Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.
Janet Malcom, The Journalist and the Murderer, via Slate. The Storytellers: Walter Kirn gets taken in by a con man.
So begins a review in Slate of Blood Will Out, a new memoir by Walter Kirn about his relationship with Clark Rockefeller, a real life Mr. Ripley who impersonated a famous name, lived the high life and was eventually charged on kidnapping and murder charges. Kirn’s book explores how, as a writer, he was taken in by the faux Rockefeller. Or, more precisely, by the German-born Christian Gerhartsreiter who successfully played a Rockefeller in New York City social circles.
But while Kirn explores why and how he was taken over a decade-long relationship, let’s go back to Malcom’s original quote, to the journalist as con man, to his or her relationship with sources, and why sources should talk with reporters.
In the wake of NSA revelations, national security journalists have spoken about their increased difficulty reporting the news (see here, here and here). And with the Obama administration’s use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers you can see why that would be the case.
So why should sources talk to reporters? It’s an important, unasked question, says Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley:
When you think about it, that question goes to the foundation of the entire edifice of a free press. And that foundation, at the moment, is shaky.
Let’s back up. No honest press, whatever its sense of mission and however firm its legal protections, can outperform its sources. It can’t be any better, stronger, braver, more richly informed, or more dedicated to broad public purpose than the people who swallow their misgivings, return the phone call, step forward, and risk embarrassment and reprisal to talk to the reporter.
The mythology of journalism enshrines the sleuths, sometimes the editors, even the publishers, but sources are really the whole ball game. Press freedom is nothing more than source freedom, one step removed. The right of a news organization to tell what it learns is an empty abstraction without the willingness of news sources to tell what they know.
Considering how important sources are, it’s stunning how little affection they get and how flimsy the protections are that anybody claims for them.
Give Wasserman’s article a good read.
It moves well beyond national security issues as it explores, again, why when a source’s quote can be nitpicked a thousand different ways — in “the online multiverse, and his or her words, motives and integrity will be denounced or impugned, often by pseudonymous dingbats, some of them undisclosed hirelings” — he or she should ever want to talk to the news media.
I don’t even know if anyone is reading this anymore.
Background, via EFF:
Russia’s government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. Today, the country’s ISPs have received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.
The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov’s opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.
The list of newly prohibited sites was published earlier today by Russia’s Prosecutor General, which announced that the news sites had been “entered into the single register of banned information” after “calls for participation in unauthorized rallies.” Navalny’s livejournal was apparently added to the register in response to the conditions of his current house arrest, which include a personal prohibition on accessing the Internet.
Journalists my age and younger (I’ve been in the business since 2005—right around the time digital media emerged as a plausible career option) have never operated under the illusion that a staff job at The New Yorker or a New York Times column was in our future. But nearly a decade into the digital-media revolution, another shift has occurred. It’s not just that journalists understand former “prestige” jobs will be nearly impossible to get. Now we don’t even want them.
Because in the New York Times, an “adult film actor” named Stoya writes about pornography, stage names and identity:
Along with desires to differentiate themselves from performers in similar fields, increase ease of spelling and pronunciation or convey a certain image, some performers do take a stage name for the purpose of making themselves more difficult to recognize. This might possibly have worked in the ’70s, but with easy access to enormous amounts of adult content on the Internet and the ease with which we can all find juicy tidbits of information about one another’s pasts online, I can’t see it having much effect anymore…
…[But] my stage name is less about withholding parts of myself or maintaining privacy than it is a symbol of the idea that I am more than just my job or any other isolated slice of my identity.
Stoya talks about the inherent paradoxes in the pseudo-anonymity her stage name affords, but equates it with what she sees as part and parcel of a fragmentation many — notwithstanding those who disagree with the notion of digital dualism — experience between their online and offline selves.
Because in PandoDaily, we read about PornHub’s innovative marketing campaigns to get their NSFW “product” into SFW spaces.
As a result, Pornhub must rely (for now) on social advertising, digital advertising, and organic promotion, which makes them as interesting case study for other startups that, while not restricted by social mores, may have financial roadblocks in getting on TV.
The latest untraditional marketing strategy came this week when Pornhub launched a call for “Safe-For-Work” Pornhub ads. Aspiring ad men and women can submit their entries to this Tumblr (SFW). The person behind the winning entrant has a shot at becoming the company’s next creative director, the site promises.
A campaign like this not only grabs headlines (which is its own kind of free advertising). It also allows Pornhub to set the terms of its own brand identity before even launching a national campaign.
Because while reading the above we read some more and came across a study by the Urban Institute on underground economies and learn that Atlanta is the sex trade capital of the United States, a “sex act” runs anywhere from $5 to over $1000 in Dallas and pimps don’t like being called pimps. It’s too seventies. Business Manager will do.
And because so long as we’re reading about fragmentary identity, online marketing and job descriptions, we might as well read how sea slugs mate: The hermaphrodites “penis fence” in an attempt “to penis-stab the other. An inflicted wound inoculates the recipient with sperm.”
Penis stabbing? It’s not just the sea slug. Enter the bedbug, just penis stabbing its way through life:
Males will often jump on and penis-stab anything that comes their way, even females of other species, often killing them in the process — a phenomenon that has driven some species to evolve apart. Male bedbugs regularly jump other males by mistake—which is such a problem that males in one species have evolved their own damage-control spermaleges.
And that’s what we learned this week by following porn. Now off to watch Isabella Rossellini demonstrate the erotic lives of snails. Spoiler alert: “love darts.”