I’ve had the pleasure to work with a series of colleagues over the past few years to assess and better understand the nature of security practices which are adopted by journalists around the world. Past outputs from this work have included a number of talk, an academic article by one of my co-authors Lokman Tsui, as well as a Columbia Journalism Review article by Joshua Oliver. Most recently, a collection of us have published an article entitled, “The Information Security Cultures of Journalism” with Digital Journalism.
This article is an exploratory study of the influence of beat and employment status on the information security culture of journalism (security-related values, mental models, and practices that are shared across the profession). The study is based on semi-structured interviews with 16 journalists based in Canada in staff or freelance positions working on investigative or non-investigative beats. We find that journalism has a multitude of security cultures that are influenced by beat and employment status. The perceived need for information security is tied to perceptions of sensitivity for a particular story or source. Beat affects how journalists perceive and experience information security threats. Investigative journalists are concerned with surveillance and legal threats from state actors including law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Non-investigative journalists are more concerned with surveillance, harassment, and legal actions from companies or individuals. Employment status influences the perceived ability of journalists to effectively implement information security. Based on these results we discuss how journalists and news organisations can develop effective security cultures and raise information security standards.
The CBC has recently partnered with Glenn Greenwald to publish some of Edward Snowden’s documents. Taken from the National Security Agency (NSA), the documents the CBC is exclusively reporting on are meant to have a ‘Canadian focus.’ Many of the revelations that have emerged from Mr. Snowden’s documents have provided insights into how the NSA conducts its activities both domestically and abroad, and have also shown how the Agency’s ‘Five Eyes’ partners conduct their affairs.
Journalists have redacted documents or provided partial copies since first reporting on the Snowden documents in summer 2013. To date, no common method or system of redacting documents has been agreed upon between the journalists and news agencies covering these documents.
In this post I want to spend some time talking about the redactions that the CBC has made to the sole Snowden document it has (thus far) released to the public. I begin by explaining how I got my – almost entirely unredacted – version of the document and why I am comparing my copy to the ‘publicly released’ version. Next, I discuss the various redactions made by the CBC and comment on the appropriateness of each redaction. Where I think that information ought to have been released, or the redacted information is outside of the ‘personal information’ reason the CBC gave for redacting information, I provide or describe the information to the public. Finally, I write about the need for a more robust way of redacting documents: as I will make clear, the CBC’s approach seems (at best) scattershot and (at worst) inappropriate. The CBC is the journalist source that will be controlling the Canadian Snowden documents and, as a result, has a public obligation to dramatically improve its explanations for why it is redacting sections of the leaked documents. Continue reading →
I owe this (more nuanced reflection) of yesterday’s note on the role of ‘professional’ versus ‘amateur’ news, again, to my colleague Tim Smith. After reading my post yesterday, he replied:
nice piece Chris! I have a follow up question.
is investigative journalism on the net in the spaces Simon characterized as amateur. I am thinking of reports like a Bob Woodward breaking of Watergate. A Seymour Hersh breaking of Abu Ghraib. This type of investigative reporting.
Do you see the type of investigative journalism (on political matters) coming from blogs and internet media? If not, could it come from there? It certainly requires a system of professional training (gathering and putting together information not necessarily available on the internet), resources and social capital (contacts).
Re-reading what I’d posted, I can see that these are questions that needed to be asked and responded to. Below is my response to Tim.
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I rely on other people to produce content for me to consume, and I reciprocate by providing my own content (via this blog, government submissions, submissions to alternative news sites, interviews on radio, etc.) to the public. I see this as a reciprocal relationship, insofar as anyone can come here and use my content so long as they abide by my creative commons license. Unfortunately, most advocates for newspapers would see what I do (i.e. blog, think publicly) as unequal to their own work. I’m just an amateur, and they’re the professionals.
One of my colleagues recently linked me to a statement that David Simon presented to Congress about the life or death of newspapers. His argument is (roughly) that bloggers and other ‘amateurs’ cannot be expected or trusted to perform the high quality journalism that these ‘amateurs’ then talk about online (Note from Chris: clear case in point, the critical analysis by journalists of the Bush administration and Iraq compared to bloggers. Oh…wait…). You need dedicated professionals who are professionally trained to generate consistently high quality and accurate content. At the same time, the for-profit model of newspapers has led them to cannibalize their operations for profit. Newspapers will perish if capitalism and the market are seen as ‘solutions’ to the demise of newspapers, just as amateur culture and their appropriation of media will destroy content producers. Something must be done.
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