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.
As 2013 comes to a close, we see best of lists everywhere and think we should create one of our own. As de facto head of this operation I put forth The First Annual FJP Absolutely Arbitrary Best of Everything List: 2013 Edition.
So while arbitrary, these are things we bandied about during the year.
We read/watch/listen a lot. We sit around and talk about how we consume a lot.
We talk about how to digest what we consume. We talk about healthful media diets.
Jihii leads this charge and keeps us honest and relatively sane. Meanwhile, we eat the news.
So here are things that didn’t make the Tumblr but occupies what we read, watched and talked about over the last 365 days. They’re the oddities and peculiarities that caught our interest. Obviously there’s much more but in the spirit of occupying attention for a few moments before passing it along, here’s our abbreviated – and arbitrary – hit list. – Michael
Most Important Presentations on the NSA, Surveillance, What it All Means, Why it Matters and Why You Should Order a Tinfoil Hat Now
Tie, Jacob Applebaum (video), Glenn Greenwald (video) and the Guardian (interactive).
Best Reflection on Women and the Internet
Quinn Nortan, Online and Offline Violence Towards Women.
Best Explainer for Why All Language is Metaphor
The Economist, The impossibility of being literal.
Best Comic Reflecting How Social Media Influences Our Reporting
xdcd: Social Media.
Best MacGyvering by Citizens when Their Government Shuts Down the Internet During Protests
Vice, Protesters Are Dodging Sudan’s Internet Shutdown with a Phone-Powered Crowdmap.
Best Five Percent of the American Public
The Verge, Study says five percent of Americans find the internet pointless.
Best Ad About Covering Up Poo Stink
PooPourri with this ad about covering up poo stink.
Best New Google Streetview Map
Google, Large Hadron Collider
Best Demonstration of Social Media in the 16th Century
The Economist, How Luther Went Viral.
Best Explainer on Whether You’re an Internet Addict
Pacific Standard, We Are All Internet Addicts Now—Just Don’t Call It That.
Best Example on the Highs and Lows of Covering the Marijuana Beat
Center for Investigative Reporting, High on the job.
Best Demonstration of Google’s Global Reach
Techspot, Five-minute Google outage reportedly caused 40% drop in global traffic.
Best Example of Moore’s Law Presented in One Image
Singularity Hub, Moore’s Law is No Joke – Pile of Electronics from 1993 Fits in your Palm Today.
Best Way to Incarcerate A Large Portion Your Population
The Register, Jail time promised for false tweets in China.
Best Waiver a University Makes Students Sign
TIME, Chinese University Asks Students to Sign ‘Suicide Waivers’.
Best Humblebrag about a Newsroom’s Excellent Multimedia Reporting
New York Times, The Year in Interactive Storytelling.
Best documentary about corporate spin, lawsuits and the media that we should have known about and finally just saw on Netflix.
Big Boys Gone Bananas.
Best representative segment of FOX News being FOX News
Spirited Debate, Reza Alslan interview.
Best Analysis of CNN Jumping the Shark
John Stewart, Good Thing Versus Bad Thing. See also, Jay Rosen on why he no longer bothers to criticize CNN.
Best Art Hack of How the Contemporary New Cycle Works
Jonathan Chomko, News Machine.
Best Best of Lists, Journalism and Storytelling Style
Various: Check Josh Stearns on online storytelling, Nieman Storyboard on best narrative, Electronic Frontier Foundation on how MENA activists are fighting governments, Slate on crime reporting, and, of course, Longform’s Best of 2013.