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« Anticlimax | Main | Bye-bye McBob »

Mar 22, 2007

Comments

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sean coon

if true, ben's credibility is shit. he's now a part of the story.

sean coon

huh. i just noticed the title of the post. kudos.

Ed Cone

That's the old rule of journalism -- but does it still apply?

Certainly Ben isn't a traditional journalist working by traditional rules at this point. But he brings a lot of information to the table, and he's not shy about his POV.

I'll be interested in hearing Ben's take on this story, and how he thinks his readers should view it and his reporting on the GPD, Wray, and Wray's adversaries.

sean coon

i don't have any problem with ben doing what he did, but i do have a problem that he comments on the entire wray fray from a pseudo-outsider position, not disclosing his actual ties to the department or participation with the department.

what do you think now when you see a ben delivered, "white guilt!" line in a comment thread here, at hoggards or elsewhere? how about a rare, well thought out comment?

he's active, righteous and an interesting read, but i consider him to be more of a gossip pusher than journalist.

Lex

I can give you one good reason why the old rule still should apply: Posing as a journalist while working for the cops (or the federal government, as the FBI once tried) can make it much harder for people committing real journalism, whether they're getting paid or not, whether they're posting to News-Record.com or their own blogs, to do their jobs.

On a larger scale, a lot of people and organizations, not just journalists, depend for their lives on independence from government -- any government. (That's part of the reason why nongovernmental organizations are called that.) Sometimes that's not enough -- witness killings of UN and other NGO employees in Iraq and attacks on their facilities. Still, it's a good starting point for people and agencies trying to do worthwhile work in a dangerous world.

sean coon

agreed, lex.

i don't buy into this "new era" shift when it comes to simple concepts like full disclosure. i do understand that ben doesn't have an editor or a boss now, so he can't be held to traditional reporting ethics. and since results (whatever they might be) seem to be the priority, ben himself doesn't seem to care about how the ends might not justify the means.

fine.

but ben was serving as a reporter for the peacemaker. lex is 100% spot on -- he made a mockery of real reporters and journalists by trying to kill two birds with one stone.

i don't want to hear the cryin' when ben realizes that people might now look at him as a potential shill for *certain* cops or *certain* citizens or *certain* folk on any side of a particular issue.

if ben made the wire story public and framed his motivations accordingly, it would have made interesting conversation and no one could've questioned his integrity to this degree.

Joe Killian

Have to agree with Lex -- but more importantly, how can anyone trust that a journalist or blogger will report accurately on the police themselves if he/she is working with the police?

Whether or not Ben worked with the police, that's the sort of question with which all bloggers are really going to have to contend. Can they expect readers to trust anything they say about government or law enforcement if they're actively working with them?

sean coon

i'd like to take this opportunity to announce that george soros paid for my home as compensation for keeping on george w. bush's ass up until the mid-term elections.

i feel so much better now.

dookie

This is some kinky stuff. What else was going on "undercover?"

Ginger Bush

Who knows, Dookie? I certainly don't, though I've followed this story, but some excellent ethical questions are posed by Joe, Sean and others.

Brian Clarey

sean coon:
Ben's credibility has always been for shit in many, many people's eyes. He doesn't cite sources, so while some of his leads may be the actual whisperings he gets from cops, others may be fully concocted rantings that align with his agenda or smear his enemies. Who the hell knows?
He's more of a ratfucker than a journalist, and I mean that in a Nixonian sense, not that he actually fucks rats. But if it turns out he does, we'll call that a Clarey Exclusive!
Two more words to ponder: cop fetish.

Ed Cone

Can we make this less of a bash-Ben thread and more of a rules-and-expectations-for-personal-publishing thread?

Not just because I like Ben, which I do, but because there are some bigger issues in play here that are more important than personal agendas and relationships.

Brian Clarey

Agreed. There are some interesting wrinkles here.
But he hasn't published a word about his role, nor was he blogging at the time. He *was*, in fact, making a living as a reporter when he wore the wire. You cool with that, Ed?

sean coon

seriously.

Ed Cone

I have much more trouble with the lack of disclosure than I do with the deed itself.

Ben's an activist, a fighter for people and neighborhoods that often lack a voice in city politics. If he saw wearing the wire as a way of cleaning up that street, more power to him, I'd love to read the work of someone that passionate and that close to the action...

BUT at that point Ben is part of the story, and remains part of the story as it goes along to include political infighting involving the cops with whom he worked, and obviously any articles or blog posts he writes on any related subjects should be read in that light.

Which, from now on, they will be.

Transparency is more important to me in a case like this than the rules of traditional journalism.

sean coon

how is transparency *not* a rule of traditional journalism? especially in this example?

Ed Cone

It is a rule of traditional journalism.

Unlike some of the other rules of traditional journalism, I think it applies to independent bloggers, too, not because it's a rule of traditional journalism but because it's fundamental to credibility.

sean coon

in other words, ben screwed up years back by getting wired by the cops while working as a journalist (and hiding that fact) and by not being transparent about that fact once he started blogging about the gpd and david wray.

to brian's point, his credibility is pretty much shot. well, except for folks who don't care about such ethics when the means support their ends.

Joe Killian

I chafe at the restrictions of traditional journalism as much as anyone else - more than a lot of journalists, even.

But many of the "rules of traditional journalism" aren't there to make us feel superior -- they're there so that people can trust what we do, have confidence in our work and believe that we're doing our jobs in a way that is ethical.

Ben's activism is often admirable. Other time he cobbles together conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality based on personal allegiances or grudges and says and does nasty things in the pursuit of them without really caring what damage he does or how it affects peoples' lives. But the question of his credibility is, to me, separate from the question of his journalistic ethics. And, for the reasons Brian sites - no sourcing, anonymous quotes from anonymous sources without any of journalism's safety valves for that sort of thing, lack of transparency in association, motivation and method -- it's often difficult to see his stuff as credible, even when it is. There's simply no way to judge where it's coming from, why he's writing it and how that impacts the reporting. Like Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh, you have to take what he does with a grain (sometimes a few pounds) of salt and judge it for what it is rather than try to compare it to actual journalism.

I guess I'm a little disturbed by this latest bit about him wearing a wire, but if I'm honest with myself I'm not sure this should really affect peoples' view of Ben and his work. He routinely reprints police press releases verbatim on his site without any original reporting or vetting, does not correct information when it is (very often if you ask anyone who's been a cop reporter for even a week) wrong in those releases or reports and makes little attempt to hide his allegiances or goals. There's no way any of us could know he was actually working with the police in this situation (if true) -- but anybody who would have been surprised by that just hasn't been paying attention.

If a professional reporter for almost any newspaper did many of the things Ben does (and not just the things that are clearly unethical by any reasonable journalistic standard, but also the chest pounding and the demanding of respect and recognition he feels he isn't getting) he'd end up working retail.

But Ben isn't a journalist. He shouldn't be held to that standard. The journalists I know who have an opinion about him one way or the other simply wish he'd recognize this himself instead of routinely screaming that journalists should be doing what he's doing in the way he's doing it. It's all right for what he does and what we do to be different -- but it's also necessary to recognize that we choose that. We often can't or won't do what he does because we still think we should have to earn our credibility in clear and verifiable ways - through adhering to standards, correcting errors and attempting to avoid entanglements rather than demanding people take us seriously because we say so.

I can't speak for other journalists or bloggers -- but I'm both and I'm okay with them not being the same thing.


Ginger Bush

If bloggers hold themselves up to be the 'new citizen journalists' then the same standards should apply. Are bloggers are nothing more than gossips and rumor mongers? I can't speak for them, as I don't know. Each will have to answer for themselves.

And even if you disagree with applying journalistic standards to Ben, as a blogger, he was a journalist when worked with the police. So your argument that he shouldn't be held to that standard isn't sound Joe. And that makes me wonder about your own judgement as a journalist.

Billy The Blogging Poet

I think a lot of commenters here are missing a bigger point: How is it that with so many professional journalists, the N&R, area bloggers and others all investigating, writing, and commenting on this very story, none of you knew about Ben's involvement? It appears that with the exception of Jerry Bledsoe there has been very little journalism involved in uncovering the facts concerning this case.

Will Ben's reputation suffer? Yeah, probably but not nearly so much as all the others who have spent the last couple of years presenting the "facts" concerning this issue.

I hope Ben continues doing exactly what he's been doing. Is he too cocky? Damn straight. Has he made mistakes? Yes, he's made some mistakes but he's right more than he's wrong. His posts could use an editor but who am I to complain about that? I can tell you from my own conversations with any number of Greensboro police officers and city employees that the rank and file trust Ben Holder when they feel as if they can't go to the "media" and I think the world needs a few more Ben Holders.

The rank and file tell me our local media is too cozy with local "media" so they go to Ben instead.

Ben's reputation will recover, police and city employees will continue to go to Ben when they fear going elsewhere and if nothing else this has proven the level of public distrust and loathing of traditional media.

If I were a journalist I'd be more concerned about being scooped and proven wrong by a local blogger and a single "retired" journalist than I'd be concerned about any mistakes Ben might have made.

Ben Holder is providing a free public service that government and media are either unwilling or unable to provide and we're all better off for it.

And frankly I think Ben is owed some thanks for sticking his neck out and exposing corruption in a city in which he no longer lives. Right now Ben is worrying that there may be retaliation against him for wearing that wire and many reading this have the audacity to complain about him not being transparent enough.

Thank you, Ben.

And yes, I'm not being entirely transparent either but you'll just have to live with it.

Ginger Bush

The rank and file trust Ben? Would that be the Mayor, the City Council, the County Commissioners, everyone who works in city/county government? How can you even presume to speak for everyone?

No one Ben has maligned unfairly would agree that "Ben Holder is providing a free public service that government and media are either unwilling or unable to provide and we're all better off for it."

As Sean said, "his credibility is pretty much shot, well, except for folks who don't care about such ethics when the means support their ends". And given your comments, your 'to hell with the ethics' attitude, that includes you Billy.


Bubba

"The rank and file trust Ben? Would that be the Mayor, the City Council, the County Commissioners, everyone who works in city/county government? How can you even presume to speak for everyone?"

All those people you mention hardly belong to any sort of "rank and file", Ginger.

Billy's reference spoke to the opinions of the average GPD cop not in a command position.

Billy's post speaks more to the truth of the matter than any other I've read here.

Ginger Bush

Reread his sentance Bubba. He includes city employees in his rank and file reference.

And given your relationship with GPD and your position on this story, I'm not supprised that you aren't concerned about the ethical question here either.

Joe Killian

Billy:

There are plenty of cops and city employees who feel comfortable coming to reporters -- they simply can't come to us with unverifiable gossip, commentary they won't put on the record or any expectation we'll run their press releases or versions of their stories we don't ourselves report and confirm.

Which is fine with me.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that there are people willing to work outside of that ethical framework. I'm just not one of them and I'm not sure they should expect to be credible on police and government issues if they're in bed with these very people.

Bubba

"Reread his sentance Bubba. He includes city employees in his rank and file reference."

I did, and I think my interpretation is correct. Like the GPD force, Most city employees are considered rank and file.

Go to Billy's place, and see his edit (for clarity, I believe) of the comment.

sean coon

again, if ben were to have written about the entire experience of being wired by the cops, meeting with the owner of the establishment and then reporting back to david wray -- as a part of his peacemaker story -- none of this would be an issue.

the only person burned in that situation would have been the owner of the establishment. sure, it would've effected ben's ability to secure interviews in the future, but that would've been his choice.

but he never wrote about that experience -- not even with his own publishing platform.

so now every story he puts out there that relates to city government or the police department is questionable. i've told ben more than once that he needs to name names when he makes pointed accusations. instead, he pounds his chest.

well, be careful of the mic, ben, those things are fragile.

Bubba

One other thing......this conversation should not be focusing on ben holder. What it really should be focusing on is this excerpt from the N&R story that no one else here seems to think important enough to mention:

"By the time Johnson made an offer, two of the four finalists had withdrawn, citing other opportunities and the impression they weren't the favored pick."

Sam Hieb brings this statement into focus here.

sean coon

wrong thread, bubba.

Bubba

No, right thread. I just forgot to include the word "Bellamy" after "N&R".

"Transparency" is the theme that ties it together.

There was no "transparency" in the selection process for our new police chief. Indeed, it wasn't much of a process after all, was it?

The discussion of Ben Holden is a distraction from the issue of how the new police chief was selected.

Billy The Blogging Poet

Ginger, to define Rank and file:

"The people who form the major portion of any group or organization, excluding the leaders: “The rumors of corruption at the top disturbed the party’s rank and file.” This phrase comes from military usage, where enlisted men march in ranks (close abreast) and files (one behind another), whereas officers march outside these formations."

In other words: The Mayor, city council, department heads and high ranking police officers are NOT rank and file.

Joe Killian,
I suggest you start interviewing rank and file city employees as to who they trust more, Ben or your employer, I've no doubt you'll be shocked. Ask GPD officers whose blogs they read? I personally know dozens of GPD officers and city employees who know Ben Holder not just by name but by his face. How many rank and file city employees know your face?

Admittedly, Ben is a former GSO city employee so naturally he might have an advantage there.

As for Ben's ethics, he takes chances your employer would never allow you to take even if you wanted to (nor would I want to take those chances) but to question Ben's ethics goes a little too far. Ben did what he did for the community in which he lived, he did what the police were unable to do on their own and his intentions were not for profit.

Sean,
Did it ever occur to you that Ben might be concerned about his safety and the safety of his children if certain persons were to learn he had worn the wire? He expressed those very concerns to me BEFORE Jerry Bledsoe's article ran in the Rhino. Ben, myself and others have been discussing this very subject face to face for over a week now.

As for his not naming names: sometimes that's an effective way to flush out more people who are willing to talk. Traditional media is constantly arguing they have to protect their sources, shouldn't you, Ben, or I be afforded the same?

Look, to all who comment: I know Ben makes mistakes, steps on toes, pounds his chest, crows and toots his own horn sometimes to the point that even I'd like to slap him silly but Ben has gotten results, has broken no laws and has worked tirelessly to make Greensboro a better place in which to live. I mean, give him a break he grew up on a chicken farm for gosh sakes. He was never trained as a journalist. He's a lone wolf who doesn't play well with others but to make the claim that Ben is anything less than credible is simply crossing the line.

And finally: The most shocking news of all! I can't believe I'm in agreement with Bubba and CA. Bubba, CA., thanks for sticking up for Ben.

Bubba

"Bubba, CA., thanks for sticking up for Ben."

You were absolutely right in your comments about Ben.

The old "rules" no longer apply. We've had that occur because of the lead of people like the "main stream media", like the New York Times, who have taken it upon themselves to decide the old rules are no longer applicable to themselves.

Being "part of the story" is virtually standard procedure these days among "journalists". To pretend that it does not exist is folly.

PotatoStew

I don't know if Ben was right or wrong to do what he did, but I'm fairly certain of one thing: With the exception of Billy, some of the folks defending Ben would be going ape shit over this if it had been Lorraine Ahearn wearing a wire for anybody.

sean coon

exactly.

Ashanti

Ben rocks. Sean and Brian suck. Billy you got guts. You too Bubba. Ed is right on most points.

Joe Killian

Billy:

Being well liked among the people on whom you report isn't generally a huge thing among journalists. Would we prefer to be well liked? Sure. But the job comes first. That often means being critical, insisting that sources be responsible to you and to readers for the information they give you, avoiding entanglements that compromise you and your coverage and doing things the hard way.

The N&R is, by any standard, one of the most transparent daily papers of it size. And, in my experience, its reporters don't judge how well they're doing their job by how many of the right kind of people like them.

Billy The Blogging Poet

Ashanti,
I don't know you and I'm not picking on you and I thank you for joining in as well as your support but I just wanted to point out that the others you've read on this thread all know each other personally and while it looks to those on the outside as if we're all out to kill each other we're all friends and when this finally blows over we'll all shake hands, buy each other a drink and look forward the next topic we can all agree to disagree on.

And finally, I hope you can become one of us.

Joe Killian,
You're right on every point you made, the N&R is very transparent and a leader but there's simply no substitute for personal relationships when it comes to sharing information and Ben's personal relationships with city employees is what gets him the info he presents.

In my not so humble opinion I think that instead of holding Ben up as an example of a bad journalist we should be calling him a brave whistle blower.

benholder

Dear bitches, ...killian, clarey, lex, and others...go here...http://thetroublemaker.blogspot.com/2007/03/wire-rest-of-story.html

Billy,

Shut the fuck up. Ben's personal relationships with city employees is what gets him the info he presents. This is not true...i dont have lovers in city hall or on the force..i dont havce buddies...your commenting is supproting me with jibba jabba...I am not well liked..there is not presents...not at city hall

benholder

Joe, I would never buy u shit. I would not piss on you if you were on fire. So...fuck off...really...fuck off...cite that

Bubba

"With the exception of Billy, some of the folks defending Ben would be going ape shit over this if it had been Lorraine Ahearn wearing a wire for anybody."

Typical arrogant presumption.

Buzz off, clown.

Joe Killian

Billy:

Have not been trying to hold Ben up a bad journalist. I'm actually arguing - and have been - that he's not a journalist and shouldn't be held to that standard. I stand by the assertion that what he routinely does WOULD be wrong if he was a journalist -- but I'm making the point that he's a blogger and trying to have a conversation about which standards should apply to bloggers if they want to be taken seriously as news sources.

Anyone who's read my blog knows that when I blog - even about the news I've reported - I don't follow many of the conventions of journalism and report in a way that would be unacceptable on-the-job. I'm in complete agreement that the two things are separate.

Ben hostility seems to say he doesn't feel that way. I've got to respectfully disagree.

Joe Killian

Ben's hostility...

benholder

Joe, i am more of a fucking journalsit than u will ever be.

benholder

Joe,

You said i dont correct things and I do you ass munch. Terrell raynor was arrested in Mississippi on a tuesday..as i reported..not a thursday as tater told townsend anbd the N&R reported. Your paper then corrected their piss poor reporting to match mine. there a lots of other examples...I cite and report and u said I did not..nice journalism fuck face.

Joe Killian

I'm sure there are, Ben. I'm not attacking you here.

I said you routinely don't cite sources. That's true. There are instances wherein you do. Often you do not.

I said you run verbatim GPD press releases. You do. Often, when there are factual inaccuracies in them, they go uncorrected. At other times - when you feel like it - you correct things.

Journalists work under different circumstances - with editors, publishers, deadlines, story lists and job pressures and constraints you don't have. So I'm all right with you doing it in a different way. I think it's often a way we can't and wouldn't do it -- and I'm okay with that. I also don't think correcting something for which we've been given bad information from the principles is anything to be ashamed of. Producing as many stories as we do every day in the way that we do we're bound to get bad information, get something wrong,

Here's my point - though I think it's clear from the other posts in this thread. Journalists and bloggers don't -- and don't have to -- do the same things. Journalists insisting that bloggers BE journalists are missing the point. But there are certainly points of ethical journalism that are helpful to bloggers who want to be seen as journalists or news sources.

And I say all that without cursing at you or telling you I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire.

benholder

Joe,

Fuck you.

benholder

does not correct information when it is (very often if you ask anyone who's been a cop reporter for even a week) wrong in those releases or reports...I correct alot...even your paper.

benholder

Where you at Lex with your psoing as a journalist ass? Hiding under a car pretending to be Nelson Johnson?

Roch101

"Joe, i am more of a fucking journalsit than u will ever be."

Your certainly have tone and vocabulary going for you.

benholder

Roch, u put ed's part of the story on 1010 but ignored my response. Why? Was it too good of an exampkle of cit. journalism?

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