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Archive for the 'Journalism' Category

Friday, January 15th, 2016

The Press and Authority — Roy J. Harris, author of “Pulitzer’s Gold”

Spotlight

“If Spotlight leaves viewers with something to think about going forward, let’s hope that it’s a more critical understanding of how we view authority figures in general — and that the journalists who monitor them have the duty to help keep them honest.”—Roy J. Harris

We conclude our week-long feature on Pulitzer’s Gold: A Century of Public Service Journalism, by Roy J. Harris Jr. with a post on Harris’s recent article on Spotlight, published on Cognoscenti, WBUR’s blog. The story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into sex abuse among priests is covered in the book’s chapter Epiphany: The Globe and the Church

In the article, Harris discusses about Spotlight‘s depiction of how the Globe discovered the cover-up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The film as he and others have acknowledged have put journalism in a good light and shows their power to effect change.

While the story reveals the impact journalism can have and represents a devastating critique of a powerful institution, challenges still exist. The film, as Harris describes it, offers an excellent portrayal of how the reporters came to grips with having to expose an institution that enjoyed a certain prestige and authority. Marty Baron, who was the editor at the Globe during the breaking of the story, recognizes the difficulties of covering certain institutions:

Marty Baron sees “Spotlight’s” message as extending far beyond the church scandal and the role of the press. Baron, now The Washington Post’s executive editor, noted in a recent email exchange with me that people in general — not just journalists in search of a good story — often balk at learning too much about organizations with generally favorable reputations. “Many charitable nonprofits, from arts institutions to those with a social purpose, get a pass on close examinations because they are seen as doing good. And many do good, but that shouldn’t exempt them from accountability,” according to Baron.

Yet journalists have a special challenge in breaking through the deference that surrounds such organizations and celebrities. “One reason institutions can escape examination is because they are sources for reporters,” Baron wrote. “That’s often the case with prosecutors, police and firefighters, who over the years escaped the more critical attention that their enormous power calls for. That deference has already begun to erode, as evidenced by a lot of reporting over the last couple of years.”

(more…)

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

All the Editor’s Men — Pulitzer’s Gold and Watergate

Pulitzer's Gold, Roy J. Harris

In the following excerpt from Pulitzer’s Gold: A Century of Public Service Journalism, Roy J. Harris looks back at the oft-told but frequently misunderstood history behind Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting of Watergate. In the passage, Woodward himself challenges the mythology that has grown around their coverage.

“People don’t win Pulitzer Prizes by being for; they usually win them by being against. “—President Richard M. Nixon, to the national association of broadcasters, march 19, 1974

Bob Woodward had not seen the movie All the President’s Men for twenty-five years. Then one day in mid-2005 he sat down with his eight-year­ old daughter Diana while she watched it for the first time. Noticing her squirming a bit, the Washington Post assistant managing editor asked what she was thinking. “The guy pretending to be you doesn’t look like you at all,” Diana told him. And what else? “Boring, boring, boring,” she said. “And she’s exactly right,” Woodward agrees, chuckling—not just about the movie, but about the nature of the Watergate investigation itself. “Because it’s about fitting little pieces together. You don’t know what you have when you publish a little piece, but you publish it anyway.” (See video below with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein discussing the story behind All the President’s Men)

Any squirming of his own on the topic of Watergate may have more to do with how often he has been asked over the years to rehash the role of “Woodstein”—as the Post editors nicknamed the duo of Woodward and Carl Bernstein during their investigation—in the events that led to Presi­dent Richard Nixon’s August 1974 resignation. Just a few months before the father–daughter movie viewing, another flurry of national publicity erupted when Deep Throat chose to identify himself. Woodward’s cel­ebrated secret source turned out to be W. Mark Felt, the number two man at the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the time of the Watergate probe. (A smoke-wreathed Hal Holbrook, stepping from behind pillars in an eerie, dark garage, played him in the 1976 film.)

Alan Pakula’s movie—with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein and Jason Robards as the Post executive editor Ben Bradlee—actually holds up well today. For adults, at least, it now plays as a historical/political thriller. The mystery is not whether the presi­dent will fall but how two reporters and one cantankerous editor helped precipitate it, starting with the simple assignment to report on arrests after a break-in at the Watergate office building’s Democratic National Committee offices.

Missing from the film, of course, is a historical perspective tying the Nixon administration’s criminal activities to a greater political motive—something that four decades now permits. In recent years Woodward and Bernstein have offered an analysis positing the president’s “five wars of Watergate.” starting with attempts to stem the anti–Vietnam War move­ment, the White House strategy expanded to interfering with perceived enemies in the news media and in the Democratic party, to undermin­ing the legal system by paying hush money to witnesses, and lying to investigators. The final “war” was against history, in the reporters’ view, and included the portrayal of spying, burglaries, and dirty tricks against administration targets as “capers” rather than episodes in a coordinated mission to subvert governmental processes.2
In one oft-quoted snippet from the White House tape recordings even­tually released during the Watergate investigation, Nixon in July 1971—a year before the Watergate break-in—is heard telling chief of staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman and secretary of state Henry Kissinger: “We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?”

(more…)

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Ponzi’s Scam Exposed! — An Excerpt from Pulitzer’s Gold

The exposure financial improprieties has been a staple of prize-winning investigative journalism for decades. One of the more famous cases is, of course, Charles Ponzi, whose shady dealings were uncovered by the Boston Post. In the following excerpt from Pulitzer’s Gold: A Century of Public Service Journalism, Roy J. Harris shows how Edwin Grozier and other Boston Post reporters helped take down the once popular Ponzi:

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

An Interview with Roy J. Harris, author of “Pulitzer’s Gold”

Pulitzer's Gold, Roy Harris

The following is an interview with Roy J. Harris, author of Pulitzer’s Gold: A Century of Public Service Journalism

Question: 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize. In looking over the winners for public service journalism, what struck you most about what has changed in journalism during this period and what has stayed the same?

Roy J. Harris: What’s very clear is how the quality of the Pulitzer winners—the depth of the reporting and the powerful change they brought about—increased sharply after the first few years the prizes began to be awarded. That suggests that the very creation of a system for honoring top-notch journalism encouraged more great reporting to be done around the country. But also, the variety of the top journalism projects—a diversity greater in public service than any other category—began to expand during that century: another major change. What’s stayed the same is that the predominant characteristic of the winning reporting has been tenacity on the part of the journalists to tell a story that others don’t want told.

Q: In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how changes in the news industry are threatening the kind of journalism that the public service journalism prize highlights. What is your sense of the future for investigative journalism of this kind?

RJH: First the positive view: A surprising number of young journalists continue to enter the profession; they’re learning quickly, and doing great work. They also seem to value the tradition of great reporting, as I learn from the students I speak with regularly. While the digital world makes it harder to determine real news from the chaff, budding reporters also find that the Internet greatly broadens their access to valuable, verifiable resources. On the negative side, the news infrastructure to support reporters financially is seriously failing. New structures—like those created by new online sites and by privately supported programs like ProPublica and California Watch—aren’t coming online quickly enough to make up for the deterioration of traditional newspapers. New sources of financial support must be found for public service journalism, which is often the most expensive kind, if these young reporters are to be kept on the job.

Q: Much like the justly celebrated new movie, Spotlight, your book tells the story behind the story—about how journalists do their jobs. What is the value for general readers of understanding the ways in which journalists and the news industry work?

RJH: Before Spotlight, I argued that the behind-the-story approach of the Watergate movie All the President’s Men was a great model. Both that great movie and Spotlight are realistic, and take an inspirational look at what the media can do for our citizenry. And both concentrate on projects that won the Public Service Pulitzer—the subject of my book. I found in my research that less-well-known winners offer the same kind of excitement, though perhaps on a local level rather than a national or global level. That applies to non-journalists as much as to journalists, although the result of the journalism may be more local or regional than the ousting of a U.S. president or the exposure of a global Church scandal. From researching the stories in Pulitzer’s Gold I also found that to trace these Pulitzer winners through the years is to expose readers to the twists and turns of American history over the decades. What happened historically is important as is the role of the First Amendment, which keeps our system strong, and our citizenry informed.

(more…)

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Pulitzer’s Gold

This week one of our featured books is Pulitzer’s Gold
A Century of Public Service Journalism
by Roy J. Harris Jr.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Pulitzer’s Gold to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, January 15th at 1:00 pm.

“Roy Harris is the master historian of the Pulitzer Prize. He has written the real inside story of the most serious journalism of the last century and provided a brilliant portrait of America. Know your journalism, and you will know your country and its values.” — Bob Woodward, The Washington Post

You can also read the chapter “Epiphany in Boston: 2003: The Globe and the Church” on the Boston Globe‘s story on the priest sex abuse scandal recently featured in the film Spotlight:

Friday, December 11th, 2015

The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates — Best American Magazine Writing 2015

The Best American Magazine Writing 2015

“If a number makes people feel safe, then why not give it to them?”—A Chicago police officer

Recent events have shone a light on the Chicago police department and the ways in which they fail to share information with the public. However, as David Bernstein and Noah Isackson powerfully demonstrate in their article “The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates,” included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2015, the Chicago Police Department has been underreporting murders and crimes in an effort to mislead the public. The following is an excerpt from that article:

I. Dead Wrong

It was a balmy afternoon last July when the call came in: Dead body found inside empty warehouse on the West Side.

Chicago police officers drove through an industrial stretch of the hardscrabble Austin neighborhood and pulled up to the 4600 block of West Arthington Street. The warehouse in question was an unremarkable-looking red-brick single-story building with a tall barbed-wire fence. Vacant for six years, it had been visited that day by its owner and a real-estate agent—the person who had called 911.

The place lacked electricity, so crime scene technicians set up generators and portable lights. The power flickered on to reveal a grisly sight. In a small office, on soggy carpeting covered in broken ceiling tiles, lay a naked, lifeless woman. She had long red-streaked black hair and purple glitter nail polish on her left toenails (her right ones were gone), but beyond that it was hard to discern much. Her face and body were bloated and badly de­composed, her hands ash colored. Maggots feasted on her flesh.

At the woman’s feet, detectives found a curled strand of tele­phone wire. Draped over her right hand was a different kind of wire: thin and brown. The same brown wire was wrapped around each armrest of a wooden chair next to her.

The following day, July 24, a pathologist in the Cook County medical examiner’s offi ce noticed something else that had been obscured by rotting skin: a thin gag tied around the corpse’s mouth.

Thanks to some still-visible tattoos, detectives soon identified this unfortunate woman: Tiara Groves, a twenty-year-old from Austin. She was last seen walking alone in the wee hours of Sun­day, July 14, near a liquor store two miles from the warehouse. At least eight witnesses who saw her that night told police a similar story: She appeared drunk and was upset—one man said that she was crying so hard she couldn’t catch her breath—but refused offers of help. A man who talked to her outside the liquor store said that Groves warned him, excitedly and incoherently, that he should stay away from her or else somebody (she didn’t say who) would kill him too.

Toxicology tests showed she had heroin and alcohol in her system, but not enough to kill her. All signs pointed to foul play. According to the young woman’s mother, who had filed a missing-person report, the police had no doubt. “When this de­tective came to my house, he said, ‘We found your daughter. . . . Your daughter has been murdered,’ ” Alice Groves recalls. “He told me they’re going to get the one that did it.”

On October 28, a pathologist ruled the death of Tiara Groves a homicide by “unspecified means.” This rare ruling means yes, somebody had killed Groves, but the pathologist couldn’t pin­point the exact cause of death.

Given the finding of homicide—and the corroborating evi­dence at the crime scene—the Chicago Police Department should have counted Groves’s death as a murder. And it did. Until Decem­ber 18. On that day, the police report indicates, a lieutenant overseeing the Groves case reclassified the homicide investiga­tion as a noncriminal death investigation. In his write-up, he cited the medical examiner’s “inability to determine a cause of death.”

That lieutenant was Denis Walsh—the same cop who had played a crucial role in the alleged cover-up in the 2004 killing of David Koschman, the twenty-one-year-old who died after be­ing punched by a nephew of former mayor Richard M. Daley. Walsh allegedly took the Koschman file home. For years, police officials said that it was lost. After the Sun-Times reported it miss­ing, the file mysteriously reappeared.

But back to Tiara Groves. With the stroke of a computer key, she was airbrushed out of Chicago’s homicide statistics.

The change stunned officers. Current and former veteran de­tectives who reviewed the Groves case at Chicago’s request were just as incredulous. Says a retired high-level detective, “How can you be tied to a chair and gagged, with no clothes on, and that’s a [noncriminal] death investigation?” (He, like most of the nearly forty police sources interviewed for this story, declined to be identified by name, citing fears of disciplinary action or other retribution.)

Was it just a coincidence, some wondered, that the reclassifi­cation occurred less than two weeks before the end of the year, when the city of Chicago’s final homicide numbers for 2013 would be tallied? “They essentially wiped away one of the murders in the city, which is crazy,” says a police insider. “But that’s the kind of shit that’s going on.”

(more…)

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Evan Ratliff on the Best American Magazine Writing of 2015

The Best American Magazine Writing 2015

“Great writers will keep finding the wherewithal to chase the bold ideas, and great editors will keep finding ways to say yes.”—Evan Ratliff

The following is an excerpt from Evan Ratliff’s introduction to The Best American Magazine Writing 2015:

Now, of course, the Internet has decimated the tattered remains of our attention span. Worse, we’re told that it has paradoxically fostered a new scourge for great magazine writing: more of it. In just the last five years, websites and magazines new and old— from Nautilus to BuzzFeed to Grantland to Th e Atavist, which I edit—have engaged in an ambitious resurgence in long, serious magazine writing. While this might seem like a sign of life, critics have explained that in fact such efforts are diminishing this great craft. Terms like “long-form” and hashtags like #longreads— through which readers recommend work they appreciate to other potential readers—only serve to dilute what was once the purview of discriminating enthusiasts alone. “The problem,” Jonathan Mahler wrote in the New York Times in 2014, “is that long-form stories are too often celebrated simply because they exist.” It was bad enough when our capacity to produce and read great stories collapsed. Now it seems we’ve turned around and loved maga­zine writing to death.

I don’t mean to make light of the real financial and even existen­tial conundrums facing magazines today, of course. I only mean to observe that they have existed as long as magazines them­selves. (Except that last one; complaints about too much maga­zine writing, and what we label it, seem to be this century’s peculiar, philistines-in-the-country-club anxiety.) In truth, I have my share of worries about the future of serious long-form journalism—who wouldn’t, knowing its history? But when it comes to explanations, I’m partial to one from the great Ian Frazier. It appeared in a 2002 essay introducing The Fish’s Eye, a collection of his writing on fishing, with pieces dating back to the 1970s. In those days, Frazier wrote:

Magazines regularly ran long nonfiction pieces, ambitious in style and content, that originated in the thoughts of individ­ual writers, in their experiences and sensibilities, and in what they believed was important to say. . . . I’m not sure why this emphasis on writers took hold. Maybe it had to do with the fact that in those years America had recently and unexpect­edly come unglued; perhaps people suspected that a writer out walking around in the midst of it would know more of what was going on than an editor behind a desk in New York. Neither do I know why that writers’ era should disappear. But it pretty much has, in magazines at any rate.

Frazier’s speculation—that perhaps the role of writers changes in relation to how often a chaotic world forces itself onto editors’ desks—strikes me as more believable than most. I would argue that the trend is not linear, however, but cyclical. Just as great magazines have always come and gone, so, too, have the periods where editors were more or less willing and able to assign ambi­tious stories.

(more…)

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Laborers Who Keep Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed — Best Business Writing 2015

Best Business Writing 2015

Recent terrorist incidents have focused attention on the role of social media in recruiting members. In his piece, “The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed,” first published in Wired and now included in The Best Business Writing 2015, Adrian Chen takes a closer look at the process of removing objectionable images from social media sites and the toll it takes on moderators. The following is an excerpt from the article:

The campuses of the tech industry are famous for their lavish cafeterias, cushy shuttles, and on-site laundry services. But on a muggy February afternoon, some of these companies’ most important work is being done 7,000 miles away, on the second floor of a former elementary school at the end of a row of auto mechanics’ stalls in Bacoor, a gritty Filipino town thirteen miles southwest of Manila. When I climb the building’s narrow stairwell, I need to press against the wall to slide by work­ers heading down for a smoke break. Up one flight, a drowsy security guard staffs what passes for a front desk: a wooden table in a dark hallway overflowing with file folders.

Past the guard, in a large room packed with workers manning PCs on long tables, I meet Michael Baybayan, an enthusiastic twenty-one-year-old with a jaunty pouf of reddish-brown hair. If the space does not resemble a typical startup’s offi ce, the image on Baybayan’s screen does not resemble typical startup work: It appears to show a super-close-up photo of a two-pronged dildo wedged in a vagina. I say appears because I can barely begin to make sense of the image, a baseball-card-sized abstraction of flesh and translucent pink plastic, before he disappears it with a casual flick of his mouse.

Baybayan is part of a massive labor force that handles “con­tent moderation”—the removal of offensive material—for U.S. social-networking sites. As social media connects more people more intimately than ever before, companies have been con­fronted with the Grandma Problem: Now that grandparents routinely use services like Facebook to connect with their kids and grandkids, they are potentially exposed to the Internet’s pan­oply of jerks, racists, creeps, criminals, and bullies. They won’t continue to log on if they find their family photos sandwiched between a gruesome Russian highway accident and a hardcore porn video. Social media’s growth into a multi-billion-dollar in­dustry and its lasting mainstream appeal have depended in large part on companies’ ability to police the borders of their user-generated content—to ensure that Grandma never has to see im­ages like the one Baybayan just nuked.

So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invis­ible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief se­curity officer of MySpace who now runs online-safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrub­bing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly fourteen times that of Facebook.

(more…)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Dean Starkman on the Current State of Business Journalism

The Best Business Writing 2015

“This collection of brilliant journalism … is a testament to business journalism’s resilience in an age of extreme disruption in its own business — media — and to the fact that the business-news ocean is vast and full of unexpected discoveries.”—Dean Starkman

In his introduction to The Best Business Writing 2015, Dean Starkman looks at this year’s excellent crop of stories and analyzes the current state of business journalism:

This collection of brilliant journalism, the fourth in a series, is a testament to business journalism’s resilience in an age of extreme disruption in its own business — media — and to the fact that the business-news ocean is vast and full of unexpected discoveries. It is a particularly rich collection this year; readers will find an astonishing range of topics across an equally astonishing range of outlets. Marcus Stern and Sebas­tian Jones tell of how the combination of volatile crude oil mov­ing across aging railroad infrastructure has put towns across the continent in danger of disasters like one that happened in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, not long ago. That piece represents the joint efforts of relatively new players on the business-investiga­tive scene, InsideClimate News and the Weather Channel. Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic uses Google’s ambitious, and unnerving, drone-development problem to explore how the search giant really thinks and where it’s going. Jordan Weissmann off ers a delicious take on the surprising economics of Katz’s, the legendary New York deli, for Slate, which by now is a digital-news elder statesman.

It’s also true that one prominent and important new outlet, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, is not represented here—despite publishing some of the most remark­able business journalism of recent years, including 2014’s devastating exposé of the British Swiss banking giant, HSBC. Based on a trove of 60,000 leaked files with details on more than 100,000 HSBC clients, a team of journalists from more than 50 countries unearthed secret bank accounts maintained for criminals, traffickers, tax dodgers, and others, including prominent politicians and celebrities. The series, which evoked a clear mea culpa and promise of change from a humbled HSBC, doesn’t appear here only because two of the three editors of this volume were deeply involved in producing the series for ICIJ (hint: I wasn’t one of them). Their argument that the conflict of interest was too great to include in Best Business Writing 2015 won out over my strenuous objections, but at least readers should be aware of ICIJ’s presence as a new force in journalism.

But it is also true that so-called legacy news organizations are well represented in this volume. The estimable Gretchen Mor­genson of the New York Times argues trenchantly that the over­weening size of the financial sector not only puts taxpayers at risk of “too big to fail” bank collapses but also imposes insidious costs on the real economy by allocating capital not to its highest use but to bubble-prone sectors like real estate. The Wall Street Journal’s highly regarded veterans Mark Maremont and Leslie Scism de­liver a scintillating read on the fall of a young insurance magnate whose investments included a Caravaggio. Let’s not forget Frank­lin Foer’s trenchant explanation of why the Amazon monopoly is bad for the republic, published in the century-old New Republic (from which Foer has since resigned over disagreement about its direction). And Bloomberg, founded in the early 1980s, emerged as a global journalism force last year with several enormously interesting stories, led by Zach Mider’s exploration of how the richest among us pay so little in taxes. It is correctly headlined, “The Greatest Tax Story Ever Told,” and is certainly the only one that includes a tax loophole set to an operetta.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Earlier exultations about a flower­ing of journalism in the age of the Internet have given way to more sober assessments about the difficulties of supporting a full-fledged newsroom on the meager returns from digital sources. A Pew study last year ran the numbers and found that the thirty largest all-digital operations—Vice, Buzzfeed, Vox, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and other famous names— account for only 3,000 journalism jobs combined. That is a fifth of what has been lost in the newspaper industry, which still remains backbone of American newsgathering—even in its shrunken, desiccated infirmity. Newspaper advertising is now at the lowest levels on record, considering inflation. And newspapers continue to struggle with declining print revenues and no growth engine to off set the losses. Newspaper subscription revenue fell 3 percent last year, Pew says, throwing cold water on hopes that digital pay-walls and other reader-pay devices would provide a floor under revenue declines.

(more…)

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Best Business Writing and Best American Magazine Writing

The Best Business Writing 2015  The Best American Magazine Writing 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, we are featuring two books that help provide some perspective on the year that was: This week one of our featured books is The Best Business Writing 2015, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha M. Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum and The Best American Magazine Writing 2015, edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors, and and introduction by Evan Ratliff, editor of The Atavist.

In addition to featuring the books on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of After the American Century to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Wednesday, December 11th at 1:00 pm.

Friday, December 19th, 2014

The Strange Journey of John McAfee via The Best American Magazine Writing 2014

Best American Magazine Writing 2014

“[McAfee] greets me wearing a pistol strapped across his bare chest. Guards patrol the beach in front of us. He tells me that he’s now living with five women who ap­pear to be between the ages of seventeen and twenty; each has her own bungalow on the property.”—Joshua Davis

One of the strangest and most compelling stories in The Best American Magazine Writing 2014*, edited by Sid Holt, is “Dangerous” by Joshua Davis. Published in Wired, the story recounts software mogul John McAfee’s rise and subsequent encampment in Belize after fleeing the United States. Below in an excerpt and recordings of Davis’s conversations with McAfee.

*Use the coupon code HOLBES and Save 30% on The Best American Magazine Writing 2014.

[John McAfee] started McAfee Associates out of his 700-square-foot home in Santa Clara. His business plan: Create an antivirus pro­gram and give it away on electronic bulletin boards. McAfee didn’t expect users to pay. His real aim was to get them to think the software was so necessary that they would install it on their computers at work. They did. Within five years, half of the For­tune 100 companies were running it, and they felt compelled to pay a license fee. By 1990, McAfee was making $5 million a year with very little overhead or investment.

His success was due in part to his ability to spread his own paranoia, the fear that there was always somebody about to at­tack. Soon after launching his company, he bought a twenty ­seven-foot Winnebago, loaded it with computers, and announced that he had formed the first “antivirus paramedic unit.” When he got a call from someone experiencing computer problems in the San Jose area, he drove to the site and searched for “virus resi­due.” Like a good door-to-door salesman, there was a kernel of truth to his pitch, but he amplified and embellished the facts to sell his product. The RV therefore was not just an RV; it was “the first specially customized unit to wage effective, on-the-spot coun­terattacks in the virus war.”

It was great publicity, executed with drama and sly wit. By the end of 1988, he was on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour telling the country that viruses were causing so much damage, some com­panies were “near collapse from financial loss.” He underscored the danger with his 1989 book, Computer Viruses, Worms, Data Diddlers, Killer Programs, and Other Threats to Your System. “The reality is so alarming that it would be very difficult to exagger­ate,” he wrote. “Even if no new viruses are ever created, there are already enough circulating to cause a growing problem as they reproduce. A major disaster seems inevitable.”

In 1992 McAfee told almost every major news network and newspaper that the recently discovered Michelangelo virus was a huge threat; he believed it could destroy as many as 5 million computers around the world. Sales of his software spiked, but in the end only tens of thousands of infections were reported. Though McAfee was roundly criticized for his proclamation, the criticism worked in his favor, as he explained in an e-mail in 2000 to a computer-security blogger: “My business increased tenfold in the two months following the stories and six months later our revenues were 50 times greater and we had captured the lion’s share of the anti-virus market.”

This ability to infect others with his own paranoia made McAfee a wealthy man. In October 1992 his company debuted on Nasdaq, and his shares were suddenly worth $80 million….

***

In August, McAfee and I meet for a final in-person interview at his villa on Ambergris Caye. He greets me wearing a pistol strapped across his bare chest. Guards patrol the beach in front of us. He tells me that he’s now living with five women who ap­pear to be between the ages of seventeen and twenty; each has her own bungalow on the property. Emshwiller is here, though McAfee’s attention is focused on the other women.

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014

The Best Business Writing 2014 on The NFL’s Questionable Business Practices

The Best Business Writing 2014

As a business the National Football League continues to make a lot of money. However, as revealed in The Best Business Writing 2014, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum how the NFL does business is deeply troubling. This year’s anthology includes two stories about some of football’s recent travails and its more deceptive practices.

The first is a transcript from a Frontline story “League of Denial” that examines how the NFL reacted or did not react to the football concussion crisis. The excerpt and clip tell the tragic story of Mike Webster, a former all-pro center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The second, “How the NFL Fleeces Taypayers”, by Gregg Easterbrook from The Atlantic examines how the league, which has been able to receive non-profit status, has built its multi-billion-dollar empire on the largesse of politicians and taxpayers (see excerpt following the transcript).

A clip from “League of Denial”:

Narrator: Nearly broke, homeless, and losing his mind, Web­ster decided football had hurt him, and the NFL was going to pay for it. In 1997, he went to see a lawyer.

Bob Fitzsimmons, Webster’s attorney: The thing that struck me the most was how intelligent Mike was, and the problem was that he just couldn’t continue those thought patterns for longer than a thirty-second period, or a minute or two minutes. He would just go off on the tangents at that point. It was pretty obvious, actually, the first interview that he had some type of cognitive impairment.

Narrator: Attorney Bob Fitzsimmons drew up a disability claim against the NFL.

Steve Fainaru: He began to assemble a case with Webster to basically say that Webster had suffered brain damage as a re­sult of his seventeen-year career in the NFL.

Narrator: Fitzsimmons pulled together Webster’s complicated medical history.

Bob Fitzsimmons: So I took the binder of records and got four doctors together, four separate doctors, all asking them, “Does he have a permanent disability that’s cognitive? And is it related to football?”

Narrator: Webster’s final application for disability contained over one hundred pages and the definitive diagnosis of his doctor—football had caused Webster’s dementia. His claim for disability was filed with the National Football League’s re­tirement board.

Steve Fainaru: The Disability Committee is part of the NFL. The head of the Disability Committee is the commissioner himself, so it’s very much a creature of the NFL.

Narrator: From the beginning, the league’s board was skepti­cal, reluctant to give Webster money.

Colin Webster: They were fighting it from the beginning, against just the common sense of, you know, here’s this guy, look at him, you know? He played for nearly twenty years in a brutal and punishing sport, and you know, this is what’s going on with him. Why would you fight that? What possible motive?

Narrator: The league had its own doctor review Webster’s case.

Bob Fitzsimmons: The NFL had not only hired an investigator to look into this, they also hired their own doctor and said, “Hey, we want to evaluate Mike Webster.”

Narrator: Dr. Edward Westbrook examined him.

Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dr. Westbrook concurs with everything that the four other doctors have found and agrees that abso­lutely, there’s no question that Mike Webster’s injuries are football-related and that he appears to be have significant cognitive issues, brain damage, as a result of having played football.

Narrator: The NFL retirement board had no choice. They granted Webster monthly disability payments.

Document: —“has determined that Mr. Webster is currently to­tally and permanently disabled.”

Narrator: And buried in the documents, a stunning admission by the league’s board—football can cause brain disease.

Document: —“indicate that his disability is the result of head injuries he suffered as a football player.”

Bob Fitzsimmons: The NFL acknowledges that repetitive trauma to the head in football, football can cause a permanent dis­abling injury to the brain.

Narrator: The admission would not be made public until years later, when it was discovered by the Fainaru brothers.

Mark Fainaru-Wada: And that was a dramatic admission back in 2000. And in fact, when you talk about that later with Fitzsimmons, he describes that as the sort of proverbial smoking gun.

Narrator: It was now in writing. The NFL’s own retirement board linked playing football and dementia. At the time, it was something the league would not admit publicly. And Webster felt he’d never received the acknowledgment that his years in the NFL had caused his problems.

Pam Webster: Mike would call this his greatest battle. He’d say it was like David and Goliath, over and over, because it was. He was taking on something that was bigger than him. He took on this battle for the right reasons. He was the right per­son to do it. Unfortunately, it cost us everything.

Narrator: Just two years later, in 2002, Mike Webster died.

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Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

The Best American Magazine Writing and the Future of Magazines

The Best American Magazine Writing 2014

The Best American Magazine 2014 includes some of the best writing of the past year. As evident from the book’s contents, while the writing in magazines is perhaps as strong as ever, the magazine industry, as has been well documented, and the concept of what constitutes a magazine is in doubt.

The fate of the magazine as both a business model and a form was the topic of a recent story on Marketplace, which included an interview with Sid Holt, the editor of The Best American Magazine Writing 2014 and the chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors:

As the story reported, 2014 saw the launch of 800 new magazines. These new magazines represent a new niche-driven trend in the industry where publications such as Bacon, Eye-lash, or Skinny News are aimed at very specific audiences.

Sid Holt says it is a challenging time for magazines. While magazine audiences are growing online and on other digital platforms, the loss of advertising dollars that were once a mainstay of print has been hard to make up.

“Those digital dimes haven’t replaced those print dollars yet,” he says. But at the same time, he notes, magazines are adapting. In order for a magazine now to be successful it has to carry its shared passion between reader and publisher — be it guinea pigs or eyelashes — across platforms.

“We no longer think of a magazine as this print thing; this print artifact. Although, obviously the print artifact is central,” he says.

The fate of the magazine and what makes magazine writing so distinctive was also the subject of Mark Jannot’s introduction to The Best American Magazine Writing 2014. In the introduction, he considers how particular magazines develop pieces that are not only compelling in their own right but fit the style and ambitions of their publication:

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Best Business Writing 2014 — Taking on Google, Facebook, and the Ethos of Silicon Valley

The Best Business Writing 2014

The Best Business Writing 2014, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum includes a series of sharp essays on the culture, practice, ethos, and ideology of Silicon Valley. In different ways, Evgeny Morozov, Rebecca Solnit, and Susan Faludi puncture the bubble that surrounds much of our celebration of technology’s impact on society.

In Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Morozov takes a closer look at the intrusive role technology companies such as Google have in our life:

But consider just how weird our current arrangement is. Imagine I told you that the post office could run on a different, innovation-friendly business model. Forget stamps. They cost money—and why pay money when there’s a way to send letters for free? Just think about the world-changing potential: the poor kids in Africa can finally reach you with their pleas for more laptops! So, instead of stamps, we would switch to an advertis­ing-backed system: we’d open every letter that you send, scan its contents, insert a relevant ad, seal it, and then forward it to the recipient.

Sounds crazy? It does. But this is how we have chosen to run our e-mail. In the wake of the NSA scandal and the debacle that is Healthcare.gov, trust in public institutions runs so low that any alternative arrangement—especially the one that would give pub­lic institutions a greater role—seems unthinkable. But this is only part of the problem. What would happen when some of our long cherished and privately run digital infrastructure begins to crum­ble as companies evolve and change their business models?….

Now that our communication networks are in the hands of the private sector, we should avoid making the same mistake with privacy. We shouldn’t reduce this complex problem to market-based solutions. Alas, thanks to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial zeal, privatization is already creeping in. Privacy is becoming a commodity. How does one get privacy these days? Just ask any hacker: only by studying how the right tools work. Privacy is no longer something to be taken for granted or enjoyed for free: you have to expend some resources to master the tools. Those re­sources could be money, patience, attention—you might even hire a consultant to do all this for you—but the point is that privacy is becoming expensive.

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Monday, December 15th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Best Business Writing 2014 and Best American Magazine Writing 2014

With the end of the year upon us, we wanted to highlight our two “best of” annuals: The Best Business Writing 2014, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha M. Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum and The Best American Magazine Writing 2014, edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors.

In addition to featuring these books we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Best Business Writing 2014 and Best American Magazine Writing 2014 to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, December 19 at 1:00 pm.

Friday, November 21st, 2014

George Packer on The New Censorship by Joel Simon

Joel Simon, The New Censorship

In Why the Press is Less Free Today, a recent article in The New Yorker, George Packer discussed some of the key issues and arguments raised in The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, by Joel Simon.

Packer’s article and Simon’s book come at a time when journalists are increasingly under threat. As Packer writes, between 2002 and 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (C.P.J.), five hundred and six journalists were killed worldwide, as opposed to three hundred and ninety in the previous decade. Packer comments on the seeming contradiction of more journalists being killed at a time when other freedoms seem to be proliferating:

It seems strange to speak of growing censorship in an era when elections are common around the world, private freedoms have expanded even in repressive countries like China, the Internet and social media swamp our brains with indiscriminate information every nanosecond, and anyone with a Twitter account or a Facebook page can be a journalist. But Simon makes a persuasive case that the global trend is toward less, not greater, freedom of the press. “Deluged with data, we are blind to the larger reality,” he writes. “Around the world new systems of control are taking hold. They are stifling the global conversation and impeding the development of policies and solutions based on an informed understanding of the local realities. Repression and violence against journalists is at record levels, and press freedom is in decline.”

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Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Joel Simon Discusses The New Censorship on The Leonard Lopate Show

Yesterday, Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom appeared on The Leonard Lopate Show to talk about the book and the increasing threats to journalists. Simon warns that these threats are leading to a shortage of the news reports we need to make sense of our globalized world and to fight against human rights abuses, manage conflict, and promote accountability.

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

The Seven Things Obama Can Do to confront the New Censorship

Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following post is by Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom:

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media covers events and trends from an international perspective. But some of the questions I’ve gotten from audience members at recent events have to do with the Obama administration and its policies. Below I will look at what Obama has done so far and what still needs to be done.

1. Advocate for the rights of individual journalists. One the simplest and most effective strategies that the Obama administration can implement is to raise the cases of persecuted journalists in bilateral meetings, public statements, and through diplomatic channels. In fact, the administration has a good record of doing this. Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciordone repeatedly spoke out about the imprisonment of Turkish journalists, much to the annoyance of the government in Ankara. U.S. officials have also raised the cases of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai (who was recently released and is now in the United States), the so-called Zone 9 bloggers in Ethiopia, and the Al Jazeera journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt. How’s the administration doing so far in this area? Reasonably well. I would give it a B+.

2. Formulate policies that clearly articulate the balance between U.S. strategic interests and the promotion of human rights. The limitation of advocating on behalf of individual journalists is that the administration has not clearly articulated how far it will push the human rights agenda when it clashes with national security interests. For example, in Turkey, while the embassy and the state department spoke out, President Obama did not, and this was interpreted in Turkey as a signal that U.S. strategic interests would take precedence. The same is true in Ethiopia, which has been a key ally in confronting Islamic militantism in the Horn of Africa; and in Egypt, which despite its unbearable repression is seen as a bulwark against growing regional instability. These countries have effectively resisted U.S. pressure on protecting journalists because they view human rights and press freedom as something that can be negotiated. In other words, the more valuable you are as a strategic ally of the United States the more repression you can get away it. How has Obama done so drawing the line on press freedom violations? I would give him a C.

3. Limit surveillance. The staggering revelations made by Edward Snowden blew the lid on NSA program global surveillance, which we now know operates on scale that is difficult comprehend. Much has been made of the implications of surveillance in a domestic context, and the questions regarding the legality of U.S. spying need to be urgently addressed. But it is important to keep in mind that there are no legal restrictions on surveillance outside the United States, and as a former NSA official recently told me, a non-U.S. journalist speaking to a confidential source would make an ideal target for NSA spying. The scope of the NSA surveillance effort not only has a chilling effect on journalists around the world, it normalizes the efforts of country’s like China and Iran that routinely surveil both domestic critics and their perceived international adversaries (including journalists). When it comes to spying on journalists, the U.S. needs to put in place policies that carefully balance intelligence needs with the negative impact they might have on global freedom of expression. How’s the administration doing far? Poorly. I give it a D.

4. Defend the Internet. The Internet was developed by U.S. computer scientists and even though it is now a global system much of the core infrastructure that makes the Internet function is still based in the United States. For the most part, the U.S. has been a responsible global steward, and the administration has actively promoted the “right to connect” as a form of freedom of association. However, the political environment now requires that the U.S. modulate its role in Internet governance as a means of countering challenges from countries like China that seek to put the global Internet at service of state interests. China’s most compelling argument is that the U.S. is exploiting its privileged position to undermine rival powers by pumping in destabilizing information and carrying out massive surveillance. This is why the best way to ensure that the Internet remains a viable, shared global resource is for the U.S. to further internationalize governance. To its credit, the administration has been seeking to do this in the least few years. How is the administration doing on this critical front? Pretty well. I give the administration an A-.

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Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

An Interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship

“This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades”—Joel Simon
Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following is an interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom. On November 11 at Book Court in Brooklyn, there was a launch for a book and a discussion with Simon and George Packer of The New Yorker. Packer later wrote about a commentary based on the book on Why the Press is Less Free Today. For more on the book you can also read an excerpt from the chapter News of the Future (and the Future of News).

Question: Why did you write this book?

Joel Simon: As always there were a mix of personal and professional reasons. From a professional perspective, I hope to draw attention to the crisis that we are confronting around global free expression. This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades, with record numbers being killed and imprisoned. Around the world, according to all available data, press freedom is in decline and the information we depend on makes sense of our globalized world is not flowing as freely as people believe. I hope the book draws attention to this urgent threat, helps readers understand its origins and consequences, and to points toward strategies that can help mitigate the impact.

From a personal perspective, I have always loved to tell stories. This is in large measure why I became a journalist and since my day job is a running an international nonprofit it is not something I generally able to do. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take a step back, and consider the big picture, and sit, write, and contemplate.

Q: The book is called The New Censorship. How is this different from the old censorship?

JS: Traditional censorship is based on hierarchies of control. In its most rigid formulation, a country’s political leadership determines what people can know and state directives are executed by actual censors who occupy newsrooms and prevent the publication of prohibited material. In other words, people don’t know what they don’t know. This kind of censorship is anachronism in a globalized, networked world in which even autocratic regimes have to integrate into the international financial and information systems. So unless you want to ban the Internet—something only a handful of countries do these days—you need to find a way to manage information rather than relying on simple repression. In the book, I look at a variety of strategies focusing on new breed of elected autocrats who I dub the “democratators.” I look at the Chinese system for managing the Internet, and also explore the way that terror and criminal groups are using social media to disseminate message of fear and intimidation.

Q: You use this term, global citizen. What do you mean by that?

JS: One of the primary themes I explore in the book is the way that technology has transformed the global information system, including the global media. I use the term global citizen to represent all those who recognize that their interests transcend national boundaries. In order to make informed decisions about matters that affect their lives, global citizens require access to global information. It is true that technology makes it possible to access information from around the world in ways that would have not even been conceivable a few decades ago. But the glut of information blinds us to the huge gaps in our knowledge of global events, gaps produced by pressure from authoritarian governments, murderous violence perpetrated by criminal and terrorist groups, smothering surveillance of our online communication, and clear deficiencies in the media structures. By definition censorship itself transcends national boundaries, since it prevents people from outside the country where the censorship is taking place from accessing information that may be essential for their own lives. One of the primary arguments for press freedom in a national context is that it necessary for good governance and accountability. But there is no effective mechanism to ensure that news and information produces accountability at the global level.

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Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Best Business Writing, Coney Island, and More!

The Best Business Writing 2014Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The Best Business Writing 2014
Edited by Dean Starkman, Martha M. Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum

A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion
Edited by Louis J. Parascandola and John Parascandola

Inheriting Dance: An Invitation from Pina
Edited by Marc Wagenbach and The Pina Bausch Foundation

Art/Commerce: The Convergence of Art and Marketing in Contemporary Culture
Maria A. Slowinska

The Intelligible Metropolis: Urban Mentality in Contemporary London Novels
Nora Pleßke

Studying Early and Silent Cinema
Keith Withall

Talk Radio, the Mainstream Press, and Public Opinion in Hong Kong
Francis L. F. Lee

Understanding South Asian Minorities in Hong Kong
John Nguyet Erni and Lisa Yuk-ming Leung

Exploring Lung Fu Shan: A Nature Guide
Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre