Anonymity allows open and diverse dialogue
Original post made by Gina Channell-Allen on Nov 15, 2007
Our policy for Letters to the Editor in our print edition requires the authors to give their name and telephone number, although we only print the names and sometimes their communities. We also call to verify the authorship. Old-school journalists (myself included) have been taught that opinions, facts and quotes must be attributed. Shouldn't people posting in our Town Square forum also be required to put their name on their statements and opinions? And doesn't anonymity open up the possibility for abuse without consequences?
On the other hand, how many opinions, questions and comments have been squelched because of the writer's fear of mockery, hostility or even retribution?
New media means new rules and a new way of thinking. To open up the lines of communication, journalists have been forced to embrace anonymity. Or at least endure it. It goes against every fiber of our journalistic beings because we equate anonymous forum posts to unnamed sources, which are taboo.
Alas, anonymous posts do have some merit as they can bring to light issues that otherwise would have remained in the dark. (Remember "Deep Throat?")
However, just as with unnamed sources, one must question the authenticity of the statements. Moreover, anonymity should be viewed as a privilege and shouldn't be a means to abuse or inflame simply because it's available.
Forum users are encouraged to assist us by alerting us to posts with which they are uncomfortable and by modeling good behavior with constructive, compassionate comments and questions.
If the Weekly staff feels a forum is becoming hostile or destructive, we will intervene and even close the thread (not allow further posts) if necessary.
Because our goal is to provide a forum to allow community members to engage in enlightening and educational discourse, we would prefer it not come to that.
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to email@example.com.
on Nov 17, 2007 at 11:03 am
Gina, you bring an interesting perspective on anonymity from the media's point of view. I agree wholeheartedly and can only hope participants recognize it as the privilege you so accurately describe it to be. I suppose graffiti, too, can be an artistic expression - analogous to opinions - so long as it doesn't incite hatred, violence or venture into the realm of vandalism... I sometimes sense anonymous forum posts are simply an extension of this notion. Maintain your vigilence and keep up the good work!
on Jan 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm
As much as I agree with the time-tested value of signed opinions, I can suggest at least one other reason for allowing anonymous contributions. These allow citizens who are also public employees a means of sharing their insights and concerns -- often better informed than those not on the "inside" -- with the community they serve.
It can be very frustrating to have to work in silence while caring greatly about, and wanting to contribute to, consideration of matters that significantly affect the City and its agencies. In this regard anonymity provides a voice to the otherwise voiceless.
on Feb 3, 2008 at 10:07 pm
It's fun to snipe!