that victimize the high technology industry in the Bay Area.”

There’s LOTS more, so read the rest here.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, law enforcement, media | No Comments »

LA Observed Talks with Annenberg Grad Students

March 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Kevin Roderick of LA Observed came to speak to my USC class Wednesday night.
He described, among other things, how and why he launched LA Observed, the early moments he thinks put him on the map, and what he’s learned from seven years of blogging.

He first broke through, he said, when an LA Times staffer leaked to him a now infamous memo written by the newspapers then editor, Jon Carroll, in which Carroll publicly castigated a reporter for a perceived liberal bias on abortion-related story. The LAO memo leak story was linked all over the country.

After that the floodgates opened and Roderick received a semi-constant stream of leaked LA Times memos and insider news. (Hilariously, the internal memos began being written far better, Roderick says, and thoroughly spell-checked—now that management realized their private missives would all likely wind up being bannered on Roderick’s site.) As a result, the tumultuous and often disastrous changes in a major American newspaper were documented, chapter by chapter, on the cyber pages of LA Observed.

Class members asked a stream of other questions about digital entrepreneurship, about what makes a blog successful, about what stories Kevin thinks are being missed.

(The answer to the last was advice to look at the multitude of communities in LA County that are not being covered—that they are loaded with stories.)

The class ran overtime and no one wanted to leave even then. Roderick told me afterward that he came away from the night feeling upbeat about journalism’s future. “Listening to them, how can you not be optimistic?”

Yep, that’s what I think.

Posted in Future of Journalism | 6 Comments »

Short Takes: Jails, the 2nd Amendment…and the National Enquirer

February 19th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Okay, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk has declined to buckle under to the OC Deputies’ union’s law suit asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the OC sheriff from letting any more inmates out from the jail early in response the the state’s corrections reform law that kicked in Jan 1. But the judge said he would revisit the thoroughly bollixed up issue in mid March. For her part, the OC Sheriff has been applying the law retroactively, even though anybody with a grasp of logic who read the law could see that this was not its intention—as California Attorney General Jerry Brown has stated with admirable succinctness.

As should be evident by now, I’m for the parole revisions and the new provisions that allow prisoners—both in prison and in jails—to earn a few days or weeks off their sentences by engaging in productive and rehabilitative programs. Such programs are statistically likely to decrease inmates likelihood of reoffending,. And, by the way, the amount shaved off their sentences is comparatively minimal.

But I do not see any reason why we have to start dumping people out of jails by the hundreds, freaking everyone out, when the law says to do no such thing. If for no other reason, its a lousy PR move.

Here’s what Jerry wrote on the retroactivity issue.. It’s a little long to paste the best of it here, so you’ll have to click through.

To make matters more bizarre,
some of the crafters of the law are saying that they never meant it to apply to jails. (Well, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, if you didn’t want your law—good ol’ SB 3X 18 —to apply to jails, then it might have been wiser not to have written into it the words, “This bill would also revise the time credits for certain prisoners confined or committed to a county jail or other specified facilities, as provided.”

The Wave has an informative take on the quarrel.

And the LA Times Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton have more of the details on the judge’s decision:

A judge on Thursday denied a request by the union representing Orange County deputies to end the early release of jail inmates but signaled that the decision would not be the last word on the issue, setting a hearing for further arguments next month.

In turning down the bid to temporarily block the releases, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk noted that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has the final say in choosing how to address the new state law that went into effect Jan. 25.

The judge set a hearing for March 12 on arguments for a preliminary injunction.

The law reformulated good behavior credits for state prison inmates, accelerating their release. But it also has caused confusion among local law enforcement officials, many of whom have been advised by county counsels to release inmates early, an interpretation that was backed up this week by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.


The Wall Street Journal has this in Friday’s paper about the upcomng case the Supreme court will hear regarding the ban on handguns in Chicago and Oark Park, Ills.

The WSJ reports that the case has brought together a surprising mix of allies on the left and the right. Not a bad thing.

(Now if we could just have a similar left/right collaboration in Congress Over something. Anything.)


As well they should be. Yes, there are ethical issues caused by their policy of paying sources. But they should still be in the running for their reporting on John Edwards. Speaking personally, I don’t think they deserve to win. But I do believe they should be shortlisted.

The Huffington Post (which is getting WAY too celebrity driven of late) has the story:

The Pulitzer Prize Board has officially accepted The National Enquirer’s submissions for breaking the John Edwards scandal, according to sources close to the Board. In a historic move, the Pulitzer Board conceded that the self-proclaimed tabloid is qualified to compete with mainstream news outlets for journalism’s most prestigious prize. The Enquirer is in the running for the Pulitzer in two categories: “Investigative Reporting” and “National News Reporting” for The National Enquirer staff.


Before The Enquirer submitted its nomination, the Pulitzer’s long-time administrator Sig Gissler attempted to pre-empt this campaign by telling reporters that the tabloid is not eligible due to various technicalities. Gissler, however, showed great humility and fairness by reading The Enquirer’s submission and admitting that the paper is eligible to compete. Gissler has given The National Enquirer the legitimacy it long deserved for breaking a political scandal of national significance.

The National Enquirer single-handedly broke the stories about Edwards’ affair with a campaign staffer, their out-of-wedlock child, the expensive cover-up and the federal grand jury investigation of possible misappropriation of campaign funds. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the other reporters covering Edwards’ campaign did little if anything to follow up on the published stories in The Enquirer.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Courts, Future of Journalism, journalism, Social Justice Shorts | 1 Comment »

Annenberg Students & the LA Times Homicide Report

January 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


It has been said more than a few times that one of the important new models
that will be a significant part of the evolving future of journalism will be partnerships between journalism schools and commercial and/or nonprofit media.

It appears that after a year or so of false starts, the LA Times has finally taken that idea to heart with the new partnership between the LAT’s much-lauded but extremely labor intensive Homicide Report and student reporters at Annenberg’s own online publication, Neon Tommy.

(This means that the Annenberg end of the partnership the faculty advisors will be—ta-da!—my pals Marc Cooper and Alan Mittelstaedt.)

Megan Garvey, the editor of the Homicide Report, evidently deserves much credit for realizing that having smart USC students reporting for her online section might make for an inspired partnership.

Here’s some of what she wrote about the LAT/Annenberg hook-up:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Future of Journalism, Los Angeles Times, media | 3 Comments »

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