Cleveland Plain Dealer and Anonymous Posting Ethics

Earlier this week I gathered up a bunch of interesting media and industry news from the past week for the FWJ community: “This Week in Media News.” While several stories are worth delving into, one story in particular had kept my interest since coming across it.

This past week The Plain Dealer, a newspaper in Cleveland Ohio, investigated, uncovered and revealed the name of an anonymous poster from their web site. This poster,”lawmiss,” had commented many times, but one comment, aimed at a Dealer reporter’s family member raised eyebrows and led to the investigation. It turns out the username’s, registered email address beloned to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. It was also revealed that someone using “lawmiss” had posted comments on several articles covering Judge Strickland Saffold’s cases including capital murder cases.

The paper’s decision to reveal the name of an anonymous poster has raised an interesting ethics question: Where does personal privacy end and the public’s “right to know” begin? Even the paper’s editor, Susan Goldberg, struggled with whether the paper should have investigated to uncover the name of the poster, however, she argues once the email was discovered, the public’s right to know outweighed any privacy concerns.

It bears to note Judge Strickland Saffold has denied posting certain comments and her 23 year-old daughter has revealed she posted “quite a few, more than five” of the comments to the Plain Dealer’s web site under the name registered to her mother’s email address.

This has weight with the FWJ community not just as a point of an interesting journalism ethics discussion, but here at FWJ we’re a community where people can post anonymously. Each web forum has it’s own comment policy and Freelance Writing Jobs is no different. In light of the Plain Dealer’s foray into these uncharted waters, will you change your comment habits? Do you agree with the Dealer’s or any web site’s right to disclosure? What standards should be in place? Discuss!

Here is More Reading on the Topic:

The Plain Dealer and the ethics of disclosure - Washington Times

Anonymous online comments are linked to the personal e-mail account of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold – Cleveland.com

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