Thursday, February 24, 2011

Driving thru Libya with armed men of all persuasions

What, me worry? I blame Bin laden. And youth on hallucinatory drugs. --Colonel Gadaffi

McClatchy reports from the insurrection in Libya

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interactive Reporting on the Beeb: Corrections and Lessons

Veteran journalist Paul Reynolds reflects on journalism's future after his decade online:

As I leave my post as world affairs correspondent for the BBC News website, I would like to reflect on the shock I experienced nine years ago when I left the "mainstream" BBC to join the then orphan child of News Online.

I found that I was in direct contact with the public. Horror. This had not happened to me before.

For several decades, I had been broadcasting from a studio or on location at home and abroad, but always insulated from the listeners. Letters, then the only means of communication to a correspondent, were quite rare.

Someone would occasionally write in and the BBC postal system would catch up with me some days, or even weeks, later. It was, perhaps, a word of praise or a hint of complaint. Sometimes I replied. Sometimes I did not.

But writing online proved to be a different experience. It means the piece sits there in front of the reader. It is not something they might have half-heard over the airwaves. And they can contact you immediately. They do.

I joined in the spirit of openness by putting my e-mail address at the bottom of all my stories. This meant, of course, that I opened a pathway for comment or complaint, and this became a very crowded conduit at times.

I suddenly felt like a government minister at parliamentary question time. At first it was bruising. Slowly, though, I began to develop the kind of thick skin that politicians have. I came to understand how they can survive, enjoy even, the cut and thrust of public debate and insult. Something about ducks and water came to mind.

Insults had little effect after a time. After all, they are simply emotions. They contain no arguments. Arguments have more impact, much more. They force you to reconsider your stance. Is the BBC, are you, really taking an impartial, balanced position? What always hurt was when someone pointed out an error of fact.

I had a policy of replying to all but the most foul-tongued messages, and found that even those who had sworn at me in their first flush of anger often apologised when I asked for argument, not insult, and they had had time to calm down. That is one of the characteristics of the internet - instant access can lead to instant channelling of anger, often regretted later.

I engaged in quite long e-mail correspondences with various critics. Of these, I remember an American living in London who thought the BBC very overrated and very leftist. On the other side was MediaLens, whose editors and contributors believe that the BBC is a corporatist supporter of the establishment.

Both, in fact, had corrections to offer and lessons to teach. But the BBC could not survive if it took advice solely from either of them.

My liveliest exchanges, however, revolved around two specific subjects - 9/11 and the Middle East.

I disturbed the hornets' nest of 9/11 conspiracy theorists while sceptically reviewing a film called Loose Change, which claimed that 9/11 was a set-up by the Bush administration.

There were, I think, probably a couple of hundred outraged responses. One reader took me all the way through the formal BBC complaints system on the grounds that I had misrepresented the film, as if it was some well-considered documentary. The complaints panel decided it was not.

Complaining is now very easy, by the way, and the BBC explains how you can do it. You do not even need to live in the UK. This reader lived in Canada.
Source of news

The other e-mail storm followed a story I wrote about Gaza, which said that people should not believe everything they see on video taken in conflict situations. The example was Israeli video of an attack on men supposedly loading Grad rockets onto a truck. It turned out that the "rockets" might well simply have been oxygen cylinders.

Palestinian supporters wrote in by the dozen to say that, at last, the BBC had seen through Israeli propaganda. Israeli supporters accused me of naivety and worse.
British letterbox Paul Reynolds has signed off now, so that letter might not reach him

Then I did the reverse story. I said people should not trust the language used in conflict, concentrating this time on the words of Hamas, which often hid a harder intent. Of course, the e-mails this time were the other way round - praise from Israeli supporters, complaints from Palestinian.

The other thing I have experienced over the past few years is the growth of the internet as a source of news. I gave a talk some time ago to a school of journalism and said that the concept of the world waiting for news crews to get to disaster zones was over - witnesses there would be taking their own pictures.

This process would then develop in ways we cannot foresee, the "unknown unknowns". The lecturer on that course had his doubts but the trend has accelerated even faster than many of us thought it would.

The internet has become not only a resource for journalists, it is becoming part of the news itself.

And I have seen how the BBC News website is no longer an orphan child. Many in the wider organisation have leaped forward to claim, if not paternity, then guardianship. But it has changed the BBC and will go on doing so, while preserving, one hopes, the best of BBC practice.

Welcome to the future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beat Reporter- CBS 's Lara Logan assaulted by mob in Cairo

People who have been cheering the events in Cairo from afar find themselves aghast after learning about the violence inflicted on 52 journalists, including CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, who now is recovering in a U.S. hospital from a sustained sexual attack and beating she suffered while reporting on the tumultuous events in Cairo. AP reports.

Logan was in the city’s Tahrir Square on Friday after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down when she, her team and their security “were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration,” CBS said in a statement Tuesday.

The network described a mob of more than 200 people “whipped into a frenzy.”

Separated from her crew in the crush of the violent pack, she suffered what CBS called “a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.” She was saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers, the network said. The Associated Press does not name victims of a sexual assault unless the victim agrees to it.

She reconnected with the CBS team and returned to the U.S. on Saturday.

The scene last Friday in Tahrir Square — ground zero of 18 days of protests that brought down Mubarak — was primarily one of celebration — people wept, jumped for joy, cheered and hugged one another. Some soldiers stationed at the square ran into the crowd, and the protesters lifted them onto their shoulders. Other troops stayed at their posts, watching in awe. There were fireworks, the sound of car horns and even some shots fired in the air.

Sexual harassment of women is an all-too-common occurrence on the streets of Cairo. But many women noted a complete absence of it in the early days of protests in Tahrir Square, where demonstrators made a point of trying to create a microcosm of the society without many of Egypt’s social ills.

However, in the final days, and especially after the battles with pro-Mubarak gangs who attacked the protesters in Tahrir, women noticed sexual assault had returned to the square. On the day Mubarak fell, women reported being groped by the rowdy crowds. One witness saw a woman slap a man after he touched her. The man was then passed down a line of people who all slapped him and reprimanded him.

The attack on Logan, CBS News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent, was one of at least 140 others suffered by reporters covering the unrest in Egypt since Jan. 30, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. An Egyptian reporter died from gunshot wounds he received during the protests.

A week before Friday’s attack, Logan was detained by the Egyptian military for a day, along with a CBS producer and cameraman. They returned to the U.S. after their release, and Logan went back to Cairo shortly before Mubarak left.

Logan joined CBS News in 2002. She regularly reports for the “CBS Evening News” as well as “60 Minutes,” where she has been a correspondent since 2006. She has reported widely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and other global trouble spots.

CBS said it had no further comment on Logan’s assault.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tweeting the News? Beware of retweeting errors at warp speed

The perils of tweeting the news from one reporter's perspective. Click here for a thoughtful confession session from Colum Lynch, a Foreign Policy blogger responsible for Turtle Bay and its tweets.

Twitter is a rumor mill, a high-tech, and often partisan, upgrade on the old office water cooler -- except this version lets your boss, your friends, your critics, and everyone else listen in. But like office gossip and rumors, a lot of it is often dead wrong...
The denizens of Twitter, I've discovered, aren't always acting in bad faith. But the medium has a way of allowing old-fashioned mistakes from obscure publications or even traditional news organizations to spread like wildfire. The retweet is an especially ambivalent Twitter function for those who use the service to gather news. Retweeting allows you to forward an interesting tweet or link to your own community of followers while leaving the original Tweeter to vouch for its credibility. The lax norms around retweets can let an incorrect story initially sent out to a handful of people gain exposure to a wider audience of tens or hundreds of thousands, even millions.

Correction of the month

Note to self: best to reconfirm statistics with sources, especially when you just hear them over the phone. And if it really had been thousands and thousands of drowned pigs, why would it only rate page 11? Hat tip to for this gem

Monday, February 7, 2011

Huffington Post sold for $315m. Her unpaid journalists feel snookered

Surely, The Feral Beast is not the only one annoyed by the smugness of Ariana Huffington and the success of her Huffington Post - sold yesterday to the aol conglomerate (remember America Online?) for a cool $315mil. Too many feel hoodwinked by Huffpo's progressive stance and now view Ms Arianna as an exploitative sell-out, not a web visionary. She started out as a Republican and elitist, after all. She's laughing all the way to the bank, dahlink.

In classics class, we were taught to "beware of Greeks bearing gifts." Well, maybe we also should beware of gifting anything to this Greek-born geek. Many fellow journalists now regret their dealings with this opportunistic uber-pundit. Mayhill Fowler, the amateur journalist who stunned the Democratic campaign with a clandestinely-taped quote from Obama about Middle American folks "clinging to guns and religion", got some travel expenses paid but then became disillusioned when no further money came her way. After all , Huffington had simply tweaked the old "Drudge Retort" formula, added interactiveness, big photos and misleading headlines, and cleverly maximized hits through the overuse of slideshows. Frequent posts about the former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin attracted thousands of snarky comments and multitudinous more hits. Advertisers are well pleased. Huffington's army of unpaid reporters and pundits measurably less so. Huffington's "group blog" initially appealed to the egos of moonbats who fancied themselves to be a superior new breed of "citizen journalists", opting for exposure over any payment whatsoever. Youngish voters who caught campaign fever, post-Howard Dean, were competing to contribute, too, as well as reporters fresh out of J-school who needed cyberclips to jumpstart their careers. After eight painful years in the Bush wilderness, many Americans were desperate for change and captivated by Barack Obama's charisma, showcased on the political pages of HuffPo. Eventually,though, some 300 employees came to be on the payroll. Outreach to deeper pockets was inevitable, particularly after Tina Brown's Daily Beast (no relation) high profile merger with Newsweek.

Listen to Nick Denton, who runs Gawker, which now becomes the biggest independent Web-based news outlet. “I’m disappointed in the Huffington Post. I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate,” he told Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast.

Denton insists he has no intention of ever selling Gawker, and he seems not-so-secretly pleased to see his opponents cashing out: “AOL has gathered so many of our rivals— Huffington Post, Engadget, Techcrunch—in one place. The question: Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bloody Streets of Cairo - sword vs pen

Ashraf Khalil's dispatch from Cairo describes, from the frontlines, The Day of Hunting Journalists. Many Middle East correspondents, some more accustomed to embedding with our boys in foreign fields, got a firsthand dose of violence directed at silencing them. Khalil's a veteran Egyptian-American print reporter who filed this to Foreign Policy magazine.

For journalists posted in revolutionary Cairo, Thursday, Feb. 3, presented itself at first as an opportunity to recover from and reflect on the violence of the previous day's protest. It did not stay that way for long.

Around 12:30 p.m., a few fellow journalists and I decided to chat with ordinary Egyptians in the middle-class neighborhood of Dokki. We approached a street-side cart serving fuul -- the cooked fava beans that are the national dish -- and asked a few innocuous questions about food supplies and daily life. Were the stores reopening? Were people returning to work?

The situation turned south almost immediately. A crowd of local hotheads soon began assembling around us, demanding to see our identification and expressing suspicion of our intentions. I'm still not sure whether they thought we were spies or whether just being journalists was bad enough. One man asked aggressively whether we were "from that Jazeera channel that we're all so disgusted by." I responded perhaps a little too sarcastically, asking whether he saw any television cameras with us.

Suddenly one man started swinging at me, and the entire crowd suddenly became a mob. I was struck in the face at least four times. My colleague Lourdes Garcia-Navarro from NPR cleverly faked a fit of weeping hysteria, which seemed to get the guys to back off a bit.

After about a minute of scuffling, cooler heads in the crowd managed to pull me to relative safety and told me to get out and make for our waiting taxi down the block. I arrived at the taxi to find an entirely new standoff in progress. My colleagues -- who included Garcia-Navarro and James Hider from the Times of London -- were inside the taxi but penned in by another angry mob. They were banging on the windows and trying to get inside. One man parked his motorcycle directly in front of the car to block any escape.

As the only Egyptian in the group, I became the focal point for their anger. My accented Arabic (I was raised in the United States) only heightened their suspicions. One man kept yelling in my face, "You're not really Egyptian. Who exactly are you?" In response to their demands for identification, I managed to produce my Egyptian passport. My driver, Gamal, also pleaded with the crowd, telling them that he had known me for 10 years and knew most of my family.

But the Egyptian passport did more harm than good because it states clearly that I was born in America: For the paranoid and xenophobic mob, this was the smoking gun that proved my guilt. The crowd started shouting, demanding that we be turned over to the police or the Army. I responded, "Yes, please! Find me a soldier. I'll turn myself over."

As I was beginning to genuinely fear for our safety, an officer from the military police appeared on the scene and immediately helped bring some calm to the situation. Against the protests of the crowd, the officer managed to get me into the taxi and, to keep us safe, escorted us to a walled-in courtyard. There we found another group of terrified journalists -- this time all native Egyptians working for a local English-language paper. They too had been rescued from an angry mob by the Army. Clearly, similar scenes were playing out all across Cairo.

I don't think that the mob that harassed me was part of a coordinated campaign against journalists. Our attackers were just ordinary Egyptian citizens whose nerves had been frayed by 10 days of uncertainty and unrest. State television fueled their anxiety with a steady diet of conspiracy theories claiming that shadowy foreign influences were behind the waves of civil unrest and that foreign journalists were hopelessly biased toward the anti-Mubarak protesters -- thus actively helping to bring the regime down.

Elsewhere in Cairo, however, it genuinely seemed like journalists had indeed been explicitly targeted, starting during the day on Wednesday and peaking in a cascade of incidents on Thursday. Those who weren't attacked by mobs were arrested by police officers or detained -- allegedly for their own safety -- by the military.

The Washington Post's Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel was "among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by the Egyptian Interior Ministry. We understand that they are safe but in custody," the Post announced. She was released late Thursday night.

At least three reporters from Al Jazeera's English channel were apparently arrested by the Army while driving from the airport, according to the network's staffers. A Greek journalist was stabbed in the leg.

The prominent local blogger who worked under the name "Sandmonkey" was arrested while trying to bring medical supplies to wounded protesters in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests. He later tweeted: "I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar& supplies taken."

CNN's Anderson Cooper, along with a producer and cameraman, were attacked by crowds on Wednesday who punched them and attempted to break their camera. On Thursday, Cooper and crew were attacked again.

Andrew Lee Butters, a reporter working with Time magazine, was detained and roughed up by civilians, who he said were taking orders from uniformed police officers on the scene.

The sheer scope and number of incidents in one day should immediately discredit any government argument that these were isolated or spontaneous events. The U.S. State Department has already dismissed that possibility. "I don't think these are random events," said spokesman P.J. Crowley. "It appears to be an effort to disrupt the ability of journalists to cover today's events."

There's really only one reason to attack journalists -- if you don't want them to report their observations to the outside world. Although the protesters occupying Tahrir Square on Thursday had a relatively peaceful day, the sudden wave of attacks against journalists has fueled concerns that there's a tsunami coming -- something the government and its supporters don't want the world to see.

But Mubarak and his supporters should also be concerned. The forces they're unleashing will not be so easy to contain again. The paranoia and xenophobia I witnessed on Thursday were unlike anything I've seen from the Egyptian people in 13 years of covering this country. For a country that depends heavily on a steady flow of foreign tourists, turning the Egyptian people against the outside world could have catastrophic long-term consequences.