Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Special Sources

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  • izogi, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But if you're given the name, you have to justify not printing it.

    True, but I'm still convinced that if Ira had gone to a bigger outlet from the beginning, it'd be much less likely we'd have learned his name. Would it not be easy to justify not printing it for Ira's own privacy? I really can't see justified public interest in knowing Ira's name. His only relevance has been to be one of at least tens of thousands of people in New Zealand with sufficient IT skills who could have easily stumbled on this issue, and then he was the first to usefully tell someone about it in a way that caused MSD to take it seriously. The only remotely interesting thing about his involvement is his initial contact with MSD, but that's been blown out of proportion and used for irrelevant smears and diversions, along with him having been one of the un-prosecuted Urewera 17 (nothing to do with MSD's security leak).

    On the flip-side knowing who leaked his name would be completely in the public interest due to the government's breach of a person's privacy for the purposes of diverting attention from a story on how MSD had a big security leak for more than a year, knew about it, and had a completely ineffective process for dealing with it.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    But, sorry, I still don’t think credible and ethical news organizations get to have it both ways. You can speak truth to power, or you can choose to pimp your credibility for access and play along with a political strategy to discredit a political embarrassment.

    If the world were actually that black or white, we wouldn't have any ethical struggles.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19611 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to izogi,

    used for irrelevant smears and diversions, along with him having been one of the un-prosecuted Urewera 17 (nothing to do with MSD's security leak)

    Quite skillful use of associations by the spinmeisters, though, don't you think? Taps nicely into that broader discourse about risk and power, and trade-offs between public security and individual freedom.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19611 posts Report Reply

  • Kate Newton, in reply to izogi,

    If the issue had been leaked direct to the Herald or Fairfax (as if the usual journo’s there would have the geeky competence to investigate as Keith did), the original source might never have been released short of a totally open Ministerial or MSD press release.

    I don't know if that's true; in fact, I think it would have played out the same way. Say it had been a Fairfax journalist who broke the original story - why would Claire hold back from investigating her tip-off about Ira? If leaking his name was a ploy by MSD/Bennett staffers to distract attention from the main issue, that motivation would still exist regardless of who first published the story.

    Since Aug 2008 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Kate Newton,

    I don't know if that's true; in fact, I think it would have played out the same way. Say it had been a Fairfax journalist who broke the original story - why would Claire hold back from investigating her tip-off about Ira? If leaking his name was a ploy by MSD/Bennett staffers to distract attention from the main issue, that motivation would still exist regardless of who first published the story.

    Agree. And if Fairfax/the Herald had broken the story and Keith or Russell or another blogger had got hold of the name they might very well have published. It's how the news game goes.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Keith's responsibility to protect his source. Claire's responsibility to protect hers, but if others find out, and it's newsworthy, they're free to publish it.

    Exactly.

    I would add that Ira Bailey -- and possibly Keith Ng -- knows the names of those who viewed his Linked In profile. That would be interesting. It would not prove anything, but....

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Graeme Edgeler wrote :

    Keith’s responsibility [is] to protect his source. Claire’s responsibility [is] to protect hers, but if others find out, and it’s newsworthy, they’re free to publish it.

    Yes, but I think it is my responsibility to call them on it as unethical behaviour.

    (And it is arguable as to whether Ira's involvement was newsworthy).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    (And it is arguable as to whether Ira's involvement was newsworthy

    To any New Zealand journalist it is, no contest. To a journalist anywhere else in the world, who gives about the whole saga.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Hebe,

    To a journalist anywhere else in the world, who gives about the whole saga.

    A major security failing at a major government department is newsworthy anywhere in the world. There's been coverage of this in Australian media (and not just the republication of my doom prophesy, either), as well as ZDNet and the Beeb. Not necessarily multiple breathless stories, but it's a story of sufficient size to make ripples all over the world. After all, governments hold data about citizens in every country on the planet, and pretty much every one of them also has an extensive computer system that could be opened up by a screwup such as this.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    How does this stack up against similar Governmental screwups in other countries, are we now leading the world?

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Sacha,

    If the world were actually that black or white, we wouldn’t have any ethical struggles.

    That’s nudging awfully close to a man-splain there, Sacha. I’ll just say I sleep perfectly well after deciding (with the full support of my editor) that I wasn’t going to be used by a local body politician to undermine an opponent unless he was willing to do so on the record. Oddly enough, he wasn’t and we still got the story. A better story that wasn’t compromised by a drip-fed from someone whose own agenda wasn’t open to being assessed by readers. (And, frankly, where the Herald

    I'm not saying granting a source anonymity is never, ever justified. That really is taking things a moral absolute too fair, but I'd love to know if The Herald has an explicit, publicly available policy on anonymous sources like this:

    In routine interviewing – that is, most of the interviewing we do – anonymity must not be automatic or an assumed condition. In that kind of reporting, anonymity should not be offered to a source. Exceptions will occur in the reporting of highly sensitive stories, when it is we who have sought out a source who may face legal jeopardy or loss of livelihood for speaking with us. Similarly they will occur in approaches to authoritative officials in government who, as a matter of policy, do not speak for attribution. On those occasions, we may use an offer of anonymity as a wedge to make telephone contact, get an interview or learn a fact. In such a case, the reporter should press the source, after the conversation, to go on the record with the newsworthy information that has emerged.

    Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source – in particular, whether the source has firsthand knowledge of the facts.

    In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading. If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story.

    We will not use anonymous sourcing when sources we can name are readily available.

    Confidential sources must have direct knowledge of the information they are giving us — or they must be the authorized representatives of an authority, known to us, who has such knowledge.

    We do not grant anonymity to people who are engaged in speculation, unless the very act of speculating is newsworthy and can be clearly labeled for what it is.

    We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack. If pejorative opinions are worth reporting and cannot be specifically attributed, they may be paraphrased or described after thorough discussion between writer and editor. The vivid language of direct quotation confers an unfair advantage on a speaker or writer who hides behind the newspaper, and turns of phrase are valueless to a reader who cannot assess the source.

    Honestly, how much of that test did Claire Trevett pass?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Kate Newton,

    I don’t know if that’s true; in fact, I think it would have played out the same way. Say it had been a Fairfax journalist who broke the original story – why would Claire hold back from investigating her tip-off about Ira?

    I can't help but think that the Herald and Fairfax's mutual abhorrence of acknowledging each other in print might have got in the way there :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22695 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I'm not saying granting a source anonymity is never, ever justified.

    You said:

    You can speak truth to power, or you can choose to pimp your credibility for access

    If you can't see the difference between that and this from the policy you cited:

    Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation

    then please don't expect it to escape comment from others.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19611 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And since I extensively quoted the New York Times' own policy on confidential news sources, it's only fair to note that policy was codified in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. Even ever years later, 'public editor' Clark Hoyt had some rather sharp words for his own employers in thesepieces on the (over) uses and abuses of A. Nonymous as a source.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Ok I exaggerated. It is momentarily interesting offshore. If major effects of the breach are found, that would run too. Otherwise it is really a special-interest story: for computer people especially, and those interested in government information-security. It's just not that "newsy", more specialist interest, to media not in Australasia.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Sacha,

    If you can’t see the difference between that and this from the policy you cited

    Really, Sacha - premature elision there. Because after the cut the quote continued...

    to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source – in particular, whether the source has firsthand knowledge of the facts.

    Of course, if Ms. Trevett and the Herald would like to come here and share how her source would have been described if Keith and Ira hadn't effectively scooped her, I will accept her word. But the story printed under her byline on Monday didn't mention her initial source at all, let alone anything that would allow readers to assess their "placement and motivation". So pardon me if I'm somewhat sceptical.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And get back to me the next time The Herald runs a completely bullshit non-story/hit piece with not an on the record source to be seen, and ask yourself two questions:

    1) Was there any genuine public interest or journalistic defense for that anonymity?

    2) And do you think the two might just be related?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    The whole thing is a distraction given oxygen by the fact that there seems to be a very small pool of social activists out there kicking the winz tyres.

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Jeremy Eade,

    social activists out there kicking the winz tyres

    Winz is for sale?

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4590 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Does that exclude the sort of pseudo-anonymity implied by: a senior state department official or that old standby White House sources?

    I believe that's always a press secretary, speaking with the approval of their employer, but with neither wishing to be fully accountable for the statement.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Does that exclude the sort of pseudo-anonymity implied by: a senior state department official or that old standby White House sources?

    I’d broadly agree with Hoyt – a lot less often than is the case. It’s simply absurd to see senior public servants and press secretaries demanding, let alone receiving, anonymity for… well, doing their jobs.

    And it got a damn sight more sinister across the point when when Bernard Ingham – who was not only Thatcher’s chief press secretary but a career civil servant who was supposed to maintain political neutrality – was white-anting Ministers of the Crown in his infamous “lobby briefings”. All on condition, of course, that they were only attributable to "senior sources in the government" as opposed to "the Prime Minister's office". If you believe the string of politicians and spin doctors who testified to the Leveson Inquiry earlier this year that they never even dreamed of "briefing against" their own colleagues in such a despicable manner, I’ve got some London bridges to sell you.

    We’re not talking about people whose reputations, careers or even lives are at genuine risk if they disclose information of genuine public interest. And regardless of whether Trevett’s source was in the MSD or Paula Bennett’s office, I don’t believe for a moment s/he was either.

    Again, if Ms. Trevett would like to come here – on the record – and tell me I’m wrong, then I’ll take her word for it.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    take me to your Leader (writer)

    ...the sort of pseudo-anonymity...

    ...given to Editorial writers...
    they can get to write the most alarming tosh!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7818 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Winz is for sale?

    Bet the asking price really dropped in the past week.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    My current thinking is that I don't think I could go ohm in a Volt. I just cannot trust newsreaders, sports preseenters and weathermen(?) anymore.....

    "Our" own Neil Waka.......30 seconds in. Move jobs...to the dark side.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1585 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    Summerfield also writes opinion and articles for NZ Autocar IIRC.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1609 posts Report Reply

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