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August 19, 2005

When Reporting Affects the News

An interesting thing happened while reporter Erin Cassin was gathering the story about the Pentagon requiring personal information from those wanting to attend its America Supports You Freedom Walk.

This story idea came to us as we were inspecting the event’s website for another story brief-writer Brendan Coyne was putting together about the Washington Post’s sponsorship of the Walk. We noticed that all participants needed to register ahead of time and that the registration form required lots of personal information: full name, address, phone, etc.

As government watchdogs, this threw up a red flag for us. Lots of questions were unanswered by the website like: Why did people need to register ahead of time? What was the Pentagon going to do with the information? Would there be background checks, etc?

We thought it interesting that a "Freedom Walk" had so many restrictions and requirements, so we asked Erin to press the Pentagon to tell us why and to get some opinions about it from civil liberties groups.

Erin got basic answers from event organizers about needing to know how many people were going to show up, etc. But she kept pressing because she couldn’t get an answer about what they planned to do with the detailed information or how it would be used.

That’s when it got interesting. At the eleventh hour, just as we were going to press, Erin received an email stating that the organizers planned to change the website. They were going to remove some of the boxes on the registration form asking for personal information and they were going to post a privacy policy.

Now this was a development we were not expecting and it complicated our reporting. All of a sudden, we suspected, our queries had changed the story. I’m not saying it’s impossible that they were planning on changing the registration form anyway, it would just be an interesting coincidence (and strange that it took them so long to tell us about a pre-conceived decision). So we had to put The NewStandard -- and our questions -- into the article to show how we may have affected the story.

Let us know how you think we did…

Comments...

KCinDC: When Reporting Affects the News

The Pentagon has been revising the Freedom Walk pages in response to criticism for a few days now. DCDL has been following things closely.

mhmele: When Reporting Affects the News

THIS kind of reporting is why I support you, why I am happy that your bank takes a little bit of money every month out of my bank. Thank you for your work.

JillRazz: Not surprising

Can you imagine how much would change in the world if reporters did their jobs like NSN's do and asked persistent questions? I don't know if I am suggesting reporters should set out to change the world with their reporting, but if the Powers-that-Be had to worry about close scrutiny, they'd sure as hell have a good disinsentive for pulling this kind of crap. Good job NewStandard!

drooster: When Reporting Affects the News

What a joke this freedom walk is. It seems like it's just teetering. Maybe your site's nudge will be what it takes to knock the whole thing down. If a lot of people are reading, the Pentagon will become a laughingstock. Again.

KCinDC: When Reporting Affects the News

The Pentagon has now made address and phone number optional for registration and has posted a privacy statement, but what's missing from the privacy statement may be significant.


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.