| American Journalism Review
| From AJR, November 1999|
By Barb Palser
Barb Palser (email@example.com), AJR's new-media columnist, is vice president, account management, with Internet Broadcasting.
In the summer of 1998 IBS' NewsNet5 published basic biographical information on convicted sex offenders in the Cleveland area, made public by an act of the state Legislature. The list was available to anyone, but publication on the Internet gave it an unprecedented level of accessibility.
Despite threats and pressure from some who felt NewsNet5 violated the privacy of these individuals and their families, the site chose not to remove the list. The decision was based on serious deliberation and discussion among NewsNet5 staff and other IBS employees about the unique capabilities and responsibilities of online news media:
From: Jay Maxwell If so, why? Also: What worked, what didn't and how would you do it differently? If not, why?
Subject: Would you have done this?
I'm sure everyone's well aware of NewsNet5's decision to work with their broadcast partner and post a list of convicted sex offenders in the Cleveland community. I understand our colleagues were the first to test a relatively new and controversial law that now makes a convict's basic biographical information public.
This had to be a tough decision, and the rumblings of praise and repugnance I've heard among the IBS news ranks suggests we--like the general public--are not on the same page. There is nothing wrong with that.
There is something wrong with leaving ourselves hanging with no clear picture of how we, as an ever-growing editorial body, plan to handle these kinds of tough calls in the future.
I believe that these kinds of data-bases--controversial or not--point to the core strength of our brand of journalism. And I'm convinced we'll all face more and more similar news decisions as our content partners and readers come to understand the full potential of this medium.
So, with the other managing editors' blessings, a few questions: Does this information belong on an IBS Web site?
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