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Prof. Bob Steele '69 Discusses Use of Redacted E-Mails by NY Times

Prof. Bob Steele '69 Discusses Use of Redacted E-Mails by NY Times

July 31, 2011

60937July 31, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — Today's New York Times "Public Editor" column analyzes the newspaper's recent decision to publish information from internal Energy Information Administration e-mails but with sections blacked out to shield the anonymous source of the documents. "The Times decided to go with the redacted documents and, in doing so, placed the serious shortcomings of anonymous sourcing on display," writes Arthur S. Brisbane.

"When I asked Bob Steele, a DePauw University journalism ethics expert, he agreed that the redacted e-mails failed to provide information that readers needed to assess them," Brisbane continues. 'When one reads government documents that have information blacked out, as a reader one almost inevitably starts wondering: ‘Why don’t we get to see these names? What is going on here?' ' he said. Anonymous material says to the reader: Trust us. But if the reader ends up feeling burned -- if, for example, an 'official' proves to be an intern -- the trust won’t be there the next time."

According to the EIA's acting administrator, Howard K. Gruenspecht, the e-mails were 'largely to and from a person who was hired by EIA in 67192009 as an intern and later developed into an entry-level position.' He added, 'The e-mails as posted on the Times website were heavily redacted and redacted in ways that I think provide misleading information on their context."

Access the complete article -- headlined "Why Redacting E-Mails Is a Bad Idea" -- here.

Robert M. Steele, a 1969 graduate of DePauw, is Phyllis W. Nicholas Director of the University's Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics and Distinguished Professor of Journalism Ethics. One of America's leading experts on media ethics, Dr. Steele was also cited in the July 24 New York Times and a column in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Source: New York Times