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And that presents an epic dilemma for the news media, said editors and publishers in a series of interviews this week. Some are already preparing for a rash of photo leaks, trying to discern standards for what’s publishable. Others are reviewing the details of Hill’s case for lessons they can apply in the future.
The saga began when more than 700 images, pictures, and texts of Hill’s “escapades” were sent to a California-based conservative radio host, Jim Messina, who revealed receiving them on Oct. 17. Messina didn’t publish or share the images, though, telling the Los Angeles Times they were “all over the place.” The next day, the conservative website RedState published several images, including a nude photo of Hill allegedly engaged in a threesome with her husband and a woman on her campaign staff, thus kick-starting a scandal that led to the 32-year-old Democrat’s resignation nine days later.
News executives and editors have long faced tough decisions when it comes to weighing privacy concerns against the need to reveal information in the public’s interest. That challenge is amplified by the ubiquity of cellphone images and the potential for former romantic partners and ex-friends — or anyone with a political ax to grind — to distribute them in an attempt to humiliate or discredit.
“Privacy is one place where journalists need to be really thoughtful about how societal norms are changing, and the norms are becoming more restrictive than the law,” BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith told POLITICO, while acknowledging that “everyone has embarrassing stuff on their phones.”
BuzzFeed News editors have addressed this phenomenon in the site’s ethics guide, noting that “the ubiquity of recording, the vast quantity of speech on social media, the power of search has changed how regular people think about the principles of free speech.”
“We believe deeply in those principles and in our right to report public information,” they wrote.“But we also believe journalists must adjust to changing norms, and focus on defending and defining the right to reveal the secrets that matter.”
Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Noah Shachtman likened the current challenge to newsrooms grappling in recent years with the distribution of hacked materials and deciding what meets the bar for publication.
“Just because a photo is embarrassing doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy,” Shachtmansa
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