why make public the names of contributors?

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Alain Jehlen

Apr 23, 2009, 12:37:14 PM4/23/09
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I have a question for Dave about Spot.us: Why do you identify all contributors?

I should first say, I'm one of the people who run Somerville Voices, a community blog in a city near Boston. I've been a newspaper reporter and television producer and now I'm a writer/editor for NEA Today, the magazine of the National Education Association, a union that most teachers in the US belong to. I also work on the NEA website. And I've worked in a lot of political campaigns and a Living Wage campaign in Somerville. That's just for id--it's not really relevant to my question.

I understand that we need to be sure that funders don't influence coverage. I like the $25 maximum, and I think you also have a rule that contributors can't be sources, is that right? But for stories that involve criticizing agencies of the government, like the police or even the schools, many potential contributors may be scared off.

Here in Somerville, parking enforcement is hot. Many people think it's selective or more aimed at increasing city revenue than improving the parking situation. But they may be scared of retaliation if they help pay for a story about it. That's just one example out of many. So--do you think it's really necessary to identify all contributors?

Alain Jehlen

Jake Bayless

Apr 23, 2009, 12:59:19 PM4/23/09
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This is important Alain - I appreciate that you bring it up.

I had a similar dilemma and spoke with David about it... the short answer was: why not use a pseudonym?  Ultimately, spot.us knows who you are because of your CC...  but there are instances where privacy could/should be kept.  Ideally, for each donation, (under a certain value, perhaps) I think the end user should have the ability to toggle "keep my name private" on or off.  

I bet it is a feature request already on Dave's list :-)

Best wishes,

David Gross

Apr 23, 2009, 1:12:01 PM4/23/09
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Identification of funders is also an issue when using bigger funders, as when a group of NGOs funds a story which involves their work, e.g. refugee services. To avoid the belief that such a reportage would be tainted PR for the NGOs, the suggestion was that when all funds move through a mediating organization which was trusted to be independent (i.e. Spot Us), the taint would be cleansed. Logically, this is so: advertisers in newspapers are technically funders, and they are sometimes the subjects of stories (good and bad). The newsroom is considered a pristine (ha!) "cleansing" buffer. 

So, the question is, can a robot website — spot.us — play the role of independent buffer? In the end, it's all perception — either the reporter is influenced by the funders, or not.
...David I. Gross...

Mobile Tel : +1 (408) 464-6182 (Pacific Time)
Skype : davidgross

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David Cohn

Apr 24, 2009, 5:58:42 AM4/24/09
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To start we decided to err on the side of transparency - but in the future we want to allow anonymous donations.

But because we are being held to a higher standard than most publications - we decided against it at this early stage.

Sorry for the short response - I am actually traveling at the moment. But I do appreciate the questions!!!

David Cohn
(310) 365-3600

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