Thursday, February 9, 2017

Whose fault, did you say?

From the NY Times' "public editor':

When reporters are writing about private individuals they don’t typically publish the person’s exact street address. First, it’s usually irrelevant to the article, and more crucially, announcing the home address of anyone can be dangerous. 

Here’s the guidance from The New York Times stylebook: 

“In writing about a person whose family might face harassment or harm, consider a general neighborhood reference instead. If an exact address seems newsworthy because of a crime or other visible event, carefully consider the potential for harm before publishing it.”

That wasn’t the approach taken when the Times reporter Patricia Leigh Brown described academic life for some undocumented students on the campus of the University of California, Merced. The 22 students, mostly first-generation immigrants from impoverished families, share life together on the top two floors of a single dorm. And each time Brown described a student, she included their dorm room number, adding some visual geography as she described their modestly decorated surroundings.

Brown writes an engaging piece, not only about these students’ unlikely path to a campus of an acclaimed university, but also about education policy, which is not always easy to make engaging. Brown shows it’s possible.

It’s too bad that an otherwise strong piece was weakened by a decision to describe the students not just by their name, but by what is essentially their home address.

Two university administrators I contacted, both of whom were involved with The Times’s story, said they believe that inclusion of the dorm name and room numbers puts the undocumented students in danger.

“We didn’t think she (the reporter) would even use the name of the residence hall,” said Alejandro Delgadillo, who oversees services for undocumented students on the campus. “To include the room numbers puts a target on these students. We engage with a great deal of media and never felt that students were at risk by the information that we were sharing. This really violated that.”...

Full article at

All well and good. But while the reporter wrote the story and submitted it, the NY Times - really someone acting as an agent for the Times - made the decision to publish it with the names and locations, presumably after an editorial review and judgment. "That wasn’t the approach taken" doesn't identify the decision maker, although the reporter is named.  So, again, whose fault was it it?

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