Shield laws were a major subject of conversation in 2013. They exist in 40 states to protect journalists from court orders to reveal confidential sources. The idea is that in order for the press to fulfill its watchdog role, dig up the truth, and expose corruption, it must be seen as autonomous. If journalists are but one subpoena away from spilling the beans, then the press is little more than an arm of the government… and then what source with something to lose is ever going to speak out?
As we learned in 2013, shield laws get confusing when a journalist’s work crosses state lines, and that even when a subpoena is eventually overturned, the professional damage may already be done. (Lauren Kirchner, Columbia Journalism Review)
And what of perhaps the biggest story of the year – the expansive surveillance of U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency? What if Edward Snowden did not choose to reveal his identity? What if the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman had to protect the source of leaks that threatened national security? Nevermind Snowden’s primary confidant, Glenn Greenwald, the American citizen living in Brazil writing for a British newspaper. British authorities, by the way, exercised prior restraint, destroyed Guardian computers, and detained Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under anti-terrorism laws. So while we’re not unjustified in our concern for U.S. policy, we can remain thankful for the First Amendment’s prominence in our jurisprudence. (Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian)
RELATED: The NSA surveillance leaks in-brief
Never in U.S. history has a journalist been tried for passing along information that someone else stole. The press actually doesn’t have many rights beyond those of ordinary citizens – but rebuffing subpoenas and publishing stolen information are two pretty nice cards to have in a muckraker’s back pocket. You try keeping that nice stereo your sketchy friend sold you for ten bucks…
But in 2013, the Justice Department pushed back against those rights in an attempt to prevent the leaking of unseemly information to the press. The DOJ’s actions, as luck would have it, were leaked.
As runners crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon, bombs detonated, killing three and wounding 264. Days later, a shootout between the suspects and police led to a daylong manhunt that shut down an entire metropolis. The circumstances were horrific, but there was little doubt that the events of that week in Boston were the most interesting of 2013 to those of us who observe the news media in action.
I Tweeted extensively that week, and have compiled them in a Storify which you can view here. Focusing on the role of the media in the story, it captures the pace well, I think.
That week, we saw news organizations at their best and worst. NBC News (Pete Williams in particular) and the staff at the Boston Globe were roundly praised for being both timely and accurate. Local broadcast affiliates were tremendous, and their streaming platforms withstood heavy demand better than perhaps any event to date. Others, led by television’s go-to breaking news source, stumbled. Media critics on the coverage, and CNN’s awful performance. (David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun) (David Carr, The New York Times)
What to say of the new players in breaking news? A lengthy but excellent read on how Reddit, Twitter, and other social media broke news, both real and imagined. (Jay Caspian Kang, New York Times Magazine)
And then there was the New York Post’s infamous (and probably libelous) post-bombing cover. (Andrew Beaujon, Poynter)
RELATED: Rolling Stone wins the most controversial magazine cover of the year, with this glamour shot of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (From DylanMcLemore.com)
But are we being to hard on the press scrambling for information in the moment? What it’s like for reporters who are trying to cover a manhunt. (Brian Stelter, The New York Times)
We would later learn much more about the Tsarnaev brothers, thanks to a Boston Globe investigation published at the end of the year.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share what was perhaps the finest contribution of the press to its public. One day after the bombing, a Boston Globe columnist wrote for an entire city. Beautiful and heartbreaking. (Kevin Cullen, The Boston Globe)
The disclosure of classified documents revealing the breadth of the National Security Agency has garnered a great deal of attention from people of varying political persuasions and interest levels. And while I’m interested in what that means for journalism – a profession already targeted for surveillance, as we’ve learned through this past month of scandal – for now I’ve created this Storify to recap the major developments and must-read articles (it may be updated as needed):
Click the screenshot for the rest of the story.
* It was during this process that I realized the inability of my site to embed Storify posts. Quite a shame. If you’re a tech guru that knows a workaround that won’t look horrible (like Storify’s built-in exporter), let me know in the comments.