In Defense of the Spokane Spokesman Review
Newspaper articles, blogs and in comments several voices defended the actions of the Spokesman-Review in using an undercover forensic computer expert posing as a 17-year-old. Here’s one:
News and Record Editor
The Spokane Spokesman-Review's articles on the sexual habits of the city's mayor are being picked apart in journalism circles. Should a newspaper go undercover to get a story? No, say editors. Yes, say readers. There is, of course, a long history of it.
Spokane editor Steve Smith said: Based on what we're hearing from readers, it has built trust in our readers and Spokane citizens. They know what we wrote is true. Feedback is running 10- maybe 15-1 in our favor and those who don't like what we did rarely reference the computer expert.
I think our credibility with journalists is hurt. But I think this may be a sign of how disconnected some editors are from the sensibilities of citizens who want their newspapers to watchdog government and do it aggressively.
I don't doubt his feedback numbers. He's dead on when he suggests a disconnect between citizens and editors on this issue.
We don't go undercover or lie to get stories either, but I think Julia Wallace of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has it right when she told Editor & Publisher that she hadn't done it before, but could envision a time when it might be necessary. "You would have to be totally transparent about it. The question is when are you being unclear, and when are you being deceptive?"
Update: Of course, I am not taking into account going undercover to determine whether dry cleaners are charging extra for over-sized garments!
© 2006 Leonard Witt