Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Conflict at T&G? Message board poster reports on complaints against message board

This morning, Karen Nugent of the Telegram and Gazette reported on a complaint lodged by a group of citizens--including two selectmen--against the webmaster and members of the clintonmass.us message board, alleging that the members have threatened and intimidated citizens opposed to the rifle range on the Lancaster-Clinton line.

There is one significant problem with the article: no where does Nugent mention that she is also a member of the message board, having logged 59 posts at the site and posting a comment as recently as November 7.

Without commenting on the issue (OK, one small comment...while I do not condone the attacks I have read at that site, the prospect that someone would be investigated based on anonymous message board posts is chilling), there are a couple of questions that need to be answered:
  • Did Karen Nugent inform her editors before reporting the story that she is a member of the site that is being investigated by the DA and the Attorney General?
  • If not, did she have a duty to disclose that to her editors?
  • If so, should her editors have kept her on the story, despite the appearance of a conflict of interest?
  • And then, should they have included a disclaimer that the reporter was a member of the site being investigated?
I am not suggesting that Karen Nugent reported the story poorly, or even that she has engaged in the specific discussions that the folks who lodged the complaint found so offensive. But I do think she and the Telegram have an obligation to either steer the story to a reporter not affiliated with the site, or at the least to disclose in her reporting that she is a member of the message board.

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