Monday, June 2, 2014

The James Risen Workaround

With the refusal by SCOTUS to take James Risen's case it now stands that reporters can not really protect their sources under the law using the First Amendment and the seemingly clear implication of it - that anonymous sources require protection.

So if the sources are known to the reporter they can not, under the law, protect them. But what if the source of the information isn't known? What if the reporter has no clue who slipped them the information?

Herein lies the James Risen work around. Sources should now simply drop information anonymously to reporters and reporters should merely act as verifiers of the information not the source.

This is not a new practice but it is, apparently, the only legal one. And thanks to the late Aaron Swartz the technology already exists to make this workaround work. Of course there are other ways to get information to a reporter anonymously in cyber and meat space (manila folder in the mailbox).

So this is the new system, like reverse engineering one group or person (Team A) gets the information then another group or person (Team B) verifies and publishes it.

Though something is certainly lost by not knowing a source, this system still allows stories to be written using anonymous sources and creates constructive ignorance for both the journalist and source.