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Unreasonable At Sea: A Radical Experiment In Entrepreneurship (Part 1)

This article was first published on February 11th, 2014 on Techli.com and can be found here.

Explorer in Vancouver

One of the most valuable assets of a business accelerator is something called the island effect. Essentially, it involves spending time in close quarters with other ventures and mentors for a prolonged time, which dramatically increases the potential for beneficial encounters, innovation, and new ideas for your startup. But as most islands are pretty stationary by nature, staying on an island is not the most effective go-to-market strategy. I am saying most islands, because there is one accelerator program that is combining the best of both worlds.  It’s all the benefits of the island effect plus international exposure, an asset most accelerator programs are sorely lacking.

Of course, it’s not actually an island, but a ship. That might sound a little unreasonable to you, which is exactly why it’s called Unreasonable At Sea.  I was a student on the Semester At Sea 2013 spring voyage and an active participant in the program.  I’ll be sharing more on my experience in later articles, but first, let’s explore how this program began and its goals for the future, which is quite extraordinary.

It’s a self-proclaimed “radical experiment in entrepreneurship to combat the greatest challenges of our time.” Its success formula: 20 mentors + 13 countries + 9 social entrepreneurs + 1 ship and “one unifying belief: that entrepreneurship will change the world.”  Take a look.

The moving island, the MV Explorer, is normally home to 600 college students, who travel to about a dozen countries in one semester with the Semester At Sea program. How did this atypical cooperation come about? And who is responsible for this accelerator that is so radically different?

At the helm was Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder and Semester At Sea alum. He believes that entrepreneurship is the answer to all BFPs, the Big F—–g Problems of our time, such as poverty, famines and lack of education.

True to its motto (“giving high-impact entrepreneurs wings”), the Boulder-based institute selects approximately two dozen promising tech and social entrepreneurs to live in a house for five weeks in the summer and provide them with mentorship, access to seed capital, skill training, and a network of support.

Unreasonable At Sea was conceived because today’s massive social, environmental and political challenges are not confined to one country. They are of global nature. Since impact is their most cherished value, Epstein and company wanted to give tech entrepreneurs a chance to go to the countries to tackle these challenges at scale. In order for that to happen, they knew that a landlocked accelerator simply wouldn’t cut it. In the fall of 2011, Epstein met with Luke Jones, Chief of Staff of Semester At Sea, to discuss his ideas. Together with George Kembel, founder of Stanford’s d.school, they launched Unreasonable At Sea in January of 2012.

The companies included ventures like Agua, which provides clean drinking water to 300,000 people worldwide, and Protei, which builds open source sailing drones.

SAS-UAS-Website-Banners

For 106 days from January to April 2013, the teams of entrepreneurs sailed 25,000 nautical miles and stopped in 13 different cities. In every country, the startups had a chance to gain empathy and explore local economies. On top of that, pitching events allowed the ventures to present their products to government officials, investors and other entrepreneurs. In Singapore, for instance, the unreasonable event took place at the INSEAD business school. A jury, consisting of unreasonable mentors including Tom Chi of Google X and Ken Banks (founder of Frontline SMS) judged the pitches. The winner was awarded a private dinner with Prince Fahad Al Saud, another unreasonable mentor, aboard the floating think tank.

With access to incredible mentors abroad, the institute availed itself of the same success principle that had worked for them in the previous four years in Boulder. The unreasonable mentors came to the ship at different parts of the voyage and stayed from one to eight weeks to guide and support the ventures.

Along with the mentors, this unique environment featured sponsors including SAP and Microsoft, as well as 600 college students from 150 academic institutions and over 50 countries.

Next week I’ll share more about the companies and how their products help millions of people around the world. See you then.

The UN, Journalism and YOU

UNDP LogoIn 2000, the United Nations established the Millenium Development Goals to address some of the most pressing challenges the world was facing at the beginning of the 21st century. The eight ambitious goals the UN proclaimed included eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, reducing child mortality and combat preventable diseases like HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

According to the 2013 Millenium Development Goals Report, poverty rates have been halfed. Yet, one in six – about 1.2 billion people – still live in extreme poverty. We still have a long way to go to reach all the goals set more than a decade ago.

Yesterday,  almost 200 civil society groups from six continents urged the UN to include government accountability and independent media in their plans. In the statement, the organizations argue that access to information and independent media is essential to development. The United Nations is currently devising a new global post-2015 development agenda that is to replace the Millenium Goals.

Specifically, the coalition recommended the United Nations to

  • “establish a specific goal to “ensure good governance and effective institutions” and
  • “include as components of this goal a clause to “ensure people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information” and to “guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data”.”

This appeal accomodates the importance of a free press for a free society. In the statement, the group says that “systems that allow people to hold governments accountable are fundamental to achieving economic growth, social equality, and environmental sustainability.”

In this day and age, we possess all the tools and technology to eradicate poverty and achieve the seemingly lofty goals the UN devised 13 years ago. However, if the new UN goals are to be (even) more successful than the Millenium goals, then journalism needs to be part of the equation.

All people, everywhere, deserve and need a free press. Without it, free and open debate and discourse, the foundation of a democracy, is impossible. Frequently, journalists are muzzled because they uncover corruption and inconvenient truths. In my home country Germany, prosecuting reporters and forcing the press into line prevented millions of people from learning and potentially opposing an unparalleled atrocity. Dealing with fascist Germany and the Holocaust taught me that a democracy is not history in its final state but merely a temporarily secured form of existence. Journalism must be practiced without restrictions, for when a country’s journalists are silenced, its people are silenced.

Journalism is surpressed in many countries around the world. In Turkey, the parliament is about to vote on a law that would “allow the government to block individual URLs without prior judicial review”, according to an article pubslished by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The “radical censorship measure” would also force internet data retention of up to two years and consolidate Interned Service Providers (ISPs) into a single association. Turkey holds the sad record for most journalists in jail of any country in the world.

A free press is the bedrock of a democracy and the prerequisite of many other civil liberties. Journalism plays a vital role in the balance of power between a government and its people. Organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists are helping countries and journalists report without reprisal so that they can help establish stable, sustainable societies. Only if journalists can inform people accurately and freely are citizens able to make their voices heard, participate in the political process and instigate change.

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, all too often, the news media’s lopsided reporting neglects topics that seemingly have nothing to do with us. There are many incidents and topics auch as press freedom violations or Freedom of Information issues that ought to be brought to people’s attention but don’t get airtime because they allgedly are not newsworthy. So why not use your passion for media to contribute to making this world safer, more equitable and more sustainable? Are you passionate about media and international human rights? Do you want to further the common good? Then I have good news for you: there are plenty of organizations out there that allow you to pursue a career in journalism AND do something that makes a difference in people’s lives.

Here are a few groups, on top of the organizations who signed the statement that allow you to do work that truly matters:

The 4th Group

This blog post is based on a speech I gave at Cave Springs ToastMasters Club in St. Charles, Missouri in November of 2013.

When I went to high school in Texas as an exchange student there was a sign in my English class that read: there are 3 kinds of people. The first group of people talk about other people. The 2nd group talks about events. And the 3rd group talks about ideas. This sign stuck with me. Every time I felt like I was gossiping or spending too much time talking about trivial things, I reminded myself to be more of a member of the third group. I wanted to surround myself with people who were eager to talk about ideas, I wanted to be somebody who talks about things that have an impact, about things that are meaningful. Sometimes I accomplished it, many times I didn’t.

3 kinds of people

I grew up in a city of about 50,000 people in Northern Germany between Denmark and Hamburg. I was the oldest child – and the youngest as well. Some people call it the only child. I wasn’t completely alone, however, as I regularly visited my three younger cousins in Bavaria in Southern Germany.

Then came the experience that changed everything, at least in hindsight. I stayed with a host family and visited a high school in Texas for ten months in 2003/2004. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, said: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.” Ten years later I am able to connect the dots and it seems pretty clear that without me leaving my comfort zone as a 16-year old teenager I probably wouldn’t be living in a different country and doing all the things I enjoy doing.

After I graduated from high school, I spent a year helping elderly people. In 2007, at the age of 20, I moved out and lived in Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, for a year. It was during that time that my parents got divorced. In hindsight I am pretty sure that the distance helped me get through this hard time almost unscathed. The small city of Gießen was my next pit stop. I spent three years of my life there studying History and Journalism, lived in a dueling fraternity, studied abroad in the UK for half a year, completed three internships, played American football with a passion, and learned from and endured 2 long-distance relationships, one of them ‘measuring’ 9,000 miles. I am proud of my Bachelor’s thesis, a 110-page treatise about Robert Moses and the history of New York from the 1920s to the 1960s.

But back to my story. I knew I wanted to study abroad again and also play NCAA football after I got my college degree, and the States were an easy pick. I worked tirelessly. I went on the website of 700 college and universities, narrowed it down to 70, applied to 7, got accepted by all of them, and picked Lindenwood University. It felt like a dream come true. Once at Lindenwood I had my work cut out for. Being an athlete student – I think this way around the term is more accurate – and being a graduate assistant and taking classes soon took its toll. I had everything I wanted but sometimes I caught myself wondering: What if my dream was too big for me? Fortunately, I persevered, and from there on things were getting better and better. Among other things, I became friends with Jonas Kehrbaum who told me about Semester at Sea, which was a perspective-altering experience that has already changed the trajectory of my life and will continue to do that in the future in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.

So here I am, ten years after I saw that fateful sign in Texas saying that there are three kinds of people. Those who talk about other people, those who talk about events, and those who talk about ideas. While my time at Lindenwood reinforced my conviction that I want to be somebody of the 3rd group, the people who talk about ideas, circumnavigating the globe made me realize that having an idea alone isn’t enough. There’s something else, something that’s way more important. After seeing 13 different countries, having so many diverse experiences, seeing people struggling to provide for their families, spending a lot of time with creative misfits, divergent thinkers and impatient entrepreneurs, I realized that it is possible for everyone of us to impact and empower people in a positive way – and to make the world a better place.

Everybody has ideas. But that’s not the point. An idea is worthless unless you implement it. Therefore, all these experiences taught me that there is a 4th group. Members of this 4th group don’t just talk about ideas, they put them into practice. They take action. At the end of the day, the difference is really not that big, but the step from just thinking about something to actually doing it is quite dramatic. Have you ever had an idea of which you thought: this really has potential – but you didn’t pursue it?!

Benjamin Franklin once said: “There are three sorts of people in the world. Those who are immovable, those who are movable, and those who move.”

I strive to be one of those who move, I strive to be a member of the 4th group. I hope you feel the same way.

A New Kind of Visual News

youtube-logo

YouTube is currently trying to add a new dimension to its already impressive portfolio as the world’s biggest video-sharing website. The company, which was purchased by Google in late 2006, is rapidly becoming a major platform for viewing news. According to an analysis by the PewResearch Journalism Project, the most searched term of the month on the website was a news related event five out of 15 months in 2011 and 2012.

Google was founded in 2005 by three former PayPal employees in February 2005. In 2011, it celebrated its one trillionth video upload and today YouTube is the third-most visited website after Google and Facebook with more than four billion views per day. The Pew analysis says that YouTube has created “a new kind of television news” that embraces an interplay of professional – and citizen – produces content. These are some of the key findings of the study:

  • The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheaval – usually featuring intense visuals.
  • News events are inherently more ephemeral than other kinds of information, but at any given moment news can outpace even the biggest entertainment videos.
  • Citizens play a substantial role in supplying and producing footage.
  • Citizens are also responsible for posting a good deal of the videos originally produced by news outlets.
  • The most popular news videos are a mix of edited and raw footage.
  • Personalities are not a main driver of the top news videos.
  • Unlike in traditional TV news, the lengths of the most popular news videos on YouTube vary greatly.

The video sharing website has taken comprehensive measures to extend its relevance in the news world beyond huge global news stories and large-scale catastrophes.

YouTube has already become a vital source for newsrooms across the country. The benefits are obvious: Just about everyone these days has a camera on had at all times. According to this article on Newslab, most stations credit video to YouTube. It’s important to point out that case law in this area is still evolving, and it has been argued that the lack of attribution is a problem. “Almost every instance where we use it is a fair use instance where we are commenting on the video,” says news director Stacey Woelfel of KOMU in Columbia, Missouri. Many newsrooms are contacting the person who uploaded the video in an attempt to have more transparency and the correct attribution. Although contacting the poster is a key step in verifying the truthfulness of the content, it doesn’t guarantee it.

Tom Sly,  YouTube’s head of news and education, says that YouTube is a very powerful platform, because it combines eye-witness reporting, broadcast television, the produced pieces by ordinary people, and the video on-demand component. While the possibilities are abundant, it doesn’t mean that news organizations have figured out what works best. As a matter of fact, they are still trying to figure out what consumers want.

Television journalist and talk show host Ed Gordon recently called YouTube ‘the Future of Broadcasting”. He recommends aspiring broadcasters to get on YouTube, because “in today’s world… it’s about producing and owning your content.”

One example of what YouTube offers is Vice. Founded in 1994 in Canada, the company later changed its name to VICE MEDIA, with divisions including the magazine, a website, a film production company, a record label, and a publishing imprint. Vice promotes the “Immersionist” school of journalism, in which journalists immerse themselves in a situation and with the people involved. Moreover, the final project tends to focus on the experience, not the writer himself. In August 2013, the Vice YouTube channel had three million subscribers.

Another Pew analysis examined how the 2008 presidential candidates used the web and social media. For Barack Obama in particular, YouTube became a venue that allowed the campaigners to post longer video than conventional political advertising. During last year’s campaign, on the other hand, YouTube was the platform with the fewest posts from the candidates of any of those studied. No video became extremely popular or went viral. As a matter of fact, the most popular video across all platforms during the time period studies was that of Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha wishing the President a Happy Father’s Day.

This NewsLab article calls YouTube the “top dog” when it comes to online video. it describes the tech giant’s local news feature, which launched in 2009. When users sign on, according to the article, “the site automatically pulls together the most recent news-related videos posted within 100 miles of their log-in location and displays them under the heading News Near You.” This feature, however, doesn’t seem to be available in December 2013 any more. YouTube offers a variety of channels, including a News – Worldwide channel.

Let’s go back to the Pew Research Analysis from the beginning. The center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 15 months with of the most popular videos on the site (from January 2011 to March 2012).

According to the study, the data reveal that “a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and new organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic “dialogue” many observers predicted would become the new journalism online.” The features of this new kind of journalism are:

  • Citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them.
  • They are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals.
  • News organizations are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals.
  • News organizations are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism.
  • Consumers are embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television.

In the article, it is pointed out that clear ethical standards have not yet developed “on how to attribute the video content moving thought the synergistic sharing loop.”

LUTV Reporter Log VI

With only three weeks left and twelve news packages and VO-SOTs under my belt, I feel like I accomplished a lot already this semester. At the same time, however, I feel like I still have a long way to go and a million things to learn. That’s alright though, because I know that this is only the beginning of my journalism career. I feel like the SuperSemester has equipped me with a lot of skills and tools that allow me to take the next step, and I am sure all the things I learned will be of tremendous help in the future.

Editing is fun!

Editing is fun!

On November 8th, I produced for the fifth and second to last time. The newscast was probably the best newscast I have produced yet, as there were few things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to. In spite of not having all the writers at my disposal, I managed to distribute all the work to the people who were present. I thought that communication among all of us was good as few people asked me questions, which shows that we have gotten the hang of the intricacies that the SuperSemester by now. The three-shot during the sports talk at the anchor desk worked well and I am a little proud to say that I once again tried something rather unusual as a producer. I wish the director would have told the camera to pan right and zoom out a little sooner on the three-shot.

Doing a good job producing requires printing and distributing rundowns and scripts on time. I will also keep more of an eye on video IDs, as two teases about the same story had different IDs. Once again, I will try to stick to the producer log even closer to avoid running late. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody to start working in case they are fooling around and to assign them to something even if you know that that person is not keen to do it. While you should always try to be empathetic, at the end of the day you are in charge and if you don’t get other people to do the things you need them to do, the newscast won’t come together.

Wrapping around my package

Wrapping around my package

I shot two VO-SOTs and one package during the last two weeks and learned a lot in the process. One thing that is important, especially when newscasts re-air or are put online is not to use the words yesterday or today or tomorrow – instead, use the day of the week or the date. Also, one ought to avoid using interview shots and too many signs as b-roll. One should focus on the action if possible.

You need to be persistent as a journalist. If you want to get the best story possible, you need to track people down and ask the tough questions. What’s more, you mustn’t give up the first time you hear ‘no’. When I shot my package about the pitching event, I really wanted to get an interview with Daymond John. I was told that I could have one question right after the event was over. Five minutes prior to the interview, however, Paul Huffman told me that Mr. John had to leave immediately and thus did not have time for me. I could have accepted it and would have still been able to complete my package. Yet the interview with Mr. John was an integral part of the way I envisioned my package. I sat down next to Mr. John’s assistant and told him that I acknowledged that Mr. John is a busy person and that I want to respect his time, but also that it would not take more than one minute and that I would greatly appreciate it. Et voilà, he said yes and granted me one question.

I learned that having to pick one question can be very difficult. I had quite a few creative (I thought) questions I wanted to ask him, but I decided to go with something safe since I only had one shot.

Checking your equipment before you go on a shoot includes your tripod. This Wednesday, my three-legged friend (or adversary in this case) suddenly decided to become a twin-pod, much to the agony of my camera. As a video journalist, you inevitably have to leave your equipment unattended or at least standing on its own sooner or later. While you should obviously handle your camera and other pieces of equipment with great care, it is virtually impossible to avoid accidents over time. Yet journalists should always see to it that they don’t leave their belongings unattended and that the risk of it being damaged is as low as possible.

LUTV Reporter Log V

As the semester is entering its final third, I feel as though I developed something that comes close to a routine. Equipped with basic knowledge and skills but also the awareness that I still have a long way to go, it feels like the challenge now is to maintain a certain quality and professionalism. After all, you are only as good as your last newscast.

My fifth package about Semester at Sea was the first one that I shot on more than one day. As a matter of fact, I shot it over the course of ten days, with action on four separate days. Unfortunately, it took more than 25 minutes for my package to transcode, which resulted in it not making it in time but having to do it after the newscast instead. Although it is unusual, I should have allotted more time to be on the safe side. Investing hours and hours of work shooting, and then not being able to finish your package in time and knowing that it is not the best it can be can be frustrating. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to come prepared (i.e. having a substantial part done) in the morning when editing a package for a newscast, especially on a Friday.

On October 23rd, I produced for the fourth time. By and large it was a decent newscast. I thought the “New Deal” approach worked well, because I knew exactly who I had at my disposal. It also made it easier for me to keep track of who is doing what. I think graphics-Ben is a great addition to the team as he makes sound graphics and is able to work independently. I should have kept more of an eye on things like sports and weather and started proofreading stories sooner so that we could have printed the rundown and scripts sooner as well. People who are working on their packages should get in at least an hour before everybody else to have a head start. Its extra stress and uncertainty for the producer and everybody involved if somebody’s running late with a package and nobody knows if it’ll be ready in time.

Next time I produce a newscast I will try to have a list of things I need to do which is not on the producer’s checklist to make sure I don’t forget about those kind of things. Once again, I will look to sticking closer to the checklist and making sure that everybody is on the same page.

Tension in the newsroom is almost inevitable in a fast-paced working environment that revolves around meeting deadlines. It’s important to understand that occasional frustration and snappy answers are part of working for television. While you should try to remain calm and courteous at all times, sometimes raising your voice is the only way you can express that something is urgent or to get something done. One should never take it personally and in case it bothers you until after the newscast, you should talk to the person once the stress has subsided.

I anchored for the 6th time this Wednesday. Since I only had to write stories that day, I had plenty of time to get ready and read every story at least once. I felt fairly confident and thought I did alright overall. My interaction with fellow anchor Taylor Gorton felt natural and I learned that saying her name during the weather toss goes a long way. However, I wish I wouldn’t have mispronounced two or three words. I feel as though I have yet to have an overall sound newscast that is highlight reel material.

Anchoring with Taylor Gorton

Anchoring with Taylor Gorton

 

Here are a few more things I learned over the last two weeks. When writing the text for VO-SOTs and packages, one mustn’t forget to complete “RUNS:…” and “Outquote”. Another intricacy one shouldn’t overlook is to insert the “MORE VO” command for VO-SOTs. Especially as a producer, is it easy to forget important subtleties, such as tease flags when writing one’s teases and adding the producer’s and director’s name in the closing credits. When doing a stand-up, don’t take voice over during the first 5 seconds, because your lower third might be superimposed over b-roll. (If you do, tell director to take lower third during the second time the reporter is visible.)

I had some issues with audio over the last two weeks, which gave me the opportunity to learn and improve a lot. I found out that audio channel one and three, as well as two and four are connected. Reporters are to use all four audio tracks for natural sound.

Finally, show faces, not spaces, meaning that when interviewing somebody, one should leave out everything that is not relevant to the shot. Moreover, center up on computer shots, and interview everybody left and right. What’s more, write down when the interviewee stands on the left and when he or she stands on the right. Knowing during which interview the person stands on which side allows you to add variety when editing. I found that it is crucial to listen and look at clips on location (framing, audio, video, etc.) so you can spot errors and, for instance, bad audio on the spot and, if necessary, repeat it.

A Chilling Effect on Newsgathering

As more and more details about the mass surveillance activities surface, various news organizations and journalists express concern about the effect ubiquitous eavesdropping has on journalism. Although research and articles are shedding some light on the effect spying has on our society and journalism, the disclosures seem to be far from being over and far more research needs to be done. One thing can be said already though: The little we know is reason for concern.

press

In an earlier blog entry from September 6th, I discussed the importance of news media in a democratic society and gave some examples of how institutions agencies have attempted to intimidate journalists. My article from September  29th shows why mass surveillance concerns us all. In this article, I will specifically enlarge upon the consequences of mass surveillance on journalism.

Needless to say, hampering a democracy’s press is hampering  democracy itself. In a public comment to the Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies convened to President Obama, a group of scholars, journalists and researchers from Columbia Journalism School and the MIT Center for Civic Media say that mass surveillance “presents a grave threat to the effectiveness of an independent press.” The 15-page letter argues that there is a “discrepancy” between the NSA’s eavesdropping activities and the existing law and policy designed to protect the confidentiality of journalist-source communications. What’s more, a “climate of secrecy” established by mass surveillance methods is itself “harmful” to journalism, as sources aren’t able to find out when they might be spied on, or how “intercepted information might be used against them.” As the letter shows, the NSA does not have to adhere to the policy of the Department of Justice. The double standard is not only “intolerable”, but endangers the communications between journalists and their source. The review group calls for “one set of rules.”

Furthermore, the authors reject the logic of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which asserts that collecting information on everyone is no different than doing the same on specific individuals. “The surveillance of essentially everyone has effects far beyond the surveillance of journalists alone. […] For a free press to function we must also protect the means of communicating with a journalist.” The comment also says that sources have become nervous about talking to reporters, as reported by journalists from various news organizations including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Summing their appeal up, the groups states that “mass surveillance is a serious threat to the constitutionally protected function of a free press, and therefore to democracy itself, because it impinges on the ability and confidence of every possible source who might talk to a journalist.” The possibility for journalists’ communication to be monitored everywhere and anytime poses new challenges for our profession.

At an online news association conference in late October in Atlanta, media professionals were told that they needed to learn about secure and safe communication, meaning they have to use encryption and good security practices. Jonathan Stray from Columbia University reminded participants that while encryption is vital, it doesn’t protect the metadata, i.e. sender, recipient, time, and more. Stray called journalists “targets” who are working in a “high-risk” profession, while media lawyer Nabiha Syed said the bigger problem is that we are missing “clear and transparent procedures that protect right.”

Glenn Greenwald & partner Miranda

Glenn Greenwald & partner Miranda

On August 18, David Miranda, partner of Guardian interviewer of whistleblower Edward Snowden Glenn Greenwald, was detained for nine hours and questioned at Heathrow airport. A controversial British law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals. Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

In the middle of October, a British Parliamentary committee announced it would investigate The Guardian’s reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks as part of a broader counterterrorism inquiry, while a poll found that more British citizens oppose the whistleblower’s leaks than favor them. At the same time, however, a Pew  Research poll shows that the public values the watchdog role of the of the press more today than before the Snowden leaks. In an August survey, seven in 10 agreed that news organizations “keep leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done”, up from a low of 55 percent a decade ago.

theguardian

Former Independent editor Chris Blackhurst criticized The Guardian’s publication of the leaks, arguing that they’re not much of a story and that if government authorities contend that they’re not in the public interest, “who am I…to disbelieve them?” Glenn Greenwald responded in an article on his own, attempting to refute Blackhurst’s arguments. Greenwald said Blackhurst’s opinion is a “predominant mindset among many in the media class.” Moreover, he said that that  when journalists do talk this way, “they do us a service, as it lays so vividly bare just how wide the gap is between the claimed function of establishment journalists and the actual role they fulfill.”

Blackhurst's article in The Independent

Blackhurst’s article in The Independent

On October 25th, the N.S.A.’s director, General Keith Alexander, accused journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and called for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets. In a roughly 30-minute interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog, Alexander says “it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense.” He added: “We ought to come up with a way of stopping it.” It doesn’t get much more obvious that this does not comply with the First Amendment.

The Snowden revelations have sent a chill through those reporters covering national security issues. If the NSA can easily gather details about who a reporter phoned or emailed, that sends a signal to whistleblowers that their anonymity can no longer be protected. David Sirota, columnist, journalist and author, shows in his article Obama’s war on journalism how the U.S. President prevented a Yemeni journalist from being pardoned by calling Yemen’s leader. After Abdulelah Haider Shaye exposed his government’s coverup of a US missile strike that reportedly killed “dozens”, he was sentenced to five year in prison. In Sirota’s article, New York Times media correspondent David Carr says that “suggesting that there is a war on the press is less a hyperbole than simple math.”

The CEO of the Associated Press Gary Pruitt recently said that there has been a “chilling effect on newsgathering“.

On the plus side, the disclosure seem to have animated a plethora of media outlets to do in-depth reports and dedicate many of their staff and resources to the effort to inform the public. To which extent they feel genuinely  convinced that this topic deserves all the attention or if they merely jumped on the bandwagon is, I believe, secondary, because all the reports enable readers and viewers to really educate themselves about the surveillance activities. Another positive development, which is in keeping with the extensive coverage, is the international debate Snowden’s leaks have sparked.

However, there seem to be grave detrimental effects on journalism as governments and agencies around the world fear that their inner-most secrets may be revealed. I believe we are at crossroads, both as a society and journalism. Will the vast majority of journalists, sources, and potential whistleblowers be too afraid to speak up? Or will courageous, idealistic men and women not allow governments and institutions to intimidate them and emulate people like Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald? It’s up to every single one of us.

LUTV Reporter Blog IV

The past two weeks, especially the second week, were a great learning experience, for I did two packages, one VO-SOT and anchored in only five days. It was all about coming in early and just getting it done. Needless to say, I learned some valuable lessons in the process; I feel as though writing, editing and wrapping around on three consecutive days really allowed me to develop a certain routine.

During the shoots for both of my packages that week, I once and for all learned that pre-production is absolutely vital. Every reporter has to double-check and triple-check the equipment. You need to have the mindset that something won’t work and really expect the unexpected. I learned the hard way when I realized that although I had the Lavalier microphone with me, I was missing the clip. Naturally, this had a negative effect on my audio, especially because people around the interviewee were talking. When I shot the boxing match, I didn’t have a lavaliere microphone with me at all. During the shoot at the memorial for Rift Fournier, I also struggled with the tripod, as I was given the wrong one, which was a lot different from the one we usually get.

Reporting from a memorial is not an ordinary task, but one that was a valuable experience nevertheless. It was certainly not easy to keep my emotions in check and focus on my job, because after all Rift and I knew each other. When asked to do a package on a funeral or a memorial, reporters should ask themselves if they can cope with those kinds of situations, especially if they knew the deceased person. There are some things every journalist should keep in mind: Don’t claim to understand the pain, be patient, forgo the facts, avoid exploitation, and be sensitive.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to avoid errors, be it audio level being too high or too low or forgetting to white balance the camera, is to have a checklist and go through all the different steps to ensure you get the desired result. Especially when time is scarce and things become hectic, you have to maintain your composure and not lose sight of important things. Even if it takes a while, always white balance and balance the camera and get a critical focus.

My VO-SOT was about comedy magician and hypnotist Josh McVigar. For some reason, my camera wouldn’t white balance during the shoot, although it had worked outside Butler Hall just ten minutes earlier. I tried everything but couldn’t get it to work. Luckily, the shots turned out to be alright. It was definitely the most entertaining and fun shoot yet.

David Amelotti and I getting ready

David Amelotti and I getting ready

One thing I need to improve is my interviewing skills. Especially when you are still an inexperienced reporter, it’s important to write down some questions and do some research prior to the interview, as it will make you feel more comfortable and confident. Interviewing is an art in itself and needs countless hours to be mastered. One certainly needs to be empathetic and a good listener.

I produced for the fourth time this week. By and large it was a decent newscast. I thought our new system worked well, because I knew exactly who I had at my disposal. It also made it easier for me to keep track of who is doing what. I think graphics-Ben is a great addition to the team, as he makes sound graphics and is able to work independently. I should have kept more of an eye on things like sports and weather and started proofreading stories sooner so that we could have printed the rundown and scripts sooner as well. People who are working on their packages should get in at least an hour before everybody else to have a head start. Running late with a package means extra stress and uncertainty for the producer and everybody involved. Plus, nobody knows if it’ll be ready in time.

Producing the LUTV newscast

Producing the LUTV newscast

Next time I produce a newscast I will try to have a list of things I need to do which is not on the producer’s checklist to make sure I don’t forget about those kinds of things. Once again, I will look to sticking closer to the checklist and making sure that everybody is on the same page.

Tension in the newsroom is almost inevitable in a fast-paced working environment that revolves around meeting deadlines. It’s important to understand that occasional frustration and snappy answers are part of working for television. While you should try to remain calm and courteous at all times, sometimes raising your voice is the only way you can express that something is urgent or to get something done. One should never take it personally and in case it bothers you until after the newscast, you should talk to the person once the stress has subsided.

Watching my own package run during the newscast

Watching my own package run during the newscast

My fourth time anchoring went well. I thought I had good presence and spoke with authority. The interaction with David Schlaeger felt natural and reading each story out loud at least once proved to be of great help once again. The teleprompter seems to be getting better as the semester progresses, which makes the anchors’ life a lot easier.

LUTV Reporter Blog III

Over the past two weeks I was able to refine my reporter, anchor, writer, and producer skills and learn a great deal more about how newsrooms work in general. Now that we have entered the grading period, I have a higher sense of urgency and also take things more seriously. Getting a grade for a package or a VO-SOT feels like getting feedback from your producer or director after a newscast.

My second VO-SOT, which aired on September 27th, was fun shooting and editing because it was easier to do now that I have done it once already. I nevertheless still have to learn a lot, which I saw when I started editing. Not only was my interviewee slightly out of focus, but the white balance appeared to not have worked correctly as some of my shots had a blue tint. I learned that it is important to leave one to two seconds at the beginning of the sound bite so that the audio person has enough time to raise the volume and the viewer doesn’t miss the beginning of the interview. Apart from that I realized how important sequences are and that shooting b-roll takes its time.

Ready for the live shot at LUTV

Ready for the live shot at LUTV

My third VO-SOT was about the C-SPAN bus visiting Lindenwood. Although I arrived at the bus ten minutes before it opened its doors, I should have made it there even earlier to get shots of the bus before anyone got there, which would have allowed me to focus on interviews and b-roll of students inside and outside the bus afterwards. An hour and a half looked like sufficient time to me, but in the end I was hectically trying to conduct my second interview and get some additional shots of the bus. When my VO-SOT aired on the next day, I got in early to make sure that I’d be able to finish it before I had to leave at 11 O’clock. In spite of having over two hours, it was a close deal. I wish I had had more time to look at my text and the b-roll. I wrapped around my VO-SOT like I did for my first package and enjoyed that a lot, because speaking while standing enables you to use more gestures and it also feels more natural. Whenever you use at least two different interviews, I need to make sure to place the two interviewees in the opposite side of the shot so it doesn’t look repetitive. The challenge with that, however, is that you cannot look at the monitor of your camera when the person is standing on the left. (Since you need her to look to the right, you must stand on the right side of the camera.)

Reporting on Governor Jay Nixon

Reporting on Governor Jay Nixon

My third time anchoring was definitely the best one yet. Not only did I take the time to read every story out loud at least once, but I was also better prepared in terms of taking care of the small things, such as having a water bottle at your feet and making sure that my jacket looks undulated. I felt like I was talking with more vigor and that my interaction with Taylor was relatively genuine. We were both happy that the teleprompter did a good job keeping the lines we were reading close to the top of the monitor.

I produced for the second time the very next newscast after I produced for the first time. Similarly to the first time, by and large I was happy with the outcome of the newscast. Downloading and sending the FBI footage to airspeed worked well. Everybody communicated well and kept me updated about the status of their stories. Looking at producer’s checklist more regularly would have helped me knowing what I still need to do amid all the other things that were going on. Luckily I realized in time that we were missing Alex for sports so that I was able to call him and tell him that we needed him. I once again learned that the earlier you get to the station the better. My second VO-SOT aired on that day, so I got there at 8 O’clock sharp to make sure I could finish it before everybody else needed me. Besides that, with all the little things that required my attention, I tried to make sure to sit back regularly and think of the big picture and what I need to do to make the newscast a success as a whole.

Why Mass Surveillance Concerns Us All

Imagine our so-called democracy converts to a police state in which a totalitarian government uses universal surveillance to control us and be able to follow our every step. Imagine a world in which the definition of “appropriate” thought and behavior becomes so narrow that even the most pedantic norm violations are met with exclusion or punishment. Imagine a place devoid of privacy and solitude because of absolute, 24/7 surveillance. Although we are far away from an Orwellian state, this summer’s disclosures should not only be a warning for all of us but an plea to think about what kind of future we want to live in.

A considerable number of people seem to exhibit a certain apathy about possible negative repercussions mass surveillance, eavesdropping and data mining can have. Granted, the matter is complex and not very palpable; Technical terms and nontransparent procedures make it hard to grasp, which may cause people to feel like they cannot do anything about it and may help them come to terms with it. People are more likely to take issue when other civil liberties like the right of association were hampered. Consequently, you might not think that you should be concerned about the processes because they supposedly do not affect you or appear to be irrelevant. Yet I firmly believe that we have to understand the implications on our privacy and find ways to protect it, for if this matter does not concern you, I don’t know what does.

one-nation-under-surveillance

The recent disclosures about the scope of government surveillance are staggering. In my article about the latest revelations, I showed how the National Security Agency and other government agencies are capable of cracking the encryption that “guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the emails, web searches, internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world.” We are not only talking about metadata, but the content of communication and confidential information. I find it extremely worrying that every time you leave a trace in the digital realm in one way, shape or form, it is possible that somewhere, somebody from the government knows exactly what you are doing.

With millions of people being monitored, the question is: Who is going to look through these massive amounts of data and accurately distinguish an innocent citizen from a criminal or a terrorist? Civil rights advocate Nadine Strossen says that “we’re burying any potentially relevant leads in data that nobody has been able to search through.” Even machines are not apt for this task. Imagine an academic writing a research paper on terrorism, searching for “Al-Qaeda”, “airplane” and “bombs” on Google in the process. Now imagine a member of a terrorist organization doing the same. How is a machine supposed to know the difference between these two entirely different motives?

Everybody has a right to privacy. By that I do not mean that everybody should have a right for privacy, or that privacy is simply something we take for granted; I am talking about a fundamental freedom that is a part of the constitution of many countries around the world. That being said, the eavesdropping is not merely worrisome, but in fact unlawful. In this country, the 4th Amendment grants every citizen the right to privacy against governmental intrusion. Why is the N.S.A. able to clandestinely access our digital information and belongings when real-world law enforcement needs written permission in form of a warrant from a court of law to search a home? Strossen says that there should not only be “an opportunity to challenge the warrant process”, but also individualized suspicion, because “the 4th Amendment approach of individualized suspicion protects individual liberties.”

During a press conference in Berlin on June 19th this summer, President Obama said that the U.S. surveillance program is a “circumscribed, narrow system, directed at us […], and all of it is done under the oversight of the courts.” Reality speaks a different language. Besides, the scope of the surveillance would make it virtually impossible to get permission from a court every time an online warrant was needed. Breaking encryption and snaring people’s conversations ought to require a warrant just like the one that is needed for a house search. Our government should secure and protect our inherent rights, which is the very reason we created the government in the first place. Right now it is clearly not living up to that expectation.

Some of you might say: “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”, meaning that data mining and surveillance programs do not threaten privacy unless they discover illegal activities. First of all, what is right and what is wrong is often not clearly distinguishable. Opinions or actions can be incorrectly interpreted and tarnish somebody’s reputation, particularly if data falls in the hands of a third party. The example of the academic I gave earlier illustrates this well. Moreover, the autonomy and aspects of human dignity that the right to privacy protects are vital to the development of individuality and consciousness of individual choice in life, hence restrictions on privacy can have severe repercussions on individuals.

If you still aren’t concerned, consider this: Surveillance leads to “heightened levels of stress, fatigue and anxiety”, according to an online article on theguardian.com. It also “reduces performance and our sense of personal control.” When faced with threats such as terrorism, most citizens presumably tolerate limited surveillance and accept the trade-off between our security and somebody else’s civil liberties. However, the mass surveillance measures, which were revealed over the last couple of months, show us that these measures are no longer only applied to terrorists but to all citizens. Therefore, the real trade-off is not between our security and the alleged terrorists’ civil liberties. It is between our rights and our security.

One worrisome implication of this trade is that citizen will probably lose trust in government and authorities. Spying on your own people creates an aura of general suspicion, leading to people becoming more susceptible to seemingly suspicious behaviors and potential threats as well as more distrust amongst them. Consequently, people are going to be more careful about what say or do, which might in turn severely hamper creativity and freedom of expression and will presumably result in less discourse and exchange of ideas. What’s more, the rift between the authorities and the citizens might become so big that a substantial number of people could actively oppose their governments. It has also been argued that mass surveillance can lead to conformity to social norms, which can stifle innovation, critical thinking, and originality.

surveillance-cameras

Not only can mass surveillance by the government be harmful for its citizens, it can also have detrimental effects on the government itself. In spite of possible positive consequences, reconnaissance can reduce leaders’ influence by nurturing resentment and distrust.

Furthermore, ubiquitous mass surveillance by the government can not only mean that you lose your privacy, but potentially your job. According to Strossen, the business community has come together with civil libertarians to protest against excessive eavesdropping, for business and technology experts are saying that due to lack of privacy it would be “foolish to do business with American companies because trade secrets aren’t going to be protected and you’re going to be vulnerable to cyber criminals.” For example, a report released by The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation says that “NSA surveillance could cost the U.S. cloud computing industry anywhere from $22 to $35 billion over the next three years”.

If everybody remained passive, the government would simply continue on its course because they are going to realize that even if they don’t obey the law they can get by with it. I firmly believe that it is everyone’s moral and ethical obligation to act in order to protect our civil liberties.

Taking steps to leave behind as small of an online footprint as possible is a first step, but if we want to curtail the power of the N.S.A and other agencies, we need to reach out to our representatives in Congress, sign petitions and join protest marches. Strossen, who teaches Law at New York Law School, says that everybody should be repealing provisions in the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. According to Strossen, „a whole lot of reforms” are required to “bring the law back into line with the 4th Amendment.”

We need to remember that our democracy is not history in its final state but merely a temporarily secured form of existence, which is why we must all contribute to preserving our privacy if we want to enjoy this freedom ten years from now. If you don’t think standing up for something as vital as your privacy is worth it, why do you attend games to cheer your favorite sports team on? Why do you vote?

I sincerely hope that we can look back on this time in a generation or two and say that we showed the government that they cannot intrude our privacy without us taking action against it.