Dec 13, 2007

The unpublishing industry

It is troubling to see the San Bernardino Sun get twist itself in knots after publishing what is pretty straightforward information about county worker salaries.

The paper - after what I assume was some amount of deliberation - decided to publish all of the salaries alongside all of the employees' names. The decision came in the wake of a California Supreme Court ruling that finally did away with a silly union argument that salary information is private.

County employees complained, as expected.

But instead of holding its ground, the Sun decided to unpublish the names. The editor's rationale includes the following: We typically do not publish the names of sex crime victims. We often refrain from identifying crime witnesses, and are cautious about identifying someone as a suicide victim.

Yes, rape victims, suicides and gang targets get special consideration. That has nothing to do with this.

T0 the editor's larger point that the paper can and should exercise discretion about what it publishes: It should have exercised that discretion beforehand. The outcry was predictable. So what changed?

Indeed, the move looks like a response to pressure from a special interest group, and that's a bad precedent for the paper and a poor substitution for news judgment.