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Outing Anonymous Bloggers

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by YankeeFan, Jun 16, 2009.

  1. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    There's been a couple of recent instances that I find interesting.

    In the first one, the Times of London outs a cop who was writing a crime blog.

    In the second, Ed Whelan who writes on NRO, exposes a legal blogger who was critical of him.

    I suppose anyone who blogs anonymously has to know that they're anonymity may be exposed, but what of the people -- and there motives -- who exposed these bloggers.

    The case of the Times of London bugs me. Newspapers provide anonymity to sources everyday. So, if he had been a source for a times journalist, instead of blogging on his own, his anonymity would have been safe. The Times would have gone to court to preserve his identity rather than to get permission to reveal it. That seems very hypocritical to me.

    Until they allow their journalists to investigate their colleagues sources, both at their own newspapers and at their rivals, I'm not sure they should be outing bloggers.

    The NRO case doesn't bother me as much because it seems to be more a case of a couple of bloggers going at each other, but it still seems pretty bush league.

    What do you guys (and gals) think?

  2. Diego Marquez

    Diego Marquez Member

    I write a column under the byline Jane Doe ...

    If it's good enough for Fletch (who outed himself), it's good enough for anybody. Many bloggers want credentials to events and the same access as journalists. They should be able to handle having their names out there. They are a reporter, not a source. Reporters have names, and are expected to use them. Even the TV people who come up with stage names ... Storm Damagio, Rock Rollah, Anita Johnson ... still have their real names bandied about.
    I'd need a better reason than they write an anonymous blog for a reason to withhold their true identity.
  3. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    I don't know if they facts you are presenting are correct, because I know nothing about the case. But there is nothing hypocritical about what you are describing. If this blogger was not a source, and didn't have any agreement with the Times of London with regard to anonymity, the newspaper has no obligation to, or relationship with him. Even if he was a source, anonymity is something specific granted to only a small number of sources, and it comes with specific terms. Most journalists use it carefully and reserve it for sources who provide vital info that can't be obtained in any other way.

    That anonymity isn't some kind of blanket immunity from ever being mentioned by that news organization. It comes with specific terms. For example, the source promises that he is being truthful, in return for his or her anonymity. If it comes out that he wasn't truthful or screwed the reporter, the obligation usually ends there. The anonymity also typically extends only to his being the source of specific info with regard to a specific story. It doesn't mean the news organization is under lifetime agreement to shield him from other news.
  4. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    I understand what you're saying.

    But in an age of self publishing on the internet, this guy was basically an anonymous source to his own blog as opposed to being a source for the Times of London.
  5. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    That doesn't make sense. It was up to him to preserve his own anonymity then, and he failed himself.

    The Times of London has no obligation to him. Why would they?
  6. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure it made much sense either, and I suppose you're right that he failed to protect his own anonymity.

    But would one newspaper ever try to out another's source? Obviously in the Plame/Novak case they did, but that sort of took on a life of it's own.

    I guess I'm just asking if they gave the blogger the same courtesy they would have given another news organization -- or if the blogger even deserves such a courtesy?
  7. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    I'm reading a biography of Lincoln right now and am reminded of the frequent practice in the 18th and 19th century of politicians writing articles using fake names (The Federalist Papers etc.) to promote ideas. I really don't have a problem with it as far as commentary goes. But I do think "outing" - as long as a newspaper or website isn't involved in the outing is fine.
  8. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    But the blogger's not a source. This has nothing to do with sources. He has no relationship to the paper, or any other paper. This has nothing to do with any other news organizations. So what would be the "courtesy" involved here? I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to ask.
  9. da man

    da man Well-Known Member

    He's saying one newspaper wouldn't try to expose another's anonymous source. For example, if the New York Times found out the identity of a source in a Washington Post story, would the Times reveal it?

    There again, though, the Times has no obligation to the Post's promise of anonymity to a source, right? The only question then becomes, is it newsworthy?
  10. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    Well, like I tried to say before -- the blogger is in a sense his own anonymous source. Or at the very least, I was asking if it could be looked at that way.

    It seems the consensus is that he's not deserving of any protections. I'm ok with that.

    I just thought it was an interesting case and was curious of what others thought.
  11. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    This notion of "professional courtesy" when it comes to someone's anonymous source has no basis in anything.

    One anonymous source for Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in reporting the BALCO story was Troy Ellerman, Victor Conte's original attorney. The two reporters protected him even when threatened with contempt of court -- and still have never confirmed he was a source. That didn't stop Yahoo! Sports from reporting that Ellerman was one of their sources the minute they had confirmation that the FBI was investigating him. Yahoo! had no obligation to Ellerman, or to Fainaru-Wada or Williams, and Ellerman being the source of the leak was newsworthy -- especially when it had been widely assumed that the Feds were the source of the leak and Ellerman was on few radar screens. Only Fainaru-Wada and Williams had an obligation to the guy, and they held true to their agreement for anonymity.
  12. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    Well, let's say you have something that you think is newsworthy, but can't get it out there. You can't find a reporter that wants to print the story.

    So, in an internet age, you self publish on a blog. But, you still need anonymity -- maybe you're a whistle-blower, maybe you fear reprisals, maybe you're just not authorized to speak on the subject -- so you publish under a pseudonym.

    You are your own anonymous source. Yes? No? I'm not trying to make a declarative statement. I'm really not sure & am just trying to walk you through my thinking.

    Would it be different if he was a source for another blogger?

    I guess part of what I'm wondering is why anonymity should be protected if you speak in the third person, through someone else, as opposed to in the first person.

    And while I don't think the Times has any responsibility to protect a Post source, I think that they would protect a source out of a sense of practicality. Sources often have relationships with several media outlets, and if one burned him, he -- and other sources -- would lose trust in that media outlet.
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