Do Journalists Have a Right to Privacy?

By: Sarah LeBlanc

The problem of invading an individual’s privacy is one journalists often face in pursuit of a story. Luckily, the University of Iowa has compiled a list of the ways the right to privacy is violated so journalists know what to avoid.

  • Intruding into seclusion or solitude.
  • Publicly disclosing private, embarrassing and irrelevant facts.
  • Placing someone in a false light.
  • Misappropriating someone’s name or image for personal advantage.

To avoid overstepping these lines, journalists should always contact sources to confirm information found online before printing and distributing their opinion. Unfortunately, not everyone follows these practices.

Photo courtesy of Flikr taken by Ahmad Hammoud.

Photo courtesy of Flikr taken by Ahmad Hammoud.

Newsbios, a site created in 1987 by Dean Rotbart, a former Pulitzer Prize-nominated Wall Street Journal columnist, compiles and sells data gathered on journalists from public sources but explicitly promises never to contact journalists directly. This material is then available for sale to future employers or to give executives the opportunity to research and prepare for interviews based on the information and speculations gathered by the site.

The information isn’t cheap. Depending on how fast you need the dossier, prices range from $200-$425.

Labeling itself as “reputation insurance,” Newsbios promises up-to-date reports including anything they find that is not included in a journalist’s authorized resume or biography. Dossiers contain information regarding family relations, social media posts, and any biases reflected in the personal activities of journalists.

New York Times reporter Natasha Singer looked into her Newsbio and realized the site misattributed her name to an editorial and magazine article as evidence of her political and personal preferences. The report also speculated that Singer has low-self esteem because of the angle of a photograph.

By selling and distributing false information and placing judgments on a journalist’s character, Newsbios can damage a person’s reputation without their knowledge.

Do you think that Newsbios invades the privacy of journalists? Would you trust it to make a biography on you? You can follow Newsbios on twitter at @newsbios.

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6 responses to “Do Journalists Have a Right to Privacy?

  1. This is an interesting take on a topic that affects many journalists. We’re always taught to protect our source’s privacy, but there’s not a lot of light shed on our own. It’s surprising the hear that a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist put together a site that goes against one of the fundamental things journalists are taught. It sets a terrible example for aspiring journalists or those who are trying to succeed in the industry.

  2. This is a very interesting article, and I didn’t know that this was something that even existed. If one person, Natasha Singer, found articles misattributed, how many could be for other journalists? Speculations are risky, and compiling this information sounds a little unsound. Employers do background research on potential hires, which makes absolute sense. But, paying to find out information seems a bit iffy, and including such things as family relations seems to be a bit much. Where does private life come into play? I’m interested in learning more about this site and the way it works.

  3. Wow, that’s crazy. I had no idea this was around. I don’t understand why Rotbart promises not contact the journalists directly. Why wouldn’t he contact them? I would think a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist would want to make sure all the facts were correct by going directly to the source. I would also hate to find out that someone made a biography about me and didn’t tell me.

  4. This is ridiculous, I have never heard of such a thing! I can’t believe people would pay for this kind of information! I absolutely think is a violation of privacy, people’s information is inaccurate and hurtful. This website should be shut down!

  5. This was a very interesting topic, I never knew something like this existed. Like Lauren said, we’re always taught to protect the privacy of our sources, but when it comes down to the journalist themselves, there isn’t much talk about what kind of rights there are for our privacy. This is most definitely a violation of people’s privacy! And some of it is misinformation on someone. It’s just not a good website.

  6. This is crazy! I had no idea it existed and I would never use it as a credible source. It seems too simple for something to be misattributed and I’d prefer not to use someone else’s analysis of someone to form an opinion on them. I’m not sure if it’s an invasion of privacy, but it is a little bit creepy to think someone is out there selling information about you.

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