Category Archives: journalism

The Challenges of Crime Reporting

On May 26 the Canadian Journalism Foundation hosted The Media and Wrongful Conviction with criminal lawyer James Lockyer. The evening focused on murder cases where an innocent person served time.
The role of the journalist in these type of wrongful conviction cases is very important.

First let’s examine the judicial system.

As Toronto lawyer James Lockyer stated at the beginning of his lecture:

“All human processes are human and prone to error. A criminal trial is a human process.”

When dealing with the court a journalist has to examine the fallacies as they present their story. Those fallacies are plentiful for the court room is filled with humans.

But you’re already ahead in the game so let’s go back to the crime scene. While journalists aren’t always allowed at the scene of the crime they can ask important questions. The early clues are vital for a fair hearing.

At the beginning we as journalists and the public want the same thing as the police, an answer. That answer takes time. Unless witnesses are at the scene and the crime is filmed it’s difficult to get down to brass tacks, the suspect. There is often a rush to judgment, the easiest answer is the suspect. In many wrongful conviction cases that was the case. The innocent knew the victim, often they were in a relationship, were a relative or a neighbour.

That rush to judgment is not just due to the police, the public and the media is often on the bandwagon. In the recent case of Tori Stafford her mother was a very early suspect.

In this rush to judgment the journalist needs to be ready to look at the evidence presented and start asking vital questions. Are the witnesses reliable? Are the police and the witnesses telling the truth? Do the findings make sense? What types of forensics are being used as a means of pinpointing a suspect? Are those tests junk science?

Once the case makes it to the courtroom the journalist has a much more difficult task. They have to examine all the findings and observe them with a slightly jaundiced eye. Wide eyed innocence in the court room is not a practical way to cover a trial that may result in a person being sent away for life. A journalist now has a different set of questions to add to the first set, which should still be in play.

Is the Crown disclosing the information to the court? Is the defense council reliable? Can the jury grasp the information being present to them?

Mr. Lockyer observed that is should not surprise anyone that wrongful convictions can easily take place.

“What I would like to see is reporters covering cases with a jaundiced eye.”

It’s not difficult that the media can be a key element in murder cases. That element can be both positive and negative. The media can ask questions, find witnesses and examine findings with a new eye that police can use. On the other hand the media can put pressure on the police to help a suspect that results in a rush to judgment before the evidence supports that finding.

After the trial the journalist has not lost their importance. This is the time when a journalist may have to take on the establishment. To raise questions about if an innocent has been convicted of a crime. The journalist may be the only voice a wrongly convicted person has to have a voice.

Sadly there isn’t enough of this type of reporting going on. Once the case has closed it’s time for the next story. Often though it’s just the beginning of the story. These stories are not easy nor do they have a pre-set wrap up time. They take long hours of research, interviews and aren’t always that popular. They are when the journalist is most needed though. That in itself, makes it an issue that journalists must strive to improve on.

An innocent person’s life may just depend on it.


Why Is Ibrahim Jassam In Custody?

Cameraman Ibrahim Jassam has been in custody since September. Jassam works for Reuters. He is considered by the United States government to be a security risk. But is he any more of a risk than Roxana Saberi was to Iran?
Ibrahim Jassam isn’t alone in being detained by the United States in a foreign land. For six years Sami al-Haj was held in Guantanamo without a trial. Sami al-Haj was a cameraman for Al Jazeera. His story, unlike Saberi’s went untold for the most part by the media.

He was released in 2007 without the fanfare the Saberi case received. He was asked to spy on Al-Jazeera while in Guantanamo instead of asked about his life as a terrorist. Why? Because there was no evidence that the man was anything but a journalist.

Bilal Hussein was in prison for almost two years without being charged. Hussein is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer for AP.

In the Ibrahim Jassam case five months ago an Iraqi court found no evidence that justifies his detention. He was ordered to be released. The United States has refused to recognize that court order. He is still in custody.

Reuters
reports:

“Though we appreciate the decision of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in the Jassam case, their decision does not negate the intelligence information that currently lists him as a threat to Iraq security and stability,” said Major Neal Fisher, spokesman for the U.S. military’s detainee operations in Iraq.

“He will be processed for release in a safe and orderly manner after December 31st, in the order of his individual threat level, along with all other detainees,” Fisher said in an email to Reuters.

“Since he already has a decision from the CCCI, when it is his turn for release he will be able to out-process without having to go through the courts as other detainees in his threat classification will have to do.”

Jassam, 31, was arrested on September 2, 2008. Troops from both the US and Iraq came to his home in the middle of the night breaking down the family’s front door. When Iraqi soldiers asked where the journalist Ibrahim was he stepped forward. The LA Times reports that one of his brothers recalls:

Ibrahim Jassam, a cameraman and photographer for the Reuters news agency, stepped forward, one of this brothers recalled. “Take me if you want me, but please leave my brothers.”

They did. Blindfolding him, taking his computer’s hard drive the troops handcuffed Jassam and drove away.

There are still no formal accusations that have been made against Jassam.

Jassam’s brother, [url=He may well break under the pressure of being detained. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iraq-journalist24-2009may24,0,2581320.story t=_blank]Walid, visited him recently in Camp Bucca, the desolate, tented U.S. prison camp in the desert in southern Iraq, and found him close to the breaking point.

“He used to be handsome, but now he’s pale and he’s tired,” said Walid, who says his brother had no ties to insurgents. “Every now and then while we were talking, he would start crying. He was begging me: ‘Please do something to get me out of here. I don’t know what is the charge against me.’

“I told him we already tried everything.”


Reporters without Borders
has called for his release. But where is the rest of the world’s outrage?

Salon reports:

Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last three years, dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction. In one highly publicized case, Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a freelance cameraman working for CBS, was detained after being wounded by U.S. military fire as he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq on April 5, 2005. U.S. military officials claimed footage in his camera led them to suspect Hussein had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. In April 2006, a year after his arrest, Hussein was freed after an Iraqi criminal court, citing a lack of evidence, acquitted him of collaborating with insurgents.


What the Public Wants From News Media

What do the masses want when it comes to a news sites? Is it the hard news that takes time to collect or quick jots to keep everyone updated in one place? A small survey was done for DigitalJournal.com to discover those answers.
News is happening everyday all around us, but what is it that the public wants? Do we want to be informed or do we want to be entertained?

Does what we want depend on our age, career or social settings?

Setting out to find the answers I asked 100 men and women from around the globe what they wanted in a news source. My goal was to have at least 1/5 of the surveys returned.

The survey was taken by 25 participants. The age of participants was from 19 to 72 with being the median age of 44.

16 males and 9 females answered the survey.

One student responded, two of the participants were disabled, careers ran the gamut from IT techs, web developers, construction consultant,engineer, management in the software industry, editors, writers, journalist, mental health worker and a translator.

Of those offering their social-economic status three are dealing with money issues and the remainder of 12 are in the middle class.

The survey was sent out to people in Australia, Europe, Africa and North America. At least two from each area responded with the majority of responses from North America.

The survey consisted of five questions about news media and then the above information. I did not divide the survey answers into the statistics of which gender wanted what as the results showed that all genders were divided in areas of division and visa versa.

Participants were also asked if they had additional comments concerning the news media. A sampling of those comments are:

I simply believe in the old news values: Audience, Impact, Proximity, Prominence, Conflict, Human Interest. These don’t change, in my opinion. And the story should answer the Four Ws and an H. Some opinion can be included, as long as it is near the bottom and can be seen as such. -CS

In general, I look to the news for facts. Opinions are available everywhere, at any time. Facts are more rare and thus more precious. And you can use my name as long as it’s associated with factual content 🙂

I Like to know what’s going on in the world and if issues are being reported they should be tracked. I like to have an understanding of what is going on with local politics, arts and innovation and I always love a feel good human interest story to renew my faith in humanity.-TB

Now it’s time to examine the results of the survey.

What do you want in a news source?

Overwhelmingly those who took the survey read the news for facts. They expect their news source to be well balanced and the source to be known for accuracy. People wanted their news to be unbiased. While the article can be short readers want more than a few sentences to digest. They also want today’s news and they want it fast.

The need for hard news is also mixed with the need for human interest stories. Gossip is not something that news readers are a fan of.

Readers like a mix of writing styles also. They also expect the articles to be well written, lacking spelling errors, proof read and fact checked. Readers want to be able to trust the information that they are consuming.

Some of the comments from this question are:

I have varying news sources that I go to for varying reasons, I like quick concise reports and the in-depth reporting that some provide.

Good writing is essential. Prompt news-breaking articles are important too, and I am a big fan of science and research articles, particularly space exploration, of which there are not nearly enough in my opinion

A wide range of subjects, well written, fact based, across ethnic and racial lines done with thought and good documentation.

varied, unique, research based,attributable stories that tell me local and international events in more than one 2 sentence paragraph…

A few things. It should be objective & un-biased. It should be comprehensive and broad enough to include news beyond the tiny focus of the typical western media. It should be NEWS – i.e., however much a fan I am of Obama and his adorable family, their pet dog is NOT news to me. Nor is Britney’s latest disaster.

A balanced offering of daily news from around the world. I want to hear both sides of a story (especially in politics) and have every question answered. The “who, what, where, when, why and how” questions are very important.

Adding context, applicable photos/media and building a community is always appealing.

Most of all, credibility.

Do you like opinion based articles?

Survey takers were divided on opinion based articles with 12 in favor, 8 against and one person saying that sometimes they enjoyed them.

One theme that came across clearly was that people do not tolerate news articles are in reality opinion based ones. They also are very much against articles that have an ‘anti’ message.People have very strong opinions on this issue as a selection of the comments show:

Not unless the opinion is the icing on the cake – the bulk should be facts.

If the opinion has intelligence behind it.

I detest out-and-out “anti-something” opinion, aka “I detest Jews/Arabs” when they are written with overtones of violent thought.-MC

With documentation not just shoot from the hip, unless it is done first person with the person someone who has some authority by education or experience relevant to the opinion, for example like a scientist who gives an opinion on the swine flu and whether it will spread and the political implications or a counselor who gives opinions on why people cry a lot and whether or not that is associated with just today’s stress or not, whatever. Again not shoot from the hip unless supported with facts of some sort. -CF

Yes, very much so. Especially if the “news” is as I described above. I enjoy a well-informed, well written article that posits a point of view, especially if it’s different from my own. How else to learn if your own assumptions and views aren’t challenged occasionally?-JO

Do you want long involved reports?

This question was evenly divided with survey respondents. Eleven want long articles, six want shorter articles and six said that it depended on the subject matter.

Reports should be as long as needed to cover the subject. If they are long and involved, that’s fine. It depends again on the subject.
through and to the point.

When issues are ongoing they should be covered for the duration, not just sporadically as other stories deteriorate.

Absolutely…although it doesn’t always have to be long. I like the idea of “executive summary” type stories, followed-up with more in-depth reporting, so I can choose to read/learn further on particular stories that interest me.

Do you want just the facts?

Of the 21 who answered this question most (15) do want just the facts in an article. The other six wanted a mix of facts and background about the story issues.

It is important to have a balance of facts with flavor.

I think background to the facts would also be needed.

I don’t mind some speculative angles if the reporter has proven he has done his background, or that reporter has proven some expertise. but if they are expressing “facts” that favour an interest they have, I want disclosure…

All news should be based on fact, even the opinion pieces.

If the article has pictures does that bring in more interest?

The overwhelming majority want pictures to illustrate a story with 21 positive responses. People also wanted those pictures to be relevant. While it can take time to find the proper pictures to work for an article it makes sense to seek them out or provide your own photos when writing an article.

Pictures definitely intrigue the viewer. It will stimulate more parts of the brain and that’s what news is all about: stimulation and entertainment-MC

I want to thank those who took time to answer the questions. Hopefully the answers you gave will be reflected in future articles not only at digital journal but from other journalists who read this article. It is my hope that the answers can provide journalists some insight into their audience’s needs.


Roxana Saberi Freed from Iranian Prison

Journalist Roxana Saberi was freed from a Tehran jail on Monday, according to her father. Reza Saberi says his Iranian-American daughter’s sentence was reduced.
A lawyer in Iran representing Saberi has confirmed that on Sunday a deal was imminent after a five-hour closed-door appeals hearing. Now free, the young woman will be allowed to leave the country immediately.

The Telegraph reports:

“The verdict of the previous court has been quashed,” lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said. “Her punishment has been changed to a suspended two-year sentence and she will be out of prison.”

On April 13 Saberi was convicted and sentenced to eight years of jail for “cooperating with a hostile state.” Her trial lasted only one day and was the cause of outrage globally.

The Iranian court has now reduced her term to a suspended two-year sentence on the condition that she is banned from reporting from Iran for the next five years.

NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller said the network was “overjoyed” at the news of Saberi’s impending release.

“We are … grateful to everyone who has shared in our efforts to gain her release,” Schiller said Monday. “Roxana is an established and respected professional journalist and we look forward to her return to her craft.”

Ms. Saberi has worked for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News.’


British Journalists Deported From Sri Lanka

A team of journalists from Britain has been deported from Sri Lanka after they produced a report about the alleged abuse of Tamils.
Nick Paton-Walsh, producer Bessie Du and cameraman Matt Jasper from London-bases Channel 4 reportedly admitted that they had been in the wrong according to Lakshman Hulugalle, the head of the government security information center. The government will not allow them to return to the nation because of that.

The reporters though deny that they admitted being int the wrong. Gulf News quotes Paton-Walsh who spoke the the AP in Singapore.

“This is complete rubbish,” he said.

Walsh said he, producer Bessie Du and cameraman Matt Jasper were detained by police in the eastern town of Trincomalee and asked to give a statement, but he refused.

Walsh believes that the incident happened over his most recent report on the conditions of the war refugees and of alleged sexual abuse of those inside the refugee camps.

Sri Lanka has denied the report on Channel 4 that claimed dead bodies are being left where they lay, there are food and water shortages and sexual abuse ongoing in the displacement camps.

The trio were in the country legally on valid visas and had been reporting for the last few weeks on the conditions of the Tamil people

Sri Lanka has been in a civil war since 1983 with the Tamil Tigers. Since that time at least 70,000 people have lost their lives from the battle.


NATO Issues Strict Rules For Afghan News Coverage

NATO is imposing strict new restrictions on foreign journalists covering the war in southern Afghanistan. The new rules could very well affect the news that the Canadian people will now be getting from Kandahar.
The new rules have been in place since early March. The enforcement of the rules by the US military is very much like what is in place for reporters covering the news in Iraq.

It is now impossible for Canadian journalists to leave Kandahar Airfield without an escort and then return safely to NATO’s principle base.

Canadian soldiers are required to escort newly arrived journalists everywhere on the airfield. That includes the military going into the showers with reporters.

Some journalists have been confined to sleeping quarters when they are not working.

This measure has been temporarily suspended under pressure from the Canadian military. The military has tried to have the policy reversed.

The Toronto Star reports:

“The media is not the enemy and this is a form of censorship – and it is unacceptable,” Liberal MP Denis Coderre said Tuesday.

“There is a public interest to know what’s going on in the field.”

The Canadian Association Journalists have called on the Harper government to put pressure on the Pentagon to reverse this policy.

The Star reports:

“It sounds like the more control they have over journalists, where they go, who they talk to, they’ll be able to shape the story in a much effective way,” she said.

“That ultimately is not effective for Canadians’ understanding of what’s really going on.”

Some of the same rules do not apply to journalists from the United States. Those rules are a violation of their rights under the United States constitution. One of the differences is that Canadian reporters are also compelled to forfeit their passports to the military for the duration of their stay.

The new measures appear to affect Canadian news organizations the most. Other NATO countries have sent groups of reporters through Kandahar for short-term assignments.

Reporters have noted that an informal reason for the new guidelines is that some U.S. private contractors have been accused of stealing.

The new rules require Canadian journalists be given a full federal government security screening, involving background checks to be granted accreditation.

This new mandate comes just as Washington is about to booster the troops with an additional 21,000 combat soldiers and trainers.

The U.S. security team at Kandahar Airfield has stopped issuing International Security Assistance Force accreditation since February. Now journalists are only given base visitor passes. These passes restrict movements and require those with the passes to be closely monitored.

Some of the stories that Canadian journalists in the past covered had to do with the allegations of torture among Taliban prisoners and the lives of refugees who have been left homeless after bombing raids.

Canadian troops in Kandahar are stationed at the air field also.


Online Newspaper Readership Grows

As the print news industry suffers online news has grown. Websites that American newspapers operate attracted more than 73.3 million unique users a month in the first three months of this year.

Online newspaper readers average more than 3.5 billion page views per month so far this year. This is an increase of 13 percent over the same period last year.

The one problem that newspapers are dealing with though is keeping advertising revenues up to deal with the increased digital need.

Advertisers aren’t willing to pay premium prices online that they have in the past for print editions.

Losses in ad revenues is the chief reason that so many newspapers have folded in recent months.