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Australian writer Jacinda Woodhead argues that part of transparency in new media is showing where stories originate and linking to those sources. She believes this is one way the public knows if the media has been "spun" by public relations sources or people with agendas. (Credit: Crikey)

Jacinda Woodhead wrote for the Australian Broadcast Corp. that in the interest of transparency, news organizations should link to source material online.

“In this age of online journalism…how can journalists justify not providing links or access to the sources that inform their articles?” Woodhead wondered. She advocates linking to source information because then readers can learn where the story idea came from and if a story is based on a press release.

Woodhead cited a March 2010 Crikey-ACIJ investigation that found “that nearly 55% of stories analysed were driven by some form of public relations.”  Crikey is an Australian independent journalism news website.  ACIJ is the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Katrina Fox wrote about the subjects of objectivity and bias on The Scavenger that  “Objectivity and neutrality have long been the classic tenets of journalism, but there is a growing realisation – among media pundits and consumers alike – that all media organisations are inherently biased in terms of what stories they cover, how they are framed and who gets a voice, and that the concept of objective reporting is a fallacy. ”

Fox quotes British investigative journalist Nick Davies who has written about the topic who said “When asked about the idea of objectivity/neutrality in reporting, he says it is ‘nonsense.’ Davies stated, “There never has been nor will be nor could be an objective news report. This is not because all reporters are subjective and trapped in their prejudices. It is because all reporters necessarily and always are selective.”

Woodhead similarly argues that journalists can’t be objective because they have to pick one story over another, then one angle, one way of writing, certain sources, and so on.

“In mainstream media, the opinion pages were traditionally considered the sole domain of advocacy journalism, but nowadays there’s an increasing number of journalists and journalism academics who recognise that bias and advocacy exist even in news stories and features – and that it’s time to own up to this,” Fox wrote.

Wikileaks

As an example of troublesome sourcing, Woodhead cited the reporting on the Wikileaks Apache helicopter video.

Wired had reported June 6 that “a 22-year-old U.S. Army Private in Iraq, Bradley Manning, had been detained after he ‘boasted’ in an Internet chat — with convicted computer hacker Adrian Lamo — of leaking to WikiLeaks the now famous Apache Helicopter attack video, a yet-to-be-published video of a civilian-killing air attack in Afghanistan, and “hundreds of thousands of classified State Department records.” Lamo, who met Manning online, turned over information and his chat logs with Manning, which were published in Wired.

Wikileaks describes itself as “a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public”

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The Apache video was released April 5, PC World reported, and was taken during a 2007 mission.  (The Apache video predates the July publication of leaked Afghan war documents by Wikileaks.)

Glenn Greenwald  wrote June 18 on Salon about the case and its hidden and questionable sourcing.  Greenwald wrote that he spent much time “reviewing everything I could related to this case and speaking with several of the key participants” and that it’s troubling that “almost everything that is known comes from a single, extremely untrustworthy source: Lamo”

Lamo, Greenwald found, not only contradicted himself in various statements, but also “explicitly led Manning to believe he could trust him and that their discussions would be confidential — perhaps legally required to be kept confidential — only to then report everything Manning said to the Government.”

Lamo had promised Manning confidentiality twice – Greenwald reported that Lamo said he told Manning he was a journalist who could offer journalistic shield law protections and a minister who could offer a legally bound confession protection.  Yet, Lamo turned over that source.

And, Greenwald wrote that Lamo couldn’t find “a single fact contained in any documents leaked by Manning that would harm national security,” making Lamo’s outing of Manning defenseless because Lamo had promised Manning confidentiality.

Noting that both Wired and The Washington Post have reported “selective excerpts of the online chat logs” without listing where the chat logs came from, Greenwald wrote that the information the public and some journalists have about the Wikileaks story is different from what “privileged information” other journalists have.  Greenwald noted that he wrote to The Washington Post asking for more information about the sourcing but wasn’t provided any information.

“That’s just basic transparency and respect for one’s readers,” says Greenwald. Considering the infinite space that is the internet, “what journalistic justification is there for writing about documents while concealing the original source material from one’s readers?” Greenwald wrote.  Greenwald wanted to know why only selections of the chat logs were published.

Fox wondered how in the online world “can journalists justify not providing links or access to the sources that inform their articles?”

iMediaEthics is writing to Wired and The Washington Post for more information and will update with any response.

UPDATE: 08/02/2010 9:29 AM EST: iMediaEthics has updated this post to clarify the relationship between Lamo and Manning.

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Australian Journalist Argues Online Linking Part of Transparency

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