As it happens I had just last week written the Standard-Times my quarterly subscription check, so I shall continue to find my daily supply of fishwrap on the lawn most of the summer. After Sunday's column I can't think of a reason I should continue to fund the enterprise. No, that's unfair, the local paper is always worth reading. My very first published editorial was in the Raleigh NC News and Observer, an unabashedly liberal paper whose ownership included some of the archtects of FDR's New Deal. That goes back a ways, JFK was still President when my first editorial got ink.
I would have been pleasently surprised to find a Sunday lead editorial giving us the sincerely apologetic straight story on how the "outing" of anonymous posters happened. The explanation so far provided lacks in timeliness, details or sheer believability. What I was not prepared for was to find myself and my fellow readers lectured to, admonshished like naughty children and essentially put on "time out" and probation!
I quite agree with editor Archuleta, the quality on online posts is on the decline, but whose fault is that? Look, anonymity was never an issue for me. I "outed" myself when I took Archuleta's seat on the City Charter Review Committee just to put aside any ethical concerns about advocating for that Committee's recommendations.
One soon learned to skip lightly past the sillier tin-foil hat wearing authors, perhaps take them in for amusement. Sadly, a lot of the folks whose commentary I became accustomed to looking forward to have vanished, and who can blame them? I don't know how the Standard-Times can ever regain the trust of its readers. I suspect the San Angelo Police Dept. is experiencing a bit of difficulty developing new "confidential informants" in drug cases. Similarly there, only the desperate or the deranged would put their lives on the line and trust that organization not to put their identity on the front page. Trust once betrayed is exceedingly difficult to regain, be it a marriage, a church, or a newspaper.
What I do know is that everything the S-T has done so far has been just about precisely wrong. The "leak" of user profiles had been out there for 10 days, was being actively discussed by posters whose feelings of betrayal were evident in their comments before the S-T ink-on-dead-trees edition acknowledged it. Then the article revealing it used the "outed" user profiles to out one of the high profile Police Chief candidates, compounding the betrayal of anonymity. Assuming that article should have been written and published (two separate actions, BTW), It should have gone beyond identifying Davis and mentioned that all the candidates were using online anonymity to post, if not directly, certainly through surrogate spokespersons. I caught this incident fairly early, an SAPD source gave me a heads up that lists of user profiles were circulating in the Dept. by Thursday noon, but by the time I knew about, the barn door had been shut.
Amazingly, the S-T seems still to maintain its IT people don't talk to its reporters, who have to go to out-of-paper sources for information. While S-T passes blame to "new employees" in a Tennessee division of Scripps-Howard, a check this weekend shows the other papers in the chain are managing to keep their online comments services up and reasonably well moderated. Tells me we do have a problem, and that problem is somewhere in the Harris St. building.
Newspapers across the country are realizing the old fishwrap on the lawn model is trending toward buggy-whipdom. A recent NPR interview revealed the San Francisco Chronicle, heart of the Hearst chain, is losing a $million a WEEK. I believe the ink version of the Standard- Times is down to about 25% of households. When I was a young man, no one with pretensions of caring about "things" would have admitted to not reading the paper, and a hefty chunk of them paid for morning and afternoon editions.
I don't know how significant online revenues are to the S-T overall, but I know that online edition is a revenue source. As treasurer of two local issues SPACS, I have made out checks to pay for those annoying ads. Commercial advertizers want to see numbers of "hits" and "pageviews" to justify the ad rates. One can safely predict a sharp drop there during this "cooling off" month.
My co-author makes the case well that anonymous comments have a justifiable place in public discussion. Often exactly the people with real knowledge are in a position vulnerable to pressure from employers or commercial partners, and unlikely to risk comments for attribution. This reality justifies whistle-blower statutes granting anonymity and/or legal blocks to workplace retribution.
I hope during this period the S-T will re-examine the no anonymous posts policy announced by Mr. Archulteta. Allowing anonymity does not necessarily result in a slanderous free-for-all, that's where moderation comes into play. Set rules, keep them simple, and ENFORCE them.