Starsuckers is a feature documentary about the celebrity obsessed media, that uncovers the real reasons behind our addiction to fame and blows the lid on the corporations and individuals who profit from it. Made completely independently over 2 years in secret, the film journeys through the dark underbelly of the modern media. Using a combination of never before seen footage, undercover reporting, stunts and animation, the film reveals the toxic effect the media is having on us all and especially our children. Chris Atkins presents Starsuckers as a series of five lessons on fame in the modern world: how children are persuaded that fame is something they want, how television and the media reinforces the importance of celebrity and the efforts to attain it, how the mind and body reinforces our need to follow the activities of well-known people and strive to join their number, how the press became addicted to celebrity coverage, and how the art of promoting fame has led to celebrities and their handlers controlling the press instead of the press having say. Along the way, Atkins demonstrates how celebrity news with no basis in fact gets into print, why newspapers will run press releases almost verbatim, how parents will eagerly sign away the image rights to their kids, how certain mass scale charity events end up helping the performers far more than the causes they designed to support, and how publicists keep accurate but unflattering stories out of the news.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Anatomy Of The Twitter Attack

by Nik Cubrilovic on July 19, 2009

The Twitter document leak fiasco started with a simple story that personal accounts of Twitter employees were hacked. Twitter CEO Evan Williams commented on that story, saying that Twitter itself was mostly unaffected. No personal accounts were compromised, and “most of the sensitive information was personal rather than company-related,” he said. The individual behind the attacks, known as Hacker Croll, wasn’t happy with that response. Lots of Twitter corporate information was compromised, and he wanted the world to know about it. So he sent us all of the documents that he obtained, some 310 of them, and the story developed from there.

It’s clear that Twitter was completely unaware of how deeply they were affected as a company - when Williams said that most of the information wasn’t company related he believed it. It wasn’t until later that he realized just how much and what kind of information was taken. It included things like financial projections and executive meeting notes that contained highly confidential information.

We’ve already said a lot about all of this and the related “server password = password” story that was discovered by another individual last week. But we’ve got two more stories to tell. The first, this post, is exactly how the hacks took place, based on information gathered from hours of conversations with Hacker Croll. The second is what was happening behind he scenes with Twitter as the story unfolded. We’ll post that later this week.

When the story first broke the true scope of what had taken place and how it occurred was not understood. Various bloggers speculated about the cause of the attack - with some placing the blame on Google while others blaming the rising trend of hosting documents in the cloud.

We immediately informed Twitter of the information we had in our possession (and forwarded it to them), and at the same time reached out to the attacker. With some convincing, the attacker responsible for the intrusion at Twitter began a dialog with us. I spent days communicating with the attacker in an effort to gain insight into how the attack took place, what the true scope of it was and how we could learn from it.

Read More

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tom Wolfes Obeservations: Novelist as Journalist / Reporter

The Bonfire of the Vanities - coming to this blog

Posted: 14 Jul 2009 06:11 PM PDT

Tom Wolfe likes to introduce his novels with a sort of "making of" Introduction. I noticed he did so with "I am Charlotte Simmons"; and now I discover that, about twenty years before, he did the same with "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

The Introduction to "The Bonfire of the Vanities" is a lovely literary essay, the sort of thing that arouses serious writers (whom Tom Wolfe defines as those who aim for literary prestige). It is rich with historical context from the world of fiction, from as far back the nineteenth century to the 1980s. It is also an argument for something.

Wolfe argues that novel writing must rely on reporting skills. A serious writer must be able to document - carefully - the world he wishes his work to inhabit. He has to interview, live in, make friends with, that world. Wolfe compares realism to electricity; you can't go back on it, you can't do without it. Realism is essential for fiction, he argues.

His point seems true; part of The Wire's immense TV success is that its creator immersed himself in the inner-workings of Baltimore, Maryland. Indeed, David Simon was a reporter for a local Baltimore paper for many years.

Some nuggets:

In 1969, Tom Wolfe sought to write a novel about New York - that irresistible destination of all those who insist on being where things are happening. He thought it the most obvious idea an American writer could have.

1960s America was a time of immense change. He kept waiting for novels about those changes. Nothing.

By the time 1979 swung around, and still no grand novel on New York had come out, Wolfe began to prepare for writing that book himself.

The reason why no novels where forthcoming was complicated. Most writers were experimenting with different forms of fiction. The realism school was deemed to have been 'over'.

Extraordinary and abundant news coverage challenged fiction writers. There was no way they could replicate that realism. The news was full of detail, full of things even a fictional novelist would be at loss to match for symbolism and surprise.

Reporting is the most vaulable and least understood resource available to any writer with exalted ambitions, whether the medium is print, film, tape, or the stage.

Wolfe sought to document the influence of society on even the most personal aspects of the life of an individual. It strikes me as folly to believe that you can portray the individual in the city today without also portraying the city itself.

I doubt that there is a writer over forty who does not realise in his heart of hearts that literary genius, in prose, consists of proportions more on the the order of 65 percent material and 35 percent the talent in his brain.

Between 1981-1985, Tom Wolfe gathered material by visiting neighborhoods and making friends with people he would never have encountered. The novel was published in 1987 to widespread acclaim; it was often described as 'prophetic'.

Hola: While in London, my friend avantcaire set up this book-reading-circle of sorts; to my lot fell the honour of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" - all 740 pages of it. My task is to read it, and send it on to the next person in the ring. Wish me luck!

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Access Scandal Echoes Beyond The Washington Post or How We Get Our "Un-Biased" News

For those readers not familiar with the "Access Scandal" click on title above to read original artile of which this one (below) is a follow-up)

Friday 03 July 2009

by: Michael Calderone and Andy Barr | Visit article original @ The Politico

For embarrassed Washington Post executives-reeling from what the paper's own ombudsman called a public relations "disaster" over a flier promoting a "salon" for lobbyists to mingle with prominent newsmakers-there must be a sense of "Why us?"

The fact is The Post's clumsy effort to make money on its brand name and market its access to the powerful was a belated effort to follow in the steps of at least two other prominent news organizations: the Wall Street Journal and the Economist magazine.

The Journal, for instance, is charging a $7,500 for its two-day CEO Council in November, an elite gathering that will include the paper's top editors and high-profile speakers like Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. And for a few thousand dollars, The Economist can open the door to intimate off-the-record meet-and-greets with world leaders.

These events illustrate how the basic transaction-charging big fees to special interests to arrange private, special-access encounters with powerful people-that caused the Post this week to be excoriated is a more endemic practice than many people in political and media circles realize. Some watchdogs hope this week's Post scandal will help put an end to a hard-to-defend practice by revenue-hungry news organizations.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, said he thought the Post flier raised a red flag for news organizations to be wary of entering into a financial arrangement with people that you're covering.

"One has to ask," Rosenstiel said, "Is the amount of money you might generate from this worth damaging that bond with your readers?"

While the speakers at the Journal conference this November will be on the record, with ostensible benefits for Journal readers, Rosenstiel said the bigger problem is when newsmakers and top editorial staffers are offered up to guests with no press access whatsoever, as the Post was originally planning. By doing so, he said, news organizations are "encouraging the notion in the readers mind that [they're] part of some insider establishment that it considers more important than public knowledge."

The Journal arguably crossed that line in March, when the paper agreed to allow National Economic Adviser Larry Summers to conduct his talk, during a $5,000-a-head conference, as closed to press. All the other speakers at the Future of Finance Initiative conference, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, spoke on the record. But when it came time for Summers talk, Journal deputy managing editor Alan Murray, who's instrumental in organizing the paper's executive conferences, instructed attendees (and not reporters) to get in cars headed for White House. (The Journal declined to comment on this arrangement).

Changing the Summers talk from on to off the record and whisking executives over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue came up late in the process at the Journal. By contrast, The Economist, the British publication that has developed considerable readership on this side of the Atlantic, makes it clear from the start what the ground rules are for its conferences. And those have nothing to do with informing average readers.

The Economist has scheduled two off-the-record summits this year bringing together government officials and business leaders together in Mexico and Brazil. The magazine's website lists three aims for the summits, one of which is to foster an off-the-record, high-level debate between Mexican business leaders and key ministers on the policies and strategies of the current government. The price for the Mexico and Brazil summits are not listed, but prices for other events run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to nearly $4,000.

"The events are off the record because we have found it is the best way for our delegates and host governments to get value from the discussion," an Economist spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. "It also explicitly means that the event will not be covered by The Economist.

"We host events because they are a natural extension of the debate initiated by the magazine," the spokesperson added.

Rarely has a prestigious news organization found itself so much on the defensive about the practice as The Post was on Thursday following POLITICO's report on a marketing flier sent to lobbyists that offered exclusive, off-the-record access to the top of the Post's masthead, Congressional leaders, Obama administration officials, and the paper's health-care reporters in exchange for fees ranging from $25,000 for one event to $250,000 for ten.

Post executives- publisher Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli--focused on the flier, which in particularly over-the top language promised a corporations a "seat at the table" with policy-makers for a dinner that would have a certain type of mood. "Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it.""

Weymouth and Brauchli said the flier not been vetted, adding that the newsroom would never have taken part in a pay-to-play scheme as described. But Weymouth did not repudiate the concept of charging corporate sponsors for off-the-record dinners and insisted that "there is a viable way to expand our expertise into live conferences and events."

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, said on POLITICO's Arena that the bottom line for the Post brass was money, "and when people start thinking money, they tend to forget to think about anything else."

"Let's hope that the Chinese wall between the news side and the business side doesn't crumble under current intense financial pressure as the industry transforms," Kanter said. "The bottom line, so to speak, is not what was said on the fliers about paying big bucks and getting a seat at Weymouth's dinner table. It is that the fliers were honest about the nature of the offering: contacts for cash."

For the Post, facing steep losses this year, such events have been part of a revenue-generating strategy for some time. As Weymouth told staffers in a memo last December, "to expand our revenue base and diversify our business model, we must look for opportunities to create new products, especially in the areas where business and policy intersect." One idea, she wrote at the time, was "hosting of specialized conferences for business decision makers with a stake in Washington policy-making."

Perhaps no one has perfected the art of bringing together ideas and debate in the public sphere while generating profits and prestige as Atlantic Media owner David Bradley. Microsoft has teamed up with National Journal for private dinners, and Bradley's annual schmoozefest, the Aspen Ideas Festival, brought together over one hundred speakers with leading positions in government, business, journalism, advocacy and the arts this past week.

Sponsored by the Aspen Institute and Atlantic, along with corporate support, the festival also features Cabinet members, the top editors and writers from Bradley's magazines, and a sundry media all-stars. (As coincidence would have it, Weymouth sat on a future of journalism panel in Aspen titled "What's the News Worth to You?")

Atlantic Monthly editor James Bennet said that "the whole idea of the [festival] is to be on-the-record and in open conversation."

According to Bennet, "sponsors of the session here go to events and have the same opportunities to ask questions as everybody else." But The Atlantic, like other news organizations, charges big money for such gatherings, though anyone can head to the website for regular festival dispatches or clips of panels and interviews.

POLITICO has also collaborated with sponsors such as the ACLU and Yahoo in holding public events. But each has been open to the public and press - a critical distinction according to John F. Harris, POLITICO's editor-in-chief.

"My view is that it is the job of news organizations to illuminate public issues, and do so in a public way," Harris wrote in an e-mail. "Sponsored events, in which editors set the agenda and the proceedings are transparent, can do this effectively. It is not our job to serve as a kind of escort service to facilitate private encounters between special interests and public officials."

"Publisher Robert Allbritton agrees with this and has directed us to avoid events that revolve around these kind of transactions," Harris added.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Honduras new government is censoring journalists

Roberto Michele, new Honduran president - former head of the Honduran Congress


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- At the close of the one of this week's nightly news broadcasts, Channel 21 news anchor Indira Raudales made a plea: ``We have a right to information! This can't be happening in the 21st century!''

If Raudales offered more details, viewers did not hear them: the screen briefly went to static.

Her on-air appeal for freedom of the press came as the newly installed Honduran government kept several news outlets closed, detained international reporters, and periodically interrupted the signal of CNN en español.

Reporters for The Associated Press were taken away in military vehicles and Venezuela's Telesur network -- and any other station supportive of toppled president Manuel Zelaya -- are still off the air.

Stations that are broadcasting carry only news friendly to the new government. Several local papers have yet to publish information about Zelaya's international support in neighboring countries.

''They militarized Channel 36, which is owned by me,'' said Efdras López, director of the show, ''Asi se Informa.'' ``They brought more than a battalion -- 22 armed men -- took the channel and said nobody could come in and nobody could come out.

``I own this building!''

The crackdown on the media began before dawn Sunday, when hooded soldiers entered the presidential palace by force and captured Zelaya, a leftist firebrand who had vowed to defy the supreme court, congress and the attorney general's office in a quest to hold a referendum. The nation's media went black while Zelaya was flown out of the country.

When a new government presided by former head of Congress Roberto Micheletti was installed a few hours later, only the radio and TV stations loyal to the establishment were allowed to broadcast.

Citing a daily newspaper, the InterAmerican Press Association reported that Zelaya supporters in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula attacked reporters and photographers, as well as destroyed newspaper-vending kiosks. The advocacy group also reported that soldiers stormed into a TV station and newspaper newsrooms, ordering a halt to operations.

''We are deeply concerned by reports that several broadcasters have been taken off the air,'' said Committee To Protect Journalists' Americas senior program coordinator Carlos Lauría. ``We call on those in power to allow the resumption of all broadcasts and ensure that all journalists can work freely and safely at this critical time for Honduras.''

López said his station was targeted because of his past critical coverage of Micheletti and Gen. Romeo Vásquez, the head of the armed forces.

''There are journalists who Zelaya paid to insult me morning, noon and night,'' said National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio López. ``There is no censorship in Honduras. We have simply asked the media not to feed the conflict. The media that are closed are the ones that were feeding hate.''

Custodio, the government ombudsman, said he has not received any complaints from the press.

''If I get a complaint, I will investigate it,'' he said.

If news outlets are leaving out chunks of the story, Custodio said, it's because they have the right to publish only the information that interests them.

''Who are we supposed to turn to when the government human rights commissioner is justifying this coup?'' said Andrés Molina, a correspondent for Venezuela's Telesur network, which is off the air. ``The military picked up our reporters off the street and held them for two hours. Later they said it was a mistake. How can it be a mistake, when these people are going around with cameras, microphones and media credentials?''

He stressed that Telesur is often criticized for being a ''leftist station out of Caracas'' but ``how then do you explain that they are taking CNN off the air too?''

''This is not ideology,'' he said. ``This is abuse.''

Micheletti's spokesman René Zepeda, himself a longtime journalist here, told reporters that if it were his decision, all stations would be broadcasting. The Zelaya administration's channel 8, he said, would return after consultation with lawyers.

A 2008 report by the Open Society Institute said government payments to the press were widespread. A report by the InterAmerican Dialogue think tank in Washington said the Honduran media operate as arms of political parties.

''One of the largest threats to Honduran democracy is the lack of independence of the Honduran media,'' according to the paper written by Manuel Orozco and Rebecca Rouse. ``The media have failed to fulfill their social function as government watchdogs, are controlled by business and political interests and do not practice fair reporting practices.''