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Question -- what would you do?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by crimsonace, Jan 20, 2009.

  1. crimsonace

    crimsonace Active Member

    Local daily runs a semi-regular feature where readers are allowed to anonymously write in one-paragraph views/statements, et al. It basically degenerates into complaining about the local school's graduation rate, the mayor -- it's essentially a forum for anonymous small-town political bickering.

    Recently, things get interesting ...

    They cover a game where there is a brief altercation. The reporter at the game reports what he sees, which was fairly mild (and actually was the same thing I saw). However, the next day, the newspaper runs an anonymous note on top of the sports front where a *reader* anonymously claims that a punch was thrown, and named the kid that allegedly threw the punch. I am not sure if the newspaper made any effort to prove the veracity of the reader's comment before publishing it, but unless someone from the newspaper saw the game film, that would probably be impossible.

    Question ...
    *-Would you have run the paragraph?
    *-What would you have done if the publisher/ME required you to do it?

    Personally, I hate the entire feature, but had a problem with it for two reasons:
    1. It's not cool to call out high school kids anonymously in a daily newspaper. Or to allow other people to do it.
    2. I also saw this as potentially libelous -- especially if it comes out that their reporter's version is correct and that the newspaper allowed someone to claim that a high school player landed a punch without checking to see whether or not it were true. I'm curious about opinions from those who are actually still in the business.
  2. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    1. If it were solely my decision, I wouldn't run the paragraph. Period. The newspaper is responsible for what gets printed therein. If a reader says something libelous, it's as if the paper itself is saying it.
    2. If my publisher were going to require me to run that paragraph, I'd remind him that "someone else said it" does not absolve us from responsibility in libel cases. The fact we printed it in fact implicates us if the accused assailant sues for libel.
    3. I would have stood up against running anonymous reader comments in any forum before it happened. All it does is embolden people who are too chicken shit to put their name behind their vitriol. If this paragraph were in my hands, I'd argue in favor of dropping that feature.
  3. crimsonace

    crimsonace Active Member

    The entire editorial staff of the newspaper has been trying to get the anonymous comment feature killed for years. It's the publisher's baby, and he loves the thing.
  4. DirtyDeeds

    DirtyDeeds Guest

    I don't have a problem giving the readers a voice, but you have to be careful about what they say. And I don't think doing it anonymously is the best route. Would not have run this, and it could turn into a lawsuit if someone got pissed off enough. I agree with f_t on all counts.
  5. expendable

    expendable Well-Known Member

    He'll really going to love it when he's having to call in the lawyers.
  6. Barsuk

    Barsuk Active Member

    I abhor the concept of running readers' anonymous blatherings in the newspaper. Awful idea from the jump, and this situation is an excellent example.
  7. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Does it always run on the top of the sports front? Ugh.
  8. satchmo

    satchmo Member

    Yeah, who in their right mind would write possible libelous comments anonymously in some sort of news affiliated way? Say an industry message board, for instance. That's just down right ... wait a second.
  9. crimsonace

    crimsonace Active Member

    Usually in the side rail. This just happened to be at the top of the rail.
  10. crimsonace

    crimsonace Active Member

    I've edited the comments and removed the names for that very reason.

    While I'm not going to out myself specifically, I don't go out of my way to hide my identity, and a lot of people in my area know who I am, so I'm not exactly hiding ...

    And given libel is one of the unfortunate realities of journalism, an industry message board would be a place to ask a question about it.
  11. Gomer

    Gomer Active Member

    We have something like this, but there are rules that you can't name anybody/anything so as to avoid legal problems. If you do, it doesn't get printed.

    Oh, and it's in the entertainment section, not in sports.

    To answer your question, I wouldn't have run it and if the ME insists, remember it's his paper, not yours. He wants to risk legal action? That's his prerogative. It's not as though it's a story with your byline on it that could end up in court.
  12. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    You can ALWAYS censor anonymous comments with impunity.

    You can censor them for any reason -- as a precaution against libel, to correct illogical or incoherent statements, or even because you don't like what they said.

    Who's gonna complain, "The Big Kahuna from Gruntsburg?"

    You want your opinions to be treated with any legitimacy, sign your name.
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