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Aug 30, 2009

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Lex

This was one of those cases in which both sides can make really good arguments and neither side can make a compelling argument. Those are rare, but they do happen.

Roch101

In the days of yore, something was either reported or not. Now, web pages and blogs can be updated with ease, allowing for information originally withheld to be subsequently added to the record. If the reason for not publishing the name of the place was for safety's sake and that need has now passed, can the record not now be updated with the name of the hotel?

Roch101

The most compelling comment at JR's blog is this, from Newkid:
---------

'm sorry you don't seem to get this Journalism 101 concept--YOU BROKE THE PUBLIC TRUST BY CENSORING THE NEWS! Not for "lack of space", but at the request of a government agency acting without judicial sanction. I bet the Washington Post got pressure to censor its coverage of Watergate too.

How was the name of the hotel relevant? Look at your stories in the week leading up to the event, filled with uncertainty and speculation about the location of the event--the very subject that you censored when you found the answer. How is it relevant? A hate group was meeting in a hotel that serves the public and the public has the right to know. And yes, if protesters wanted to confront the neo-nazi group at that location, they had the right to know as well. Would that more people had stood up to the previous incarnation of Nazis in Germany before the second world war!

Sorry John, it's time to take a drive along Edward R. Murrow Boulevard and do some real reflection.

Joe Killian

It's not that I'm not sympathetic to the ideas expressed in that comment -- as my wife and I said at the time, if it had been us who'd gotten the request to leave out the hotel's name and not Taft, we're not sure we would have even passed it up the chain of command to our editors.

But there's another journalism 101 concept that's pretty damned important once you're actually doing the job and you can see the real world consequences of what you write every day: sometimes your choice to put one thing or another in the newspaper can get people hurt or killed.

Every reporter who's actually done the job knows there are times when you've sussed out a name or a location or some other thing that someone could use to do harm. Sometimes there's a compelling public interest (I don't personally think this case NECESSARILY rises to that level) in putting that information in the paper, consequences be damned. In this case Taft had to decide if he thought that the argument for not naming the hotel was good enough to bring to his editors and then the editors had to decide if the information was so important that it didn't matter that our being the only place to report it might lead to an armed confrontation in a public place between two groups of people who hadn't yet committed crimes (scratch that - the protesters at the event from which I was reporting dented a car and assaulted a neo-nazi with bottles because of a verbal dust-up) but who were both hostile.

Like I said - I might have reported it anyway had it been me, but I can certainly see where you don't want to have made a decision that hurts real people because you feel you should in principle.

Also: if you think the N&R is the only news organization in town who had this info and didn't go with it, you're kidding yourself. It wasn't THAT difficult to get. They're the only organization acknowledging and discussing the decision not to go with it.

That said, Roch makes a good point about there no longer being a compelling interest to withhold the information.

Roch101

There was concern that reporting Virgil Griffin's presence at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would spark violence. The N&R reported it anyway. If the N&R wants to make the case, as it is, that is will act as an arbiter of what information the public can handle and what it cannot, that's its prerogative.

So, what hotel hosted the Nazis?

Roch101

JR just added this at his blog: "If you think that it's not a vital role of editors to think about the reaction readers have to what they report, you're mistaken."

A. I'm not convinced at all that an editor should take on the role of nanny at all and

B. If that is an industry accepted role for editors, it will stimulate demand for editor-free information sources.

I've seen this thinking applied to the N&R web site comments too. I am left wondering how much of this is editors trying to justify their existence? Does the modern newsorg require that someone conceal information to protect tender public sensibilities or are editors making work for themselves to justify their jobs?

Joe Killian

I'm not quite sure that's fair.

Here's the thing: editors, to an even greater extent than reporters, have to decide for what they wish their newspaper - which is I guess is to say their company, too -- to be responsible.

I wasn't in on this decision, but I can see how it was made and like Ed I can see both sides of it.

If we'd printed where the Nazis were staying and people had shown up to violently confront them (not outside the realm of possibility given what I saw Saturday), we'd have had some responsibility for that.

So someone has to be the ultimate arbiter of where we think our responsibility to the readership meets our desire not to contribute to hatred and potential violence.

Your Virgil Griffin example is a good one. The guy was participating in a public event in which there was great community interest. These neo-nazi guys (and gals, presumably) were having a private meeting in a hotel they'd paid for in a city where people were understandably not happy about their being there and some demonstrably wanted to do them public harm.

Having just seen and enjoyed Inglorious Basterds I'm not going to pretend that the idea of Nazis getting hurt makes me heartbroken, but they weren't breaking any laws by meeting and our printing where they were could (I think likely would) have led to some people trying to break a law to harm them.

That's not about tender sensibilities. That's about whether you want to be the person who pointed out where people with whom you politically disagree but who are otherwise law abiding are to other people who want to harm them.

The comments thing is stickier.

I'm personally of the opinion that people who make awful, insulting, racist comments or just repeatedly say things that aren't true or are meant to derail conversations and start loud arguments that go nowhere...they sort of make themselves look like asses. That's why when I regularly ran a blog I very infrequently deleted comments, even if they bothered me personally or I thought they shouldn't have been made.

But when you run a paper and a business I can see where you have to ask yourself -- do I want these people using my web space to say these things? Is there some liability - moral, ethical or legal - if I let them say these things here, in my space?

I think it's a complicated discussion that ultimately gets down to what you're trying to achieve by enabling comments, what that's worth to you and whether you can achieve that with open commenting and the staff that you have.


Roch101

So, what hotel hosted the Nazis?

Tony Wilkins

Here's one reason I had to want to know which hotel.
After stating to my wife to stay away from downtown on Saturday I found out that I had to take her and my young daughter to the Marriott where a room had been rented for bride/groom and for the girls to dress for a wedding.
I was uncomfortable with that situation.
You would have "serviced" me if you had informed the public which hotel was hosting the event.

Brian Clarey

Will somebody please "service" Tony Wilkins?

Tony Wilkins

hahaha...you should have your own TV show Brian C.!
I'm only using John Robinson's own words.

Joe Killian

As JR revealed on his blog they stayed - kinda comically if you ask me - at the La Quinta off of Wendover, not far from where I live.

Roch101

In the revealing, JR says no one asked. Does he not read his city's bloggers or did he just not want to admit it was they who prodded him?

Brian Clarey

Sorry, couldn't let an opportunity like that slide by.
Seriously: In my opinion, the locale was a discussion that needed to be had, and it likely could have gone either way.
Sometimes there is no right decision, yet one must be made anyway.

Joe Killian

I think he meant no one asked him in the comment thread on his blog.

He reads blogs, but there's a chance he's busy today and hasn't seen this discussion.

I once had a Greensboro blogger call me a coward and all sort of nasty things for like three days because I'd just gotten busy and hadn't checked his blog to see that he'd asked me a question there. He hadn't contacted me directly, but he thought his blog was close enough.

Mick

I understand Roch's (and others) point(s)here. And I understand it is a tough decision. However, what good comes of printing the info? The upside seems limited while the downside seems bleak.

Even with all the semi-secrecy someone managed to get arrested for busting a Neo Nazi's car window. Too bad but could have and would have been worse.

John Robinson

One of the things that's always seemed curious to me is how questions can be posed in the comments on one blog about another blog without anyone bothering to ask the original blogger.

I saw Ed's post last night. I didn't look at the comments today -- I don't usually read comments on others' blogs -- until someone here told me just now that I should.

I would have answered your question, Roch, had you asked in a way that I would have heard you.

Morgan Glover

This looked like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. As pointed out in a comment on JR's blog, the N&R would have taken heat if we printed the hotel's name and someone ended up hurt. Then we would have been accused of publishing a non-vital piece of information hoping that it would generate another story for us to cover.

Crazy things have happened over less. I once worked for a newspaper where a man committed suicide in our parking lot because we ran a story about the disgruntled employee being charged with a crime he committed at his job. We weren't responsible for his actions, but it sure didn't make the reporter feel any better.

Beelzebubba

we all know what leroy mercer would do. he'd carve a swastika in their nazi foreheads, if he let 'em live. Bless his heart.

kb

beelz, are you suggesting Tarantino evoked John Bean in Pitt's character? If Greensboro is your residence, can it redeemed?

Beelzebubba

KB: tarantino has as much fun with southerners as billybob and the Devil do. why knot? jesus and the metaphysical state are big business here and yes, it can be redeemed with enough weed killer, pipes and a blowtorch. I think this thread is about Nazis in the caterpillar stage. The butterflies in office are no threat to these guys.

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