Friday, April 24, 2009

Urgent: Reader outed by Wausau newspaper denies threatening local official, editorial board honoree

The reader at the center of an unfolding privacy controversy at the 20,000-circ. Wausau Daily Herald denies the publisher's suggestions that he posed threatening comments on the paper's website, directed at supervisor Dean Zuleger of the nearby Village of Weston.

Zuleger, the tiny community's appointed top executive, was named Person of the Year by the Daily Herald's editorial board only four months ago. Notably, the reader says, Zuleger manages police services for the village of 12,000, in an area whose most famous export is Google's Marissa Mayer, one of the world's most powerful women.

In a telephone interview, the reader acknowledged posting comments under an assumed name -- JUANMOORE -- after registering on the Herald's site. More than a few times, the reader conceded making derogatory remarks about Zuleger (left) -- including about his weight. The comments were never violent, the reader assured me, twice.

In registering, the reader says they supplied an e-mail address containing their full name to the Herald; only three other people knew this. But at some point -- certainly by April 14 -- Zuleger had the reader's e-mail address. The reader worries Zuleger may have next accessed police or fire department records to obtain his home address.

Uses official stationery
Ten days ago, in an April 14 letter sent to the reader's home, Zuleger accused the reader of being his critic JUANMOORE: "Clearly, I have agitated you -- to the point that you have even sought to comment on my weight and appearance which, by he way, establishes the 'actual malice' test that would need to be passed to pursue legal action against you."

He wrote the letter on official Village of Weston stationery. During a fairly brisk phone interview I had with Zuleger earlier yesterday, he stopped answering most of my questions after conceding that he'd used some taxpayer resources to research and write the letter.

Last night, in an e-mail, Publisher Mike Beck said he wouldn't discuss the Zuleger matter -- but, then, he sort of did: "We abide by our online terms of use. They do not guarantee anonymity,'' Beck wrote. "I won't address the Zuleger story. However, I can envision a scenario where we would release contact information for someone making comments on our site. For instance, if someone were making threatening comments."

The unsigned editorial announcing the honor for Zuleger said: "When domestic violence claimed lives in Weston, Zuleger asked himself, 'What is the strength of this community?' And the answer was, its people. So he incorporated the people, the government and the police into one effort: Weston Men Respect."

Gannett Bloggers react
Anonymous@9:35 a.m. asks when commenting on someone's weight became grounds for actual malice: "Sounds like a very sensitive official here, and someone trying to bluster a reader and constituent into submission. Good for the reader not to take this lying down and to raise this to another level. That brings us to the newspaper. Were there court papers served here, or was this just a request from someone the newspaper favored? Looks like the latter to me, and that is wrong, wrong, wrong. We can have no confidence with our readers by kissing up to local government officials this way."

Herald circ down modestly
As of Sept. 30, according to Deutsche Bank: 20,461 daily, down 2.4% from a year before; Sunday, 49,195, down 2.5%. The paper is in the state's east; better-known Green Bay is 97 miles southeast. Gannett owns 10 dailies in the state: the Herald and the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus eight others via the big Thomson Newspapers deal. That was for 19 dailies, many in Ohio, for $1.13 billion in July 2000.

The Wisconsin papers have undergone considerable consolidation in recent years, ahead of the rest of the community newspaper division -- and perhaps contributing to the Zuleger case.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green rail, upper right.

[Yesterday's front page, Newseum]

24 comments:

  1. One reader is not a "they," Jim. That's poor English.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you're dumb enough to sign on ANYWHERE using an e-mail address with your REAL NAME, you deserve anything you get.

    Anonymity on the Internet is turning some people into monsters.

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  3. In the interest of helping you maintain your credibility, Jim, you need to learn a little more about Gannett Wisconsin.
    Wausau was NOT part of the Thomson acquisition. It and Green Bay were the only two Gannett properties prior to the purchase of the Thomson papers.
    It became the central group hub after Gannett picked up the Thomson papers.
    The consolidation you talk about happened in the central part of Wisconsin more than seven years ago and probably has nothing to do with this scandal. This one is purely editors ass-kissing a source they think is way more important than the community does.
    It's still very sad. A good paper ruined by editors obsessed with sources' opinions, not readers'.

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  4. Jim, you might be better served by writing a letter to the editor. We don't really care much about this story and I have to agree with the previous posters.

    Maybe you should spend your time researching that Hilton/USA TODAY story someone dropped on your doorstep yesterday instead of trying to stir the pot with the one. After all, that is actual news and impact more of your readers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I work for Gannett and I have no knowledge about the situation in Wausau, but I wanted to share some information.

    If you are clever about doing research on social media sites, and if you use tools like Spokeo.com, Namechk.com and others well, then it's often actually quite easy to make a good, educated guess about who someone might be, especially in the case of a fairly distinctive username such as JUANMOORE.

    I'm trying to make the point that it is certainly possible Zuleger could deduce the user's identity by using publicly available Web tools.

    At our paper, we get requests from attorneys and law enforcement all the time, and always decline them, which is the norm.

    I would expect it might be easier for Zuleger to obtain the information via public Web searches rather than hassling busy news people.

    I have no idea if these are related or relevant, but to illustrate my point about how quickly one can get leads to investigate when trying to associate a username with a person, here are just a few of the social networks at which JUANMOORE is a registered name:

    MySpace
    Bebo
    Hi5
    eBay
    Twitter
    Xanga
    YouTube

    I don't know about the Wausau situation, but everything that happens everywhere is not suggestive of malfeasance by Gannett employees.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I work for Gannett and I have no knowledge about the situation in Wausau, but I wanted to share some information.

    If you are clever about doing research on social media sites, and if you use tools like Spokeo.com, Namechk.com and others well, then it's often actually quite easy to make a good, educated guess about who someone might be, especially in the case of a fairly distinctive username such as JUANMOORE.

    I'm trying to make the point that it is certainly possible Zuleger could deduce the user's identity by using publicly available Web tools.

    At our paper, we get requests from attorneys and law enforcement all the time, and always decline them, which is the norm.

    I would expect it might be easier for Zuleger to obtain the information via public Web searches rather than hassling busy news people.

    I have no idea if these are related or relevant, but to illustrate my point about how quickly one can get leads to investigate when trying to associate a username with a person, here are just a few of the social networks at which JUANMOORE is a registered name:

    MySpace
    Bebo
    Hi5
    eBay
    Twitter
    Xanga
    YouTube

    I don't know about the Wausau situation, but everything that happens everywhere is not suggestive of malfeasance by Gannett employees.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice job Jim bringing this thing to light. If we are going to harbor anonymous chat forums at our sites, I think we should withhold the posters' names. If not, then why even give them a screen name? Why not just make them register under their legal name?

    This is terrible. Did Gannett papers tell their readers that they changed the terms of service recently? Another black eye for the company.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In my view, we need to know exactly what the "reader" wrote. There's a big difference between snarky and threatening.
    Nobody likes being called a fat slob on a website potentially viewed by the world. It may be hurtful but I don't think that's threatening.
    I've worked for Gannett editors and publishers who smoozed local government leaders and money people to sickening levels.
    I just don't see the "threat" here. I don't feel sorry for the anon reader, he should have known better.
    I don't feel sorry for the way-too-sensitive supervisor, either. He's a public figure and open to the slings and arrows of his detractors.
    I would love to read a transcrlipt of Jim's interviews, however.

    ReplyDelete
  9. With all due respect to those (seemingly including you, Jim) who seem to think that protecting anonymity is important NO MATTER WHAT SOMEONE SAYS, I would like to offer my strong disagreement. A poster yesterday said that the Internet has given people with strong opinions a place to voice incendiary comments without the burden of identifying themselves, and that's a recipe for disaster. I STRONGLY agree! This is a free society, yes. But if you're going to attack someone personally, you should be willing to identify yourself so the person attacked can respond to you and defend himself. With freedom comes responsibility. I ask anyone out there who disagrees this question: What if I said something HORRIBLE about you in an anonymous post? Something that wasn't true and could hurt your reputation? Even if it were true, wouldn't you want the chance to address me? Oops, sorry. You can't. I'm hiding behind anonymity. In what society should this be accepted?

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  10. And lets not forget that the driving force behind this blog is to create a forum where many people hide behind the cloak of anonymity to level personal attacks at people by name. Cowards all.

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  11. Since when, as this guy says in his letter to the reader, is commenting on someone's weight a grounds for actual malice. Sounds like a very sensitive official here, and someone trying to bluster a reader and constituent into submission. Good for the reader not to take this lying down and to raise this to another level.
    That brings us to the newspaper. Were there court papers served here, or was this just a request from someone the newspaper favored? Looks like the latter to me, and that is wrong, wrong, wrong. We can have no confidence with our readers by kissing up to local government officials this way. Readers see right through this. Unless there is something else here, the paper owes the reader an apology and a commitment not to do this again.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This made me think of something that happened at a D.C.-area paper about six years ago. A public official's weight was made fun of ... except in that case it was in an editorial (!) that was printed in the paper (!).

    Here's the last remnant of it that I can find on online (from a WaPo article):

    After more than 20 years in public office, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is accustomed to reading unflattering commentary about his policies or programs. But nothing prepared him for the Jan. 30 editorial in the Montgomery Journal that took aim at his girth.

    "Duncan's own thinking appears to be as flabby as his mid-section and man-bosoms," the editorial said.

    "What did I do to that guy?" a mystified Duncan asked.

    The guy in question is Ryan E. Phillips, the Journal's pugnacious, Harley-riding publisher.....
    Pretty ridiculous to stoop that low, but even still, I don't think Duncan threatened to sue the paper or the idiot who wrote that.

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  13. Reading this is enough to make me stop posting anything at the local Gannett newspaper site.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm in Wisconsin, not Wausau, and 3:08 a.m. is probably correct in saying: This one is purely editors ass-kissing a source they think is way more important than the community does.

    The smaller papers run more scared, and I can easily see the editors there caving.

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  15. Jim, you are such a stupid piece of shit.

    You allow anonymous attacks. End of story.

    You have no credibility. None.

    Word ver.: quearego. Jim's ego.

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  16. Amen, 8:37.

    We all know people have strong opinions and dislikes for whatever reasons they have. It's been that way for thousands of years. But before the Internet, they weren't posted for all to see. It was a kinder, gentler more respectful society. Look where we are today! Anger begets anger. Personal attack begets personal attack. And anonymous posting fans the flames.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Gannett Bloggers react?? You mean you that on your main page you posted ONE opinion from ONE anonymous source on ONE side of the issue when in the actual comments, opinions seem pretty mixed. Hmmm. I know this is your blog Jim, but that seems kind of like something O'Reilly or Olbermann would do.

    ReplyDelete
  18. And newspapers want a government bailout?

    A lot of stories get overlooked and things even get covered up due to the close ties some publishers wield with the local officials. This is outrageous that a publisher would waste the time to find out who a user on his site is over "weight" comments. At a time when Gannett has laid off thousands and is asking others to go without pay this is just bad. Sounds to me like the publisher at this newspaper doesn't have enough "actual" work to do.

    ReplyDelete
  19. A few posters here - and several clueless editors at my own paper - say we should make people register and post with their legal names. How, praytell, should we do that?

    A few moments of thought and research would tell you that we can't make someone register with a legal name unless they give us a SSN, credit card, driver's license or similar info just to post on our sites. And let me tell you - that will NEVER happen.

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  20. "How, praytell, should we do that?"

    You must be the dumbest person yet.

    Start by deleting all posts without a signed name.

    Then require people to register via e-mail and to send an image that proves their identity. They can still cover the numbers, but a valid name, picture and signature must be present on the image.

    Problem solved, dumbfuck. Now go running to post somewhere else that nothing should change because your little head hurts just at the thought of anything new. Ow!

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  21. "And anonymous posting fans the flames."

    That's why Jim needs to feel the flames. He's a coward encouraging other cowards, and he should be punished severely. Nothing is too extreme for him.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hi, I'm a bit confused. I haven't read all the blog posts. Can someone please tell me if there's any clear indication that the official got the person's information from teh paper? could the identity have been discovered in some other way?

    ReplyDelete
  23. Speaking of Wisconsin, did anyone notice this?

    http://wisinfo.com is the overall site that the Wisconsin papers promote statewide, and it's is super-fast and very simple. Loads in seconds, like a Website should. Simple navigation and the ads are not too big.

    Meanwhile, any one of the papers' sites in the state -- say, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com/ -- is incredibly slow. Although the corporate templates have a lot of features, they are simply way, way too slow.

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  24. ROTFLMAO!

    7:25 PM, you "have got to be the dumbest person yet." You never heard of Photoshop, "dumbfuck"!

    Good luck with ensuring only real people post under real names and only real names. You're too funny!

    ReplyDelete

Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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