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Readers believe Post-Dispatch online editor Kurt Greenbaum should be fired

December 1, 2009 Media, Sunday Poll 14 Comments

Kurt Greenbaum didn’t like the repeated anonymous comment from a reader on the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  He saw where the comment came from (a school) so he contacted them – a violation of a portion of their privacy policy:

We will not share individual user information with third parties unless the user has specifically approved the release of that information. In some cases, however, we may provide information to legal officials as described in “Compliance with Legal Process” below.

Compliance with Legal Process
We may disclose personal information if we or one of our affiliated companies is required by law to disclose personal information, or if we believe in good faith that such action is necessary to comply with a law or some legal process, to protect or defend our rights and property, to protect against misuse or unauthorized use of our web sites or to protect the personal safety or property of our users or the public.

He claims the person that submitted the comment resigned his job when confronted by his employer.  The alternative of putting the school’s IP address on a blacklist was ruled out by Greenbaum because he says it would prevent others at the same location from commenting on the website.  The truth is it means any comment submitted would have just been held until approved by him or someone else.

He either doesn’t know what he is talking about or lied to get the public to side with him on the issue.  Either way it was enough for me to vote in last week’s poll that he should be fired.

Q: Recently Kurt Greenbaum took action that allegedly caused a person to resign their job. Greenbaum should:

  • be fired 78 (54%)
  • resign 37 (26%)
  • keep doing his job 21 (14%)
  • unsure 9 (6%)

Total votes was 145 out of 2,463 visitors during the week.

Putting information out for public consumption and moderating comments is not an easy job.  I’ve been doing it here for over five years now.  It takes a lot to earn the trust of readers and Greenbaum made that more difficult for online readers of the Post-Dispatch’s website, stltoday.com.   Traditional print media needs to do all it can to cultivate online readership as fewer and fewer get their news in printed form.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jennifer says:

    Honestly, I don't think he violated the paper's privacy policy, from a legal standpoint. The more important issue, of course, is that he did violate users' trust. I used to visit the P-D every day to browse & comment, now I only go when I see stories that are relevant to my job, which I get from Google alerts – no unnecessary clicks on that site for me! I don't see how they can keep him and expect a robust commenting community.

    • tonypalazzolo says:

      Absolutely he should be fired. If he doesn't like one of my comments is he going to contact my mom? Like it or not, the downside to the internet is the anonymity of it. People take advantage and say things they wouldn't do in person. People have threatened my physically(of course they have never met me), called me names etc etc. Its part of the experience. If I can't handle it then I could simply not post. What this editor did violates privacy, but also the business model that the post needs to sustain itself.

    • michaelk42 says:

      Why do you think he didn't violate the privacy policy? It seems pretty straightforward that the user's info will not be shared with 3rd parties, unless those parties are “legal officials,” as part of a “legal process.”

      There wasn't any legal action or law broken, and no legal officials were involved, so it seems to me like he broke the agreement. Are you looking at the agreement in a way I'm not? (Honest question, there may yet be something I'm missing there.)

      • Jennifer says:

        Sorry, probably too late to help the discussion but I just saw this waiting for a response. I suspect as a matter of law that the “individual user information” the P-D promises not to share does not include telling an organization their own IP address nor the comment time stamp of a person using that IP address. The individual user information is more along the lines of the email address with which you register, or your real name. And he didn't share that info, though he probably could have accessed it.

        Again, that's not really the issue. The majority of commenters seem to think that if it could be used to identify them to their employer, it was personal enough. But this confusion does make me think that the P-D's privacy policy isn't clear and specific enough; if they want to reassure their commenting community they should lay out specifically and exactly what information they will or will not share without your permission. To me, that's one way to help them regain trust after this incident. And they should also spell out a policy on when they will take the affirmative step to notify an organization about troublesome comments, or should come out and say that isn't their policy and won't ever be done again.

        • michaelk42 says:

          See, I'm still not buying that. It's weaseling around the spirit of the policy and not even a good job of that. The organization is still not a “legal official,” i.e. law enforcement or a court. So it's still breaking it, regardless.

          I think some guy named Tom put it best:

          More than once you have stated:
          “Did I reveal private information? No…. The school knows its own IP address.”

          Quite simply, you are being dishonest. Perhaps your motivation is just to be defensive against the full frontal attack from your readers.

          In order for your statement to make any sense at all, your phone call would have to have gone as follows:
          “Is this xxyyzz school?”
          “Yes it is.”
          “I just wanted to tell you that your IP address is xx.xy.zyx”
          “Oh, thank you, but we already know this. Is there anything else you have to tell us?”
          “Of course not. I would never divulge any private information from anyone posting anything to our newspaper, especially when they have an expectation of anonymity. For example, it would be extremely unethical for me to tell you that at exactly 3:47:03pm someone from your school put a supposedly anonymous post on this paper's site that I found offensive.”
          “Yes it would. Did you say 3:47:03pm?”
          “Well, there's only one person here who was using a computer at that time, but of course you never really gave me any information that would let me identify that person or what he or she posted at your site, did you?”
          “No….of course I didn't. All I told you was your IP address, which you already knew anyway!”


          If you ask me, the only thing to do is get rid of Greenbaum (to start) followed by an extreme round of apologizing and ToS clarification.

  2. the other guy says:

    I don't think it is a firable offense, but more of a reprimandable one.

    I do believe him when he said that he was acting in good faith. That is a key part, but not the only part, of ethics. Not knowing him, I may totally be duped.

  3. Fenian says:

    I found his actions to be incredibly petty. What he did was completely uncalled for and this story was retold on countless nationally known sites. If the Post wants to salvage what credibility they have left with their readers, they need to get rid of Greenbaum.

  4. JasonToon says:

    I'm not losing any sleep over the “pussy” commenter getting fired. If you get your kicks spamming message boards with idiotic profanity while you're at work (at a school, no less), you should be prepared for the consequences. Sorry, I don't see the fired teacher as some kind of hero for free speech.

    • This is not about the commenter that resigned. It is about old media trying to make its way into new media. That takes trust.

    • 63101 says:

      At what point does it become OK for the P-D to retaliate against posters, rather than just ban them and move on? Greenbaum felt this was a “teachable moment” (his words, not mine), which certainly sounds like retaliation to me.

      Besides, it certainly reeks of a double standard that Greenbaum stood idly by while people posted (and continue to do so) hate speech and generally ignorant trash on the P-D's boards, but decided to apply the “consequences” to a guy who made a joke in poor taste.

      • JasonToon says:

        I understand the problem. It looks like Greenbaum did violate stltoday's own privacy policy. He probably shouldn't have had that job in the first place.

        I guess I just wanted to make the point that morons like Mr. Pussy do a lot more, in my opinion, to kill online discussion than heavy-handed moderators do. I've had the job of moderating very high-volume forums before. “Just ban them and move on” sounds great but it's more complicated than that – either there are too many ways around it, or you wind up restricting access for people who've done nothing wrong. It's maddening. I don't think what Greenbaum did was right but I can certainly sympathize with the impulse. And as I said, I have no sympathy for the grown man commenter who should've known better.

        Of course, these points would be easier to make if Greenbaum didn't appear to be perfectly OK with the cesspool that is stltoday's comments section…I agree, it is a double standard.

  5. Mac says:

    “Traditional print media needs to do all it can to cultivate online readership as fewer and fewer get their news in printed form.”


    Right Steve. At the end of the day, what is Mr. Greenbaum doing to sell newspapers?

    Nothing. In fact, he couldn't have showcased better just exactly how far behind he and his newspaper are. And this is a guy that is the “Social Media Director” for the paper…titles really don't mean sh1t.

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