Do this: Right now, take out your smartphone (presuming you use one that runs iOS or Android.)  Go to your app store of choice (or just follow this link) and install an app called Signal.  It’s free.  It costs you nothing.  But one day, it may help you in ways you cannot yet foresee.

Signal is a privacy and security app that replaces your built-in SMS/text message software.  It seamlessly handles your text messages for you, just like you’re used to now.  But as an added bonus, it automatically encrypts texts that you send to other Signal users.  The software uses end-to-end encryption to ensure nobody can eavesdrop on your texts.  That includes the people who make the software, the NSA, the FBI, the phone company, your tricky hacker kids, the people sniffing your wi-fi at the Starbucks, and everyone else in the world.  It means you can rest assured your private communications STAY PRIVATE.

In addition to encrypted texts, you can also use Signal to make encrypted phone calls, video calls, and picture messages.  It’s open-source, so it’s been peer-reviewed by the cybersecurity community.  It’s dead simple; easy enough that anyone can use it effectively.  And did I mention that it’s free?

Look, it’s 2017.  Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as President of the United States on Friday, at which point, the controls of the most sophisticated surveillance apparatus in the entirety of human history will be at the disposal of a thin-skinned, sociopathic demagogue.  18 months from now, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you you’re asking, “Why didn’t I think of encrypting my communications sooner?”  And even if you’re a straight shooter who never does a single thing wrong, and never wants to privately express controversial opinions, you should still use Signal to secure your communications.  What if you are, or know, a journalist, an activist, or a protester who fears being targeted for retribution or censorship?  What if you need to pass sensitive financial information to your accountant, or your lawyer, or your family?  Are you going to PGP-encrypt your emails?  If you’re like most people the answer is no; PGP-encrypted emails still frustrate even sophisticated techies.  Don’t make it hard on yourself, when Signal is so easy to use.

Edward Snowden recommends using Signal, and he’s the kind of guy who has to worry about assassination attempts by state-level adversaries.  World-renowned security researcher Bruce Schneier recommends it.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends it.  I recommend it.  It costs you nothing, and it could one day protect you from fraud, scams, and theft.  It may one day save your life or the life of someone you care about.  Go install it now.  Seriously.

Back in 1984, in Rogers Park, Chicago, there existed (and still exists today) a Jewish preschool on Touhy Avenue, the street where I currently live.

It happened that a woman was picking her four-year-old daughter from school, and as they were walking through the hall, a janitor tried to tickle the little girl, and the girl told him to leave her alone.

So the mom asks the girl about it later, and the girl alleged that the janitor had previously tickled her private parts.   The allegations were reported to the police, who then interviewed something like 80 kids at the school.  Some of the kids apparently reported that there were satanic rituals going on at the school.  Some kids claimed they had seen the teachers there kill a baby, cook it in a kettle, and then eat it.

Ultimately, there was an investigation, the janitor was charged with molestation and the school closed down for a while.  Eventually, the janitor was acquitted, and two-hundred-something charges against the school and various teachers were dropped, because of either lack of evidence or a bumbled investigation, depending on who you ask.

In case you were wondering because of the superficial similarities, A Nightmare on Elm Street was also released in 1984.

I discovered this today because we published an article about a couple in Texas who just had their 20-year-old convictions tossed in a similar satanic ritual abuse situation.

And that led me to an article one of my co-workers wrote back in 1987 about the Rogers Park case.

Here’s the most authoritative version I’ve been able to find in my brief research.  It appears from this that the judge in the case felt like there was a real possibility that sexual abuse had occurred, but because it had become this satanic cult witch hunt, the investigation had been compromised, and thus there was reasonable doubt, requiring the acquittal.

Interesting story, eh?

So here’s an interesting thing, particularly for my friends in the journalism universe.

It’s an article from a former high-level CIA officer about how to produce high-quality intelligence analysis. It’s a really good read, though, for anyone who produces (or consumes) intelligence of any kind, including news.

One of the best things — the notion of “What are we not seeing, which we would expect to see, if our analysis is correct.”

From the piece:

“During one of the most challenging times in my analytical career, I worked for the finest analyst I ever knew. In the middle of the Tiananmen Crisis in 1989—when everyone’s hair was on fire—I found him late one afternoon going through a stack of musty old reports. I asked him what he was doing. He said, “I am looking for things that did not make sense then, but do now.” “

What a great insight.

Full article, PDF, “What I Learned in 40 Years of Doing Intelligence Analysis for US Foreign Policymakers”:

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol.-55-no.-1/pdfs/CleanedPetersen-What%20I%20Learned-20Apr2011.pdf

ReadWriteWeb reports today on a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The takeaway?

According to the survey, 46% of people now say they get their news online at least three times a week, surpassing newspapers (40%) for the first time. Only local television is more popular among Americans, with 50% indicating that’s their regular source for news.

Not to mention this beautiful graphic:

So things are looking good for the web.  Not so good for newspapers.  Even less well for magazines, and worst of all for cable news.

I suspect that a large reason for the 13.7% drop in cable news numbers can be directly related to the perception of partisanship on most of those stations.  At least, I hope that’s the reason — it’s a good one.

Hello, friends.

After almost six months of working as IT Specialist for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, it’s time for me to move along to a new job.

I’m happy to say I’ve accepted a position as Web Producer for the ABA Journal, the trade publication of the American Bar Association here in Chicago.

I think this new job will allow me to take more advantage of the time I spent at Medill and the lessons I learned there, and I’m happy to get back into the media industry.  It’s satisfying to me to be able to go home at the end of the day and reflect that I might have helped make the world a little bit smarter by my contributions to the mediasphere, and I think that working with the ABA Journal will make that possible.

Which is not to say that my time at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers was wasted — quite the contrary.  I found it extremely interesting to work in a place where I was surrounded by fine art and rarities from around the world.  Anyone that knows me knows I’m fascinated by unusual objects of art, and I’ll certainly miss having access to those sorts of treasures on a daily basis.

And of course, the folks who worked here with me were certainly an eclectic bunch, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet and work with them.

So, onwards and upwards, as they say!

P.S. — anyone interested in applying for my job here at LHA should send along their resume.  I’ll be happy to make sure it ends up in the right hands.

CC-licensed image by Samuel Huron. Source - Flickr

Here’s a great series of articles about how to structure and present information on news websites.

The link will take you to the first of a series of seven posts outlining some pretty advanced thinking about content management, the semantic web, and what makes sense for consumers of web content in terms of navigation, metadata, tagging, and how we generally treat information online.

“Each of the four parts (and two addenda) will look at the current state of things, criticize what’s wrong with our websites and what should change, but I’ll also provide a first stab at a solution. We’ve had enough “journalism is in crisis but I don’t know how to get us out either”-type blogposts lately, so I’m not looking to add any verbiage to that pile.”

This link came my way via Brian Boyer, the guy in charge of news apps for the Chicago Tribune.

The interview and photos were done last quarter, but apparently, the so-called “Look Book” has now been published.  Here’s how my little piece of it came out.  Thanks to Katie Rogers for scanning the page for me!

medillinterviewthing

Another thing that came my way via the excellent Overcoming Bias site.

The author of this piece, Paul Starr, is a professor of Sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, and he floats the idea that public subsidies of investigative journalism might be one way to combat the deluge of journalists that have given up investigative reporting, and are now turning their skills to trade pubs and special-interest public relations.

It’s an interesting idea, and I don’t entirely disagree, but I need to think more about it before I’m sure.

“Curiously enough, government subsidies that are viewpoint-neutral and that do not give officials any discretion may be a less constraining method of supporting journalism than leaving it to dependence on patrons. Today, any such subsidies should be not only viewpoint-neutral, but also platform-neutral. We need the modern equivalent of the postal subsidies of the early American republic, except that there ought to be no bias in favor of publications that appear in print.

At this point, I am not advocating any specific form of subsidy — only that we should be open to the idea. There may be lessons for America in the experience of countries that have subsidized the news media without controlling them. Many European countries, for example, exempt news publications from the value-added tax; we have no VAT, but we do have a payroll tax, and one possibility might be to exempt not just newspapers, but all recognized news gatherers from that tax in whole or part.”

Via Cato-Unbound.org .  The whole article is worth a read.

This fellow gets it.

Everyone knows by now that the newspaper industry is broken, possibly beyond repair, but, particularly over the last three or four years, I’ve come across countless folks that want to sell you a solution to “fix” it.  But it can’t be fixed.  The environment has changed, and the niche that newspapers have thrived in for decades has dried up.  The “newspaper organism” is going to become as extinct as the dodo.  This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it’s just what’s happening.

Clay Shirky understands, though:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

Found via mental_floss.