Anonymous sources and privacy

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

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Anonymous sources and privacy

  1. 1. Anonymous sources and privacy What’s ethical, what’s legal and how to tell the difference
  2. 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. 3. Three flavors of anonymity • Background – Also called not for attribution
  4. 4. Three flavors of anonymity • Background • Deep background – Better for reporting than for publication
  5. 5. Three flavors of anonymity • Background • Deep background • Off the record
  6. 6. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate
  7. 7. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate After-the-fact requests
  8. 8. Three flavors of anonymity • • • • • Background Deep background Off the record Always negotiate After-the-fact requests – Importance of information versus future access
  9. 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. 10. Three don’ts • Don’t use anonymous sources to attack someone’s reputation
  11. 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. 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. 13. Questions • Are readers right to distrust journalism that relies on anonymous sources?
  14. 14. Questions • Are readers right to distrust journalism that relies on anonymous sources? • Should news organizations reduce or eliminate use of anonymous sources?
  15. 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. 16. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources
  17. 17. Legal considerations • Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) found no right to protect sources • First Amendment protects all of us, not just journalists
  18. 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. 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. 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. 21. The tide has shifted • Branzburg decision came during the heroic age of journalism
  22. 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. 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. 24. Privacy A few considerations
  25. 25. Four types of privacy law • Intrusion – Highly offensive to a reasonable person
  26. 26. Four types of privacy law • Intrusion • Publicizing private facts – Highly offensive to a reasonable person – No legitimate public interest
  27. 27. Four types of privacy law • Intrusion • Publicizing private facts • False light – “Libel Jr.” – Not necessarily untrue – “Actual malice” applies
  28. 28. Four types of privacy law • • • • Intrusion Publicizing private facts False light Commercial appropriation
  29. 29. Overriding themes • First Amendment protects all of us, not just professional journalists
  30. 30. Overriding themes • First Amendment protects all of us, not just professional journalists • Protections are strongest for publishing or broadcasting
  31. 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

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