Monday, August 24, 2009

The Many Faces of Anonymous

Notes from Anonymous

Anonymous is a person of many personalities and persuasions. Anonymous has mood swings, but most of the time, all is well. I learned about Anonymous recently when I posted a log entitled “No News is Good News.” I only released it to my email list. I didn’t put on Facebook, Twitter, or I was looking for feedback on this journalism/media blog, newsmcnabb, and did I get it—scores of email.

Many came from known people, but I often heard from the many voices of Anonymous. At one turn, Anonymous would question my intelligence. Another missive from Anonymous would be most gracious. Sometimes, one Anonymous writer would take issue with another Anonymous person.

I posted “No News is Good News” because my efforts to get information were being rejected. Nobody likes rejection, even an old journalist. “Emails that were once friendly in tone have become icy with formality, calling me “Mr. McNabb”, which I have always thought was reserved for my 93-year-old father,” I wrote. “Other emails use terms like, “…with all due respect…” which can be interpreted as veiled disdain. Another said, “I will respectfully decline this and future offers to provide source material” citing the competitive nature of the business. This friend has not replied to my follow-up email.”

So, I questioned whether a blog is worth losing friends over. “I may rightfully wonder if they were really friends in the first place, and if they were not, then there is no loss,” I wrote. I received scores of emails, many of them saying this same thing:

“Keep up the good work. F**k 'em if they can't take a joke. I'm not surprised you've made enemies. I've always marveled at how many of my fellow journalists are good at giving criticism but not taking it,” said one award-winning journalist and friend of more than 30 years.

“I think your so called "friends" are of the fair weather variety and show a lack of integrity that ultimately will reflect on their news product. These people are not journalists who got into the business for the reasons that you and I did many years ago,” another friend said.

“I love your posts!!! Boo-hiss to the people who can’t handle the heat. Bring it!!!” This, from a friend still working in journalism in Austin.

“If your friends don't like it, tell them not to read it,” said another friend still in the business. “And, honestly, I think you hit it on the head: They're not friends. They're friendly acquaintances or friends of convenience because you travel in the same circles. I mean, these people need to get real.”

“About the blog, didn't you start this project with an idea of maybe improving journalism in Austin? If nothing else, you've "smoked out" those who aren't real journalists, and that in itself might improve the craft in our fair city. Give 'em hell!”

“Just like the old saying that doctors and nurses make lousy patients, journalists generally hate when they become the target of someone else's story. But journalists need to be held accountable just as much as those they cover. Don't give up,” said Anonymous.

“I, for one, would miss reading your posts. You have such a meaningful way with words and your stories are always of interest to me, even though I am not in "the business". I understand your concern about losing friends with whom you have spent years building relationships and sharing a passion. Due to the nature of your subject matter in your blogs, you may end up alienating the very people for whom you write,” said another friend.

Then Anonymous spoke again. “Please keep pounding Jim. I understand your frustration. Sometimes it seems the corporate owners of media outlets think the First Amendment is important only when it is not applied to them. We need those who point out that the changes taking place in the media today affect all of us. Good solid journalism is often about criticism. No one likes to receive it.”

And another former journalist and friend of more than 30 years agreed. “If you're making some people mad some of the time, so be it. ‘Comfort the discomforted, discomfort the comforted.’ That's what reporting is all about.” He said. “It's great that you recall past experiences while understanding contemporary pressures and issues. You're a good bridge of generations in the news biz.”

“Who else can I cuss at each morning,” asked a news manager friend of mine?

Then, Anonymous spoke with another voice saying sardonically, “Honestly, McNabb: you are really wasting much of your time. Perhaps back in the day, you were a real journalist. However, considering you are averaging 4 page views and 1.3 comments per day, you would be better served by standing on any street corner, and mumbling about your days in a newsroom 20+ years ago. Your ‘takes’ are old and stale.” This Anonymous actually went to the trouble to get a joke g-mail address. They (“The note said “they”.) have the blog bookmarked. That’s good enough for me.

Then another Anonymous went for the kill. “You're also absolutely right when you say someone needs to keep an eye on the media to make sure it's doing its job. However, before you continue, I think you need to step back and re-analyze your own reporting. You rip into the media for not doing solid reporting and chastise reporters and news directors for only wanting to make money and find fame.And yet you yourself ‘analyze’ the media through such biased lenses as to skew any possible intelligent insights you might have come up with. Isn't that ironic? This void is only worth filling if it can be done by someone who knows true reporting.”

Hmmm. I’m going to stand on my record of nearly 40-years in Austin journalism and communication. I do not delete comments from the blog. I would only delete them if they were in bad taste or brushed too close to libel or slander. More often than not, Anonymous comments with his/her many voices, but a casual reader might not find them if they are collapsed under the post. There are many more comments not recorded here. Certainly, Anonymous may be working somewhere in Austin, and revealing a name might jeopardize a job. I get that. Other writers may use the cloak of anonymity for other purposes.

At any rate, I’m going to continue writing. My reasons for writing are genuine. I wish for the best journalism now and in the future for Austin and Central Texas. For those who did not see the original post it is found at

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

Keep writing Jim...fault can be found with all... knowledge can only be found with few.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really anonymous. You've offered sage wisdom to me, taken the time to read my writings, and have challenged me to stay the course when I feel faint.

I return the favor, Jim. Stay the course. I said it before and I'll say it again - this industry needs voices like yours.


Anonymous said...

Libel, not liable! :)

But I'm glad you'll keep writing. I work here, and I for one am reading, and enjoying.

Larry Brill said...

I'm glad you are going to keep at it. But it seems none of the comments you listed addressed what I think is the bigger issue, that being how are you going to do the job to your satisfaction if the news managers refuse to play ball? It makes your job much harder and less balanced if they refuse comment when they don't like your questions--as well as provide you with tips about what is going right.


Anonymous said...

Do you like doing it? Then do it. Frankly, I think it's a testament to your reputation around town that a lot of these media managers even return your calls, even if to say no comment.

If you were any other blogger, they'd just dismiss you. But they obviously see you as a real reporter and the rest of us do too :)

Tim England said...

I've been reading your column regularly for the past several months. I think the articles you post are a much needed service. Journalists need to be held accountable just as they strive to hold others accountable. At least we can hope they do. Keep up the good work.