Columbia Journalism Review

Donald Trump’s wish for hacking powers sets up disaster scenario Snowden feared

[Commentary] Donald Trump shocked a lot of people when he suggested (maybe sarcastically, maybe not?) that he hopes Russia is hacking the e-mails of Hillary Clinton so they can find the ones she deleted from her private server. There was another phrase, however, he used later in the day that didn’t get the same attention yet was perhaps more disturbing. While claiming he didn’t have anything to do with the hacking of his political enemies at the Democratic National Committee, he said: “I wish I had that power, man, that would be power.”

This really gets at the crux of why civil libertarians have been arguing for years that the National Security Agency has to be significantly curtailed. Even if you believe that the Obama Administration is 100 percent trustworthy and no one at the NSA under his watch has abused the agency’s vast spying powers (which, by the way, evidence refutes), the real danger is the infrastructure in place that would allow some future leader to wreak havoc. A future leader just like Donald Trump. In fact, this was the exact scenario that Edward Snowden warned about when he first went public in 2013.

[Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation.]

Watching the press at the DNC

Shifting from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland (OH) to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia (PA), the press working to cover the Democrats inside the convention hall have to battle for less space, bigger crowds, and a security perimeter so wide, it nearly extends to New Jersey. Absent are the well-marked delegate areas, the ability to move freely up and down the aisles, the sanctuary of relative calm in the upper tiers of Wells Fargo Center—the ingredients that made conditions at the RNC bearable. Instead, the DNC is a loud, sweaty mess. Television reporters and photojournalists, floor passes in hand, stand four to five hours a day crushed together for a glimpse at the speakers, continuously ushered along by security and told: “You can’t stand here.” On July 26, the fire marshals shut the convention floor.

The physical layout and security perimeters in the convention hall also make it far more difficult for solo journalists to cover events both inside and outside. Photographers and TV crews must enter security gates more than a mile away from public transportation stations and taxi drop-off points. Some photographers estimate that a typical work day is 14 hours, while walking the equivalent of eight miles, much of it outside in more than 90-degree heat. Yet, despite the conditions, the conventions offer the priceless opportunity to get up close and personal to senators, governors, and members of Congress, who are also packed into the hall like sardines, with nowhere to run.

Did Sanders have the right priorities on social media before Clinton clinched?

[Commentary] Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) rode a wave of populist support that nearly upended former shoo-in Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. Are there lessons to learn from his campaign’s social-media strategy that explain why the Bernie movement gained so much traction but ultimately came up short?

A review of hundreds of the candidates’ messages on Twitter and Facebook—using data* from Illuminating 2016, a project supported by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Syracuse University’s Center for Computational and Data Sciences—suggests the candidates took very different approaches to the digital medium in the month before Clinton clinched the nomination. Sen Sanders’s feed had fewer negative messages, relying more on calls to action than Clinton’s feed. And despite his success with small donations, Sen Sanders was more focused on getting out the vote than urging supporters to donate money on social media. Clinton’s strategic use of calls to action was focused on digital engagement—and attempts to create an open and collaborative campaign environment by inviting supporters to engage with policy discussions online.

[Patricia Rossini is a PhD Candidate in Communication Studies at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), and a research assistant at the Center for Computational and Data Sciences at Syracuse University.]

Ailes’s Fox dominates conservative media. A Trump presidency could challenge that.

The combination of Ailes’s departure, a transforming conservative media, and a possible Donald Trump presidency doesn’t bode well for the status quo. If Fox’s own history is any indication, such political crossroads carry with them the potential for massive change within media markets.

Which individuals or outlets emerge in this new environment could play a leading role in redefining conservatism in the years after Trump un-defined it—for better or worse. In the meantime, with millions of TV viewers and 62 million monthly uniques on its website, Fox has an immense upper hand in driving discussion on the right side of the political spectrum. The question going forward is how long the network can maintain Ailes’s audience—his political coalition—in the more competitive market he helped create.

Black media has a plan to stay relevant as mainstream journalists encroach

Mainstream media—fueled by amateur videos showing tragic interactions between police and people of color, social-media activism, and wider awareness of racial discrimination—have flocked to cover black issues, with dedicated beat reporters, black-focused verticals, and graphic photos. Mainstream interest in the black story has put black media in a tricky position in the battle for audience attention, but they’re not giving up the mantle without a fight.

Black media outlets both digital and analog are responding by finding new story angles, choosing to focus not only on the events themselves but also on the larger context, with honest analysis of what politics and police brutality mean for the future of black Americans, and how they cope with daily life. These outlets are striving for a level of authenticity and trust that still eludes mainstream players—many of which employ few people of color. The ultimate value of all black media is that it gives a true and full picture of black life and culture.

The biggest tool at the conventions

[Commentary] Last time the Republican and Democratic National Conventions rolled around in 2012, live video coverage was almost exclusively the domain of news organizations. YouTube was the official digital live-streaming partner of the 2012 conventions, but neither Facebook nor Snapchat were doing video and Periscope didn’t even exist. The big innovation of the year was how digital and print outlets were using live streaming tools on their websites.

Four years later, the social media landscape has changed exponentially thanks to an explosion in social video on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. Now social platforms have set their sights on live streaming, and the 2016 conventions are shaping up to become a frenzied microcosm of the next era of live event coverage.

Carson, Fiorina failed to leverage social media as their campaigns peaked

[Commentary] A project supported by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Syracuse University’s Center for Computational and Data Sciences tracks the Twitter and Facebook feeds of active presidential campaigns. The project, Illuminating 2016, looks at the number of messages each candidate sends, and also codes by message type. By doing so, this tool is able to provide details about candidate social-media usage that typically do not register on the mainstream media’s radar.

There are a few strong similarities between the trajectories of the Fiorina and Carson campaigns. Both proudly touted their status as outsiders to politics—Ben Carson as a well-known neurosurgeon and Carly Fiorina as first female CEO of a top-20 US corporation, Hewlett Packard. Both candidates, as shown by the Illuminating 2016 site, likely under-utilized social media when they probably should have used it most. There is no evidence that either candidate’s social media utilization patterns influenced his or her performance in the polls. Comparing their social media behaviors to their performance on the campaign trail, however, does reveal a disparity between social media strategies and what each candidate faced offline.

[Jerry Robinson is a Ph.D. candidate at Syracuse University and a summer research assistant on the Illuminating 2016 project.]

For journalists covering Trump, a Murrow moment

[Commentary] As Edward R Murrow wrapped up his now-famous special report condemning Joseph McCarthy in 1954, he looked into the camera and said words that could apply today. “He didn’t create this situation of fear—he merely exploited it, and rather successfully,” Murrow said of McCarthy. Most of Murrow’s argument relied on McCarthy’s own words, but in the end Murrow shed his journalistic detachment to offer a prescription: “This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent—or for those who approve,” he said. “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” After months of holding back, modern-day journalists are acting a lot like Murrow, pushing explicitly against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. To be sure, these modern-day Murrow moments carry less impact: Long gone are the days in which a vast majority of eyeballs were tuned to the big-three television news programs. But we nonetheless are witnessing a change from existing practice of steadfast detachment, and the context in which journalists are reacting is not unlike that of Murrow: The candidate’s comments fall outside acceptable societal norms, and critical journalists are not alone in speaking up.

[David Mindich is a professor of media studies, journalism, and digital arts at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont.]

In Ferguson, local news coverage shines

[Commentary] Much of the national coverage of Ferguson (MO) has been excellent. But local media, with its assets on the ground, its 24-7 focus on the story, and its prior understanding of the many players involved and long-standing issues in play, has offered the deepest dive into the complexities of the Ferguson story.

And more than a million viewers have turned to previously-unknown KARG Argus Radio, an upstart independent local station formed mainly to broadcast local music events, which has taken viewers into the heart of the action on Florissant with a continuous livestream.

Needless to say for those who have been following the story, all the journalists on the scene -- professional and unaccredited, local, national, and international -- have done their jobs at times under threat from those who would prefer they didn’t: both looters and the police.

Is communications security for reporters improving?

Working journalists and journalism students are more often being taught to use tools like the email-encrypting LEAP, browsing-anonymizer Tor, and the messaging service Jabber. But just as one source never has the whole story, one security measure never can guarantee safety.

The problem with tools that aren’t cheerily packaged as James Bond playthings is that they can be difficult enough to use that they interfere with the ease of communication journalists have come to depend on. Most reporters don’t do anything to protect themselves, their reporting, or their sources; the ones that do invest time and effort in privacy measures sometimes go overboard.