Media Competition Fueling “Ashley Madison” Education Coverage

image from cjrarchive.org

Education reporters and journalists of all kinds have struggled to figure out what if anything to do with the possibility that public officials might have accessed the infidelity hookup site called Ashley Madison, whose user database was hacked and released to the public.

What people do on their private time is nobody’s business, goes the usual argument.  But the traditional bright line for journalists — using work-provided computers — seems murky and unclear in this age of always-on, always-working mobile computing. The venerable Columbia Journalism Review addressed the ethics issue directly in a recent post, Is it ethical to write about hacked Ashley Madison users?.

The question of ethics becomes all the more pressing now that it’s not clear that very many people actually made much use of the site even if they signed up, according to Gizmodo.

But, as with the Sony hack not too long ago, the information made accessible can be hard to resist, especially when there’s something seemingly salacious going on.  A quick search of Google shows news outlets covering educators’ emails in Jefferson County (Colorado). I’m sure there are (or will be) others.

The way journalism works, once one outlet starts publishing stories related to such a salacious-sounding topic, it’s hard for competitors to hold back even if they were trying to. 

That’s what seems to be happening on the education beat in LA:

On Wednesday, upstart LA School Report published a story about “nearly 100” LAUSD employees’ email addresses appearing to have been used to access the site.

Today, the LA Times followed up with additional information about whether the site is even accessible on district servers.

Somewhat ironically, LA School Report publisher Jamie Lynton was part of two stories based off the Sony hack, which included information not only about private meetings but also about her children’s education and school choices. I had some questions about the reporting involved in a previous post.

Related posts: The Sony WikiLeaks Hack Gets an Education Angle — Sorta*

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.