Tow Center

The media today: Journalists vs. hackers

November 22, 2017

Earlier this month, ProPublica’s investigative star Julia Angwin wrote about a strange attack on her reporting team: Each staff member had their inboxes flooded with email—newsletter confirmation emails, spam, so much to sift through that it became impossible to work. Angwin highlighted the incident as one simple example of how easy it can be to prevent journalists from working. In order to solve the problem, ProPublica had to block all email coming into their accounts, meaning that important emails were bounced back amidst the flack.

Email bombing is just one method of intruding on journalists’ jobs and personal lives. A recent spate of articles has provided proactive steps journalists can take to lessen their chances of being doxxed or trolled—and, if they are targeted, to make such attacks less harmful. ProPublica published a set of tips covering everything from how to keep your personal information safe on social media to how to remove yourself from various online address listings and data brokers. Motherboard’s exceedingly comprehensive Guide to Digital Security also walks you through how to act online, and how to perform “threat modeling” to test your own systems.

ICYMI: “We’re the dominant publication in the most populous, wealthiest state in the country”

These are good resources for individual journalists, but newsrooms are also at risk. KQED’s Jon Brooks writes for CJR about the NPR and PBS member stations’ ransomware attack over the summer, which crippled their systems for months. Ransomware is so named because hackers hold data hostage by encrypting it, demanding, in KQED’s case, thousands of dollars in bitcoin to unlock it. KQED, like many newsrooms around the US, ended up having to sacrifice convenience for security—a balance that Brooks suggests managers think about before this happens to their newsrooms.

Triaging the situation, and managing employees’ expectations, will also take a load off IT staff as they work to correct the situation: “Our network systems engineer rated the stress as ‘way worse’ than that caused by a past bout he had with cancer,” Brooks writes.

ICYMI: “He won a corned-beef-eating contest in college, where he estimates his GPA was 1.9.”

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More on journalism in the digital world:

  • Last year, ProPublica reported that Facebook was enabling housing discrimination by allowing companies to target their housing ads by race, among other demographic criteria. Facebook said they fixed the issue, but ProPublica recently retested and found persistent issues.
  • The concerns about fake news affecting last year’s US election are nothing compared to the effects of misinformation in other countries such as Myanmar, writes CJR’s Mathew Ingram: “The leader of an anti-Rohingya group has been able to spread his message thanks to an orchestrated Facebook campaign.”
  • The rise of a new position at publishers: the chief customer officer, tasked with ensuring consistent and high-quality consumer experiences across platforms.
  • Uber concealed a hack in November 2016 of its system, which included personal details (but not payment info) of 50 million riders, and the driver’s license numbers of over half a million riders, reports Bloomberg.
  • The FCC released a plan to roll back the net neutrality rules established by the Obama administration.


Other notable stories

  • BuzzFeed used an unlikely figure as a source for a story on sexual harassment allegations against Michigan Congressman John Conyers after Mike Cernovich approached the publisher with a tip. Cernovich had offered $10,000 on Twitter for the details of settlements against Conyers last week, though it remains unclear if Cernovich actually made good on that offer.
  • The sexual harassment saga continues to unfold: Charlie Rose was fired by CBS News on Tuesday, and PBS dropped his show. His now-former-co-anchors on CBS This Morning spoke bluntly about the allegations against him. “I can’t stop thinking about the anguish of these women, what happened to their dignity, what happened to their bodies, what happened maybe to even their careers,” said Gayle King.
  • “Life after ESPN”: Columnist Jayson Stark has turned to Facebook to publish his post-game analyses, reports The Ringer, along with other stories of how beloved sports writers and personalities are moving on.
  • Today in Whoville, Politico’s Jack Shafer Grinch-ingly tears into a letter by Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thanking readers for their support of the paper. “I tolerate his heavy moral preening and self-indulgence so that I can read the rest of the Times package,” writes Shafer. “His gratitude is the last thing I want from the paper.”
  • We’re off tomorrow and Friday. Happy Turkey Day, and take a gander at what we’re thankful for at CJR. See you Monday!

Nausicaa Renner is digital editor of CJR.