Obama Administration is Least Transparent White House in Half-Century

President Obama promised a transparent government as part of his second term in office, but there may be no larger issue that he has failed to deliver on. Again and again, citizens are denied the right to public participation in correlation with our government and the media is dismissed whenever possible, according to a slew of recently published articles.

A new report by the Columbia Journalism Review claims that the relationship between the Obama administration and the press is the least open it’s ever been. The report suggests that President Obama is not living up to the promise he made only a few years earlier to be a more transparent government.

When President Obama secured his second term in office, in 2013, he released a memo to federal agencies promising a more open relationship with the government.

“We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration,” according to a Slate article from 2013. Two years later and government transparency is still one of the largest issues to plague this administration.

The reporter, Paul Thacker, wrote about his experiences working with both the Bush and Obama administration while on assignment and how his job was made increasingly difficult due to “illegally redacted” information from his Freedom of Information Act requests. His hopes that things would get better under the Obama administration did not materialize, and the current administration has been characterized as the least transparent in over half a century.

“Whether it’s responding to Congress, media questions, or FOIA requests, this administration is no better than its predecessor,” Thacker wrote two years ago.

The report’s author, Susan Milligan, has concluded that little to nothing has changed in the past few years and that the relationship between the press and the administration is “more distant than it has been in a half-century and that the White House makes reporters’ job ‘nearly impossible.’”

President Obama continues to suggest that his administration is committed to an open and engaging relationship with both citizens and the press, as referenced on the White House website but his actions speak otherwise.

“An exhaustive study of every official exchange Obama had with the press corps in 2014, supplemented by a review of daily press briefings and interviews with more than a dozen current and former correspondents and White House press secretaries, reveals a White House determined to conceal its workings from the press, and by extension, the public,” the study said

“The media most responsible for covering the president and his inner sanctum are given little insight into how decisions are made or who influences those decisions, whether from inside or outside the White House,” the study continued.

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World Press Photo Revokes Award for Giovanni Troilo

A jury for the World Press Photo contest announced earlier this week that they decided to revoke the first place award of an Italian photographer for misrepresentation of one of the images in his series of photos.

The organization based out of Amsterdam, announced the disqualification for the 10-photo series on the underbelly of a struggling town in Belgium, shot by Giovanni Troilo.

The photo in question depicts Troilo’s cousin having sex with a woman in the back of his car. Troilo used a flash inside of the car to highlight the movement within the car and create a contrast with the dark surroundings of the night. However, critics argued that Troilo’s use of a remote-controlled flash violated the rules of the contest because they felt as though it was staged, and more reminiscent of art instead of photojournalism.

“The World Press Photo Contest must be based on trust in the photographers who enter their work and in their professional ethics,” said Lars Boering, the managing director of World Press Photo, during a statement earlier this week. “We now have a clear case of misleading information an this changes the way the story is perceived. A rule has now been broken, and a line has been crossed.”

The decision came just a day after leading photo festival, Visa Pour L’Image, stated publically that they would not show any World Press Photos this year to protest what they, and many, considered to be a staged photo by Troilo. To the photojournalism community, a staged photo is not considered journalism—a rhetoric that The New York Times shares in their photo classification. Staged photos are strictly prohibited for any photojournalism stories.

The other photos in the series, La Villa Noire – The Dark Heart of Europe, depict a depressing scenes throughout Charleroi, Belgium, which can be found on his personal website.

Troilo expressed his sadness at losing the award during an interview with The New York Times, stating that ‘the controversy began when the World Press Photo rewrote the original captions for his photos,’ which led people to believe that he was being deceptive about how his photos were taken. He continued to say that he felt as though the organization was looking for “an exit strategy, and that the whole thing “seems a big injustice.”

With Troilo disqualified, the first place prize was awarded to Giulio Di Sturco, and the second prize went to Tomas van Houtryve. The third place will go unclaimed.

Follow Sean on Twitter @BuffaloFlynn.

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Journalism Loses Two Greats: Mourning David Carr and Bob Simon

It’s been a tough past couple of weeks for journalism with the deaths of two prolific and incredibly revered journalists. 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon and New York Times columnist David Carr died earlier this month, both close to their offices.

Bob Simon, 73, who had worked as a correspondent for 60 Minutes for nearly 20 years, died earlier this month in a car accident on his way home from the studio. Simon had just finished production on his final segment, a report on a new drug that could combat the deadly Ebola virus that continues to sweep through Northern Africa.

Simon was riding down New York’s West Side Highway shortly before 7 p.m. on February on February 11, when his for-hire Lincoln Town Car collided with another. Simon was pulled from the sunroof of the wrecked car and taken to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center where he later died. The driver of Simon’s car suffered two broken legs and two broken arms, but was listed in stable condition.

“It’s a terrible loss for all of us at CBS News,” said 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager, in an interview with CNN. “It’s a tragedy, made worse because we lost him in a car accident – a man who’s escaped more difficult situations than almost any one journalist in modern times…we will miss him very much.”

New York Times columnist David Carr died at the age of 58 on February 15 from complications with lung cancer after collapsing in the newsroom at the New York Times building on 42nd street in Midtown Manhattan. Carr had previously battled and survived a bout of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer of the lymphatic system.

His death drew an immediate response from journalists around the world who took to social media to express their condolences.

“Word’s fail me,” tweeted Jeff Jarvis, journalist and professor. “A genius is lost.”

And Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted, “David Carr stood out because at a time when the news industry is struggling for its soul, he exemplified both soul and integrity. RIP”

60 Minutes paid tribute to the late journalist during this past week’s broadcast with a special introduced by fellow correspondent Steve Kroft. Simon was introduced as a “reporter’s reporter” who prided himself on his humble background as a Jewish kid from the Bronx, but was more humble in sharing his achievements.

Simon’s career has spanned nearly 50 years after joining CBS in 1967 as a reporter and editor based in New York. He went on to report all over the world. In 1991, he was captured by Iraqi forces at the start of the Gulf War and was held captive for 40 days with three colleagues. He’s earned four Peabody’s, 27 Emmy’s and the Overseas Press Club’s highest honor for a body or work, according to CNN.

Carr’s memoir “The Night of the Gun”, published in 2008, detailed his rise from cocaine addict to a media columnist for one of the most revered newspapers in the world. His 35-plus years as a columnist and culture reporter has earned him immense credibility as one of the most prolific journalists of this era.

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Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly Caught in Lying Scandal

Two celebrated journalists have found themselves in the hot seat after embellishing details of their experience while reporting and their future in the media industry is unclear.

It emerged earlier this month that Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, had lied about his experience in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Williams had claimed that when reporting in Iraq that his helicopter was shot down. In reality, it was the helicopter flying in front of him that was hit by a grenade.

After breaking the initial story, Stars and Stripes reported on more inaccuracies in Williams reporting, including exaggerations on Williams’s reporting on Hurricane Katrina and encounters with Navy SEALS, according to Cleveland.com.

Bill O’Reilly, a political commentator on The O’Reilly Factor for Fox News, found himself in hot water only a few weeks after the Brian Williams scandal when it emerged that he had claimed to have reported on the 1982 Falklands War for CBS News, when in reality he was more than 1,000 miles away at the time. Colleagues also question O’Reilly’s story about saving an injured cameraman during a violent anti-government rally in Buenos Aires.

O’Reilly’s reporting continues to come into question as it was reported yesterday by Media Matters for America that he made up yet another reporting story. Former colleagues of O’Reillys from a local Dallas station where O’Reilly used to work stated that he claimed to have been present during the suicide of a key figure in the Kennedy assassination when in reality he was hundreds of miles away in a different state.

O’Reilly has drawn additional criticism due to his quick condemnation of Williams for his unethical reporting, only to find himself in a similar situation.

Williams has since tried to explain himself in an interview with Stars and Stripes a few nights after the first story broke to explain his story in more detail, while O’Reilly immediately went on the defensive. Williams stumbled through his explanation that left many to question his credibility.

“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12-years-ago,” Williams said. “I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit…I was instead in a following aircraft.”

O’Reilly criticized Mother Jones after the initial story broke and got into a back-and-forth with CBS News colleague Eric Engberg, who said that the O’Reilly was “completely nutty.”

O’Reilly went on to warn reporters by stating, “I am coming after you with everything I have.” He continued to say, “You can take it as a threat.”

Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, issued a statement in support of O’Reilly while NBC responded to Williams with a six month suspension.

While O’Reilly continues to attack the media who report on his inaccuracies, Williams waits to hear about his future with NBC.

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Ann Curry to Leave NBC for Media Startup

It was announced earlier this month that after nearly 25 years with NBC, Ann Curry was planning to leave the network to join a media startup.

Curry has had an incredibly successful, yet tumultuous relationship and career with NBC since joining the network in 1990. She first joined at the NBC News Chicago correspondent, then as the anchor of NBC News at Sunrise until 1996 – she also acted as the stand-in for for Matt Lauer when he was out from 1994 to 1997. That same year, Curry became a news anchor for the Today show until 2011 when she replaced Meredith Vieira as co-host of Today.

Her run as co-host was short lived however as rating dropped and NBC looked to replace her on the show. Rumors started to circulate that there was tension between Curry and her co-host Matt Lauer. Curry hired attorney Robert Barnett to represent her in her contract discussions with NBC. In June 2012, Curry emotionally announced live on air that she was leaving Today. She continued to stay on at NBC as their news national and international correspondent and anchor and Today anchor at large.

The 58 year-old, announced her plans to leave NBC mid-January to found a media startup “seeded by NBCUniversal,” according to People magazine.

“This is about reaching for the edge of the future of journalism, which we know is undergoing an irrevocable transition. I am excited about working to become a valuable link between traditional media and what is to come,” Curry wrote in a statement. “In today’s world of fragmented media, this is the time to seize the opportunity to improve the way we distribute and even tell stories.”

Curry’s startup will “include a reporting and content venture…that will focus on incubating and producing content of national and global importance with a multi-platform distribution approach,” according to Entertainment Weekly.

The statement continued to read, “I am sincerely grateful to NBC News for allowing me to offer viewers a vast and diverse body of work, including a depth of humanitarian reporting I understand still resonates.”

This latest move sees Curry leaving behind a $12million salary, but she will have opportunities to work with other outlets non-exclusively.

“It has been a privilege to work with so many good and talented people at the network and I look forward to what we will do ahead. At the same time, I can’t wait to expand my reach and work with people I admire in other places.”

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Sports Illustrated Laid Off Entire Photo Department

It was announced earlier this month that the iconic Sports Illustrated had laid off their entire photography staff, according to the National Press Photographers Association.

The remaining six staff photographers, including Robert Beck, Simon Bruty, Bill Frakes, David E. Klutho, John W. McDonough, and Al Tielemans were informed mid-afternoon last Thursday that they were being let go. Brad Smith, Sports Illustrated director of photography confirmed the news with News Photographer magazine.

“It’s true,” Smith said. “There was a decision made through the company to restructure various departments, including at Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately economic circumstances are such that it has cut the six staff photographers.”

According to NPPA, a source at Time-Life said that the lay offs will become effective in March so they will still be shooting the Super Bowl for the magazine this week.

Smith continued to explain that the future plan is “to re-evaluate what’s best for the magazine, not just financially but also content-wise. Our commitment to photography is as strong as ever, and we will continue to create the best original content possible.”

When Sports Illustrated first hit the shelves in 1954, its main objective was to become the sports magazine in the United States. When Andre Laguerre was brought on as managing editor, the focus of the print shifted to include full-color photographic coverage of the week’s sports events. That unique and in-depth coverage is what made Sports Illustrated one of the most renowned publications of the century.

While the future for photography at Sports Illustrated isn’t quite clear, a little over a year ago the Chicago Sun Times made a similar move, laying off their entire photography staff to rely more heavily on freelancers. The paper has come under heavy criticism since for not maintaining the same quality photojournalism.

Rumors started to circulate last summer that there were possible staff cuts on the way at Sports Illustrated, in addition to other Time-Life publications, due to plans to relocate downtown later this year. The new space is “considerably smaller,” according to NPPA.

Smith said that the photographers “have contributed to the success of the magazine and the Sports Illustrated franchise, and I hope that they continue to do so under slightly different circumstances.” He continued to explain, “in my grandest thoughts I hope they will continue to contribute to the magazine. I can’t imagine a world where they don’t.”

Smith said that the publication doesn’t have plans to change the layout of the magazine, but that they are just changing how they do things.

“Our commitment to photography hasn’t changed,” he said to NPPA. “We’re still going to cover games, we’re going to shoot portraits, we’re going to cover Olympics, we’ll be at the Final Four, we will be at championships, we’ll be there.

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Deadliest Nations for Journalists 2014

The job of a journalist can be incredibly dangerous when working from nations in conflict and this year has proven to be one of the most deadly on record in recent years.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that keeps track of journalists who have been killed, kidnapped, or who have gone missing, 2014 marked the end to the most dangerous three-year period for journalists ever on record. In total, 60 journalists and 11 media workers were killed this year compared to 70 journalists and four media workers in 2013. The majority of these journalists were local people covering local stories and approximately one-third were freelancers.

Syria stands at the top of the list this year as the most deadly nation for journalists, as the country is embattled in a civil war that began in 2011 after the Arab Spring Revolutions. In the country alone, 17 journalists were killed; a stark contrast to the rest of the nations that all had less than five casualties. The total number of journalists killed since the start of the Syrian Civil War now stands at 79.

The disappearance of journalists in Syria is also a major issue as CPJ reports that due to the conflict it’s difficult to keep track of all journalists who are kidnapped or who have gone missing.

Of those journalists who lost their lives this year, the deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff garnered significant media attention. Foley, a U.S. freelance journalist was beheaded on video by members of the Islamic State nearly 21 months after being kidnapped. Two weeks later, Sotloff, a U.S.-Israeli freelance journalist was executed in a similar fashion.

In addition to those murdered this year, there were also a near record-breaking number of journalists jailed for their work, with over 200 for the third year in a row. China is currently holding the most journalists behind bars compared to any other nation with 44 – the highest number CPJ has ever recorded for the country.

The CPJ has released their annual report every year since it started recording deaths in 1992.  Their database includes detailed information on each journalist killed, imprisoned, exiled, or missing, and aims to create awareness and “defend journalists worldwide,” according to their website.

The number of journalists killed in each country include: Syria, 17; Iraq, 5; Ukraine, 5; Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territory, 4; Somalia, 4; Pakistan, 3; Afghanistan, 3; Paraguay, 3; Brazil, 2; Mexico, 2; India, 2; Egypt, 1; South Africa, 1; Central African Republic, 1; Burma, 1; Philippines, 1; Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1; Bangladesh, 1; Guinea, 1; Yemen, 1; Libya, 1; according to the CPJ database.

Follow Sean Flynn on Twitter @BuffaloFlynn.

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Five Best Free Apps for Journalists in 2014

As a journalist you can often find yourself rushing to make a deadline and reporting on the fly.  It comes in not only handy, but imperative to have reliable smart phone apps that help you get the job done.

Since you may not always have access to a JVC camera, audio recorder, or sometimes even a reliable pencil I’ve put together a list of the five best apps for journalists that I’ve found necessary to help me do my job in a pinch.

5.) Citymapper (Free; iPhone, Droid)
This transport app makes navigating even the most intimidating cities effortless.  The comprehensive app lets you plan your trip from A to B with real-time data that shows you the best mode of transportation.  Citymapper won the Best Overall Mobile App 2014 by Mobile World Congress and Designs of the Year 2014 by the London Design Museum.

4.) audioBoom (Free; iPhone)
I can never stress enough the importance of having a reliable audio recorder when conducting interviews.  Regardless of how fast you can write, there are always details that may slip through the cracks that can be picked up on your audio.  This app is the most reliable that I’ve found to record audio and even edit it on your phone.  And if that isn’t enough, you can download up to 2 hours of your favorite podcasts to listen to on the train when you don’t have internet access.

3.) Evernote (Free; iPhone, Droid)
Evernote is the all-in-one app that forces you to keep organized.  You can keep lists, long notes, collect web articles and photos, and search effortlessly through your tangled mess of a digital workspace.  It’s the perfect secretary who’s avaible 24/7 and doesn’t require a paycheck.

2.) Simplenote (Free; iPhone)
You’ll never have to miss a beat when compiling a story on the run.  Simplenote allows you organize your lists, notes, ideas and most importantly, your stories.  You can sync your iPhone to your other Apple products so whether you’re writing in the office, from the cab, or at home, you’ll never miss a beat.

1.)  iTeleport Remote Desktop ($24.99; iPhone)
This app is essential for the scatterbrained reporter on-the-go.  iTeleport allows you to access your home computers from your iPhone or iPad from anywhere with a 3G connection.  With the potential to connect to up to 20 different computers you never have to worry about bringing your laptop with you while you report from the field.

Check out my list from last year to see what other apps you might want to consider.

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Diem Brown, Entertainment Reporter and MTV Reality Star, Dies at 34

Diem Brown, MTV reality star and reporter died earlier this month after a long battle with cancer. She was 34 years old.

The “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” star and entertainment reporter was admitted to a New York City hospital on November 9. She took to Twitter, telling her 20,000 followers that she refused to give up.

“Doctors are seemingly giving up…but I won’t and can’t roll over,” she tweeted. “Whatever option I have to LIVE I’m grabbing!”

MTV released a statement shortly after her death expressing their sympathies.

“MTV is tremendously sad to hear the news that Diem Brown has lost her long battle with cancer. We send our deepest condolences to her family and friends,” the spokeswoman said. “Diem was a true fighter and brought passion to everything she touched. We will miss her.”

Brown made her first appearance on the network after being cast for the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat” which debuted in 2006, shortly after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the first time at the age of 22. She revealed her diagnosis to the cast and production company during filming in November 2005.

As her public persona grew, Brown became more involved with journalism, working with publications including the Associated Press, Sky Living, and FoxNews.com. She also wrote a blog for People.com about her experiences of living with cancer, and she hosted a special on MTV.com called Surviving Cancer.

Brown founded the crowdfunding website MedGift, a patient gift registry which allowed patients to receive help from family and friends while in treatment.

Brown’s cancer returned in 2012. After several months of treatment, including chemotherapy, Brown’s cancer went into remission in 2013. This past August, while filming her eighth Challenge competition for MTV she collapsed on set. After being flown to New York for treatment she announced that her ovarian cancer had metastasized to her colon and stomach, and then to her liver and lymph nodes.

Brown passed away on November 14, 2014 surrounded by family and friends. As the public persona for cancer patients everywhere, Brown’s voice will forever be heard and her message forever felt.

Follow Sean on Twitter @BuffaloFlynn.

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Uber Exec Wants to Spy On Journalists

A senior executive at Uber – a private rental car service, came up with the outlandish plot to counteract bad public relations, not by solving problems but by making more.

Senior vice president of business, Emil Michael, made comments earlier this month during a conversation that he thought was considered off the record regarding how he would handle their media scandals in the future. After his company received a handful of negative reviews and criticisms in the media, Michael suggested that Uber hire a task force with the sole purpose of digging up dirt on the personal lives of reporters who criticize their company.

The conversation took place at a dinner at Manhattan’s Waverly Inn attended by some of New York’s most influential people. The dinner was hosted by the former advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Ian Osborne. Michael suggested that a task force of researchers and journalists be assembled to dig up dirt on the “personal lives” and “families” of reporters and leak the information to the media, at the cost of “a million dollars.”

Michael had one specific reporter in mind when he made the comments, a female journalist by the name of Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily. Lacy had recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny,” writing “I don’t now how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety.”

In a statement through Uber, Michael said that he regretted making the comments and that they didn’t reflect the views of himself or the company.

Only a few days later, actor Ashton Kutcher who also happens to be an investor in the company, drew criticisms on social media after supporting Michael’s claims.

“What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?” Kutcher tweeted to his nearly 17 million followers. He continued to write, “Questioning the source needs to happen…Always!”

Michael’s remarks come only shortly after the company launched an initiative to improve its relationship with the media earlier this month. The company has struggled with being depicted as having an insensitive and hyper-aggressive public persona, according to Buzzfeed.

Michael has since issued an apology.

“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

At no point, however, was it expressed that Uber has actually hired any researchers to carry out their plan.

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