Business cards

business card front

I’m excited about my new business cards, created with design help by my friend Matt Albacete. Here’s the back:

business card back

My name is set in different versions of the typeface ZXX, all designed by a former NSA staffer to thwart optical character recognition. And yes, it’s purely for show.

But the security suggestions aren’t.

With some 91 percent of American adults keeping cell phones mostly on their persons, effectively everyone’s full-time location data is gathered and stored by your carriers and the government. To boot, sophisticated software analyzes who crosses paths with whom. Unless we adopt practices formerly considered crazy-paranoid, whistleblowing will become a thing of the past.

And the cash-for-transit reference? That’s because it’s hard to be anonymous in a car when automatic license plate scanning is so ubiquitous. Even public transit anonymity is going down the tubes—in Chicago, anyway—with new payment systems that penalize you (75 cents tacked onto each $2.25 ride) if you don’t use the card that’s tied to your identity.

With my journalism work, I’ll have to pay the premium. You should, too.

 

SecureDrop in my house? You’d never know.

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I’m well on my way to the prerequisites to install SecureDrop, the new anonymous submission system for those who would receive and publish things that might endanger the sender.

Originally coded by the late Aaron Swartz with help from Kevin Poulsen, the Freedom of the Press Foundation has taken up the mantle, updated the code and provided instructions for creating one’s own system.

Long live the whistleblower.

Blue Sky innovation; work for Chicago Tribune

Take note: graph the number of tech startups in Chicago the past five years and you’ll very nearly get a parabolic function. (No, this isn’t an actual graph of it, but it does closely represent the data.)

Most startups employ just one or two people full-time. Maybe the more-developed ones have a third person part-time. But it’s still a mind-blowing statistic. It means a good many people are cultivating business ideas, and they’re finding it easy enough to give those ideas a go.

If you ‘re in the tech sector, or you live in Chicago and care about its economy, you should check in with Blue Sky Chicago every once in a while. A project by the Tribune, it’s trying to cover the local innovation space much like the Atlantic, or the Verge, covers the national space. I expect great things.

Not the least of which because they commissioned a piece from me. It’s about Starter School, the new outgrowth of The Starter League that adds business training to the mix of coding and app design.

Don’t you think it’s a chicken-and-egg question? Obviously if people are doing cool things, decent local media will find and cover it. But if local media starts covering a topic really well, more people will learn of it, learn the basics from the reports, and put their hats in the ring. Thanks, Tribune, for helping usher in the next wave of Chicago startups.

Adversarial journalism part 2

Did you see the New York Times op-ed debate between Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald? It’s about “the future of journalism,” and the Times doesn’t use that language lightly. If you’re interested in the press, you should at least read a short commentary, like this one. But for a more thorough selection, see my relevant pulls below.

Greenwald appeared in the column on the heels of announcing, a bit prematurely, his new media venture—described succinctly as something supporting “adversarial journalism.” I don’t think what he spoke of in the column is really all that adversarial (in the real sense of the word), and I bet Greenwald wouldn’t either. But compared to the way a lot of old-guard American outlets operate, it seems we can all agree to use the descriptor.

After the break, here’s Greenwald in his first important declaration:  Continue reading

Adverserial journalism part 1: disclaimer

DISCLAIMER:

If you’re a source and I want to interview you or someone else you work with, there’s almost no chance (0.00%) that the story I’m writing will be an adversarial one. I’ve done some work in this vein, but what I do today isn’t it. The nature of my recent freelance contracts isn’t to inflame the public’s sense of right and wrong. Believe me: if it becomes that, you’ll know it, because I’ll tell you, and I’ll ask you what you think about it.

I frequently discuss so-called “adversarial journalism” on my site simply because I have a high regard for it. I believe it has the potential to nudge democracy in the right direction. And because it’s worth discussing. What are blogs for if not discussing?

I felt compelled to make the above disclaimer because a source recently returned my call to say, more or less, that they weren’t going to talk to me. They had read some of my website and—the implication was—it didn’t sit well with them. (I wonder why they called me back at all.)

I happen to agree with one of their sentiments: they’re from such a cool organization that they don’t need my promotion. Maybe they thought the risk of my doing an incendiary story (again, in reality, 0.0%) was just too high. But it’s their loss. I wasn’t lying when I said I was going to focus on their innovation and that alone.

What’s the moral here? Quick-hit interviews do not investigative reporting make, and I *will not* write incendiary things unless I have solid basis for it.

Information anarchy as naiveté?

Below I’ve copied an excerpt from an Esquire piece mostly about Deric Lostutter, the primary Anonymous member behind “hive justice” actions in Steubenville.

I may not agree with the columnist’s every sentiment. But he implies a good question: what steps need to be taken before whistleblower-type reporting—easier than ever these days—sees the light of day? What does wisdom actually mean in this space? Surely governments need secrets to function. But aside from the truly vile ones, most secrets ride the fence as to which might offend the public. So we, reporters and editors, have to make the call; we’re judges and juries now more than ever before.

I’ve been thinking about all this for a long time, more than most journalists, and I still feel under-qualified.

Since the convictions of the Steubenville football players, elite media outfits like The New Yorker have reviewed the story and criticized the bloggers and activists for getting things wrong. And the real problem with these new democratic voices, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, is a function of the medium that makes them available to us. Many of the WikiLeaks cables showed professional diplomats ignoring corruption in the countries where they were stationed, for example, something that should shock only children. The Snowden documents have revealed more troubling secrets about the NSA’s espionage programs and the fate of privacy in the networked world, but Snowden himself spouts the same immature anarchist clichés as Julian Assange, that the governments of the world must stop trying to keep secrets and maintain order and simply allow “maximal diversification of individual thought.” The technology democratizes information, and a little bit of technical sophistication gives you a power that no twenty-five-year-old could have dreamed of before. But technology doesn’t give you wisdom. The information-is-free idealists depend on maintaining a certain naivete about how the world really works, which seems to be a result of lives lived online — sitting at home on their sofas, detached from a tangible sense of real-world consequences, they blunder into our worlds with results we cannot anticipate. This will not stop. It is the world we live in today.

Smart commentary

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One of my favorite journalists—one I hope to meet some day—Mort Rosenblum. Photo thanks to the International Journalism Festival, whose chroniclers used a Creative Commons license.

I read Rosenblum’s book shortly after its release a few years back. What a great piece of wisdom. Wisdom: that’s what journalism (and by necessity, journalists!) needs these days. It’s gratifying, then, to learn that Mort has a keen interest in all the NSA reporting of late by Poitras-Greenwald. Or Greenwald-Poitras. Whatever.

Rather than preach to the choir (have you seen my contact page, called Blowing The Whistle?), after the break I’ll offer some of Rosenblum’s recent thoughts, posted without fanfare on the Facebook page of his educational organization.

I think Greenwald’s new outlet needs to hire Rosenblum. And then me.

Continue reading