Friday, February 17, 2012

Why the Feral Beast is going into Hibernation


Shudder. We guess it's bound to be like News of the Screws redux as the old Dingo dodges another crisis. Never mind that the former prime minister's wife is suing for being wiretapped. Nonetheless,
...Murdoch Tries to Reassure Staff After Arrests

This media news, coupled with the untimely death of Tony Shadid, the NYT's wisest Middle East correspondent, makes this beast dismayed and disheartened.

For awhile at least, bye bye 

They just keep falling. We abhor the targeted killing of Marie Colvin, the veteran Sunday Times war reporter, in Homs, where she died, together with French photographer Remi Ochlik, and at least 60 others shelled by the Syrian army that day. Very hard to take this in.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What the Frack? Republicans turn on Fox journalist

The high profile documentary-maker Josh Fox issued the following statement to the press after Republican legislators called for his arrest while he was filming a congressional committee hearing on the environmental impact of fracking chemicals (He was not accredited.):
I was arrested today for exercising my First Amendment rights to freedom of the press on Capitol Hill. I was not expecting to be arrested for practicing journalism. Today's hearing in the House Energy and Environment subcommittee was called to examine EPAs findings that hydraulic fracturing fluids had contaminated groundwater in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. I have a long history with the town of Pavillion and its residents who have maintained since 2008 that fracking has contaminated their water supply. I featured the stories of residents John Fenton, Louis Meeks and Jeff Locker in GASLAND and I have continued to document the catastrophic water contamination in Pavillion for the upcoming sequel GASLAND 2. It would seem that the Republican leadership was using this hearing to attack the three year Region 8 EPA investigation involving hundreds of samples and extensive water testing which ruled that Pavillion's groundwater was a health hazard, contaminated by benzene at 50x the safe level and numerous other contaminants associated with gas drilling. Most importantly, EPA stated in this case that fracking was the likely cause. As a filmmaker and journalist I have covered hundreds of public hearings, including Congressional hearings. It is my understanding that public speech is allowed to be filmed. Congress should be no exception. No one on Capitol Hill should regard themselves exempt from the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution states explicitly "Congress shall make no law...that infringes on the Freedom of the Press". Which means that no subcommittee rule or regulation should prohibit a respectful journalist or citizen from recording a public hearing.
This was an act of civil disobedience, yes done in an impromptu fashion, but at the moment when they told me to turn off the cameras, I could not. I know my rights and I felt it was imperative to exercise them.
When I was led out of the hearing room in handcuffs, John Boehner's pledge of transparency in congress was taken out with me.
The people of Pavillion deserve better. The thousands across the US who have documented cases of water contamination in fracking areas deserve their own hearing on Capitol hill. They deserve the chance to testify in before Congress. The truth that fracking contaminates groundwater is out, and no amount of intimidation tactics --either outright challenges to science or the arrest of journalists --will put the genie back in the bottle. Such a brazen attempt to discredit and silence the EPA, the citizens of Pavillion and documentary filmmaking will ultimately fail and it is an affront to the health and integrity of Americans.
Lastly, in defense of my profession, I will state that many many Americans get their news from independent documentaries. The hill should immediately move to make hearings and meetings accessible to independent journalists and not further obstruct the truth from being reported in the vivid and in depth manner that is only achievable through long form documentary filmmaking.
I will be thinking on this event further and will post further thoughts and developments.
I have been charged with "unlawful entry" and my court date is February 15.
Josh Fox
Washington D.C.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Whoa Knelly - NPR's new headman

Vanity Fair dishes on NPR's new head honcho, Gary Knell and his challenge to counteract years of "impotent, ineffectual, absentee, and alien management." the balance hangs NPR’s future and perhaps even its soul—as either a nonpartisan defender of in-depth journalism or a target of the partisan sniping of the sound-bite era. David Margolick explores how NPR’s management managed to squander the advantages of the national dole, deep-pocketed donors, a roster of top-notch reporters, and the loyalty of legions of devoted Click and Clack fans—and whether it can recover from the annus horribilis of 2011.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

'Death to Bloggers' decrees Tehran

One dismal news item noted by the Washington Examiner's
Joel Gehrke  does not bode well for so-called citizen journalists who want to get the truth out:
Iranian courts have sentenced two bloggers to death for "spreading corruption," and government security forces have arrested four other journalists, in the lead-up to the nation's March elections.
"In the past two weeks, security forces have reportedly arrested four journalists," the U.S. State Department said in a statement, "including Shahram Manouchehri, Sahamedin Bourghani, Parastoo Dokouhaki, and Marzieh Rasouli, and Iranian courts confirmed death sentences for bloggers Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, both of whom were not accorded due process and now face imminent execution on charges of 'spreading corruption.'"
The State Department faulted Iran for trying "to extinguish all forms of free expression and limit its citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to March parliamentary elections."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

9 Ways Journalists Show They Don't Get Science

Over on Guardian blogs, there's hot discussion about perceptions of hacks and lab geeks, who often seem to work at cross purposes. It was sparked by a post authored by the online editor of Nature, Ananyo Bhattacharya.   The comment below turned the discussion around and drew widesread approval from academics.  Definitely there are some salient points.  Hat tip to "jferdy5" for his/her insights on science reporters' shortcomings, listed below:
  • 1. False equivocation: one of the reasons why there's doubt about global warming is because journalists take a handful of crackpots, many of which have never studied science, and then "equivocates," or gives roughly equal weight, to this argument versus broad scientific concensus.
  • 2. Anecdotes do not equal systematic evidence (they're inferior): "while vaccinations may work for millions of people, that will not help little Billy who now has autism." Sounds familiar?
  •  3. Manufacturing dissent: taking a fringe opinion (anti-Global warming, anti-vaccination, anti-evolution, etc) and giving it a disproportional amount of space. 
  •  4. Expert opinion: articles should clearly define why Dr. X is considered an expert. Frequently, I find they're either an economist, statistician, or other person who hasn't published in a particular area and seems to be motivated by political views rather than dispassionate scientific debate.
  •  5. Data journalism: this is a particularly insipid form of pseudo-science: journalists should not simply tabulate national rates based on their own analyses because they do not do the correct statistical tests (Fisher exact tests, etc) to check if a result is scientifically valid or not. It's bad to do this because the result may look scientifically valid when it is not.
  •  6. The use of "narrative:" linking together anecdotes using emotive language manipulates and misleads readers. In law it's called "leading the witness," in science, "systematic bias." In journalism, why is it considered "good writing?"
  •  7. No clear authors of articles: it's hard to examine the validity of science "reporting" if we do not know who is doing it. Simply putting "Guardian" or "New York Times" does not help. Scientists are required to disclose their names and sources of funding, journalists should do the same. 
  •  8. No citations: most Guardian articles, and in many papers, will discuss a study in inflammatory terms and not provide a link to the article, when they're available on pubmed. As well, no one cares what an untrained journalists' interpretation is. Just put the results and let us make up our mind. And no, sassy science headlines don't draw in readers, they just make your paper look stupid.
  •  9. Sending a reporter to a country does not trump public health statistics: if the WHO reports that malnutrition in Malawi or India is declining, it does not matter how many people your "Development" reporters interview, you cannot recalculate / dispute a national malnutrition / AIDS / TB rate based on a few subjective, systematically biased, personal interviews.
  •  The Guardian does all of these. Perhaps we can have a discussion about it, and why journalism is responsible for driving pseudo-science and the decline of Western civilization?

Oops - should have coordinated with the ad dept

Sometimes the advertising department and editorial need to open the lines of communication.