In the case of “The Photos and Dan Gerlach,” we journalists must “seek truth and report it.” It’s our Prime Ethics Directive. Our sacred duty to the people.

The Society of Professional Journalists tells us that. I know, as a former journalist.

Seeking, reporting truth means we must put news events in context.

It means we must publicly show the raw material behind our news stories, when the showing is relevant and appropriate. Context—understanding—lives in that stuff.

It means we must consider the motives of sources, known and anonymous. Stand guard, we must, against being played for someone’s self-interest.

And so, to local news outlets: Tell the people the story of how you learned of the Gerlach photos. It’s context the people need.

I found 30 stories, long and short, published by eight local news outlets from Sept. 29-Oct. 1. The stories say the photos just “surfaced,” “emerged,” “circulated.” Sometimes they were “obtained” or “received” by the outlet.

But how? From where? From whom?

To be fair, local news outlets answered the “where,” context-lite. The images “surfaced online,” were “published first on social media,” “went quickly viral,” took the form of “Instagram videos.”

But published by whom? And, motive?

To be fair, a Daily Reflector story reported clues to “who” and “how.” An “anonymous tipster forwarded” the images “to contacts at [the paper] and elsewhere.” The photos “were given salacious captions.” They were taken by “an unknown person.”

Necessary. But not sufficient. Forwarded by email? If so, was the “From” address something like, or was it blocked. What was in the “To” line? What did the subject line say? What was written into the body of the email? What were the “salacious” captions, verbatim?

Hints to motive live in that stuff.

Journalists are keen to protect the identities of their anonymous sources. Rightly so, in most cases. But in those cases, the journalist knows who the source is and has said “yes” to the source’s request to be kept unnamed.

Is that the case with the anonymous tipster of the Gerlach photos? Has the tipster tipped before? If so, were those tips credible? Has the tipster tipped before about Gerlach? If so, when? About what?

Hints to motive live in that stuff.

It’s relevant and appropriate to tell this important part of the story to the people. No promise of confidentiality need be breached in the telling.

It’s all context. Truth to seek and report. The people need it so they may better understand.

Dr. Brian L. Massey

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