Sunday, January 20, 2008

Naming Names

One of the pleasures of teaching journalism is when students raise questions of ethics and process like the one below. Almost makes me feel as though I am back in the newsroom on deadline.

I share with all because these are the kinds of issues you should be thinking about as future journalists.

"How can the New York Times get away with identifying someone--by name--as an illegal immigrant? (Like in this article: Carmelo Peña Garcia, 59, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who waits for work every day at Roosevelt Avenue and 69th Street in Queens)

It seems counterintuitive that a newspaper would open up a person to prosecution like that. Is there some nuance in the status of an illegal immigrant that I am not aware of?"

My answer - I would hold to the what Kelly McBride says below in this excerpt. For full story, see Naming Names in AJR - available at:

It's paramount that reporters be aware of the risks involved when they interview undocumented immigrants, McBride says, and they must know that there are no simple answers. "Journalists call us," she says, "and they want the rule." But there is no rule. Instead there's a process, one in which the reporter must evaluate whether the source is likely to be fired, deported or harassed. Is the source capable of assessing the risk? Does he or she understand the legal implications? "You have to ask a lot of questions," McBride says, "including what your own journalistic purpose is."

See NYT story at:

Dr. R