EVENING UPDATE: Russ Steele’s NCMediaWatch has now reposted the AtPac/County/Diaz court document in question and has redacted the personal information I was concerned about, shining a light on blogging standards. Yet there is no explanation to the reader for this change. He had been linking to the original, unredacted document — that disclosed a person’s home address against both side’s wishes — since April 14. He also does not disclose who leaked the documents other than to state: “Notice: All court docments referenced in this blog post are public documents and have been redacted appropriately by counsel, according to the provider.” I would like to know, since it helps shine a light on his motives.
What redacted document should look like
AtPac’s case against the county and clerk-recorder Greg Diaz over intellectual property rights could well provide a “story within a story” before it’s over:
This weekend local political blogger Russ Steele — who has been sympathetic to Barry Pruett, Diaz’ opponent in the clerk-recorder race— linked directly to unredacted court documents from the case marked as “highly confidential/attorney’s eyes only.”
In addition, he did not redact personal information that attorneys in both sides of the case requested be private. (He first posted the documents online on April 14. The Web address for the PDF of them is at “http://ncwatch.typepad.com/”).
Here’s one example — between the lawyer for the county, Nabil Abu-Assal of Cypress Law Firm, and Mike Thomas from the Downey Brand firm representing AtPac, according to the documents that were linked to:
“MR. ABU-ASSAL: Can we mark [his/her] address confidential? You can always serve [him/her] through me. I don’t want [his/her] home address public.
MR. THOMAS: I have no objection to that.
MR. ABU-ASSAL: Okay.
BY MR. THOMAS: Fine. Okay.”
Yet Steele still linked to the home address on the internet without redacting it (or crossing it out).
Most professional journalists, if they published the documents online, would redact this personal information for obvious reasons. This is standard operating procedure in professional newsrooms. I’ve done it, or requested that it be done, many times.
This begs some important questions:
•Does Steele understand the basic tenants of journalism, where information like this is typically redacted before being posted online to protect the privacy of individuals?
•Does the Sacremento Bee’s “Sacramento Connect” blogging network, of which Steele is a member, know that he is linking to unredacted court documents that disclose private personal information that both sides in the case agree should be kept private? (Sac Connect has its own terms of service).
•Who leaked the documents to Steele and why? Was this issue of redaction — to protect the privacy people who are involved — not explained to Steele? Did the person who leaked him not understand (or care) about the issue either?
Courts take this kind of issue very seriously — and should. If I were the county’s lawyer and the judge I would investigate this immediately. In fact, AtPac’s own lawyer agreed himself that some of the information be kept private.
This could well become a “story within a story” of this case, shining a light on the standards of a blogger.
As a result of my own concerns, I am not pointing to Steele’s account of this case.
Steele also wrote: “Local blogs broke the news, and have been following, the on going corruption in the Clerk Recorders Office at the County Rood Center.” In journalism, using words like “corruption” are called “red-flag” words — you use them very judiciously and with qualification. I am just not comfortable with that characterization — another reason why I am not linking to his post.
Steele also has made false statements about me as part of this post, but he is not letting me comment on his site to correct the record. I am blocked.
All told, bloggers have to be careful when they are “citizen journalists.” There are basic standards that need to be followed, as with any profession.
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