Worth a look: The Groundtruth Project and Foreverstan

Last night I attended the launch of the Groundtruth Project, a non-profit news organization focused on training the next generation of international correspondents and producing international journalism. Today, Groundtruth has published their most recent project, Foreverstan, a current and nuanced look at the United States’ longest war. There’s an introduction video embedded above, but the project website is really worth a look.

groundtruthproject First, a little about the Groundtruth Project. It was founded by Charles Sennott (co-founder of GlobalPost and longtime reporter), Gary Knight (co-founder of VII), and Kevin Douglas Grant (formerly the Senior Editor of Special Reports at GlobalPost). In Sennott’s introduction last night he said that he had been talking with the Ford Foundation, one of Groundtruth’s funders, about the difficulties of running GlobalPost as a business. They said that GlobalPost may technically be a for-profit enterprise, but it’s really a non-profit. Sennott then founded Groundtruth as a non-profit dedicated to international newsgathering and training young journalists for international reporting.

Though last night in Boston was the official launch of Groundtruth, the organization has been active for a few years. They’ve funded a number of reporting fellowships and projects: in Egypt, in Burma, on global health, human rights in Africa, millenials around the world, and this year’s Middle East Fellowship. They’ve also published a number of special reports on topics around the world in addition to these fellowships. Crucially, Groundtruth makes sure that their stories reach wide audiences, partnering with a number of international news organizations including Public Radio International, WGBH, PBS Frontline and others.

Screenshot of the Foreverstan website - a project by the Groundtruth Project
Screenshot of the Foreverstan website – a project by the Groundtruth Project

Foreverstan is the latest of these special reports, published in partnership with WGBH and funded by the Ford Foundation and The Bake Family Trust. It combines writing, video, and photography by Jean MacKenzie, Beth Murphy, and Ben Brody, looking at the current situation of Afghanistan through stories centered around the internationally-built Ring Road in the country. The stories are separated into three sections: a look at the military handover to Afghanistan forces, girls’ education in the country, and the lives of Afghanistan’s millenials, who’ve only known war during their lifetimes. It’s an ambitious project, but one which looks a bit deeper than most conflict reporting. At the launch last night, the founders and panelists stressed the importance of “context” reporting, examining the circumstances surrounding and leading to conflict.

Keep an eye on Groundtruth’s site for future projects and ways to get involved. Also, not to be missed is the Groundtruth Project’s Field Guide, which includes guidelines for reporting from the field and a collection of essays on lessons learned from the field by a number of international correspondents, including James Foley. It’s a free download and a great resource for those interested in international reporting. You can also keep up with Groundtruth’s projects at their blog.

More states move to outlaw photographing police activity; Walter Scott shooting video illustrates the necessity

Still from video of the shooting death of Walter Scott by policeman Michael Slager in North Charleston, SC
Still from video of the shooting death of Walter Scott by policeman Michael Slager in North Charleston, SC

News unfolded this week about the police shooting of the unarmed and fleeing Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. It’s another in a long line of fatal shootings by police, many unprovoked and often with underlying race issues. In March of this year, in fact, American police killed more people (111) than the UK police have killed in total since 1900 (52).

In Walter Scott’s murder, video taken by a bystander has played an incredibly important role. In fact, look at the sort of statements about the killing made before the video was released. Initially the police department defended the actions of police officer Michael Slager, saying he followed all procedures. The graphic video, available at the New York Times, contradicts the initial narrative of the incident and apparently shows the police officer planting a taser near Scott’s body. After the video, officer Slager was arrested and charged with murder. And while video evidence of Eric Garner’s killing by police was not enough for a grand jury indictment (the whole grand jury system has issues, especially when dealing with accused police officers), it’s clear that the right to film and photograph police activity plays an important role in American democracy.

There has been widespread call for police to wear body cameras at all times, though many rightly suggest that this will be most effective only if the cameras and video are controlled and archived by an independent third party. The US Department of Justice has a huge document titled Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned. The ACLU is also worried about violations of individuals’ privacy when police record all activity all the time, as well. Nevertheless, it’s been shown that police body cameras have substantial positive effects on policing, including less violence and fewer citizen complaints.

Sometimes law enforcement makes mistakes, and I would appreciate that, as a former law enforcement officer, that is not aired on TV for entertainment.” Montana Rep. Dale Mortensen (R-Billings)

All of this should illustrate why it is so troubling that states around the country continue attempts to restrict people’s right to record police activity with video or still photography. We’ve covered the issue often over the past few years. This year, both Montana (where I’m from) and Texas legislators have proposed laws restricting the filming of police. The proposed (now dropped, see update below) Texas law HB 2918 would only allow registered “news media” to record police, and only from at least 25 feet away. The Montana law, proposed bill HB633, would also only allow media to film police and require them to get a $100 permit from the police department to be filmed. Rep. Dale Mortensen (R-Billings) introduced the bill and said that, “Sometimes law enforcement makes mistakes, and I would appreciate that, as a former law enforcement officer, that is not aired on TV for entertainment.”

The tide may be turning on this issue, though. Both Colorado and California legislators recently introduced bills to protect those who film police. In Colorado, HB 15-1290, creates punishments for officers found to have interfered with people lawfully recording their activity. The proposed California bill, SB 411, clarifies state law by stating that merely recording a police officer conducting official duty should not automatically be considered interference with a police officer. A Baltimore police department recently paid $250,000 for seizing and deleting people’s cell phone videos. And a Seattle police officer was recently fired after threatening to arrest a newspaper editor for filming him.

The only person involved in the video of Eric Garner’s death to be indicted was the man who recorded the video of the incident. Though his indictment was not related to the filming, he fears that guards will poison his food at Rikers Prison, just as is alleged by 19 other inmates there. The man who filmed the killing of Walter Scott told the Washington Post that he kept the footage secret for days, fearing for his life, but ultimately decided to let the video out because of how different it was from how police described the incident.

As always, know your rights when filming or photographing police. And even if you believe you’re in the right, if the situation turns dangerous and a police officer threatens you, it’s best not to escalate the situation with a discussion of your rights. Nevertheless, here are some good guides regarding photography and the police in the US: 7 Rules for Recording the Police and the ACLU’s various links regarding police and photography.

UPDATE (13 April 2015): The Texas bill to limit recording of police activity has been dropped. The sponsoring politician cited large public outcry as a reason for withdrawing the bill.

Kubrick treasure trove: Museum puts thousands of director’s LOOK assignment photos online

kubrick-photo-museumnyc
Screenshot of Stanley Kubrick collection at the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York has unveiled an online collection of ~5000 of Stanley Kubrick’s photos from his time on staff at LOOK magazine between 1945 and 1950. While not quite as easily searchable as Yale’s FSA project, there’s a lot of fun to be had just clicking from page to page. Small collections of Kubrick’s photography have been passed around on blogs over the years (here or here) but this collection includes 129 of the young Kubrick’s assignments. And while only about 5,000 of the images are online now, the collection totals about 15,000 pictures. Oh, and you can order pretty affordable prints from the collection.

Here’s what the museum has to say about the collection:

Between 1945 and 1950, Stanley Kubrick worked as a staff photographer for LOOK magazine. He was not yet Kubrick, the famous film director; he was just Stanley, the kid from the Bronx with an uncanny photographic sensibility. Only 17 years old when he joined the magazine’s ranks, he was by far its youngest photographer. Kubrick often turned his camera on his native city, drawing inspiration from the variety of personalities that populated its spaces. Photographs of nightclubs, street scenes, and sporting events were amongst his first published images, and in these assignments, Kubrick captured the pathos of ordinary life in a way that belied his young age. The Museum’s collection contains 129 of Kubrick’s assignments for the magazine, encompassing more than 15,000 individual images, the vast majority of them never published.

If you want to see the influence of Kubrick’s photography in his films, you’d do well to find a copy of his early noir The Killing. IMDB has a few stills to give an idea of the look of the film.

And while we’re on the subject of Kubrick, here are a couple posts from the past few years on his work: Kubrick’s centered single-point perspective, and Capturing historic light in film.

via reddit