• How BBC started its first radio station in Arabic

    On January 3, 1938, the BBC’s first ever foreign language radio station – BBC Arabic – made its inaugural broadcast. The station was launched in almost direct response to Radio Bari, the Arabic language radio station of the Italian government that had been broadcast to the Arab world since 1934. Radio Bari’s broadcasts consisted of a mixture of popular Arabic music, cultural propaganda intended to encourage pro-fascist sentiment in the Arab world and news bulletins with a strongly anti-British slant. British officials had initially been largely unperturbed by Italy’s efforts, but from 1935 onwards, as Radio Bari’s output became more overtly anti-British and specifically attacked British policy in Palestine, they became concerned and began to discuss how Britain ought to respond.

    It was soon decided that Britain needed to establish its own Arabic radio station in order to counter Italy’s broadcasts. As the Secretary of State for the Colonies remarked in August 1937, “the time has come when it is essential to ensure the full and forcible presentation of the British view of events in a region of such vital Imperial importance”. Detailed discussions began over what form the station should take. In addition to logistical issues concerning content and where it should be based, British officials were concerned as to what type of Arabic should be used in its broadcasts. There was a keen awareness that in order for the proposed broadcasts to be both widely understood and taken seriously, making the appropriate choice linguistically was crucial. The Cabinet Committee that was formed to discuss the issue reported that the Arabic used in Radio Bari’s broadcasts in the past – speculated to be that of a cleric of Libyan origin – had been “open to criticism as being pedantic and classical in style and…excited the ridicule of listeners”. The potential for ridicule, in addition to the fact that many uneducated Arabs would struggle to understand it, made classical Arabic an undesirable choice. Yet given the significant variation in regional dialects that exists throughout the Arab world, the choice of a single dialect was equally problematic. British officials in the region possessed strong and sometimes divergent opinions about what course of action should be taken.

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  • Who put the ‘free’ in freelance?

    Freelance journalists voluntarily chose to endure innumerable difficulties and risks in their career, but debilitating penury should not be one of them. The financial reality for freelancers has become so bad that many are now practicing what I call “subsistence journalism”. Low pay and poor working conditions mean they have to make constant compromises in their personal lives in order to continue pursuing their profession. They live in shared houses in war-zones to keep costs down, and share fixers, translators, and taxis. Often there is no actual home to go to, with prized possessions stored in their parents’ house or a friend’s attic. Some even eschew relationships or children because the choice between subsistence journalism and familial financial commitments is so stark.

    And yet, freelance journalism makes up more and more of the news we consume, even as the number of staff positions continues to shrink. How have we gotten ourselves into this mess? Despite the freelancer’s propensity to place all the blame at the feet of editors and news outlets, I think we have to take our share of responsibility.

    The truth is, many freelance journalists are just not very good at freelancing. I realize this is not going to be a popular thing to say, and I may be dismissed by some as disputatious and cantankerous, but it needs to be discussed. The reason, I believe, that so many freelance journalists struggle in their career is simple: they focus too much on the ‘journalist’ part of their job title, and not enough on the ‘freelance’ bit.

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  • Journalism as Noir Entertainment

    “Dirty John,” a suspenseful and psychologically intense true-crime series released in its entirety last week, is the first podcast by the veteran newspaper journalist Christopher Goffard. It’s a new kind of hybrid: a podcast-and-print collaboration, between Wondery and the Los Angeles Times. It was released chapter by chapter over the week, beginning one Sunday and concluding the next, in the style of an investigative print series. It’s garnered some five million listens and has been the No. 1 podcast on iTunes for much of the past two weeks. Its aesthetic is a kind of journalism noir, blending entertainment and news in powerful, sometimes unnerving ways.

    The podcast begins with an autopsy report: an Orange County assistant district attorney reading a description of stab wounds from a homicide in the summer of 2016. We don’t learn the identity of the victim or the assailant. Then we go back two years, to 2014, to the story of a successful Newport Beach interior designer, Debra Newell, who is fifty-nine and divorced; John Meehan, a handsome, seemingly perfect man she meets online; and Debra’s grown children, who mistrust him. In the print series, “Dirty John” is stylishly designed, with large photographs of its subjects and expensive real estate; it features pull quotes such as “The most devious, dangerous, deceptive person I ever met,” styled like tabloid headlines, in maroon capital letters. The podcast’s logo is a red rose and a latex-gloved hand holding a hypodermic needle on a black background, like a horror-movie poster, or a “Flowers in the Attic” cover. The theme music, one of the show’s strongest aesthetic choices, is a gorgeously fiddle-heavy song called “Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend,” by Tracy Bonham. Goffard liked the song because it “allowed us to transcend the setting and suggest some of the more universal themes at play,” he told me. “The image in my mind was like a creature from a fairy tale, or like a shape-shifting goblin from a swamp, who was invading this Southern California family and devouring the matriarch—and they have to take their stand against it.”

    Goffard is a fan of podcasts—he likes “This American Life,” “Invisibilia,” and “S-Town”—but what influenced “Dirty John” more than any of them, he told me, was “the old-time radio drama that I used to listen to as a kid.” Growing up, he’d get tapes in the mail or at science-fiction conventions: “Escape,” “Suspense,” “Quiet Please,” “Lights Out,” Orson Welles’s “The Shadow,” “The Lives of Harry Lime.” He told me about an episode of “Escape” that he loved called “Leiningen Versus the Ants.” “If you want twenty terrifying minutes, I’ll send you a link,” he said. I laughed—in these troubled times, ants seemed like a quaint, benign foe—and Goffard was patient, trying to make me understand. “Oh, this is about man-eating ants,” he said.

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  • Politicians Are Bad at Podcasting

    These days, it seems that everybody’s got a podcast, even members of Congress.

    Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin debuted their own podcasts this month, joining audio series begun earlier this year from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago.

    The concept is a no-brainer: satisfy Americans’ seemingly insatiable thirst for political analysis from ready-made political stars with inside perspectives. And from the elected officials’ perspective, the appeal is obvious. They can sidestep media gatekeepers and beam their personalities and priorities straight to their constituents’ ears, all while heightening their national brands, perhaps in anticipation of seeking higher office. It’s less clear what the constituents get out of the deal.

    On their podcasts, our representatives are doing something almost journalistic: They’re moderating discussions with other political figures, interviewing experts on North Korea or monopoly power and staging interactions with the public. Except there are no actual journalists around to ask any pesky questions. At least on TV interview shows or at news conferences, reporters challenge the politician’s narrative. Even on Twitter, we can tweet back.

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  • Murdered journalist’s son attacks ‘crooks’

    The son of the murdered Maltese investigative journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia has described finding parts of his mother’s body around the blazing car in which she died and attacked the island as a “mafia state” run by “crooks”.

    “My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” Matthew Caruana Galizia, who is also an investigative reporter, wrote in a moving and at times graphic Facebook post.

    “But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”

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  • ‘Kim Wall was born to tell stories’

    She was excited and scared, as always, but this time more excited. Beijing was “like New York in the 1980s”, as she used to put it – cheap, buzzing and ready for change. “People are actually doing things, not just talking about doing them.”

    Kim had been testing the waters, spending the last year and a half living in China for a couple of months at a time. She wanted to make sure she could make ends meet working freelance, with some odd policy analysis reporting to pay the extras.

    As always, she was bubbling with ideas. She wanted to write a feature on Mao impersonators, and another on the social repercussions of the one-child policy. She wanted to show a different China to western readers, but wasn’t sure the time had come for a woman to take that role.

    That day last June, we went to a Soho bookstore. She started reading through tomes about the history of China while I sneaked downstairs to get her a copy of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It’s one of my favorite books, and I wanted her to have a copy to always remember why she had to keep writing, despite the difficulties.

    The collection of essays talks about a “poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world”. In my head, Calvino’s auspicious image for the next millennium had blonde-reddish hair, and looked a bit like Kim.

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  • Censorship and the Jordanian Reader

    Although all books are still subject to the regulatory track illustrated above, the trends, hegemony, and forms of censorship have changed in the past four years. According to the executive director of the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, Maher Kayyali, the Department of Press and Publication has reconsidered the ban of a large number of books in 2011, and has permitted some of the banned books. In addition, the option of re-exporting banned books was not available before then, as the Department used to confiscate and destroy all copies.

    The Head of the Department of Foreign Publications in the Proceedings Directorate of the Department of Press and Publications, Firas Abbadi, attributed that to what he called “raising the ceiling of freedom” within the department.

    He also added that there are banned books available in the market. “We do not emphasize censorship. There are no inspections. We ban books, but these are directives from beyond the Department [of Press and Publications]. The government does not want to interfere with people or stores.”

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  • Rolling Stone Will Be Put Up for Sale

    From a loft in San Francisco in 1967, a 21-year-old named Jann S. Wenner started a magazine that would become the counterculture bible for baby boomers. Rolling Stone defined cool, cultivated literary icons and produced star-making covers that were such coveted real estate they inspired a song.

    But the headwinds buffeting the publishing industry, and some costly strategic missteps, have steadily taken a financial toll on Rolling Stone, and a botched story three years ago about an unproven gang rape at the University of Virginia badly bruised the magazine’s journalistic reputation.

    And so, after a half-century reign that propelled him into the realm of the rock stars and celebrities who graced his covers, Mr. Wenner is putting his company’s controlling stake in Rolling Stone up for sale, relinquishing his hold on a publication he has led since its founding.

    Mr. Wenner had long tried to remain an independent publisher in a business favoring size and breadth. But he acknowledged in an interview last week that the magazine he had nurtured would face a difficult, uncertain future on its own.

    “I love my job, I enjoy it, I’ve enjoyed it for a long time,” said Mr. Wenner, 71. But letting go, he added, was “just the smart thing to do.”

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  • The Newseum in deep trouble

    “Make no little plans,” wrote the visionary architect Daniel Burnham. “They have no power to stir men’s blood.”

    Inspiring words, yes, but sometimes one can get carried away.

    There are few better examples than the Newseum, the iconic edifice that opened its Pennsylvania Avenue NW doors in 2008 and has been awash in red ink ever since.

    On Monday, its chief executive, Jeffrey Herbst, stepped down and the museum’s parent, the Freedom Foundation, acknowledged publicly what insiders have known for a long time:

    The Newseum is in big financial trouble. It may have to sell its building — still shiny and new. And, though no one is saying it publicly, it may end up going under altogether.

    The signs weren’t good from its overblown start. The building is seven stories tall with 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, 15 theaters and an adjoining multistory Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

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  • Village Voice Lays Off 13 Union Employees

    Just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, employees at The Village Voice in Manhattan received an email from co-workers saying that the weekly newspaper appeared to be on the verge of announcing layoffs.

    Within a few hours about a dozen employees were summoned into a conference room inside The Voice office in the Financial District and told that they would no longer have jobs after the third week of September, a union representative said, when the paper’s final print edition will be distributed.

    Thirteen of the paper’s 17 union workers are being laid off, said the president of the local that has represented Voice workers since 1977, when Rupert Murdoch bought the paper. According to the union, they include a writer, a social media producer, an administrative assistant and a photo editor who has worked for decades at the left-leaning newspaper, which was started in 1955 by Norman Mailer and others then went on to provide a blueprint for a scrappy, muckraking journalistic format that became known as the alt-weekly.

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  • An app for Journalists: Flyr

    What is it? An app for making animated stories with images, video and text, that can then be shared on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook.

    Cost: Free, with an upgrade to Pro available for $9.99 (£7.80)/ month

    Devices: iOS (Android version in progress)

    How is it of use to journalists? News outlets have been using the ‘stories’ feature on Instagram and Snapchat to give their audiences a behind-the-scenes look at their newsrooms, to cover events, or to take the pulse around an issue. Stories can also sometimes be tweaked and repurposed according to the strengths of the platform – while Snapchat is more recognised for its unfiltered content, Instagram is more well-known for its carefully crafted visuals. Flyr enables journalists to create animated stories for these platforms, either from scratch or by tailoring its selection of pre-made templates.

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  • Unlearning the myth of American innocence

    My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

    When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

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  • When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism

    Chris Hughes was a mythical savior—boyishly innocent, fantastically rich, intellectually curious, unexpectedly humble, and proudly idealistic.

    My entire career at the New Republic had been spent dreaming of such a benefactor. For years, my colleagues and I had sputtered our way through the internet era, drifting from one ownership group to the next, each eager to save the magazine and its historic mission as the intellectual organ for hard-nosed liberalism. But these investors either lacked the resources to invest in our future or didn’t have quite enough faith to fully commit. The unending search for patronage exhausted me, and in 2010, I resigned as editor.

    Then, in 2012, Chris walked through the door. Chris wasn’t just a savior; he was a face of the zeitgeist. At Harvard, he had roomed with Mark Zuckerberg, and he had gone on to become one of the co-founders of Facebook. Chris gave our fusty old magazine a Millennial imprimatur, a bigger budget, and an insider’s knowledge of social media. We felt as if we carried the hopes of journalism, which was yearning for a dignified solution to all that ailed it. The effort was so grand as to be intoxicating. We blithely dismissed anyone who warned of how our little experiment might collapse onto itself—how instead of providing a model of a technologist rescuing journalism, we could become an object lesson in the dangers of journalism’s ever greater reliance on Silicon Valley.

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  • Journalism faces a crisis worldwide

    Australia’s two largest legacy media organisations recently announced big cuts to their journalistic staff. Many editorial positions, perhaps up to 120, will disappear at Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and News Corporation announced the sacking of most of its photographers and editorial production staff.

    Both announcements were accompanied by corporate spin voicing a continuing commitment to quality journalism. Nobody in the know believes it. This is the latest local lurch in a crisis that is engulfing journalism worldwide.

    Now, partly thanks to Donald Trump, many more people are turning their mind to the future of news, including “fake” news and its opposite.

    How, in the future, are we to know the difference between truth, myth and lies?

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  • In exile, Dündar awaits Turkey’s referendum

    One morning last May, Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, was standing outside an Istanbul courthouse, waiting for a judge to reach a verdict on his guilt or innocence, when a man rushed toward him with a gun. A year earlier, Dündar’s newspaper, Cumhuriyet, a daily favored by Turkey’s secular left, had published video footage of truckloads of weapons being smuggled to Syrian rebels by Turkish state intelligence agents. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government had denied that it was supplying the rebels, was outraged and vowed that Dündar, then editor-in-chief, would “pay a heavy price.” Dündar was arrested and charged with aiding a terrorist organization and with espionage, among other crimes. “Traitor!” the gunman shouted as he fired two shots in Dündar’s direction. Dündar’s wife, Dilek, along with a member of parliament, grabbed the gunman, and video of the scene shows the three in an odd, lumbering half-embrace until the man is ordered to drop his gun. After the shooting, Dündar looked a bit ruffled but was uncannily composed. “I am fine. I am fine,” he told reporters. “Nobody should worry. Please be calm. There is nothing wrong. My wife jumped on him. So I want to congratulate her.” Glancing at Dilek, he smiled. “Thank you. Thank you.”

    When the court reconvened, a short time later, one of the judges apologized to Dündar for the shooting and then sentenced him to five years and ten months in prison for revealing state secrets. Dündar appealed the conviction and, free, pending the outcome, left for Barcelona to work on a book. At that point, Dündar was hopeful that he could get a fair trial in Turkey and intended to return. But, last July, his plans changed. President Erdoğan declared a state of emergency in response to an attempted coup, leading to a crackdown on ostensible opponents: he eventually fired more than a hundred thousand public workers, jailed opposition politicians and journalists, and arrested judges, two of whom sat on the constitutional court. Convinced of the utter impossibility of a fair trial, Dündar took up an offer to come to Germany to write a column for the German newspaper Die Zeit. He arrived in Berlin with little more than a suitcase full of summer clothes.

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  • Macedonia’s fake news factory

    “Made in Tito’s Veles” is the trademark you may find if you turn over a dainty porcelain dish in any ex-Yugoslav country. Emblazoned alongside the initials of Yugoslavia’s chief economic planner, this was a trademark that proudly belonged to the golden era of Yugoslavia’s rapid industrialisation. It was a hallmark of reputable, tangible goods, the genuine article. Now known simply as Veles, the city that was once an industrial hub in the heart of the Republic of Macedonia recently became infamous for manufacturing a very different and pernicious product for export: the “fake news” stories being peddled by some of its digitally literate teenage population.

    While older residents nostalgically recount the days when they were proud to see Ivanka (Mrs Tito) wearing silk spun in their factories, their tech-savvy grandchildren achieved a sudden notoriety last autumn, having capitalised on the lucrative media storm surrounding Donald Trump. In turn, the brief flurry of media coverage on unrepentant “adolescent kingpins” assaulting Western politics with their burgeoning empires of misinformation propagated its own distorted representations of an unfamiliar city and its inhabitants. By spotlighting the experience of disenchanted teenage boys, the media cast the whole city in the unflattering light of conventional eastern European stereotypes. Veles became a quintessentially bleak, impoverished vacuum out on the “Balkan hinterlands”, begetting amoral profiteering. Such images ignore the multifaceted reality and belong to a long tradition of Westerners seeking out what historian Larry Wolff called the “half-barbarian” at the “unpolished extremity” of the continent.

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  • Vietnam war’s lost marines

    Tap, tap tap. Scott Standfast knocked on the door again. He’d been at it for several minutes, standing in front of a one-story brick house in Niceville, Florida, on a warm, dry day in November 2015. The then-59-year-old former Marine and his wife had driven more than 11 hours to get here, hoping to answer a question that’s haunted him for 40 years. He knocked again. This time, harder. Boom, boom, boom! Still no answer.

    About four decades ago, Standfast fought in the last battle of the Vietnam War, and his memory of it is sharp—from the location of enemy positions to the smothering jungle foliage. But it’s not what he remembers that troubles him; it’s what he can’t recall about that traumatic day. He’s tried everything. In 2015, he even joined a group of veterans for a trip back to the battlefield where they met their former enemies. Some shook hands, trying to forgive and move on. The experience helped but not enough. “It’s blocked out,” he tells me on the phone, choking up. “I’m sorry.”

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  • Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

    In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

    Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

    As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

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  • Radio-Free Syria

    The overhead light in the blue Mazda 626 wasn’t working. Raed Fares, a Syrian activist whose video protests skewer ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad alike, reached up to fiddle with the light bulb before squeezing himself out of the driver’s side door. The street was in darkness. In the last few years, the Assad government cut most of the electricity (along with running water and mobile-phone service) to Kafranbel, the town in northwestern Syria where Fares lives. The only light came from an LED strip in his neighbor’s front doorway that was hooked up to a car battery. It was 12:45 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2014, and Fares, who often works until 4 a.m., had left the office early. As he fumbled to fit his key into the car’s lock, he heard the slap-slap of feed running toward him.

    Here they come, he thought.

    The feet stopped just in front of his car. The Czech pistol he usually carries was in his house, 15 feet away. In the watery glow of the light behind him, Fares could make out two ISIS soldiers. One, clad in a woolen mask, ammunition vest, windbreaker and unlaced boots, opened fire, spraying the car, the mud wall and Fares with bullets. Fares felt their heat seat through his canvas jacket and jean skirt and into the right side of his chest and shoulder. When he collapsed to the ground, a childhood nightmare returned: three black dogs, chasing him.

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  • Beyond Homelessness

    The Chronicle has joined with more than 80 other news organizations to focus attention on the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in the Bay Area. As part of the SF Homeless Project, The Chronicle’s Beyond Homelessness series explores possible solutions that might ease, if not end, the suffering of thousands of people living on our streets, and improve the quality of life for all residents. To date, the SF Homeless Project has been emulated in several U.S. cities where homelessness remains a humanitarian crisis.

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  • To my doomed colleagues in US media

    Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader — so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang a bell. Not just mine, in fact — read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times.

    Vladimir Putin’s annual pressers are supposed to be the media event of the year. They are normally held in late December, around Western Christmas time (we Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later and it’s not a big deal, unlike New Year’s Eve). Which probably explains why Putin’s pressers don’t get much coverage outside of Russia, except in a relatively narrow niche of Russia-watchers. Putin’s pressers are televised live across all Russian TV channels, attended by all kinds of media — federal news agencies, small local publications and foreign reporters based in Moscow — and are supposed to overshadow every other event in Russia or abroad.

    These things are carefully choreographed, typically last no less than four hours, and Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children. Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.

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  • The Silencing of Writers in Turkey

    The Hungarian-British writer Arthur Koestler, born in Budapest at the turn of the last century, became, over the course of his life, intimately familiar with the dangers of authoritarianism. It was the corroding effects of such rule on the human soul that preoccupied him as much as the unbridled concentration of power. “If power corrupts,” he wrote, “the reverse is also true: persecution corrupts the victim, though perhaps in subtler and more tragic ways.”

    If Koestler is correct, and authoritarian regimes end up corrupting, along with themselves, their critics, then the Turkish literati have yet another reason to worry. For years, we have been journeying through a dark, narrowing tunnel of “illiberal democracy.” The ruling élite of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, the A.K.P., has refused to acknowledge that free elections are not enough to sustain a democracy. There are other necessary constituents: separation of powers, rule of law, freedom of speech, women’s rights and minority rights, and a diverse, independent media. Without these bulwarks, the ballot box alone only paves the way for “majoritarianism” at best and authoritarianism at worst.

    The attempted coup in July, which left more than two hundred people dead, was shocking and wrong; it made everything worse. But it is one of the endless ironies of Turkey that the liberals and democrats who were among the first to oppose the putschists’ sinister attempts to overthrow the A.K.P. government would also become the first to be punished and silenced by that very same government. More than a hundred and forty journalists are in prison in Turkey today, making the country the world’s leading jailer of journalists—surpassing even China. Friends and colleagues have been exiled, blacklisted, arrested, imprisoned. The esteemed linguist Necmiye Alpay, who celebrated her seventieth birthday behind bars; the novelist Aslı Erdoğan; the novelist Ahmet Altan; the scholar Mehmet Altan; the liberal columnist Şahin Alpay; the editor-in-chief of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper, Murat Sabuncu, and his literary editor, Turhan Günay—the list of imprisoned writers and journalists is daunting, and we all know, deep down, that it could get even longer any day.

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  • Kremlin, Inc.

    Saturday, October 7th, was a marathon of disheartening tasks for Anna Politkovskaya. Two weeks earlier, her father, a retired diplomat, had died of a heart attack as he emerged from the Moscow Metro while on his way to visit Politkovskaya’s mother, Raisa Mazepa, in the hospital. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and was too weak even to attend her husband’s funeral. “Your father will forgive me, because he knows that I have always loved him,” she told Anna and her sister, Elena Kudimova, the day he was buried. A week later, she underwent surgery, and since then Anna and Elena had been taking turns helping her cope with her grief.

    Politkovskaya was supposed to spend the day at the hospital, but her twenty-six-year-old daughter, who was pregnant, had just moved into Politkovskaya’s apartment, on Lesnaya Street, while her own place was being prepared for the baby. “Anna had so much on her mind,’’ Elena Kudimova told me when we met in London, before Christmas. “And she was trying to finish her article.’’ Politkovskaya was a special correspondent for the small liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and, like most of her work, the piece focussed on the terror that pervades the southern republic of Chechnya. This time, she had been trying to document repeated acts of torture carried out by squads loyal to the pro-Russian Prime Minister, Ramzan Kadyrov. In the past seven years, Politkovskaya had written dozens of accounts of life during wartime; many had been collected in her book “A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya.” Politkovskaya was far more likely to spend time in a hospital than on a battlefield, and her writing bore frequent witness to robbery, rape, and the unbridled cruelty of life in a place that few other Russians—and almost no other reporters—cared to think about. One day at the Ninth Municipal Hospital, in Grozny, Politkovskaya encountered a sixty-two-year-old woman named Aishat Suleimanova, whose eyes expressed “complete indifference to the world,’’ she wrote in a typical piece. “And it is beyond one’s strength to look at her naked body. She’s been disembowelled like a chicken. The surgeons have cut into her from above her chest to her groin.’’ Two weeks earlier, a “young fellow in a Russian serviceman’s uniform put Aishat on a bed in her own house and shot five 5.45-mm. bullets into her. These bullets, weighted at the edges, have been forbidden by all international conventions as inhumane.’’

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  • Robert Caro, Art of Biography No. 5

    Since 1976, Robert Caro has devoted himself to The Years of Lyndon Johnson, a landmark study of the thirty-sixth president of the United States. The fifth and final volume, now underway, will presumably cover the 1964 election, the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the launch of the Great Society, the deepening of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the unrest in the cities and on college campuses, Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection, and his retirement and death—enough material, it would seem, for four ­additional ­volumes. If there is a question that annoys Caro more than “Do you like Lyndon Johnson?” it is “When will the next book be published?”

    This interview took place over the course of four sessions, which were conducted in his Manhattan ­office, near Columbus Circle. The room is spartan, containing little more than a desk, a sofa, several file cabinets, and large bookcases crammed with well-thumbed volumes on figures like FDR, Al Smith, and the Kennedy ­brothers—not to mention copies of Caro’s own books. One wall is dominated by the large bulletin boards where he pins his outlines, which on several ­occasions he politely asked me not to read. On the desk sit his Smith-Corona Electra typewriter, a few legal pads, and the room’s only ­ornamental touch: a lamp whose base is a statuette of a charioteer driving two rearing horses.

    Caro was born in New York in 1935. He was educated at Horace Mann and Princeton; after college, he worked for a New Jersey newspaper and then Newsday. It was there that Caro first heard of Robert Moses, the urban ­planner who would become the subject of The Power Broker (1974), which is not so much a biography as it is a thirteen-hundred-page examination of the political forces that shaped modern-day New York City. After conceiving of the book as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Caro persisted through seven difficult years of being, in his words, “plain broke.” With the support of his wife, Ina (to make ends meet, she sold their house on Long Island without telling him), he finished, and The Power Broker won Caro his first Pulitzer. It also won him the freedom to dedicate himself to his next subject, LBJ. (For his third volume, Master of the Senate [2002], he won another Pulitzer.)

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  • 9th Arab investigative journalism forum

    The 9th annual forum for Arab Investigative journalists will open in Jordan’s Dead Sea next month, bringing together over 25 panels and workshops on topics such as personal safety of reporters in conflict, to cross-border investigations and telling stories on multiple platforms.

    The forum, held under the theme “ARIJ: a decade of investigating the Arab world; seeing, hearing, exposing”, coincides with the network’s 10th anniversary. More than 320 Arab and international investigative editors, journalists, trainers, academics and media students will attend the December 1-3, 2016 event, the eighth in Jordan since the creation of the Amman-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) in 2005.

    Veteran journalist Walter “Robby” Robinson will be the keynote speaker. He led the Boston Globe Spotlight team’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and now is the newspaper’s editor at large.

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