Wednesday, May 10, 2006

False anonymity gets another reporter

The tireless Jim Romenesko links to a story about yet another reporter caught making anonymous postings. The AP story:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A daily newspaper in Lancaster fired its courthouse reporter after he posted anonymous opinions on the public-forum portion of his paper's Web site, including comments critical of his own newspaper, the reporter said.

"Justin Quinn said he was fired last month from the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, where he had spent more than six years. He declined to discuss the content of his postings or confirm the name under which he contributed to the paper's Talkback feature."

Deception is a cardinal offense in journalism, although from what I can tell Quinn's punishment was too severe. Couldn't he have been reassigned?

It is far better to express one's opinions openly -- with the employer's knowledge, of course.

Another firing seems to be the result of a culture clash. A writer for the tbt, an "alternative" publication owned by the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, was fired for posting a satirical parody of a politician on Myspace, purportedly under the politician's name. From the story:

"I should get paid to poke fun of her in print, but fired for doing it on my own time?" she asked in an e-mail to the Tampa Tribune on Friday.

The story quoted an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. I heartily agree with the sentiments:

"I think she has a point," said Kelly McBride, an ethics expert at The Poynter Institute, a journalism research and teaching foundation that owns tbt,* an offshoot of the St. Petersburg Times.

Tbt* is personality-driven and packs more attitude than a traditional newspaper. That creates different expectations and new challenges for journalists, McBride said.

Newspapers need to discuss the boundaries of new media outlets, she said. In this case, Vivinetto's online comments were too racy for the paper to publish and, therefore, inappropriate for a journalist to post on a Web site, she said.

Two of the three comments Vivinetto posted dealt with panties.

The trouble here is that as an "alternative" publication geared toward the young, tbt has a different, looser ethos than conventional newspapers. Perhaps looser is the wrong word, for that implies alternative papers are less honest than conventional papers. Let's just say the ethos is different.

Mainstream papers owning alternative papers is a recipe for trouble. If the alternative paper hews too closely to the parent company, it will have the same problems the parent has in attracting young readers. If it is too free-form, the corporate parent will be taken aback and rein it in.

Follow the link for a pertinent reaction from a Tampa blogger.

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