Sarasota Herald Tribune: Broken Trust

Broken Trust is a series of investigative reporting by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune regarding cases of school teachers sexually abusing students in the state of Florida yet these cases were swept under the carpet. They discovered hundreds of cases of these, yet teachers were still allowed to continue teaching. The team said that the state’s dysfunctional system which was programmed to protect teachers’ careers over students’ well-being was to be blamed. Besides that they found that state regulators were not equipped with proper training to investigate these cases and teachers. Three reporters worked on the investigation which lasted for two years, comprising of investigations editor Chris Davis, and reporters Matt Doig and Tiffany Lankes. The team obtained information through public records requests with individual school districts and searching for court records.

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Of Peacemakers and Journalists.

I could not recall the last time I stepped into Central Market. But two Saturdays ago, I got up early on a (God forbid!) Saturday morning to attend a talk at the Annexe Gallery. To be exact, it was a forum organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ). Aptly named Building Peace Across Communities, the forum was graced by four experienced individuals of the journalism industry, namely the head of the Maluku Media Center (Indonesia) Insany Syahbarwati, communication studies lecturer Dr. Mustafa K. Anuar, editor of The Nut Graph Jacqueline Ann Surin and Asian Public Intellectuals Fellow Prangtip Daoreung.

Mediated by CIJ executive officer Masjaliza Hamzah, the forum kick started with a presentation and speech by Insany. Having reported on the Maluku conflict, she told her experiences during that period of conflict as a journalist and how she struggled being an ethical one as the conflict involved her own religion, Islam and Christianity. Basically there was an apparent separation of territories- the Muslims and the Christians. Not only it is difficult for her to access the Christians’ territory, Insany was pressured by her own community to report in favour of themselves. There were pressures all around and in fact, it surprised me how an environment like wars and conflicts can affect a journalist’s emotions so drastically. Insany admitted that she could not put aside her own religion and pre-conceived perceptions of the Christians when reporting. Her accounts made me question myself, if a journalist of experience could be affected by emotions, what about me? Will I be able to look at the bigger picture and set myself as a journalist first and foremost when assigned to tasks that involve the lives of many, my religion or my race?

The vibe of the forum turned less depressing when the topic of war journalism moved to peace journalism. I learnt that journalists can never distort the truth, and report things as they are, but at the same time they can do it in a method which would minimise conflict and promote arbitration. Besides that Mustapha K. Anuar added that the media has an essential role to play in bridging conflicting communities. He gave key tips encouraging journalists in these situations to emphasise on the context and background information of the environment than on graphic details. Meanwhile Jacqueline opined that the Malaysian media is not doing well in ensuring fair and accurate reporting. There is a tendency to limit the various voices in news reports, hence causing lack of objectivity in news reporting. Prangtip added a good point to that, stating that if various voices are not included in a news report, the audience will have the tendency to stick to the stereotypes where a member of a particular community will think and behave the same way as everyone else in his or her community.

All in all, this forum opened my eyes to what journalism is like in the battlefield, risks and lives at stake, as well as your own professionalism as a journalist. I concluded that words, or rather the pen, at the end of the day, is really mightier than the sword.

Heather Brooke: The Femme Fatale of Investigative Journalism.

Heather Brooke

Heather Brooke

Introduction

An experienced investigative journalist, Brooke has worked as a crime reporter in Washington state and South Carolina. She is also a freedom of information activist and holds a Master’s degree in English literature. Although her parents originated from Liverpool, she was born and bred in the United States thus gaining herself dual citizenship.

Works and contribution

In 2004, she has written Your Right to Know: A Citizen’s Guide to Freedom of Information upon the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The book was aiming to educate the people on how to use the law, which was not planned to come into effect until the next five years. Her recent book, The Silent State targets on the subject of “farcical lack of transparency at all levels of government” where she protests that the taxpaying public should be allowed access to information which they paid for.

Brooke won her first appeal to the Information Tribunal for the case which was heard on December 20th, 2006. Cooperating with The Guardian newspaper, she brought up the case after BBC’s two-year refusal to reveal minutes of the Governors’ meeting dated January 28th, 2004. Subsequently after the win, the BBC was ordered to publish confidential documents which should bring to light the reasons behind the Governors’ sacking of former director general Greg Dyke. The broadcasting company was also to apologize to the government for covering the Hutton report.

Soon after the Freedom of Information Act 2000 became effective, Brooke proceeded to find out facts about the expenses of the Members of the Parliament. Her mission was in sync with two other journalists. In February 2008, a Commons tribunal voiced a rule that claims on the additional costs allowance (ACA) must be disclosed – MPs are provided £22,110 annually to have a second home if they reside out of London. Initially, Brooke requested for expenses of all 646 MPs but the Commons objected, stating that it would be financially-consuming. In 2006, she reduced her request to only 10 MPs, made of party leaders and a few ministers. But it was refused, in fact many times, until the ruling by the High Court on May 16th, 2008 which favored the publishing of the expenses of 11 serving MPs as well as three former MPs, Tony Blair being one of them.

She has been a visiting fellow in City University London’s journalism department prior to the expenses scandal. In 2009, she won the Freedom of Information award at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award- also the first ever international winner. Brooke was also awarded the Judges’ Prize in the British Press Awards and the Special Commendation Award at the Tenth Annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards two months ago.

Challenges of an Investigative Journalist

Part of being an investigative journalist is to hunt down and retrieve information that you need, and that is the most challenging of tasks. This is especially true when dealing with official secrets and government-related information, because nobody is going to provide you the information freely and they have all the (prepared) reasons not to. Getting past the MPs’ staff was hard enough, and in court Brooke had to face a party of lawyers and government officials. In the Unsung Hero article, she admitted, “what is the point of doing all the work, going to court, setting a legal precedent, dealing in facts, when every part of the government conspires to reward the hacks who do none of these things?” Having to go through so many stages and obstacles, it is easy to lose sight and give up thus it is essential for an investigative journalist to have a high focus level as well as determination because each step does not guarantee success.

The current situation and status which common journalists are placed are already making it hard for them to carry out their job, and it’s even tougher for investigative journalists. Barkham in The Guardian states, “Unlike most people ferreting through FoI requests, Brooke is not backed by a newspaper or TV company. Nor is she a lobby journalist, permitted to trawl the corridors of parliament for insider information. She’s a freelance author, helped only by a few students…” Investigative journalists like Brooke are independent workers, and representing neither the media nor the government limits her access to information even more.

It seems as though investigative journalism is not worth putting effort into, and it’s definitely not for anyone, certainly not the faint-hearted. With determination and fearlessness Brooke has become, as Barkham puts it, “…one of the country’s most influential voices against secrecy in government.”

Jahabar who?

It was a normal Thursday. I overslept, subsequently missed my CAIR lecture. On the way to college, I got into an argument with my best friend. To make things worse, I scratched an oncoming SUV from behind while I was parking my car near college. No fret though, everything was fine except the fact that the psychotic woman in the passenger seat’s yelling at me like I have kidnapped her son. It didn’t take much for me to lose all interest in attending the talk later that afternoon with some Malaysian Insider dude.

Barely remembering in detail what the CEO of The Malaysian Insider is all about, besides his love for beer and The Simpsons, I dragged myself to Damansara anyway, all ready in 3-inch heels. I was slightly relieved when plates of currypuffs greeted us as we entered the boardroom and the talk kick started almost immediately. He looked nothing like his picture on Facebook or Twitter, but was simply dressed in an oversized shirt and slacks. Just saying.

The beginning of the talk reminded me of Principles of Journalism lectures back in semester 1. It was all back to the basics- the fundamentality of news. What surprised me is how much he believed in the basics. I had expected him to tell us to ditch whatever we have learnt in the classroom; after all, he has been in the industry for more than 20 years. I expected him to tell us to screw ethics because this isn’t how the real world functions. But he reminded us this- what you learnt in class makes you a good journalist, so keep them.

Rich with experience, he gave us countless tips when working in the field as a journalist- both essential and practical. What I really like about these tips is that, they are not only useful in making a journalist’s job easier. If these tips are cultivated and ingrained in your lifestyle, they are capable of making you a better person above all else. Simple values like humility, having a listening ear, showing your concern to what other people have to say- these are all part of being a journalist, and are essentially human.

The talk with Jahabar Sadiq quickly evolved into an engaging conversation. It was refreshing to look at angles of journalism that only an experienced journalist have seen yet it was rather thought-provoking and slightly depressing. Depending on what kind of publication you work in, venturing into journalism may mean being a 24-hour journalist- lifeless, as I would call it. As much as the talk made me question my choice to pursue journalism, it is motivating at the same time. Not to sound cheesy, but I felt inspired to be the best writer I can be. I believe there’s an adventure to every story I write and about to write.

This is @pynkfreakadelic, signing off. (;

Journalism 2.0

The wave of the Internet has elevated our lives to a whole new dimension- journalism is no exception.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of the Internet to the media is the democratization of it. With the repression of mainstream journalists, the ruling class’ deaf ear (or plain thick skull) and no cyberspace rules, the WWW has become the playground for alternative voices.  While accuracy, truthfulness and every other principle of (good) journalism cannot be found in mainstream media, alternative voices give different, sometimes thought-provoking views thus people can do their own decision-making. But it doesn’t stop there as anyone can reply, re-blog, or refute opinions posted online- there is communication and it happens swiftly.  The Internet is certainly a threat to mainstream media and its journalists are now tuning into what bloggers are saying, and how people are responding because the latter (indirectly) determines headlines, what’s yay or nay. Hence we see mainstream media making their presence online and encouraging their journalists to blog and get in touch with the grassroots.

Today’s journalists will not survive (very well or very long) without the Internet, but they are pushed to be progressive and much disciplined than before.

Dan Gillmor’s We The Media: Grassroots Journalism for the People, by the People (A review)

From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond

Print publication emerged first, hence newspaper was the media which played a major role in spreading propaganda and information but as broadcasting tools came up, radio and television became the Big Media.

Thanks to technology, desktop publishing is no longer limited to the professionals because of its user-friendly nature. Also with technology, interaction and involvement of the public with the media is more prominent as readers no longer have to wait for their letters to reach the newspaper’s editor’s desk. In fact, talk radio listeners can call in to the stations and provide their input live and engage themselves in the discussion. So the public is no longer just receivers but also content producers for the media.

Then there is the development of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) allowing the public to write and not just read from the web. With this tool of creation that forms a many-to-many influence, a new community is formed. As Gillmore sums it up, IT leads to three things: mass customization, disintermediation and media convergence.

The Read-Write Web

To have a writing tool for the web accessible to the public means a new form of journalism- grassroots journalism. There used to be one-to-many (tv, radio and books) and one-to-one (telegram and telephone) media but the many-to-many system is possible when your average layman can write and publish on the web. Thus consumers of the media have another role as producers.

Among the toolkits on the web include mail lists, weblogs, Wiki, SMS, Internet broadcasting, Peer-to-Peer and RSS. Subscribing to a mailing list enables one to retrieve specific information and usually from one or a panel of experts on a certain subject while another ideal method of resource collection would be Wiki. Although its usage is a no-no for academic work, it opens up a discussion space and allows people from different demographics to contribute or edit specific information which encourages information quality improvement thus Wiki should not be completely overlooked. Dissemination of information has gone to a whole new level with SMS, Internet broadcasting and P2P. All of these are low-cost or cost-efficient, easy and quick.

Weblogs are the closest realisation to the read-write web concept. Due to low barriers, anyone and everyone can be a journalist, as opposed to the traditional well-guarded profession of journalism.

The Gates Come Down

In chapter 3, Gillmor observed how transparent journalists have evolved to be thanks to the Internet. The mainstream media (or giant corporations)’s voice is not the only one to be heard as the average Internet-user or alternative media are standing up to challenge the former’s output. Thus privacy is almost impossible to protect because consumers demand to know what goes on behind the scenes and any form of secrecy is deemed as skeletons in the closet.

And it’s true how Gillmor illustrated when one person’s doubt is voiced towards a certain corporation, it does not take much for another ten people to back that person up- whether or not the accusation or claim is true. Rumours spread fast and even if they are not true at the end of the day, the damage has been done whether small or big.

I agree with him how journalists should embrace modern communication because the public isn’t stupid, even if some are not well-educated. Journalists should open up and have an open mind, accepting constructive criticism as much as receiving encouraging feedback. When you engage with your consumers sincerely, they’ll feel connected and would most probably play nice than not. After all, honesty is the best policy for not only journalists and it should work for the consumers too.

Newsmakers Turn the Tables

In this chapter, the field of Public Relations and its involvement in new media are primarily discussed- Gillmor pointing out the former’s insensitivity and ignorance towards the authority the new media possesses.

The practice of transparency apparently is not limited to journalists alone but PR practitioners too, as nice adjectives in press releases no longer can convince what more fool consumers. Human touch is also emphasised in this chapter as I see the growing significance of corporate blogging and the general public’s appreciation of it. Jargons and technicalities usually only appeal to experts and enthusiasts but through corporate blogging, a wider range of audience can be reached.

From the pointers he gave at the end of the chapter, what really shone was his suggestion to PR practitioners to be honest and treat customers like they are on the same par, if not be humble when you blog. Alongside, I find Robert Scoble’s tips on corporate blogging simple yet effective- even useful to journalists. His tips are very down-to-earth, genuine and mostly dynamic- ideal in today’s situation where information flows freely and is easily accessible.

Bloggers have also earned themselves the position as authoritative media, thus proving that PR practitioners should stop overlooking this group of writers, especially if they know what they’re talking about and have an established readership.

Jazzed Jo-Lyn

If I could define Jo-Lyn in one word, it’s definitely boisterous.

Having the tendency to burst into fits of self-amusing (or syok sendiri, a familiar term for fellow Malaysians) laughter, she finds humour in the most trivial (and occasionally, serious) situations. As a close friend, I sometimes cannot help but to take her overactive imagination for mental disorder. Deceiving? You’ll get used to it. It is as if she knows not the meaning of fear; fear of expressing herself, of being herself- to the extent that she couldn’t care less about what we all try to avoid, “embarrassment”. Case in point: she would walk bare feet in Sunway Pyramid if her heels are killing her soles, and not give a damn what fellow patrons would think of her extraordinary behaviour. The beauty of her boisterousness, I think, is this child-likeness. Mind you, being childish and child-like are different by the dozens- the latter a rarity, a much-needed rarity in this world perhaps. In my honest opinion, people like her are a remedy in this complicated world. Genuine souls who are unafraid of being themselves, and with a just-do-it mentality.

If there’s one thing we both share in common, it’s certainly not the random laugh-out-loud moments, although we have no problem expressing ourselves in one way or another. Matter-of-fact, we tend to act and react in such an exaggerated manner we are tagged as drama queens of our own rights. Unfortunately, it is embedded in us that we blow things out of proportion, often time subconsciously so do have mercy on us. Our imagination gets so far ahead of ourselves that we predict and assume things are or aren’t there before reality sets in and arrests our feet to the ground. Do I not sound theatrical already? Similarly our reactions include eyes of bewilderment, amplified voices, thunderous laughter, innovative hybrid of words (for instance, freakazoid to summarize a creepy condition, or someone who’s well, a freak) et cetera. Yes, we do sound like a bunch of lunatics but on the bright side, our lives are never boring!

Nonetheless there is a limit to her just-do-it policy, which applies when it comes to assignments and concerns involving family, money and the like. This is where we are different from one another, as she would only pursue a task which she would succeed in. I suppose she values time and does not invest her energy on things she deems as unimportant. Whereas I am a person who defines a fulfilled life as one where I’ve been there, done that. As uncomfortable as I may be, I push myself to step out of my comfort zone to do something foreign and challenging- given that they are not life-threatening, of course. Jo-Lyn also has the tendency to overreact and be a worrywart, which is especially evident when it comes to assignments as she would start doing her work way ahead of time while I’m much more laidback and prefer accomplishing my tasks one at a time (read: procrastination and burning the midnight oil). There are both good and bad in both our behaviours and they should be celebrated as we complement as well as motivate each other to work better.

Being a Sanguine, Jo-Lyn is indisputably a great company. Fun-loving and hilarious, she is the ideal person to bring along for a fun girly date. Most girls are crazy about fashion and she definitely lives up to the label of a fashion lover. This fashionista prides herself of getting chic wear for dirt cheap prices in various boutiques in Klang, where she is based currently. Despite being just a student, she does not allow the lack of additional income prevent her from livin’ la vida fabulous. Flowing with creative juice, Jo-Lyn is capable of transforming the most mundane item in your house into stylish accessories- think keychains being made into rings, and jeans into hairbands. Why bother paying retail when you’ve got this wonderful talent by the name of innovation?  Sure, she does not wear designer but people don’t (and don’t have to) know that. Looks are almost always deceiving, anyway.

The unique charm about this 20-year-old is that she does not permit anything to stop her from dreaming- which I personally think contributes tremendously to her creative side. The number one rule about creativity is that it has none, and she really is the epitome of that phrase. I admire her for that and as particular and perfectionist I am in other aspects, that would really do me good especially as a writer or journalist-to-be who constantly needs to churn out fresh and appealing content.

That’s Jo-Lyn for you. Definitely not an ordinary girl, is she?