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A small newspaper in New Jersey -- the Asbury Park Press -- has decided to carry the work of a sportswriter covering a local team. The sportswriter is an employee not of the newspaper, but of the team he is covering. The newspaper appends that explanation to every story by this writer. The editors of the newspaper say that they could not afford to cover the team themselves, so the readers are getting the benefit of information they want and would not get otherwise; that since the writer's affiliation is disclosed, no one is deceived, and the reader can decide for himself whether the writer is in any way compromised.

How do you feel about this?
 
I think the editors make a reasonable point. Full disclosure solves what might otherwise be a problem. Plus, it's only sports.
 
I agree with the above, but not with the "it's only sports" part.
 
I think it's okay, but only if the writer is clearly objective and will say negative things about the team when warranted.
 
It's not okay. The writer is compromised, whether he acknowledges it or not. The reader is not well served by this arrangement.
 
 
 
Several weeks ago, an editor at The Cleveland Plain Dealer noticed that a frequent "commenter" to news stories was unusually strident, and seemed to be focusing, with some inside knowledge, on a number of high-profile cases before a local criminal court. When the commenter made some disparaging remarks about the mental health of a relative of a reporter for the paper, an editor decided to find out who the commenter was. Acting on his own, the editor searched the newspaper's private database and discovered the e-mail address of the commenter. Doing an ordinary Google search of that that e-mail address, he found the account was linked to the computer of a local criminal court judge. Searching through all previous comments by the same commenter, the editor discovered many of the comments involved cases the judge was presiding over, expressing very strong, even incendiary opinions. (For example, that one defendant got a break because he was white.)

The editor went to his superior; the decision was made that the judge's actions were so outrageous that the newspaper had to write about it. They did, and explained forthrightly the entire background of how they got the information. The judge got in trouble. She also sued the newspaper for $50 million, claiming they had violated their own privacy guarantees for online commenters. (The paper had indeed declared that commenting was anonymous, but just what that meant can be open to interpretation.)

For the record, the judge denied she was the author of the comments, claiming (a little improbably, perhaps) they were written by her 23-year-old daughter.

What do you think of this? Choose the answer that comes closest to your feelings about this.
 
If the paper had indeed led readers to believe that comments were anonymous, readers had the right to rely on this. No waffling. They should not have run the story at all; in legal and ethical terms, it was the fruit of a poisoned tree. And the editor who did this on his own should probably be disciplined.
 
The story was so important -- a judge had evidently shown terrible judgment -- that the paper had to run it. But they should have apologized for breaking a covenant with the reader, disciplined the editor, and either changed their promise of confidentiality, or change their policy so they can no longer ID a commenter, even internally.
 
The newspaper did nothing wrong. In this era we all know that confidentiality is a slippery slope -- promising you won't identify a commenter wouldn't apply, for example, if police had evidence a commenter was a murderer. The paper acted reasonably, here, start to finish, in what was a difficult situation.
 
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