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Category: In the news

Journalist charged with hacking says information was legally obtained

Although journalists are sometimes sued for libel, or perhaps failing to disclose sources in an investigation, some now face a much newer accusation: illegal hacking.

Two companies, TerraCom Inc. and YourTel America recently threatened to sue a reporter for illegally downloading information. Isaac Wolf, a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service, said he was researching companies that provide discounted phone services to low income Americans when he stumbled across records containing Social Security number and birth dates.

Wolf subsequently published his findings and wrote a story about the company’s security flaw, which included a state-by-state breakdown of where the most security breaches were occurring.

Scripps Howard claims the records were easily accessible and not password protected, but TerraCom and YourTel American say the company “hacked” into their servers. An Indian company subcontracted by TerraCom and YourTel that processes applications for the phone program had put the personal information online. It is not clear if the Indian company will be involved in future lawsuits.

However, counsel for the two companies cited the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) as grounds for a lawsuit against Scripps Howard because the news service gained unauthorized access into computer files and transferred this information into their servers. Scripps Howard argues they did not violate the CFAA and remain  innocent – all the information was obtained through simple searches accessible to the public.

The CFAA is not without its critics. Prominent computer crime law attorney Tor Ekeland said the CFAA is problematic because of its broadness and the act leaves a lot of parameters like “unauthorized access” open to interpretation. Another critic, Wire magazine, published a story calling the current CFAA vague, redundant, and vulnerable to abuse from prosecution.

Another example of the problems associated with the CFAA is the death of Aaron Schwartz. After computer programmer Aaron Schwartz committed suicide while facing felony charges for computer fraud, Internet activists protested the CFAA for driving the young prodigy to his death.

Although  Schwartz  definitely committed a crime, supporters believe he was treated harshly. Schwartz had recently stolen millions of documents from JSTOR by hacking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s network. He was facing 35 years of jail time at the time of his suicide.

In response, several United States Representatives introduced Aaron’s Law this past summer, an amendment to the CFAA that would reduce punishments and eliminate jail time. According to, the bill has an 8 percent chance of being enacted.

Documentaries: Journalism but not necessarily unbiased journalism

In general, documentaries’ have evolved as a distinguished genre and separated themselves from more entertainment-oriented Hollywood movies through a foundation of unbiased, fact-based journalism. 

However, documentaries that advocate for a specific cause do not always present an unbiased narrative.

Blackfish, a 2013 documentary, presents a harrowing narrative of whales in captivity, especially at SeaWorld–focusing on one event at SeaWorld where a whale killed its trainer.

Blackfish clearly presents an objective to engage people in the ongoing animal rights discussion through shocking footage of the trainers’ death and emotional interviews from previous SeaWorld trainers. It has sparked an intense discussion of animal rights and rallied activist groups.

The biased narrative is not the only ethical concern of the documentary that took in $2.1 million at the domestic box office.

Michael Cieply, writing for The New York Times, details another potential problem for Blackfish, which involves potential ethical and professional violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) employee who investigated the trainer’s death in 2010.

The SeaWorld complaint said Ms. Padgett provided confidential documents from the safety review and a subsequent mediation to one of the film’s producers, Tim Zimmermann.

Cieply reported that SeaWorld “cited a government ethical code” which ensures that public officials do not endorse “private activity” in response to OSHA employee, Lara Padgett’s, support for the documentary’s public relations blow to SeaWorld via social media.

Padgett’s comments via social media included:

“Wow … take that Sea World!!!! They’ve got to be getting nervous now,” she wrote last July, after linking to a report, “Blackfish on the move in Europe.”

Blackfish’s official website describes the film as “a mesmerizing psychological thriller.” However, Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite described the film as an “80-minute airtight, fact-driven documentary” in an interview with an editorial coordinator at Sundance.

Cowperthwaite continued:

 I wanted it to feel like a detailed, truthful narrative and wanted to “show, not tell” audiences a story. In my opinion, we’re more inspired when we discover something on our own, than we are when we’re told how to think or feel.

Many people agree that Blackfish is bringing attention to a just cause. However, the means in which Blackfish presents a heavily skewed narrative while potentially facing other ethical violations do not reflect the strong journalistic qualities common of the documentary genre.

Getty Images changes the game by allowing free non-commercial use of some 35 million images

Reporting for the British Journal of Photography, Olivier Laurent details how Getty Images is introducing a game-changing policy that allows free non-commercial use for a large portion of its digital photography library:

The controversial move is set to draw professional photographers’ ire at a time when the stock photography market is marred by low prices and under attack from new mobile photography players. Yet, Getty Images defends the move, arguing that it’s not strong enough to control how the Internet has developed and, with it, users’ online behaviours.

“We’re really starting to see the extent of online infringement,” says Craig Peters, senior vice president of business development, content and marketing at Getty Images. “In essence, everybody today is a publisher thanks to social media and self-publishing platforms. And it’s incredibly easy to find content online and simply right-click to utilise it.”

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To solve this problem, Getty Images has chosen an unconventional strategy. “We’re launching the ability to embed our images freely for non-commercial use online,” Peters explains. In essence, anyone will be able to visit Getty Images’ library of content, select an image and copy an embed HTML code to use that image on their own websites. Getty Images will serve the image in a embedded player – very much like YouTube currently does with its videos – which will include the full copyright information and a link back to the image’s dedicated licensing page on the Getty Images website.

BJP offers this editorial note at the end of the article:  BJP will analyse the full impact of today’s news in a series of articles to be published later today and this week. Stay tuned.

Read the entire article here.

Updated 3.5.2014 10:30 CST:

There’s a lively discussion going on regarding the Getty Images policy change under a post by  Russell Brandom at The Verge.  Read it here.

Olympians have sponsors write social media posts

Multiple reports surfaced last week that sponsors may be writing some of the Olympians social media posts, working with their managers and publicists to craft messages from the athletes’ personal accounts. Reps for figure skating darlings Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold both reported that the athletes have sponsors compose some of their tweets, as told in a story by U.S. News.

For example, Cover Girl (owned by Procter & Gamble) has been promoting pictures of Wagner on the figure skater’s personal social media accounts. Wagner has retweeted images of the skater modeling for Cover Girl, and posted an Instagram pic promoting red lipstick. Hilton Honors, a reward program for the Hotel chain, has also been mentioned on Wagner’s Twitter.

It’s no secret that the Olympics pull in an enormous amount of advertising revenue, and from countries all over the world. Large corporations that have the money to do so are wise to advertise with the Olympics. But in recent years, it’s become even easier to latch on to the Olympic brand without becoming an official sponsor. Global Language Monitor, a marketing analyst group located in Texas, released a report with Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for companies that have done the best promoting their brand at the Olympics.

Among the top leaders in advertising were Subway, P&G, Samsung, Panasonic, Coca-Cola and Rolex, even though only Coca-Cola, P&G and Samsung are listed as official sponsors under the Olympic Partner Programme. Obviously, some companies are doing well – maybe even so well that they don’t need to pay top dollar to the Olympics Committee.

Olympians aren’t the only ones who let others use their social media accounts for advertising and other promotions. Other athletes and celebrities do this as well. But advertisements from an individual’s social media account could lead to future ethical problems. How do followers know what material is promotional, and what is a truthful endorsement? In the future, how can consumers trust Wagner’s opinions if she is being paid for her answers? Wagner does include a line in her Twitter bio: “Thank You, Mom & Cover Girl,” and it is a verified account – so many Twitter views might actually believe her tweets are coming from her, instead of Cover Girl or Hilton.

Wisconsin public official blurs line between journalist and politician

Dodgeville, Wis. Mayor, Todd Novak, has worked for the local Dodgeville Chronicle for the past 24 years–and now he’s running for the state Assembly.

Chris Rickert, writing for the Wisconsin State Journal, cautioned, if Novak is elected, “his judgment and ability to understand the meaning of ‘conflict of interest'” would extend beyond the small town weekly paper, creating a, “direct impact on 5.7 million Wisconsinites, not just the 4,700 of them who live in Dodgeville.” 

Novak pointed out the Dodgeville Chronicle makes sure he doesn’t cover issues that conflict with his position as Mayor and that the paper would be sure to ‘nail’ him in print for any unethical behavior, like accepting a bribe.

The Center for Journalism Ethics’ director, Robert Drechsel, referencing the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethicsdiscussed the ethical implications of Novak’s position as both a journalist and an elected official with Rickert. 

[Drechsel] pointed to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which says, in part, that journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Read the entire article here.


Making yourself the Story: American Journalists and the 2014 Olympic games

Although the Olympics are supposed to be all about international sportsmanship, for many journalists, the games often become a critique of the host country’s politics. During Beijing’s 2008 games, journalists wrote about China’s human rights violations. And two years later in Vancouver, they questioned the displacement of Canadians in preparation for the games.

These types of stories appear around every Olympics games.  This year in Sochi, journalists complaining about the conditions in hotel rooms and buildings are making themselves part of the story. Reporters representing numerous publications from the U.S. have taken to Twitter to share comical, yet somewhat critical photos of Sochi. From missing light bulbs to awkward bedroom arrangements, journalists have had no qualms protesting their housing. Someone even created an @Sochiproblems Twitter account, which now has more followers than the official @Sochi2014 handle.

Are their stories true? Most likely. Are their posts funny? Usually, yes. A framed picture of Vladimir Putin in your hotel room isn’t something you see everyday.

But journalists at the Olympics may be making ethical errors for a couple different reasons: the first being the message that their “pampered” tweets are sending to the rest of the world. CBS recently released a story that compiled tweets from people calling out the privileged and whiny nature of the journalists’ tweets. It’s a perspective worth considering. For all the reporters living and working in third world countries, a trip to Sochi right now would be luxurious beyond belief. Even journalists living comfortably in the United States would love to have the chance to go to Sochi, and would happily sleep in a hotel with two toilets per stall if that meant the opportunity to interview the greatest athletes in the world.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, journalists are skewing the focus of their assignment by writing about themselves. The goal of most news organizations is to write about other people and their experiences, and not about the water in their hotel rooms. Most of the reporters in Sochi are employees of a news organization (who is paying for them to be there), and many even have the name of their publication in their Twitter byline. As a result, it’s difficult to imagine that international reporters will not see them as representative of American news, and American-style reporting.

By this point in the games, the chatter about hotel rooms and unfinished projects has died down. It’s old news, and most of the journalists are now excellently reporting the events of Sochi. But in just two more short years, journalists will find something new to complain about, and perhaps even another way to shine the spotlight on themselves.

Publishing classified information leads to search of reporter’s private email account

U.S. authorities used an affidavit as legal means to search a journalist’s private emails after he published classified national defense information. The U.S. state department official who gave the information to the journalist will likely serve a 13-month prison sentence for passing classified information to a journalist.

A story James Rosen, a reporter for Fox News, published about North Korea in June 2009, specifically the detail that North Korean sources informed the CIA that North Korea would conduct new nuclear tests in retaliation of recent UN sanctions, brought the FBI (with affidavit in hand) to Rosen’s private email account, according to an article from BBC News.

The state department intelligence adviser, Stephen Kim, admitted and pleaded guilty to the unapproved disclosure of U.S. national defense intelligence.

David Ingram, writing for Reuters, described the frustration from journalists and freedom of the press proponents regarding the search of Rosen’s private emails, as journalists have generally been able to publish government secrets without being prosecuted. 

In developments last year that drew outcry from advocates for press freedom, the FBI obtained Rosen’s emails as part of its investigation into Kim and described Rosen in a search warrant affidavit as a possible criminal co-conspirator.

Ingram also wrote that Rosen has not been charged and the Justice Department said it will not seek future charges against the Fox News reporter. 

On Obama’s orders, the Justice Department revised its guidelines and said it would not seek search warrants against journalists for carrying out “ordinary news-gathering activities.”

Read the entire Reuters article here.

This recent case is among a total of 8 court cases prosecuting alleged government leaks since Obama became President in 2009, and only the 11th in U.S. history. The most prominent in this series of prosecutions are Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who each disclosed many thousands of classified government documents in 2013.

While Rosen, the journalist involved in this recent case, was not prosecuted for reporting the classified information, national security, whistle blowers and government secrets continue to be widely contested issues for journalists and media outlets. While the government cites national security for the rise in the prosecution of leaks, a growing concern is that journalists won’t publish classified information for fear of prosecution. 

To engage in this ongoing debate, join the Center for Journalism Ethics’ annual conference Surveillance, Security and Journalism Ethics to discuss the issues facing 21st century journalism in a world of Wikileaks, NSA sweeps, corporate cooperation, whistleblowers and data mining May 2.

In Chicago, journalists bring closure to a ten year old murder case in shadow of political influence

Political influence is no stranger to Chicago. The city exemplified machine-style politics for decades, and its difficult to argue Illinois hasn’t seen a poor leader or two in state government.

Yet the 2004 murder of David Koschman by former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, RJ Vanecko, led to such a blatant cover up by political elites that the Chicago Sun Times launched an investigation. Journalists Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Carol Marin played a significant role in the ultimate conviction of Vanecko, who pled guilty to the murder of 21-year old Koschman several days ago. Vanecko had beaten Koschman in a late night bar brawl.

Chicago media critic Robert Feder has said the efforts of the Sun Times was “painstaking, dogged and courageous work.” According to the Sun Times web page dedicated to the investigation, police reopened the case in February 2011 after pressure from the journalists.

In total, bringing Koschman’s murder to justice was a good day for Chicago journalists. Networking? Fine. Networking to cover up a murder? Not so fine.

But the story still raises important questions about media ethics – how and who journalists cover.

Would the Daley-Koschman case have received the same amount of coverage if the parties in question were minorities, or came from less affluent backgrounds? Would anyone have cared about the murder of Koschman if Vanecko hadn’t been the one responsible? Maybe. But maybe not. And even though Vanecko was convicted, he was sure given the benefit of doubt. Hiding the murder didn’t work, but a cover up that bought him nearly a decade of time was still a fairly good outcome.

Selective media coverage of high profile cases like the Daley-Koschman scandal is common. Take the Amanda Knox saga for example. In the spotlight once again for the murder of her Italian college roommate, Knox was recently called for extradition back to Italy – the courts have found her guilty yet again.

If the murder of Meredith Kercher had occurred in a less exotic location, or if the sex game theory had never been a part of the story, would the murder have been prosecuted as heavily? Would there be movies and books written about the loss of one 21-year old college student? Perhaps. But perhaps the story of Kercher and Knox would have never made it overseas – and into the international media.

These recent examples suggest that notoriety can play a significant part in the frequency and intensity of news coverage. While celebrities have been – and always will be – of interest to the media, its not every day that journalists  launch investigations that can potentially influence legal outcomes. And if media has the power to affect such critical decisions, then journalists must operate under the highest ethical standards, in order to ensure that their work is accurate and credible.

Gargantuan heels and face planets: Portraying women of power in media

At first glance, this month’s TIME cover featuring a woman’s leg in a pantsuit may appear like a just another generic cover photo.

However, a more careful look at the royal blue, pantsuit-clad back leg in full stride, as if it’s almost walking off the cover, while a small male figure in a suit desperately hangs from the gargantuan black-but-modest heel, may prompt a few questions.

The first: What is going on here, exactly?

TIME cover - Hillary Clinton

The cover, headlined “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” sparked a vigorous online conversation about media’s portrayal of females and the consequences of using stereotypes to depict women of power.

Amanda Hess, writing for Slate, acknowledged TIME‘s nod to Clinton’s potential Presidential competition as a group of “comparatively powerless men.” However, she warns against depicting female political ambition as just another stereotype.

Clinton’s presumptive bid to become the first female president does position her as a powerhouse poised to stomp through the patriarchal status quo. But when publications like Time frame that feminist pursuit with images of women in pointy heels that leave feminized male “victims” in their wake, they undermine the female politician’s power even as they attempt to acknowledge it.

Read the entire article here.

The NYT Magazine recently presented another side of Clinton–her face. The former Secretary of State’s smiling face appeared as a planet at the center of an exploding red and blue cosmos on the recent cover.

NYT Magazine cover - HillaryClintonSamantha Grossman of TIME, which had already published the faceless Clinton cover, described The NYT Magazine’s depiction of Clinton as “bizarre.”

This week’s New York Times Magazine cover focuses on the “gravitational pull” of           Hillary Clinton’s possible 2016 campaign. And indeed, it portrays that concept in a pretty literal way by envisioning the former Secretary of State … as a planet. Just           her disembodied head fashioned into a fleshy planet.

Read the entire article here.

The Internet responded to the extraterrestrial Clinton with a barrage of mocking memes, often negating the cover’s intent to convey Clinton’s immense political power and possibly reiterating Hess’s argument that as media brings attention to Clinton’s political success, it in turn undermines her political power by primarily portraying her through the lens of female stereotypes.

Read the TIME’s cover article here and the NYT Magazine cover article here.

Sorry, but making a few edits to a copyrighted photograph doesn’t give you the right to claim the image as your own.

Editing and filtering images has never been easier.  Even those that find Photoshop too much of a challenge can dabble with image editing using simple tools built into apps like iPhoto and Instagram.   But making a few edits and changing the background shouldn’t mean you own the new image.  A St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer found himself arguing this point with a person he discovered to be appropriating his work, including the addition of a watermark crediting his own Twitter handle (below, from .

Chris Lee stolen image Twitter

On his site, Jim Romenesko details the back-and-forth between photographer Chris Lee and St. Louis Rams fan Alvin Lawrence over Lee’s purloined image of Rams player Robert Quinn.  Lawrence apparently claimed ownership of the image when he sent  a framed version to Quinn, shown at top in a screen grab from Twitter posted on   From Romenesko’s post:

A few days after Christmas, Lee saw an Instagram photo of Rams star Robert Quinn holding one of his photos that had been enlarged and framed. In the comments next to the photo, the Rams player wrote that “a guy specially made it for me but idk [I don’t know] maybe he will do one for you.” Fans asked Quinn who they should contact to get their own framed prints.

A short time later, Lawrence – Mr. @stlramsphotos – tweeted: “I’ve gotten over 20+ offers from people to buy that Quinn photo off of me… Biggest offer being, $350. Wow. I’m just doing this for fun lol.”

It appears the Post-Dispatch as well as the AP, who also had an image appropriated by Lawrence, have yet to take any legal action though Lee is reportedly filing copyright infringement complaints with Twitter and Instagram on his own.

Read the entire story here.