Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vennochi on Anonymity: Preserving the Gatekeeper Role

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, who occasionally gets things right, brandishes her Old Media bona fides in a column today. Over at BMG, regular poster "Ernie Boch, III" has been agitating for a boycott of Howie Carr's radio show. Now, Carr is a Jurassic mouthpiece, a spokesman for everyone left behind in an era of equality and fairness, and the city would be better off without him on radio. At some point, I'm not really sure why, "Ernie" took it upon himself to see if he could make that happen.

EBIII, as he is known, is getting a little traction on this. As with many bloggers, EBIII chooses to remain anonymous, which has created some headaches. Both Howie Carr and car dealer Ernie Boch, Junior are trying to find someone to spill EBIII's name, presumably to do to him what a lowlife Alaskan politician to an anonymous blogger last year. Carr feels under threat, and Boch, Jr. apparently is sick of dealing with stupid potential customers who don't get a joke. So setting out to violate a person's right to privacy seems fair to them, I guess. I don't think too many people need to take lessons on integrity from Howie Carr and a car dealer, and Joan doesn't help with her column. The key line:

But the issue is also the Internet’s ability to give cover to critics who don’t have to do what Carr does - own their opinions.
Bloggers take the cover of anonymity for good reason -- they don't have the protections that Carr and Vennochi do, but want to talk anyway. See, Carr (and Vennochi) get plenty of help in the quest to "own their opinions". They have jobs that require them to have and "own" opinions, and have contractual language that encourages and protects that exercise. They rake in good money in this quest, and their value often goes up if fired for a particularly bold opinion, at which point they get a new contract with a different media outlet. Unlike many bloggers, Howie & Joan get rewarded for crazy opinions, whereas many of us would get rewarded with a pink slip in our personal jobs. Vennochi even belongs to a union (the Boston Newspaper Guild) that runs to court regularly in case anyone thinks of firing Vennochi because she declared her opinion.

On the other side is EBIII, who doesn't have these protections built into his working and personal life, and may work in any of a dozen jobs that would result in his firing if it became known that he is using his First Amendment rights on his own time (just put "blogger fired" into Google if you require case studies).

Vennochi is calling out people who would dare to use the same rights as her, despite not enjoying the extensive protections she enjoys. This is equivalent to a big kid showing up for Pop Warner football all suited up, and complaining that everyone else on the field wants to wear pads as well. If Vennochi would like to get EBIII (or myself) membership into a union which will go to court for me so quickly on this issue, we could probably work something out. Until then, EBIII is smart to take advantage of the security extended to his personal and professional life that anonymity provides, a security used by an illustrious roster that includes Mark Felt and Ben Franklin.

I think what upsets so many traditional media outlets -- ones that used unnamed sources for anything from the President's policy priorities to the condition of Tom Brady's shoulder -- is that EBIII is choosing anonymity for himself. Media is used to the privileged position of granting anonymity to "worthy" sources with something to interest them, and refusing to those protections to those who don't "deserve" them. Anonymity provides bloggers with the chance to enter the conversation even when it involves personal risk. Nobody has to beg a reporter or have access to offer in return for that protection -- we just take it and keep on running.

And in case there was a threat that Vennochi would be taken seriously, she follows up with:

The blogosphere opened up the public conversation to new, thoughtful voices, but it should not provide a shield to hide biases and private agendas.

How many times, over and over again, have we dirty smelly bloggers been forced to root out the biases and private agendas of media sources and participants that the media is too lazy or stupid to find themselves? That's half of Media Matters' business, pointing out the sloppily hidden agendas of media outlets.

PS: The funny thing is that most of us dirty online commentators know the "real names" behind the majority of blogger handles, and the fact that these figures don't only demonstrates how far out of the loop they really are.

1 comment:

noternie said...

here here.

if you can't tell that someone is full of shit unless you know their name, full identity and both business and personal relationships, you probably shouldn't be in an argument about the given subject.