NYT uses work of journalist covering Manning hearings, refuses to call her a journalist

[Update: The New York Times issues a correction.]

Alexa O'Brien, the independent journalist who has been doggedly covering the Bradley Manning case and has been in court every day at Ft. Meade, doing what the New York Times hadn't—covering the pretrial hearings every day from court— wrote a scathing letter to the Times after they published this piece updating the legal proceedings against Wikileaks and Mannings, but referred to her as "an activist." The Times article has a lot of new information about the case, and it's worth reading. But O'Brien's letter is well worth a read, too:

Letter to David Carr, Ravi Somaiya, and The New York Times #Slacktavists

Dear Mr. Carr and Mr. Somaiya,

I expect that you will correct your recent article on the U.S. Investigation of WikiLeaks found here.

I am a journalist-- and the proper title for me is journalist, most especially because Mr. Somaiya has solicited information published by me in my capacity as a journalist-- and I am more than happy to publish my detailed and lengthy email exchange with him for the public.

Mr. Carr, Mr. Somiya, Mr. Bill Keller, The New York Times and other publications have used or linked to my work.

I have been a credentialed member of the press at Fort Meade, MD for 18 month.

My work covering the Manning trial was short listed for the 2013 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (not activism).

I have received a grant from the Freedom of the Press Foundation for journalism for my coverage of the Manning trial (not for activism).

I find the term activist used here by Mr. Carr and Mr Somaiya-- pejorative. So, you will accordingly correct your error immediately.

I am at Fort Meade. Where are you, New York Times?

You are reading my journalistic work, using my journalistic work, capitalizing off of my journalistic work, and linking to my journalistic work about the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher and its source.

More importantly, you are not here.


Alexa O'Brien

(Disclosure: I am a proud member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which awarded O'Brien a grant. For her journalism.)


  1. >[…] According to testimony in Private Manning’s hearings in 2011 and 2012, Maj. Ashden Fein, on behalf of the prosecution, told the judge that an F.B.I. file that contained information on Private Manning “is much broader” than just his case and contained secret grand jury testimony. He said the file contained 3,475 documents and ran to 42,135 pages. We only know about this because Alexa O’Brien, a journalist who was present in court when most major news outlets including NYT are not, continously transcribes the hearings and covers the case on her blog.(*)

    (*)  NYT and other media make fair use of this coverage and try to link to O’Brien’s blog whenever it is the primary source of information. NYT also will pay 300  bitcoins to the Freedom of Press Foundation on behalf of O’Brien as a compensation for referring to her as an ‘activist’ rather than a journalist in an earlier version of the article.

    There, fixed that for you.

    1. Yes, although the issue is as much an issue of the NYT newsroom viewing actual journalists as activists when they aren’t RealJournalists(tm) in that they work for themselves rather than for an MSM outlet.

      It automatically devalues the veracity of independent journalists based on an implicit claim of bias (activist), when the Times itself employs heavily biased journalists who it is happy to still describe as such.

      1. Basically what is going on is the massively compromised, money-first old school media re looking to discredit the agile, focused and digitally native independent journalists that are replacing them.

  2. I am leaning towards the NYTs side on this one. Alexa works for a foundation based on the hacktivist movement, not a typical media outlet. Alexa does not seem to have a list of previously published material one could call journalism. To become a member of the press you need only be an author of non-fiction (could be a librarian) and  apply to the National Press Club. It’s a gray line and Alexa seems to be on the activist side.

    1. Apparently to be a reporter or editor on the NY Times you dont need to have any ethics. So I guess they are not journalists, just career-climbing tools.

    2. OK, let’s test your idea out… Is O’Brien a journalist? (I don’t know her as well as you do so I won’t call her Alexa). Is she is engaged in the preparation of material intended for dissemination through public media with reference to factual, ongoing events of public concern? Yes, yes she is. That does it then. She is clearly a journalist.
      Maybe she’s just not your kind of journalist.

      1.  Is she is engaged in the preparation of material intended for
        dissemination through public media with reference to factual, ongoing
        events of public concern? Yes, the same way a bystander at a accident is. If I am interviewed about a car accident I saw and I tell the Times the same story I tell the police (factual) that does not make me a journalist. “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken!”

        1. Except that O’Brien is at Fort Meade specifically to cover the story as an independent journalist. She is not a bystander who just happens to be on the scene. All of which renders your comparison meaningless.

          1.  I still lean towards activist. Find me one piece of published journalism by her, other than notes at Fort Meade. If you can’t, your point is meaningless.

          2. Take up your argument with the NYT which has utilized her reporting and has identified her as a journalist. And try using your real name is a discussion.

  3. Yeah they published a correction, but it wasn’t what I would call nice. I love the part of this correction: “While she has participated in activist causes”  they don’t mention she’s a journalist until after the activist part. It’s certainly not an apology or really  a correction but they made sure to point out the ‘activist’ part..  I call foul on that play…

    1.  I’m not so eager to call foul play. It’s transparently corrected. They can still hold their views on the matter an let in transpire slightly. I don’t have to take the same view. Shitstorm prevented, integrity kept, win-win-win situation.

      Also, kittens.

  4. Journalism is being redefined, both by brave people such as yourself who are actually practicing it, and craven organizations like The New York Times that both refuse to practice it and hide their crap behind firewalls.

    A journalist is someone who practices journalism. It’s not a title that belongs to The New York Times or any other organization. 

    Keep up the great work. 

  5. Surely only an activist-reporter would be obsessive enough to report on breaking news so often.

    1. This is the paradox, really. We want unbiased, objective journalists who are invested enough to doggedly chase stories they have no personal interest in.

      Programmers scratch their own itches, and it’s really the same for reporters.

  6. Anyone out in the field is clearly an activist. Real died-in-the-wool journalists aren’t on the ground. They’re back at the office where they belong, taking phone calls from “trusted” sources and transcribing their stories like good parrots. When they get scooped, they can easily just surf the web and repackage the info, assuming it’s cleared for public consumption.  Besides, there are VNRs to transcribe. That’s real work.

    Only activists talk to people and visit locations. Everyone knows that.

    1. The best quality journalists are in the hair and makeup department getting ready to go on the air. Newspaper hacks are just jealous of real journalists like Sean Hannity and Katie Couric.

  7. you know smthg, what does it matter what third parties state about credentials. And what does it matter what you call yourself…seriously, are you so concerned to be called a journalist when the term generically refers to anyone who writes articles and stories for news outlets as a career? And by all means necessary, keep up the good dogged pursuit of the truth.

  8. In case someone here has not figured it out already.  The easy way to read all you want at the NYT website is to clear your cookies every 10 articles.

  9. [Update: The New York Times issues a correction.] 
    [Update Update: The New York Times issues a correction in the shittiest, weaseliest way possible.]

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