Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fareed Zakaria Leaves Newsweek, Joins Rival Time

Slate, citing Folio mag, notes the new direction of Newsweek's prominent blowhard.

Time magazine is scheduled to announce on Thursday that it has snatched Fareed Zakaria from one of its biggest rivals, Newsweek. Zakaria, a columnist for the Washington Post, editor of Newsweek's international edition, and host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, will be named a contributing editor for Time and will pen a column that runs in the print edition of the magazine every other week. "The departure of Mr. Zakaria, a well-known columnist and television presence, is another blow to Newsweek, which was sold to Sidney Harman, an audio equipment mogul, at the beginning of the month," the New York Times' David Carr wrote on the paper's Media Decoder blog. Since the magazine was sold, Jon Meacham, the magazine's editor; Michael Isikoff, an investigative reporter; and columnist Evan Thomas have all announced they would be leaving. "Fareed is one of a small handful of global public intellectuals, and he has proven how important his thinking and writing is, over and over, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11," said Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time. "He is a kind of spokesman for a post-American world, and we think he represents an important piece of the puzzle for us." Zakaria said that moving from Newsweek to Time made sense because the magazine is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN, where his foreign affairs program airs every Sunday. "All of my work will now appear at one company, and instead of a kind of awkwardness, there is a very real synergy," he told Carr over lunch. Zakaria is also taking on a role as a consultant for HBO's documentary film unit, according to Folio. HBO, too, is owned by Time Warner.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Narco-censorship : silencing the Mexican media

A new word has been written into the lexicon of Mexico's drug war: narco-censorship, writes Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times in a chilling piece today.

It's when reporters and editors, out of fear or caution, are forced to write what the traffickers want them to write, or to simply refrain from publishing the whole truth in a country where members of the press have been intimidated, kidnapped and killed.

That big shootout the other day near a Reynosa shopping mall? Convoys of gunmen whizzed through the streets and fired on each other for hours, paralyzing the city. But you won't read about it here in this border city.

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Those recent battles between the army and cartel henchmen in Ciudad Juarez? Soldiers engaged "armed civilians," newspapers told their readers.

As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers' chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists — who are haunted by the knowledge that they are failing in their journalistic mission of informing society.

"You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more," said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.

"We don't like the silence. But it's survival."

An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or have disappeared since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels in December 2006, making Mexico one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world.

But a ferocious increase in violence, including the July 26 kidnapping of four reporters, has pushed the profession into a crisis never before seen, drawn renewed international attention and spurred fresh activism on the part of Mexican newsmen and women.

The United Nations sent its first such mission to Mexico last week to examine dangers to freedom of expression. On Aug. 7, in an unprecedented display of unity from a normally fractious, competitive bunch, hundreds of Mexican reporters demonstrated throughout the country to demand an end to the killings of their colleagues, and more secure working conditions.

Few killings are ever investigated, and the climate of impunity leads to more bloodshed, says an upcoming report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"It is not a lack of valor on the part of the journalists. It is a lack of backing," said broadcaster Jaime Aguirre. "If they kill me, nothing happens."

On the popular radio talk show he hosts in Reynosa, Aguirre chooses his words carefully. He often finds himself issuing warnings to the public on which areas of the city to avoid. Listeners don't have to be told why.

It is in Mexico's far-flung states where narco-censorship is most severe.

From the border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua and into the central and southern states of Durango and Guerrero, reporters say they are acutely aware that traffickers do not want the local news to "heat the plaza" — to draw attention to their drug production and smuggling and efforts to subjugate the population. Such attention would invite the government to send troops and curtail their business.

And so the journalists pull their punches.

When convoys of narco hit men brazenly turned their guns on army garrisons in Reynosa, trapping soldiers inside, it was front- page news in the Los Angeles Times in April. It went unreported in Reynosa.

After two of his reporters were briefly detained by Zetas paramilitaries later that month in the same region, Ciro Gomez Leyva, head of Milenio television, announced he was imposing a blackout on events in Tamaulipas. "Journalism is dead" in the region, he wrote. The bruised, strangled body of Durango reporter Bladimir Antuna was recovered late last year with a scrawled note attached: "This happened to me for … writing too much."

Contacting reporters in the region can seem a scene out of "The Third Man," with meetings in discreet locations and discussions that involve code: The Zetas are referred to as "the last letter" (of the alphabet), while the Gulf cartel is the "three letters" (CDG — Cartel del Golfo).

Reporters and editors in Tamaulipas and Durango say they routinely receive telephoned warnings when they publish something the traffickers don't like. More often, knowing their publications are being watched and their newsrooms infiltrated, they avoid publishing anything that risks falling into a questionable category.

Or they stick to just-the-facts government bulletins that may confirm an incident but won't offer details.

"If there's nothing official, we don't print it," said an editor from a northern newspaper. "It makes me very angry. How can I bend to the demands of those people? But I have to calculate the risk."

The journalists also keep an eye on certain websites known to have affiliation with drug cartels: If they see that a shootout or a grenade attack is being reported, they know it's OK to publish the same information.

That's why the Reynosa shootout two weeks ago wasn't reported. But a car bomb at police headquarters in the Tamaulipas state capital, Ciudad Victoria, two days later got front-page play because, editors say, the dominant Gulf wanted the rival Zetas paramilitaries (presumed authors of the bomb) to look bad.

Not that regional Mexican papers are squeamish. They will publish any number of grisly photographs of severed heads and battered corpses dangling from bridges. But not information that will offend the cartel in charge.

Social media networks such as Twitter have filled some of the breach, with residents frantically sending danger alerts. And a secretive "narco blog" has started posting numerous videos of henchmen and their victims, no matter how gruesome. But, residents say, the social media too have been usurped by traffickers, who use the system to spread rumors and stoke panic.

In Durango, where more newsmen were killed in 2009 than in any other state, broadcast reporter Ruben Cardenas said journalists could no longer do their job. "It is disinformation. It is a disservice to society," Cardenas told The Times late last year.

A few weeks later, when The Times ventured into the Durango city of Gomez Palacio to report on the kidnapping and slaying of Los Angeles civic leader Bobby Salcedo, local Mexican reporters initially shared enthusiasm for the story. But after a couple of days of publishing reports, employees at one newspaper said they were ordered, presumably by Salcedo's killers, to cease. The news, attracting attention in Los Angeles and Washington, was "heating the plaza."

Durango was also the scenario of the July 26 abductions. Four journalists were covering disturbances at a Gomez Palacio prison where it had just been revealed that the warden was allowing inmates to go out at night on killing rampages.

The reporters' employers received instructions to broadcast homemade videos from one cartel that linked its rival to corrupt cops. The videos showed police who had apparently been abducted and were "confessing" at gunpoint.

Journalists around Mexico mobilized like never before, spreading the word, demanding action from authorities and staging demonstrations. Eventually the reporters were freed. Blood still seeping from his scalp, a bruised Alejandro Hernandez spoke of the ordeal: five days of torture, beatings with a plank, threats of an ugly death.

A happy ending? The men were rescued or released only after their news outlets met the traffickers' demands and aired the cartel videos. It was the latest twist: news coverage as ransom.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Narco-blogger beats Mexico drug war news blackout

An anonymous, twentysomething blogger is giving Mexicans what they can't get elsewhere — an inside view of their country's raging drug war.

Operating from behind a thick curtain of computer security, Blog del Narco in less than six months has become Mexico's go-to Internet site at a time when mainstream media are feeling pressure and threats to stay away from the story.

Many postings, including warnings and a beheading, appear to come directly from drug traffickers. Others depict crime scenes accessible only to military or police.

The undifferentiated content suggests that all sides are using the blog — drug gangs to project their power, law enforcement to show that it too can play rough, and the public to learn about incidents that the mainstream media are forced to ignore or play down.

In at least one case Blog del Narco may have led to a major arrest — of a prison warden after a video posting detailed her alleged system of setting inmates free at night to carry out killings for a drug cartel.

The mysterious blogger hides his identity behind an elaborate cyber-screen. The Associated Press wrote to the blog's e-mail address, and the blogger called back from a disguised phone number. He said he is a student in northern Mexico majoring in computer security, that he launched the blog in March as a "hobby," but it now has grown to hundreds of postings a day and 3 million hits a week.

"People now demand information and if you don't publish it, they complain," he said.

Indeed, President Felipe Calderon has heard complaints that his government is not putting out enough information to allow people to function and stay safe.

"You authorities have placed Mexicans in the middle of a shootout where it's not clear where the bullets are coming from," journalist Hector Aguilar Camin said at a recent forum evaluating the government's strategy for fighting organized crime. "When it comes to information, the Mexican public safety agencies don't even shoot in self-defense."

The violence has killed more then 28,000 people and made Mexico one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, which explains why Blog del Narco cloaks itself so heavily in anonymity.

"For the scanty details that they (mass media) put on television, they get grenades thrown at them and their reporters kidnapped," the blogger said. "We publish everything. Imagine what they could do to us."

Among his postings:

• A video of a man being decapitated. While media only reported police finding a beheaded body, the video shows the man confessing to working for drug lord Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, who is locked in a fight with both the Beltran Leyva and Sinaloa cartels;

• The prison warden affair, which unfolded in a video of masked members of the Zetas drug gang interrogating a police officer, who reveals that inmates allied with the Sinaloa cartel are given guns and cars and sent off to commit murders. At the end of the video the officer is shot to death;

• Links to Facebook pages of alleged traffickers and their children, weapons, cars and lavish parties;

• Photos of Mexican pop music stars at a birthday party for an alleged drug dealer's teenage daughter in the border state of Coahuila, across from Texas.

"The girl wrote to me and told me, in a threatening way, to take down her photos," the blogger said. "But as long as I don't hear from her father, I won't take them down."

While there are numerous blogs on Mexico's drug war, Blog del Narco seems to be the first used by the traffickers themselves. The blogger said he provides an uncensored platform, posting photographs and videos he receives regardless of content or cartel affiliation.

It can be extremely gory, but his neutrality has helped build his credibility.

"We don't insult them, we don't say one specific group is the bad one," he said. "We don't want problems with them."

Critics say it's free public relations for the cartels.

"Media outlets have social responsibilities and have to serve the public," said Carlos Lauria, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. "This is being produced by someone who is not doing it from a journalistic perspective. He is doing it without any ethical considerations."

Blog del Narco's first posting concerned a small-town shootout in the border state of Tamaulipas that police wouldn't even confirm happened. The blog aired a resident's YouTube video of the crashed cars and corpses along the highway.

Soon Blog Del Narco was dominating Mexico's drug-war blogosphere.

The blogger maintains a Facebook page and Twitter account that includes CNN en Espanol, all major Mexican media, the FBI and the Mexican Defense Department among its more than 7,300 followers. Rusty Payne, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said "we're very aware of these kinds of things" but wouldn't say whether the DEA uses the information in its investigations.

Blog del Narco has also become a meeting point for people anxious to get information the mainstream media doesn't deliver, such as what streets to avoid during shootouts.

In Nuevo Laredo, where journalists have been attacked, 26-year-old storeowner Claudia Perez says she reads Blog del Narco to know when streets close, but can do without the gore.

"There are times when they do publish useful things, like such or such street is blocked," she said, "but they also put a lot of information about narcos and the ugly things they do."

Blog del Narco is registered with a U.S. company and all its blog-related payments are made with bank deposits, not a credit card, he said.

The blogger said he spends about four hours a day working on the blog and has recruited a friend to help after becoming overwhelmed with submissions.

Many of his videos are sent to him by readers, who know he will get them a much wider airing in Mexico, or are taken from YouTube. He regularly lifts news reports from other media sites without credit. He says mainstream media did the same with his content — until the national Milenio Television network aired the prison warden video and credited Blog del Narco.

Its daily hits went up 30 percent.
Tip of the sombrero to Olga R Rodriguez of the Associated Press for this file.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Newsweek seeks new editor- no takers so far

Hat tip to Keith J. Kelly, The New York Post columnist who writes Media Ink

Pressure is mounting to find a new editor-in-chief of Newsweek, as the staff defections continue in the wake of the sale two weeks ago to stereo mogul Sidney Harman.

Jon Meacham, the current editor-in-chief, is telling staffers he hopes to pack it in by Labor Day.

And the short list of candidates to replace him is growing shorter by the day.

The most logical inside candidate, Fareed Zakaria, is said to have told Harman he is not interested in the job. Speculation is rampant that he may be the next big name to jump ship.

Walter Isaacson, current CEO of the Aspen Institute think tank, a former editor of Time and one-time head of CNN, is also showing no interest, despite his friendship with Harman, an Aspen Institute board member.

"I've already run a weekly magazine," Isaacson said. "I have no interest in it."

Some insiders have been actively pushing for Tina Brown, currently head of The Daily Beast Web site.

It's a long shot, but Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim, who is staying on board as president under Harman, is said to be listening.

Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas, book author and prolific writer of dozens of cover stories during his 24 years at the magazine, yesterday became the latest staffer to defect in what is becoming a serious brain drain.

Thomas, author most recently of "The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898," from Little, Brown earlier this year, is going to teach at Princeton and work on writing his next book for Little, a bio of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Said one insider of Brown: "She's the best magazine editor out there without a magazine and she'd bring a lot of attention to Newsweek."

Barry Diller, boss of IAC, which is bankrolling Brown and The Daily Beast, is on the board of the Washington Post Co., so he would be familiar with the pluses and minuses of the magazine. Wash Post said that in the first half of 2010 the magazine lost $8.5 million.

Diller could not be reached for comment.

And Brown, who has edited Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and the late Talk magazine, said she's not interested. "I very much admire Sidney Harman's willingness to take on a great news magazine that needs reinvention," she said. "But I've never been happier than in my partnership with Barry Diller creating The Daily Beast."

Read original here:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Digital Tampering 101

Hat tip to the Beeb, for the link to this piece about the perils of digitally tampering with news photos. Don't do it. Fakery is dishonest and readily detectable. Dozens of faked images are posted here for scrutiny, from the Economist's British Petroleum/Obama cover to Winston Churchill's belatedly cigar-less visage on a poster.