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Entries in Journalism (6)


‘Our currency is information’

Here's a clip featuring a journalist from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project with tips about how to ‘follow the money.’

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Crooked officials should fear open-data journalism

It's no secret that traditional newsrooms are hurting. But a new kind of journalism is rising -- the open data movement.

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Journalists Killed For Covering Graft

More than half the journalists murdered in the line of duty were working to expose corruption.

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The Press v. Corruption

In its landmark 2002 study, The right to tell: The role of mass media in economic development (here), the World Bank said a free press contributes to cleaner governments -- and to better education, improved public health, lower infant mortality rates, and higher incomes. "Secrecy is the bedrock of persistent corruption," it said, "which undermines confidence in democratic governments in so much of the world. As the expression goes, sunshine is the strongest antiseptic."

The correlation between press freedom and corruption is not perfect but apparent. Here, for example, are the best-ranked countries on Freedom House's 2008 Freedom of the Press World Ranking. In parentheses are the countries' rankings on the 2008 Corruption Perception Index:

Finland (6)
Iceland (7)
Denmark (1)
Norway (14)
Belgium (18)
Sweden (1)
Luxembourg (11)
Andorra (no CPI rank)
Netherlands (7)
New Zealand (1)
Here are the countries that are worst-ranked for press freedom and their CPI rankings:
Iran (144)
Equatorial Guinea (171)
Zimbabwe (166)
Belarus (151)
Uzbekistan (166)
Cuba (65)
Eritrea (126)
Libya (126)
Turkmenistan (166)
Burma (178)
North Korea (no CPI rank)
Of the 195 countries and territories in Freedom House's latest press-freedom survey, 72 were rated as free, 59 as partly free, and 64 as not free. In terms of population, the survey found that only 18 percent of the world’s people live in countries that enjoy a free press, while 40 percent have a partly free press and 42 percent have a not-free press.


More Journalists Murdered In The Philippines

Anti-corruption journalists in the Philippines are under siege. Two were killed in the same week this month. The latest victim was newspaper commentator Antonio Castillo. He was shot on June 12 by two gunmen on a motorcycle in the central Philippines town of Uson, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

A few days earlier, Crispin Perez Jr., a lawyer and part-time radio commentator at a government-owned station in San Jose City in the central Philippines, was shot to death outside his home. He hosted a weekly public affairs broadcast. His criticism of deals between a local power company and suppliers had earned him enemies.

Last week, gunmen also attacked the offices of another Philippines media group in Bangued, the capital of Abra province. The target appeared to be a Catholic-run community weekly newspaper and two affiliated radio stations. No one was hurt in the drive-by shooting. A priest who runs the paper said he thought the attack was related to articles and editorials about corruption involving another local power company. A journalist working on that story was the target of an earlier drive-by shooting at her family's home last month. No one was harmed.

Five journalists in the Philippines have been murdered this year because of their work. Last year the death toll was six. And since 1986, the total is 80, with 22 of those deaths coming since 2000. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said the Philippines government isn't doing enough to shield journalist or to bring their attackers to justice.

On the CPJ's Impunity Index -- a list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes -- the Philippines ranks as the sixth most dangerous place. The years measured are 1999 through 2008. Other countries among the most dangerous are Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Russia and Pakistan.

* * *
From William Jefferson's Trial. Judge T.S. Ellis III is unhappy about the slow going in the federal corruption and FCPA trial of the former congressman from Louisiana.

According to the Times Picayune, "The judge expressed some impatience Monday with the pace of the proceedings, as former iGate CEO Vernon Jackson began his fourth day of testimony in the case. Jefferson, a Democrat, is facing a 16-count indictment that accuses him of seeking and sometimes receiving bribes in exchange for his help in brokering deals in West Africa. 'If this case lasts six weeks it will certainly be contrary to my intentions,' said Ellis, who admonished both sides against getting bogged down in 'minutiae."

Read all our posts about William Jefferson here.


What's Being Lost?

No one blames the New York Times Company. If the only way it can save its flagship New York Times is to shut down the Boston Globe, then the owner's choice is easy. And no one blames the management at the Globe either. The paper hasn't been badly run; it's just become very unprofitable over the past decade -- like most other big-city newspapers in the United States.

Where this story touches our regular topic is in the field of journalism. Real journalism -- "breakthrough journalism," as Martin Baron, the Globe's editor, calls it. It's part of what keeps our institutions open and democratic. It protects all of us, all the time, even if we never think about it. Like the Washington Post's Watergate stories, starting in June 1972 with Five Held in Plot to Bug Democratic Offices Here (and eventually leading all the way to enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). Like the Wall Street Journal's crystal-ball reporting in 2001 about the effects of deregulating the energy industry (think Enron and the California power shortages). And the Globe's own stories -- over 1,000 of them -- about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

But as the Globe's Baron also said last week, breakthrough journalism doesn't come cheap. It can be "shockingly expensive," he said, meaning it's now clear that declining ad revenues at newspapers won't support that kind of journalism anymore. Yet it's also true that a lot of the news we need originates from the newspapers and then shows up on TV, radio and in cyberspace.

Can the dailies save themselves by exploiting the internet? It's not that simple, as the Globe's case shows. In February, for example, the Globe had 5.7 million unique visitors on its website, "No other site in Boston or New England," Baron said, "comes anywhere close. Among the newspaper websites in the top 10, ours came in second to the New York Times in the time people spent on our site, ahead of the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post." Yet the Globe is losing money faster than ever.

All this is unsettling -- and for good reason. While newsrooms everywhere are shrinking or disappearing, no one knows what will happen to the professional journalism that's being displaced. In a brilliant and disturbing essay called Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, Clay Shirky says it's not exaggerating to compare the transition we're in now with the 1500s, when the invention and spread of the printing press changed everything. He says revolutions like the one caused then by the printing press and now by the internet are chaotic. The ground shifts and institutions are undermined. Describing the 1500s, Shirky says:

The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?
And that's what's happening now. The old stuff, Shirky says, "gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place." So no one today knows how our news will be reported and delivered tomorrow.

But we know this: in a democracy, journalism matters. It's the eyes and ears of the people, and sometimes their voice. To paraphrase the media critic Robert McChesney, journalism is how we make sure elections are fair and honest, how we monitor the government's use of its powers to make war and prosecute citizens, and how we keep public and private institutions from being overwhelmed by unchecked corruption.

Some are saying the old newspapers deserve to die. As businesses, that may be true. But what about journalism itself? Where will it go after the papers are gone?