Err on the side of disclosure
A discussion between the editors of Buzzfeed and the New Yorker expose a different ethos, but not necessarily the source of the difference. I try to shed more light.
by Dave Winer Saturday, January 28, 2017

I listened to a podcast discussion between Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith and New Yorker editor David Remnick about Smith's decision to release the dossier of opposition research on Trump. This is the second time I've heard Smith interviewed on this subject, the other time was on the Chris Hayes show on MSNBC. 

They reached a conclusion, sort of, that there's a difference in ethos between reporters that came up through blogs and ones who write for New Yorker, a 90-year-old publication known for excellence and breaking big stories (no sarcasm).

But it wasn't a satisfying conclusion, and I have some standing as part of the early evolution of the blogosphere whose traditions led Smith to the correct answer, to release the dossier. I just wish they had done it in time to make a difference in the election. 

So, to me there are two reasons, the first more important than the second.

  1. Smith identifies with his readers. It would be outrageous for him to have valuable source material like the dossier and keep it hidden from his readers.
  2. There had already been extensive dumps of Clinton campaign emails, but none on Trump's. Now we know why. The Democrats were being nice, pleading with the FBI to release the dossier without telling the public there was a dossier, and the press were being even nicer, sitting on the dossier until after the election, though happily publishing Clinton's emails, and Comey's scolding and his 11th hour letter and 12th hour retraction. Somehow that was okay but it was not okay to release the Trump dossier? I don't get it.

Put a disclaimer on it, as Buzzfeed did, and trust the readers to be smart enough to figure it out for themselves. Trust is a two-way thing. If you don't trust your readers it would be unreasonable for you to expect that they would trust you. 

I have yet to hear a convincing reason why any news org would hold on to the dossier.

BTW, it's offensive to think this difference in values is connected to age. Although Smith was careful not to say it, Remnick mentioned it several times. I'm older than both of them, and I feel strongly that the blogger ethos is the correct one, because it's grounded in the connection between news and reader. That's really what matters in news, imho. 

The "we know better" idea that the press are inside, and will decide what the outsiders are entitled to know, is very old and isn't real anymore. The people own the means of publication now alongside the press. Eventually the dossier would have gotten out even if all the journalists agreed to embargo it. 

There's a big trust problem because you guys make simple questions complicated, like this one. Think on your feet, and stay focused on what your readers need and want, and stop being so fair to people who cut all the corners, including ones we don't know anything about, like Trump. He withholds vital information, don't you do it too. And the people, the readers, are the ones who have to decide, and then live with the consequences. It's better if they know what they're getting into.