Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Outed by The Union

(Summary of what happened is below the updates, here)
______________________________

Updates, most recent first:

Wed. June 29: I've described the interesting (to me) pattern of reactions to the outing in a comment at PressThink. Locally, still no responses (beyond the already-published email exchanges). I haven't been pushing though; just left an ignored reminder and made another unreturned phone call to circ. director.

Monday June 20: No response from city editor, no response from circ director, one polite response from the Spam Firewall at smtp.theunion.com:
I'm sorry to inform you that the message below [sent 2 days before] could not be delivered. When delivery was attempted, the following error was returned.
: connect to 66.92.199.3[66.92.199.3]: Connection refused.
the message::
Hello Craig, thanks for your response.
People who place classified ads with you are advertisers, correct?
(if I'm mistaken about this, please let me know)
Thanks -
Anna Haynes

Wednesday June 15: No response from city editor, nothing new on their blog. On separate topic, circ. director emailed back - "Unfortunately, audit information is something we only share with our advertisers." I've replied, asking if those who place a classified ad are advertisers.

Tuesday June 14: emailed The Union's city editor this morning asking if his recollections matched editor Pat Butler's; no response as yet. Didn't get a response from Mr. Butler on how I might get the circulation report, so I've emailed the circ. director, on the off chance that it works better than phone. No posts about the outing (or any new posts) on The Union's weblog.
Others have been more vocal:
Media Bloggers Association president Robert Cox has posted some pointed questions for David Mirhadi in The Union's weblog comments, reprinted here on his weblog. Robert is a master of blistering prose, and I am very glad he's on my side of the barricades this time...
Local blogger Sadie argues that it's inappropriate to have an anonymous blog if you engage in criticism of others. (which is why I shared my last name with the folks at The Union, thus violating a different principle, "don't tell a reporter anything you don't want reported.")
Also, belated thanks to global blogfather Dave Winer.

Monday June 13: a brief (three word) response from editor Pat Butler, in the email after this one.

Sunday June 12: Chewie's account is much clearer than mine. Ed Cone and John Robinson have also weighed in.
Related, and needing your contributions - today's post.
Sorry for the disorganized post below - like I said, Chewie does a much better job.

Friday June 10: I've sent a second reminder to each, along with an offer to donate $100 (each) to Hospice if they'll answer my questions.
(also performed minor cleanup and clarified some logic below.)

Friday June 3:
Email exchanges with the reporter and with the editor regarding my outing are now up on NCDocuments.
(BTW, my intent is to always ask and get permission before publishing emails, except in cases like this. Go, read, make up your own mind as to whether it was appropriate in this instance.)

In other news, The Union's publisher has raised $200 for Hospice today - he says he was not involved in the decision to print my name. Still no word from editor Pat Butler or reporter David Mirhadi on my questions to them from two nights ago, as to who (besides Mirhadi) was involved in making the decision. Publisher says "call Pat Butler" - but the phone leaves no text trail, and people can be - and have been - snowed by misleading wording, and recollections can vary even when communication is in good faith, and at this point I loathe "he said she said". [snip]

Thursday June 2:
Should the title of this post revert back to the original "Outed, and Stonewalled, by The Union"?
Reporter David Mirhadi was the one who outed me, with full awareness that I had not given consent. [snip]
I've asked whether he had guidance in making this decision, and if so from whom, but answers have not been forthcoming.
Hospice of the Foothills is a very deserving organization, and the previous offer(below) went untouched, so I'll double it, for a slightly different question for the publisher - Jeff, $200 to Hospice if you'll tell me whether you were involved (directly or indirectly) in the decision to print my name. (answered Friday; he says he wasn't)
Thursday morning: Changed name of post to reflect correction.

Wednesday June 1 correction and updates:
In the comments below, Dixie Redfearn points out that she did email me, twice, in response to my email and voicemail. Dixie, I am very sorry - stupid move on my part. Moral of story, that others might do better (they probably will anyway) - when you set up a rule to automatically send emails to a folder, CHECK THE FOLDER.
I also got responses today, from editor and reporter. It was done deliberately.
________________________________________

Summary (updated Friday June 10) -
NCFocus is no longer an anonymous weblog. On Memorial Day, reporter David Mirhadi published my full name in The Union, deliberately, when I had asked him not to - he included NCFocus in a roundup of local blogs, pulling the synopsis and my first name from the blog, then plugging in my last name, which I'd provided in my email to him. I'd thought it was only ethical to provide it there; seems it was also naive.
(The third time one is kicked in the head by a mule, it is not a learning experience)

My email exchanges with reporter David Mirhadi and editor Pat Butler regarding circumstances of the decision to print my name * came to a halt when I asked Mr. Mirhadi to confirm or deny that he'd been aware he was outing an anonymous blogger, and when I asked who else had been involved in the decision.
(I'm told The Union's publisher was not involved.)

In fairness to those at The Union, I have not asked for an apology (and don't want one, in the paper itself) - what I most wanted from them was to know what happened and why.

________________________________________
the original post:


In their roundup of local weblogs yesterday (photo here), after I'd specifically asked reporter David Mirhadi "please don't use my last name", The Union published my full name.

The NCFocus background info they printed comes from the (old) Profiles and Policies page, where it's made clear that the weblog is anonymous.

Before they outed me, I'd made the point to them - numerous times - that this action is wrong:
  • After The Union appeared * to have outed someone else, I pointed out (here) on their blog that exposing someone's identity without consent is not appropriate behavior.

  • As I noted in The Union's weblog comments here, anonymity has value in a community like ours that historically has been rife with corruption and intimidation (by threats, vandalism, arson...). Silver lining: now I'm ideally situated to report whether it is all in the past. :-}

  • (added June 3) And in off-topic comments (here) to the editor's very second post, I quoted and linked to Lisa Williams' writings on the need to allow anonymity.)

Emails to editor Pat Butler and reporter David Mirhadi, and readership editor Dixie Redfearn (no - see update above) asking who decided to publish my name, have gone unanswered.
(did they all take the day off?)

Superseded - see Thurs update above, he answered. This evening I've emailed publisher Jeff Ackerman, offering a $100 donation to Hospice in exchange for answers to these questions:
  • Whose decision was it?
  • What was the justification?

Stay tuned.

Advice for current and future bloggers: when something like this happens to you, it is really, really good to sleep on it before posting. The wisps of smoke now wafting from my ears are nothing like yesterday's jets of fire.

23 comments:

Dixie Redfearn said...

Excuse me Anna, but I e-mailed you TWICE on Tuesday explaining what I knew.
Dixie

Anonymous said...

The Union Blog and their website seem to have a lot of issues. The Union website has been screwed up for a long time. The Blog idea was good, but they fail to keep up with it and the violate many standard Blog "rules"....like using peoples last names when they don't ask to do so. Plus, how can they be sure they are in fact correct when they "out" a persons identy? With the internet being what it is, it would seem like a real bad idea to "out" someone without first confirming their identity and then getting permission. It seems even if you ask them to not use your last name they do it and then don't even take the time to respond when called on their actions. The Union really seems to lack a sense of responsibilty on this and is very nonresponsive, just "spill the milk" and walk away.

Anna said...

Dixie, I am very sorry, you're absolutely right, I'll correct it ASAP. I had set up a rule to keep your emails out of Yahoo's Bulk folder, but it put them someplace I forgot to look.
Thanks for your responses and sorry, again.

Anna said...

Thanks for your comment Anon. (and feel free to send me email, at ncfocus2003@yahoo.com )

Just a couple of points - I did get a couple of emails from editor Pat Butler today, and Dixie said he was off yesterday, so he's not being unresponsive on this. And Dixie of course was responsive, my fault there.

And - while you're right, in general, on the "how can they be sure, about someone's identity" thing, in my case that's not an issue.

But yeah, as for the rest...

Lisa said...

After reading this I'm still not certain why the newspaper chose to use your name. Was it a mistake? Was it their policy to name everyone who was quoted in the article? If so, is it also policy to allow reporters to lead a source to believe that their name will be kept secret? This seems unlikely.

The good news is that such "outings" aren't always very effective. Successful medblogger "Sydney Smith" was outed in a professional magazine aimed at doctors -- but I suspect most people still don't know her name. Given the fact that many newspapers ditch older articles or require payment for them, the outing might not be quite as dramatic as it seems initially.

That said, it's still a bummer.

Anna said...

Hi there Lisa! and welcome, temporarily and electronically, to sunny California.

As for why - I criticize them, if not unmercifully, certainly extensively; and although I've been trying to educate them in blogging culture, over in the comments at their blog, I can be insufferably pedantic, and perhaps the incessant "why can't you be more like your [Greensboro NC] journalistic brother" bits got to be like a red flag to a bull. In any case, if you check out the email exchanges with reporter and editor, you might detect a certain lack of contrition...

And my understanding is that yes, it was done knowingly. Maybe this is how small town papers have always operated - have to ask JennyD about that, she came from that culture - but they don't seem to realize that the rules have changed.

At this point I figure there's more value in sharing my experience than in trying to crawl back into the anonymity hole. Do you know of any other newspapers that have outed local pseudonymous bloggers? (did S.S. know she was going to be outed, or was it a surprise?)

also, I declined to participate in the article once David Mirhadi said he'd need to use my full name. Little did I know...

Actually it could be interesting, if the journo-source negotiation process becomes "fair game" to report. I've got some of that stuff I could print... :-)

I don't think it's kosher ethically, though. Is it?

Anna said...

(answering my own question)

Of course not.
(again, unless it were to balance out something infinitely worse)

mark hamilton said...

Anna:

Well, this sucks. I can sort of understand how the reporter might have outed you out of misunderstanding (or lack of thought). But the tone of the emails you've received from the editor and reporter is disgusting. They sound peevish and defensive, when the easy -- and right -- thing to do would be explain what happened and say sorry.

Mark

Anna said...

Hello Mark, thanks for your comment.

They are defensive, and with good reason. I pound on the paper regularly, but they get that from all sides, all the time, in this community. From my email to Chewie -
"they have a near-impossible row to hoe up here anyway... This county's got major cultural differences, typified by 5th-generation descendants of
Cornish miners vs. immigrant yuppie Bay Area tech-types and intellectuals. We're like a microcosm of the nation, and about as harmonious."

It would be a difficult environment to work in. On the other hand, the old defense mechanisms aren't going to work anymore.

-40- *

D. Hoggard said...

I'll send you a meatloaf, surely that will help smooth things over.

Stay on them Anna...

Anonymous said...

Anna, I have to say I have a very difficult time following your prose. If you did not want to be associated with the article, you should have requested to not be associated with the article. Plain and simple. You should not position important requests in blog comments or in ps's. You should make important requests upfront and center. Your status of having revealed your first name and admitting that your last name is an open secret makes it difficult to support your position on this matter. The reporter clear is not as attuned to the subtleties of your identity as you are. Calling this an "outing" is a stretch. Your subsequent emails to the paper are further misunderstood. There was no "decision making" about whether to include your last name or not. They just put it in just like everyone else. They didn't think about it!

Anna said...

Anonymous(?), I'm having trouble following your argument. Are you saying that David Mirhadi was not aware that the blog was anonymous? That he was not aware that I didn't want my name printed?
In what way is it a stretch to call printing my name, when I didn't want it printed, an "outing"? (isn't this the definition of 'outing'?)
Sorry, I'm at a loss here.

As for the lack of clarity in my writing, you're right; I probably should have made separate posts rather than just letting this one accrete over time. Like I said, read Chewie - or Ed Cone, or John Robinson. There's a pretty clear explanation in the comments on John's post, as to why this was wrong.

Anonymous said...

That's correct. From how you've described it, I don't think the reporter knew that you were comfortable being associated with the article but only by first name.

Anonymous said...

To be an "outing", there typically needs to be a motive where none seems to exist here.

Anna said...

Some questions for you, "anonymous":

Are you associated with the The Union, directly or indirectly?

Are you local to Nevada County?

Would you feel comfortable telling me (in email) who you are?
if not, well... :-}

as for your points -

> "From how you've described it, I don't think the reporter knew..."

"Please don't use my last name" isn't clear?

> "there typically needs to be a motive"

A motive exists, as I explained above; and while it might not have been involved, the responsible parties have not evinced a whole lot of concern about the event or the consequences - as Anon#1 put it, "The Union really seems to lack a sense of responsibilty on this."

"anonymous", if you have more to say, please send me email.

Anna Haynes
ncfocus.blogspot.com

pat said...

I am not associated with The Union or the publishing industry or local politics or Nevada County at all, directly or indirectly. I have no idea who any of the particpants in this whole escapade are.

But is that relevant whatsoever? Why not just read the words?

No, you were not clear (at least from what I can tell by what you've released so far). The reporter interpreted your request as not wanting to *quoted* using your full name.

Please clarify the reporter's motivation to "out" you. Looks to me like they simply listed you and your blog, just like all the rest.

pat said...

I am not associated with The Union or the publishing industry or local politics or Nevada County at all, directly or indirectly. I have no idea who any of the particpants in this whole escapade are.

But is that relevant whatsoever? Why not just read the words?

No, you were not clear (at least from what I can tell by what you've released so far). The reporter interpreted your request as not wanting to *quoted* using your full name.

Please clarify the reporter's motivation to "out" you. Looks to me like they simply listed you and your blog, just like all the rest.

pat said...

I am not associated with The Union or the publishing industry or local politics or Nevada County at all, directly or indirectly. I have no idea who any of the particpants in this whole escapade are.

But is that relevant whatsoever? Why not just read the words?

No, you were not clear (at least from what I can tell by what you've released so far). The reporter interpreted your request as not wanting to *quoted* using your full name.

Please clarify the reporter's motivation to "out" you. Looks to me like they simply listed you and your blog, just like all the rest.

Anna said...

Actually Pat, once would have been plenty.

To repeat from my comment above:

Would you feel comfortable telling me (in email) who you are?
if not, well... :-}

and

if you have more to say, please send me email.
(and please to recognize the distinction between motive and deed)

pat said...

OK, I sent you an email. Not that I think it is at all relevant in the matter.

Sorry for the multiple psoting. It was a result of my attempt to use the Blogger login feature.

Anna said...

just an fyi to anyone else reading - Pat, who also commented as "pb" on two other blogs, isn't (and isn't trying to be) Pat Butler.

Anna said...

And a much later comment (it's now Feb 2007) - just want to give my judgment of then-editor Pat Butler - I believe he's a straight shooter who got caught in an untenable situation.

Anonymous said...

who cares - jeez, you certainly are full of yourself. If you don't want your name used, don't post things that make people wonder who you are on the Internet, or better yet, drink a tall glass of STFU.