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Anonymous sources and privacy

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What's ethical, what's legal and how to tell the difference

What's ethical, what's legal and how to tell the difference


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  • 1. Anonymous sources and privacy What’s ethical, what’s legal and how to tell the difference
  • 2. SPJ Code of Ethics “Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.”
  • 3. Three flavors of anonymity • Background – Also called not for attribution
  • 4. Three flavors of anonymity • Background • Deep background – Better for reporting than for publication
  • 5. Three flavors of anonymity • Background • Deep background • Off the record
  • 6. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate
  • 7. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate After-the-fact requests
  • 8. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate After-the-fact requests – Importance of information versus future access
  • 9. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate After-the-fact requests – Importance of information versus future access – How savvy is the subject of your interview?
  • 10. Three don’ts • Don’t use anonymous sources to attack someone’s reputation
  • 11. Three don’ts • Don’t use anonymous sources to attack someone’s reputation • Don’t use anonymous sources if you could get the same information on the record
  • 12. Three don’ts • Don’t use anonymous sources to attack someone’s reputation • Don’t use anonymous sources if you could get the same information on the record • Don’t use anonymous sources unless you are prepared to go to jail
  • 13. Questions • Are readers right to distrust journalism that relies on anonymous sources?
  • 14. Questions • Are readers right to distrust journalism that relies on anonymous sources? • Should news organizations reduce or eliminate use of anonymous sources?
  • 15. Questions • Are readers right to distrust journalism that relies on anonymous sources? • Should news organizations reduce or eliminate use of anonymous sources? • Is freedom of the press threatened by recent court decisions that reporters may not protect their sources?
  • 16. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources
  • 17. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources • First Amendment protects all of us, not just journalists
  • 18. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources • First Amendment protects all of us, not just journalists • Three-part balancing test: – Relevant
  • 19. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources • First Amendment protects all of us, not just journalists • Three-part balancing test: – Relevant – No alternative
  • 20. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources • First Amendment protects all of us, not just journalists • Three-part balancing test: – Relevant – No alternative – Public interest
  • 21. The tide has shifted • Branzburg decision came during the heroic age of journalism
  • 22. The tide has shifted • Branzburg decision came during the heroic age of journalism • Public came to distrust the media, and that attitude affected the courts
  • 23. The tide has shifted • Branzburg decision came during the heroic age of journalism • Public came to distrust the media, and that attitude affected the courts • An absolute shield for journalists would probably be unconstitutional
  • 24. Privacy A few considerations
  • 25. Four types of privacy law • Intrusion – Highly offensive to a reasonable person
  • 26. Four types of privacy law • Intrusion • Publicizing private facts – Highly offensive to a reasonable person – No legitimate public interest
  • 27. Four types of privacy law • Intrusion • Publicizing private facts • False light – “Libel Jr.” – Not necessarily untrue – “Actual malice” applies
  • 28. Four types of privacy law • • • • Intrusion Publicizing private facts False light Commercial appropriation
  • 29. Overriding themes • First Amendment protects all of us, not just professional journalists
  • 30. Overriding themes • First Amendment protects all of us, not just professional journalists • Protections are strongest for publishing or broadcasting
  • 31. Overriding themes • First Amendment protects all of us, not just professional journalists • Protections are strongest for publishing or broadcasting • Protections weakest for news gathering – Open-meeting and public-record laws – Obligation to testify – Prohibition on intrusion