Monthly Archives: July 2013

Harper Lee: gouged by her literary agent?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Vanity Fair magazine has a widely cited story about Harper Lee, author of the beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird. [That link is only to a story about the story; VF is not giving anything away for free.] According to the magazine, Lee may have been cheated out of royalties by her literary agent.

Many of the news stories I have read and heard routinely refer to Lee as a “recluse,” although I would say she is somewhere on the spectrum of writers who just don’t want to be bothered.

They also routinely refer to her with astonishment as the author of only a single book. That may be overstating it. For one thing, it is impossible to completely rule out the possibility that she has published other things under one or more noms de plume. Also, it should be noted that Lee had a significant role in the creation of another literary classic, In Cold Blood. Truman Capote is credited as the sole author, but the fact was that Lee — a childhood friend of Capote from Alabama — accompanied Capote on his reporting forays in Kansas and served as his note-taker, fixer, amanuensis and god-knows-what-else. Capote never gave her adequate credit, and Lee has declined to claim it. But she deserves it.



Filed under journalism history, Uncategorized

Harvard prof backs Wiki-leaker

By Christopher B. Daly 

Not to be missed: Charlie Savage has a story in today’s NYTimes about the defense resting its case in the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning for his alleged role in the Wikileaks disclosures. The star of the show was Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who has been a leading figure in Harvard’s indispensable Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

On a busy news day, the Manning story was somewhat buried in the Times, but it is worth reading — including the link to Benkler’s scholarly paper on Wikileaks.



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Filed under leaks, Wikileaks

Let cameras into court

By Christopher B. Daly 

As I recently argued, we the people deserve to have cameras in all our courtrooms (except maybe juvenile court) and our legislative bodies.

The latest case in point: the appearance in U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Radiating out from downtown Boston, millions of people have a keen interest in this case, and they all have a right to see this defendant. We have a right to hear him say “Not guilty.” We have a right to observe the performance of the government parties — the prosecutors, the judge, the guards, etc. We have the right to watch our government.

Instead, what we get is a chalk sketch like this one:

Suspected terrorist Margaret Small/AP

Suspected terrorist
Margaret Small/AP

We can do better, and we the people deserve better. 

If anybody knows of a good argument for continuing to ban cameras from federal courts, please leave a comment.



Filed under Boston, broadcasting, journalism history, media, Photojournalism, Supreme Court

Surveillance roundup

[NSA Out]*

*Now, there’s some metadata for you. Back in the day when I worked for the Associated Press, we had to “slug” our material with various directives, indicating who had access to the material and whether users were free to use another news agencies photos or had to use AP photos. We often labeled our “content” with warnings like the one above. I only wish I could label all my emails with a warning to the NSA to leave them alone. Until then, I am looking for a user-friendly encryption system. If you use one that you recommend, please leave a comment below. If you are from the NSA, stop reading NOW.

–If true, this statement from Edward Snowden is important, because it would have a direct bearing on his possible guilt under the Espionage Act.

–If sincere, this statement from a former judge on the super-secret secrecy court is interesting. Like Obama, this guy now welcomes a debate over our policy on secrecy (which was supposed to remain secret, thus preventing the very debate he now welcomes).

–If it weren’t laughable, this story about our allies would be poignant. [“I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that spying is going on here, Rick.”]

BTW, do you have clearance to read this? 


If not, report yourself to the NSA immediately. Or to one of our allies. Or just wait and let your ISP or telecom company rat you out. 

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Filed under broadcasting, First Amendment, Journalism, leaks, Supreme Court, Uncategorized

The re-making of the news media

By Christopher B. Daly 

We are living through a period of great flux in the news business. There are new ventures, new hybrids, new devices for gathering and disseminating information, documents, and polemics. It’s a treat to have a front-row seat (Goodbye, Google Reader! Hello, Feedly!), but it can be disorienting at times.

To wit: the decision by the mighty Time Warner media conglomerate to abandon its shiny, still-new namesake building at Columbus Circle in Manhattan and decamp to a still-unfinished tower in a lower-rentPennStation district the developers refer to as Hudson Yards. (Does anybody really call it that? It’s really a vast wasteland on the Far West Side between Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, but it is slowly becoming a new media hub within Manhattan.)

But not to be missed is a more powerful trend sweeping through much of Big Media: the break-up of many of the big conglomerates. At Time Warner, at News Corp., and at Tribune Co., the same de-conglomeration process is underway: the division of those big companies into a print division and a (for lack of a better word) video division.

–Time Warner is spinning off its magazine division, which has been the cornerstone of the Time empire since Henry Luce founded Time magazine in 1923.

–News Corp. took out a double-truck ad in the NYTimes on Monday to signal its separation into two divisions. One made up of the Wall Street Journal, the NYPost and many, many other newspapers along with some magazines, almost all of which lose money. The other is a new company (called “21st Century Fox”) made up of the highly profitable television, cable, and movie-making subsidiaries. (The new video division began trading on the stock market on July 1; shares opened at $29 and basically stayed there all day. The new print division has not started trading yet.)

–Tribune Co., which traces its roots to the Chicago newspaper empire founded by Joseph Medill and taken over by his grandson, Col. Robert R. McCormick, announced this week that it is going to spend $2.7 billion to buy 19 local television stations around the country. At the same time, Tribune Co. is trying to sell “some or all of its newspaper properties,” including the cornerstone Chicago Tribune, according to a story in today’s NYT business section.

–The New York Times Co., which traces its roots to the founding of the New-York Daily Times newspaper in 1851, began selling off its broadcast units about six years ago and completed the process a few years later. The Times Co. is apparently pursuing a strategy of shrinking to its core business and trying to defend the castle keep with a paywall.

The big open question: What will any of this mean for the quality of the journalism that is carried out by these companies?

Stay tuned.

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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, journalism history, New York Times, publishing

Media executives pay

It’s ridiculous to find so many heads of media companies (often with journalistic subsidiaries) on this list of top-paid U.S. executives. If their companies are doing so well, why aren’t they hiring more journalists?

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 12.04.14 PM

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TV in courtrooms? TV in statehouses?

By Christopher B. Daly

In America, where the people attempt to rule themselves, why should we not have access to even the innermost reaches of our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government? It seems to me that if we really believe in transparency, we should demand it. We should operate on the assumption that all government operations are open unless there is a really good case for closing them.

Two cases in point:

–The Whitey Bulger trial in Boston is a matter of intense interest to a couple of million people in eastern Massachusetts and lots of other individuals around the country. But we cannot watch his trial on television, because video cameras are banned from federal courts. Instead, we make do with the daily work of “sketch artists,” pursuing an odd hybrid of fine art and journalism that should have gone out of business by now. TV cameras have been operating for decades in most state-level courts, and guess what? The quality of justice in the state courts has not diminished measurably.


Boston Globe

–The recent filibuster in the Texas Legislature made a hero of state Sen. Wendy Davis (and her pink running shoes). Last week, she borrowed a tactic from conservatives and waged a real, old-fashioned filibuster in order to block a bill that would have seriously rolled back access to abortion in Texas. Yes, she was aligned politically with the liberal agenda. Yes, she was very telegenic. But the only reason that she could rise to her current level of stardom is the presence of television cameras that routinely record and transmit the people’s business being done in the legislature.

Sen. Wendy Davis faces the cameras.

Sen. Wendy Davis faces the cameras.

Obviously, we the people cannot attend every court hearing or legislative debate. For one thing, we are busy. For another, we would never all fit in the tiny public galleries available in most courtrooms or legislative chambers. We need access.

Let those cameras in!

(And if you are worried about the presence of cameras touching off an epidemic of grandstanding, forget it. Our litigators and legislators are already grandstanding every day. We’re just missing a lot of it.)

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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, Politics, Uncategorized

NSA Leak: Is Greenwald a journalist or activist? (Does it matter?)

By Christopher B. Daly

In his NYTimes column today, David Carr raises a somewhat misleading question about Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story about the illegal, secret NSA spying on innocent Americans. Carr poses the question: is Greenwald a journalist or an activist?

I think that’s the wrong question, for several reasons.

First, as a historian of journalism, I start with looking at the history of American journalism. For more than a century, back in the early days of newspapers in Colonial America and during the first few decades of the early national period, there was no such thing as “objectivity” in the newspaper business, and there were no full-time reporters.

Thomas Paine (Library of Congress)

Thomas Paine (Library of Congress)

That is, the entire industry was based on content created by people with an ax to grind. Often, they were political activists (like Sam Adams or Tom Paine) or surrogates for office-holders (like James Callender).

The idea that a journalist should be defined as a full-time, professional fact-gatherer who has no political allegiances is not only unrealistic, but it is already a historical artifact. If that definition of a journalist ever made sense, it was during a period (the mid and late 20th century) that is now over. Today, the term “journalist” embraces all sorts of folks with different business models, different priorities, and different media. So be it.

Glenn Greenwald is actually a case in point for this new media landscape. He is not just a reporter. He is a lawyer-litigator, an author, a columnist, a blogger, and an advocate. He is also gay and living in a DOMA-induced exile in Brazil. In all he does, he appears to have strong convictions (or biases, if you prefer). He makes no bones about his allegiances. In a sense, he is the compleat modern journalist — global, multi-platform, high-impact.

I don’t agree with him on everything, but I value what he does. And I appreciate knowing where he’s coming from — unlike some journalists who actually have an agenda but deny it.


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Filed under history, journalism history, media, Uncategorized