Newspapers' nostalgia has deluded them into thinking print can be "saved"


As Register Newspapers' high-profile paywall experiment implodes, Clay Shirky offers an acerbic obituary and a dire warning in Nostalgia and Newspapers, which discusses the futility of trying to "save" print, and the news industry's enormous, wishful-thinking blindspot about its own business.

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Whistleblower org says it will go to jail rather than turning over its keys


The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has told the Obama administration that its leaders will go to jail rather than respond to an extrajudicial administrative subpoena seeking the identity of whistleblowers who disclosed corruption in the Veterans' Administration.

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Time-capsule crypto to help journalists protect their sources


Jonathan Zittrain writes, "I published an op-ed in the Boston Globe today musing on the prospects for 'time capsule encryption,' one of several ways of storing information that renders it inaccessible to anyone until certain conditions -- such as the passage of time -- are met. I could see libraries and archives offering such technology as part of accepting papers and manuscripts, especially in the wake of the "Belfast Project" situation, where a library promised confidentiality for accounts of the Troubles in North Ireland, and then found itself amidst subpoenas from law enforcement looking to solve long-cold cases. But the principle could apply to any person or company thinking that there's a choice between leaving information exposed to leakage, or destroying it entirely."

I'm less enthusiastic about this than Jonathan is. I think calibrating the strength of your time-capsule is very hard. If the NSA might be an order of magnitude faster than the rest of us at brute-force cryptanalysis, that means you need to make your 10-year capsule strong enough to last for 100 years just to be on the safe side. Same goes for proof-of-work.

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Kim Dotcom offering $5M bounty for information on how his case was rigged

Kim Dotcom, proprietor of the defunct Megaupload, is convinced that the raid on his company was crooked, and he's put up a $5M bounty on information that will help him prove misdeeds on the part of the US or New Zealand authorities:

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Colbert viewers learned more about super PACs than news-junkies


In Stephen Colbert's Civics Lesson: How Colbert Super PAC Taught Viewers About Campaign Finance in Mass Communication and Society [paywalled], a study by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, scholars surveyed people whose knowledge of campaign finance issues came from watching The Colbert Report's segments on super PACs. They concluded that, when compared to people who learned about campaign finance from traditional news sources (as opposed to a satirical program), Colbert viewers had a better grasp of the issues, thanks to the satirical structure and the use of narrative. The study specifically calls out the traditional reporterly convention of the "inverted pyramid" as a poor way to capture interest and convey nuance to an audience.

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White, right-wing terrorist busted...and hardly a peep


Last week, the FBI arrested Robert James Talbot Jr., 38, of Katy, Texas. Talbot was the self-styled head of the American Insurgent Movement, which openly plotted to massacre Moslems at mosques and kill them with automatic weapons, sought to rob armored cars, and recruited followers to sow more mayhem. Talbot is a violent Christian fundamentalist who advertised his intention to murder people wholesale.

Kudos to the FBI for arresting this fellow, but as Death and Taxes point out, where the hell was the national panic that attends every arrest of a jihadi terrorist, no matter how cracked and improbable his plan happened to be? Nowhere to be seen.

Now, if this was a recognition by the press that lone kooks are not an existential threat to the world -- even if they are capable of committing horrible, isolated crimes -- I'd be standing up and cheering. But if Talbot had been a brown-skinned conservative Muslim who'd been arrested after planning to attack Christian churches in America with bombs and machine-guns, I suspect there would have been screaming front-page headlines and round-the-clock intensive CNN coverage for days, not to mention grim, determined reporting on Fox News.

Graveyard for overly clever headlines

The Heds Will Roll Tumblr collects headlines that were too weird, offensive, or beyond-the-pale to appear in print. Some examples: "Papa’s Got a Brand New Body Bag" (An article on the death of James Brown); Tea Party Loses Its Mad Hatter (Michelle Bachmann’s announcement that she would not seek another term in Congress); '"The Feminine Mystique" Turns 50, Doesn’t Look a Day Over 30' (A timely Betty Friedan appreciation); "Roof, There It Is!" (A follow-up to a feature story about a city government’s handling of a homelessness crisis). I subscribed! (via Mefi)

Conservative western bloggers: Ukraine strongman's pay-for-play useful idiots

With all the discussion of whether the #Euromaidan protesters are acting on their own behalf or because they've been put up to it by foreign agents, it's worth revisiting an important story from last July. Buzzfeed reported on how the current ruling Ukrainian political party used fronts to pay bribes to American conservative bloggers who posted talking points about its campaign in a hotly contested election

An anonymous whistleblower has revealed that he was paid $500 to post favorable material about the Party of Regions -- the dictatorial Ukrainian ruling party -- during the last election. The payment was allegedly provided by "libertarian media strategist" George Scoville, through a laundering process that allowed the whisteblower and others to conduct their work without registering as foreign agents in DC.

Talking points -- some repeated verbatim -- from the Scoville memos appeared on RedState, Breitbart, and Pajamas Media. Scoville and the writers involved would not confirm or deny that money was changed hands for posts intended to influence the Ukrainian elections.

The writers involved characterize Scoville's memos to them as merely informational, part of the usual mix of material they receive from many sources. I receive a lot of this material, and post some of it -- for example, I have a post scheduled today from the ACLU -- but I always disclose the source of this material, always identify quotes when I use them and do not pass them off as my own words, and I never, ever, ever accept payment for editorial suggestions.

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UK Parliament considers allowing secret courts to issue orders to seize reporters' notebooks

The Deregulation Bill is coming before the UK House of Commons on Monday, and among its many "red-tape-cutting" provisions is one that would allow the courts to grant the police secret hearings in which they could secure orders to seize reporters' notebooks, hard-drives and other confidential material. No one representing the reporters would be allowed to see the evidence in these "closed material procedures."

How the hell did this happen? Sadly, it was absolutely predictable.

When Parliament passed a law permitting secret trials where people who were adverse to the government in court proceedings would not be allowed to see the government's evidence, nor have their lawyers review it, those of us who sounded the alarm were accused of hysterics. The Libdem leadership whipped their MPs on the issue, ordering them to vote for it. Many of us in the Libdem party left over the issue, and the party grandees patronised us on the way out, saying that we didn't understand that the Libdems had put in place "crucial changes," and that somehow, there were changes that could paper over the naked fact of a law permitting secret trials in Britain.

The Libdems' cowardice over secret trials removed any claim they had to being "the party of liberty." Anyone in the party leadership today who expresses surprise at the expansion of the doctrine of secret courts is either an idiot or a bad liar. When future journalists who report on government wrongdoing have their notebooks seized based on secret evidence, the trigger will be pulled by the government of the day -- but the gun was loaded by the Libdems in 2013.

The other parties were crucial to the creation of secret courts, but neither Labour nor the Tories have ever claimed to be "the party of liberty." No one mistook Labour -- creators of RIPA and architects of the world's most advanced surveillance state -- for a party that believed in freedom. Indeed, the Libdems' victories in the last national elections are in large part thanks to widespread disgust with Labour's authoritarianism. And as for Tories, everyone knew that the Nasty Party would happily gut civil liberties faster than you could say "G4S."

The Libdems promised to be a party that would, at last, stand up for freedom. Instead, they sold out out, and we're going to be paying the price for many years to come. There is a world of difference between objecting to the creation of secret courts and the expansion of secret courts. Now that secret courts are a fact of life in the UK, their expansion will always be on the horizon. As soon as "the party of liberty" endorsed the idea that justice could be served when the government could keep secrets from the people who were seeking redress of its wrongs, they set the stage for a mushrooming, toxic doctrine of state secrecy that overrules foundational democratic principles that have been in place since the overthrow of the Star Chamber in 1641.

It is an everlasting shame to the party, and makes me embarrassed to have endorsed them and raised funds for them. Better that they never won a single seat than to have brought us to this pass in British politics in the name of "liberty."

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Canadian Wifi spying: Harper's secretary spins, lies, and slanders in Parliament

Following on this week's Snowden leak detailing how Canadian spy agency CSEC illegally intercepted free airport Wifi and used it to track Canadians as they moved around the country, Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stood up in Parliament and issued a non-denial saying that the CBC had it all wrong, but not saying in what way.

The most shameful part of this was when Calandra used ad hominem to distract his audience from his government's criminal acts, slandering journalist Glenn Greenwald by calling him a "porn-spy," incorrectly stating that Greenwald had sold the leaked documents to the CBC, and then making a big deal out of the fact that Greenwald's bank account is in Brazil. The last part would be a bit mysterious, except for the fact that Greenwald lives in Brazil.

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Video of the ritual destruction of a Guardian laptop with the Snowden leaks, as ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron


Remember when UK Prime Minister David Cameron ordered government officials to go to the offices of the Guardian in London and demand the symbolic destruction of a laptop with the Edward Snowden leaks on it? It was a bizarre kind of high-tech exorcism, a bizarre ritual in which one of many, many copies of the Snowden documents were ritually destroyed, because, in the Prime Minister's words, "We've had enough debate about them."

The Guardian has posted a video of the exorcism, showing how the stern officials oversaw the piece-by-piece systematic destruction of the machine. It's not embeddable, but it's a remarkable piece of footage that you should really go and watch.

Revealed: the day Guardian destroyed Snowden hard drives under watchful eye of GCHQ – video

(via Techdirt)

890 word Daily Mail immigrant panic story contains 13 vile lies


The Daily Mail is an awful, racist, hard-right UK newspaper, notorious for scare stories (see, for example, this exhaustive index of things that the Fail claims will give you cancer) and generally terrible reporting.

But even in amidst all that notorious history of deceit and hate, the Mail attained something of a new low recently, with its "reporting" on the supposed wave of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants. According to the Mail, these people were poised to invade the UK on January 1, 2014, when those countries' EU membership would entitle their citizens travel throughout the EU and seek work without visas.

Jon Danzig, an investigative BBC journalist, plucked one of the many such stories out of the paper's pages, a mere 890 words' worth, and, with the help of a colleague in Romania, found 13 lies. He pressed the Mail to substantiate its story, and, failing to receive a satisfactory reply, he filed a formal complaint with the Press Complaints Commission.

The Mail's xenophobic campaign against Bulgarians and Romanians has been instrumental in shifting both Labour and the Tories to adopting inhumane policies, in order to pander to people who've been terrorised into a false belief that somehow migrants are coming to both take away British jobs and collect benefits (that is, to work and not work simultaneously).

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How to talk about race, productively

Introducing Moving the Race Conversation Forward, a new research report by Race Forward, the amazing Jay Smooth talks about one way that we can talk about race productively: by focusing on systems, rather than individuals.

Moving The Race Conversation Forward (via Waxy)

"Content" has the stink of failure (and it's a lie, besides)

Tim Bray's "Content-free" is a great piece on why the term "content" is so objectionable. He raises some good arguments, but misses my favorite one -- one of the origins of the term "content" in technical speech is the idea that you can separate the "content" of a Web-page from the "presentation." Indeed, scripts that present "content" to users are sometimes called "decorators."

Now that the Web's in its second decade of common use, it's pretty clear that "content" and "presentation" are never fully separable. This is a lesson that was already learned in other media -- for example, when movies progressed from being a single, locked-off camera recording a stage-play and instead began to integrate the limitations and the capabilities of film into the "content" of that film.

John Perry Barlow made this point well in his introduction to my essay collection Content (a title chosen for largely ironic reasons). It's also a point that David Byrne makes very well in the brilliant How Music Works, where he discusses the move to record each musician separately and mix the "content" in the studio, and how that produced a manifestly different kind of music than music where all the musicians played together.

In other words, "content" isn't just pernicious for Tim Bray's excellent reason ("'Content' has the stink of failure; of hustlers building businesses they don't actually care about"), but because it implies a harmful untruth: that there is a clean line that can be drawn between "content" and "form." Where this untruth flourishes, people who produce "content" that is, in fact, optimized for the form of "content whose form will be determined later" go about claiming that they have found the neutral, form-free, platonic ideal of content. Instead, they've constrained their content by eliminating all the form-dependent elements, and thereby constrained their ability to communicate the full range of human ideas.

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Lies of the Daily Mail

Yesterday's New Statesman published a long, nuanced profile of Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the despicable Daily Mail. Dacre's a remarkable and contradictory character, profiled with some sympathy but no white-washing by Peter Wilby, but the most striking moment of the piece comes in the first third, when Wilby lays out all the admitted falsehoods and libels published by the Daily Mail -- a list that is incomplete because it only consists of those where retractions, legal action, or other visible signals of falsehood were raised. There's a much longer list of smears and lies about people who couldn't afford to defend themselves from the paper (or couldn't bear to). Still, it's a hell of a list:

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