Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Chris Ritchie turns up in journalism story

The former Times Leader editor is in a Lancaster New Era story about the ethics meltdown at the newspaper there.


Anonymous said...

What is the difference between reporters gaining confidential information from a website to which they were not supposed to have access, and gaining confidential information from anonymous sources? At least the website is likely accurate, and has no other unreported motives that a human source might have.

Anonymous said...

If you believe the commonwealth's attorney, the difference is substantial. "Unlawful use of a computer," as defined by Pennsylvania law, includes giving out passwords to government computers to those who should not have them. It is explicitly illegal. Almost the opposite of a confidential source supplying information anonymously, conduct that is often explicitly protected speech.

As a practical matter, intrusions into computer systems (or company voice mail systems, *cough*) are easily tracked and traced. For a reporter, you're playing with fire. Better to meet for a pint somewhere with your source and pass stuff under the table. Eighth-grade fieldcraft, I know. But logging on to a system -- a law-enforcement system, no less -- is like wearing a sign that says, "catch me."

I'm feel badly for the reporters in Lancaster and their source, but they made a bad choice. Their editor and the newspaper's attorney should have nipped this one in the bud.

Mayor of Warmland said...

Different legally, yes. Different morally?

Anonymous said...

There are so many problems with this incident, I don't know where to start.

Why did the editor allow reporters to access the site for anything other than the original story? Using the restricted password once is questionable at best. If they had stopped there, perhaps no one would have noticed the breech. Did editors encourage (or pressure) reporters to continue to use that information?

Why did the editor allow the password to be circulated to other reporters? Rest assured, the reporter who pried that password from the coroner didn't give it up willingly.

Why did they access the site 57 times from a static IP address that led back to the newsroom? Don't they know have easily they would be tracked?

Why isn't every computer in the newsroom (or at least a handful) operating with a dynamic IP address? Journalists need to be stealthy. Don't wave your hands in the air, yelling "Hey, I just visited your site and I'm looking into your dirty laundry right now!" The trail would have been more difficult to follow if reporters had driven 50 miles to a Starbucks or Borders and used their wifi network.

Learn from their lesson and visit this page:

The lack of IP address authentication on the state's side is scary.

Like 2:07 PM, I feel badly for the reporters involved, who will likely take the brunt of the coming shit storm.

Anonymous said...

Yes, who trusts any information from anonymous sources say the anonymous posters.

Anonymous said...

2:50, the concern should not be about how easily they allowed themselves to be caught but about the ethical violation

Anonymous said...

Sounds like they broke the law. The same type of news gathering got now Times Tribune ME Beaupre fired. He hired a reporter that used info gained illegally. The reporter accessed private phone messages after securing passwords. They should fire those people in Lancaster.
News people are being hypocrits. They hold others to higher standards while not adhering to any themselves.

NEPAmedia said...

I will give $500 to the first presidenital candidate who promises to cut the hands off anyone who misspells the word "hypocrite" on the Web.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It's one thing to check a Web-based county court calendar (open to the public). It is quite another to access a closed system where private data, like Social Security numbers, are likely stored. I think they screwed up.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers here have access to court dockets, criminal complaints all through a service we PURCHASE from the county. But Social Security numbers are available on those criminal complaints too. The responsibility to redact this information is on the county. Just because they don't black something out, doesn't mean journalists with already limited access to documents under this state's ridiculous open meetings and freedom of information laws shouldn't suffer.