Broken Trust

The Sarasota Herald Tribune published a series called “Broken Trust” and was awarded the Gold Medal for Public Service for the yearly Florida Society of Newspaper Editors’ Journalism Competition. The series was written and reported by investigations editor Chris Davis and reporters Matt Doig and Tiffany Lankes. The newspaper examined the cases of abusive teachers in Florida who were allowed to retain their license and continue teaching. The team provided various ways to interpret and search the information in a database they created. Melissa Worden created a graph showing the tedious process a complaint must undergo before action is taken. It took the newspaper two years to investigate the matter and obtain data from public records.

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Heather Brooke, Investigative Reporter

Part 1

Heather Brooke, born to British immigrant parents from Liverpool in Pennsylvania, USA is an investigative journalist and freedom of information activist. She was educated in both the United States of America and the United Kingdom, and graduated from Federal Way High School in the former.

Part 2

In October 2004, Brooke inquired into the details of British MPs’ expenses noting that the expense system in Washington was highly transparent in comparison to British House of Commons. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was enacted, allowing the public to request the disclosure of information on public figures. In the beginning, she asked for 646 MPs’ expenses but was denied. Then, she asked for their travel information, but that too was denied. After that, she requested the names and salaries of MPs’ staff and personally blocked by Michael Martin, Speaker of the House of Commons. When she requested for details of second homes of all MPs, she was refused yet again.

Brooke reduced her request to 10 MPs in 2006. After being denied, she appealed to the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas. The case was considered for a year before the Commissioner ordered the disclosure of information on June 2007. The House of Commons objected, referring to the amendment of the Freedom of Information Act which exempted MPs.

In referral to the Information Tribunal in February 2008, the House of Commons was ordered to release information on 14 MPs. Despite the Speaker challenging the requests of Brooke and other journalists, the High Court ruled in favor of disclosing the information stating that the expense system of the House of Commons lacked transparency and accountability. The High Court also stated that it was the right of the taxpayers to know the expenditure of MPs. Finally, the details were made public on 23rd May 2008 after no challenge was made against the ruling.

Part 3

Along the way Brooke met with dead ends and it seemed like the case was going nowhere. It started with her desire to return to investigative reporting after taking a break to study literature and writing for kids’ magazines. On the first day, she arrived in Parliament and had to look for someone who could help her with the Freedom of Information Bill. Eventually she found someone, but when she forwarded her request she was met with silence. She was told to wait for the information to be published in October 2004, but it turned out to be in bulk format which did not reveal details. However, the House of Commons would not consider disclosing such information to the public.

She began filing requests for the information on travel, then for the names and salaries of MPs’ staff but was personally blocked by the Speaker of the Commons. Having to narrow it down to 10 MPs, she was denied again and again. Despite the bleak situation, she never stopped inquiring into the matter and took her case to the Richard Thomas. Though independent, the Commissioner was appointed and paid by the Government, so her request remained on his tray for a year. His decision threw her into another dead end when he refused her request.

When she went to the Information Tribunal, represented pro bono by Hugh Tomlinson, she was rallied against by a posse of lawyers and government officials. On the stand, Andrew Walker’s contention against her request failed and the tribunal ordered the release of information. The Commons announced they would do so but after Christmas, no information was released and the MPs even tried to pass a law exempting them from the Freedom of Information Act for a second time. Brooke filmed a programme for Channel 4 where they had to go through loads of public records. There was so little public information made public and it made her investigation difficult.

In spite of the many challenges leading her from rejection at the House of Commons to the High Court, Brooke won her case. The Commons published the information on MPs expenses and in May 2009, details revealed the MPs’ practice of ‘flipping’ and the disclosure caused a massive breakdown on British Democracy leading to a national scandal and many MPs’ resignations.

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The Malaysian Insider’s Jahabar Sadiq

I thought it was going to be just another boring lecture combined with dull PowerPoint slides, but a trip to The Malaysian Insider proved me wrong. Jahabar Sadiq, the CEO gave us a resounding talk on his experiences and what it takes to be a good journalist. He comes across as a very engaging character with very little time for himself or any social pleasures. The talk was punctuated with messages on his two mobile phones. On that particular day, the online newspaper was waiting for news on the new candidate that would replace the Hulu Selangor Member of Parliament. Jahabar started off by telling us of what he faced as a journalist in various news agencies like New Straits Times and Reuters. His first assignment was to cover a pizza contest and his article never made it in print. It is painful for a journalist, especially one fresh off the hook, when his/her work gets rejected, but it is something they have to get used to. Jahabar taught us what it takes to produce good journalism by following all rules and applying the inverted pyramid in news writing. He even joked about the Malay Mail upright pyramid style of journalism. Jahabar had many disconcerting experiences like a “Robin Hood” who practiced archery on neighbourhood cats and the death of a pair of homosexual lovers. He learnt to eat in a mortuary as plenty of news can come from that site. He never for a moment seemed at a loss for words. After relating his experiences and his ideas, he encouraged us to ask questions. We found out that he has so much insight when he answered our questions. He certainly knows his stuff. All the while, Miss Anita was laughing at the back of the room. She probably related to the hectic situations of working in a newsroom. Overall, the visit was very fulfilling as we learned much from a very experienced journalist. It gave us much wisdom and removed the illusions we used to have about journalism.

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Impact of the Internet on Journalism

The Internet has brought great impact on journalism. It has seen the emergence of grassroots journalism, where non-professionals are able to contribute to journalism. This phenomenon ensures there is no more stifling of the minority voice. Another positive effect the Internet has on journalism is a wider representation on issues. It widens knowledge, breaks geographic and cultural. It simply brings the world closer together. Furthermore, it enables wider choices of information. People get to select what they want to read instead of being told what to read on mainstream media. Thus, interactive media helps the public becomes a thinking and reasoning society. Unfortunately, the Internet also brings negative influences on journalism. It allows defamation and libel, and has caused irresponsible parties to be sued. Moreover, irresponsible writers disseminate information that is not always accurate or reliable. They can say what they want without discretion and people confuse opinions with facts. This can mislead the audience to false notions. In conclusion, the Internet has both pros and cons on its impact on journalism. However, positive impact is stronger and it actually brings more good to journalism than bad because knowledge is made available for anyone, anywhere.

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Peer interview

My friend and classmate Rachel Law is a unique individual as all individuals are. She and I share many similarities as well as dissimilarities. Of our strongest similarities is our melodramatic and excitable nature. We tend to make a fuss and behave emotionally over every scene. Some may see it as being high strung and volatile. It probably is, seeing as we can go from heady to down in the dumps without much cause. It has its strengths and weaknesses. People see us as entertaining and they love being around us for all the vivacity we have. Unfortunately it can also annoy others as not everyone enjoys watching an explosion of emotions. People like Rachel and I are categorized as the Sanguine in personality tests. This means we are the cheerful, upbeat kind of individuals. I appreciate Rachel for the similarities we share and we amuse each other very much in that way. For example, I would read her sensational status on Facebook and laugh at the way she dramatizes situations. She in turn would double over when she sees my crazy facial expressions upon receiving big news, or when I blurt something trivial like how many extra pimples have popped up on someone’s face since the day before.

As aforementioned, not everyone are carbon copies of each other. Rachel and I have different traits and interests which span the superficial to the profound. Unlike Rachel, I try to avoid undertaking risky tasks as I don’t take failure well. I dislike defeat and this trait shows a little bit of perfectionism and apprehensiveness in me. It is not a very commendable character, but in what I do, I prefer to ensure a following success. My friend on the other hand, is bold in making decisions and is not afraid of disappointments. She knows that when she falls, she can pick herself up again and walk on, stronger than before. I, however, weep and wail about any unsuccessful endeavours. In this sense she is also an opportunist and is very enterprising. She would probably embark on a business despite the risks. I would think much harder before agreeing to such a task. I tend to calculate the risks and decide if the consequences are worth it. I don’t rush into things, especially if I know I will not accomplish any goals. To me, achievement is not a matter to be fooled around with, what with the people around me that may be affected by my decisions.

Other trivial matters that differentiate us are our interests. She Facebooks as often as the next girl, but I’m hardly ever online, as I prefer face to face communication. Rachel likes cats and vanilla, while I prefer dogs and chocolate. In addition to that, we like different genres of literature. She adores chick lit, while I read historical or World War II fiction. Rachel doesn’t get my obsession for war stories, which we both find hilarious and have a joke over at times.

A unique factor about Rachel is her gutsy behavior and her daring in exploring the unknown. She never shys away from challenges and counts it as an achievement to try out new things. In fact, on one occasion, she tried local Cambodian delicacies that are considered revolting to most people. Fried snakes, spiders, and cockroaches did not repulse her as it would me. Besides that, she tried balut, half-formed, duck embryo. I simply cannot imagine what compelled her to try such a dish. I would never in a million years imagine myself eating that. Because she is so bold, I really admire the things she does. She has gone travelling with friends overseas and interned in magazine companies. I haven’t done any of those. So, envious would only be all too precise a word to describe how much I want to take on those activities too. She also has great faith in God, a factor which I agree with and share. We sometimes help each other by talking about God and sharing our testimonies as to how He has blessed us. It strengthens our faith and helps us bond.

Rachel has many goals in life. She wants to live the sweet life, by marrying a rock star, shop all over the world, and become a top-notch editor in a fashion magazine. I like her ideas for life because it shows that she wants to live to the fullest and not stay under a rock. With her attitude and optimism, I believe she can go a long way. Who knows? We may see her name under the position ‘Chief Editor’ for a prestigious media organization some day. I am very proud to call her my friend and wish her all the best in future.

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Review of Chapter 1-4, We the Media

The first chapter of Dan Gillmor’s ‘We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People’ gives a brief history of the media and how it has changed with technological advancement.  The chapter covers how journalism has grown extensively from being owned, to a privilege shared by ordinary citizens. Furthermore, it explores how objectivity has found it’s way into journalism and is now contested by the media. The media is utilized for various purposes and its function keeps expanding. In the early days of the media, newspapers were used by prominent figures for political outreach or beneficial reasons. Human interest was also conveyed through the media before other factors came into play. The muckrakers formed the public service function to inform people of moral outrages. The newer topics covered by media are corporate development and personal journalism. Next, this chapter goes on to describe how different media helps get the message across. After newspapers came the rise of radios, then television. These forms of media have lured the audience away from print media, especially in the corporate sector. Consumers and advertisers seek out new ways to buy and promote. Then the discussion turns to the biggest revolutionary mode of journalism- the Internet. It discusses the global growth of the Internet and how it has shaped news dissemination.

The second chapter is a continuation of explaining the modernization of the media and its potential of communicating on a worldwide platform. This chapter confers how the renowned media companies such as CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera have recognized the influential and wide-reaching power of the Internet, and have employed its use to the fullest. People from different parts of the world can find the same information because the borders of distance and time have been broken. Now anyone can access unlimited information or become part of the journalistic process by publishing their work on the Internet. The author argues that though people begin to participate in the news-gathering and dissemination most will remain only consumers. He agrees that the Internet has allowed the audience to become smarter and selective. They can choose what they want to receive with the click of a button. Moreover, other tools such as weblogs, syndication tools, mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) will bring isolation and privacy to an end as it enables us to contact and search for people. Bottom-line is that communication that was once one-to-one or one-to-many, is now many-to-many. The author’s opinion towards this phenomenon is that grassroots journalism is quick, advantageous, and essential.

Chapter 3 of the book talks about how online media is allowing journalism to be more liberal as it is not repressed by rules of print publication. Weblogs, e-mails and other forms of online journalism is an avenue for political information to freely flow and it has greatly affected the political scene and the participation of ordinary citizens in politics. The author states that previously, the public figures, distinguished corporations, and powerful institutions used to contact the media when necessary. Now, information about them is publicized vastly without their having been consulted or interviewed. People are stepping out and voicing their opinions, and it has the potential to gain international attention. This chapter is not quite relevant as it argues a lot of the same points contained in the first two chapters, including elaborations of how technology helps us in everyday life. It has unveiled unethical, corrupt acts and dishonest dealings. The author could have improved it by including statistical data on how frequent the Internet was used in political, economic and social issues.

In chapter 4, the author discusses how newsmakers should embrace the emergence of technology, to learn and utilize the tools in combating the rationing of news.  If it can reach a wide audience, why shouldn’t they use it for their benefit? Newsmakers should also realize that technology helps them communicate to the outside world, as well as internally. The author believes it is a positive trend and it is anyway inevitable. Everyone has a role to play in communication now because of technology. However, it can be problematic because it leads to disseminating false information. It can harm reputations, cause conflicts, and even get employees fired if their bosses see something incriminating. Now even the mainstream press is searching for stories and people to quote from online sources. The author also contends that the public relations and marketing industry is beginning to understand the advantages of the Internet, but all too slowly. PR professionals need to be aware of the possibilities of jumping into the information era.

References

  1. Gillmor, D. 2004, ‘From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond’, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, O’Reilly Media Inc., viewed 7th February 2010, http://oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/ch01.pdf
  2. Gillmor, D. 2004, ‘The Read-Write Web’, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, O’Reilly Media Inc., viewed 8th February 2010, http://oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/ch02.pdf
  3. Gillmor, D. 2004, ‘The Gates Come Down’, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, O’Reilly Media Inc., viewed 8th February 2010, http://oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/ch03.pdf
  4. Gillmor, D. 2004, ‘Newsmakers Turn the Tables’, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, O’Reilly Media Inc., viewed 9th February 2010, http://oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/ch04.pdf

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