Two Sydney metropolitan papers spent the early days of 2009 trolling online rock climbing forums for the name of a young man who’d been killed in a climbing accident in the Blue Mountains on January 2nd.
Following a story Crikey published last week on journalists abusing online forums, we received a tip from a member of the NSW climbing community alerting us to postings on Chockstone, a Victorian climbing site.
On the morning of January 3rd, the police had yet to release the name of the deceased, 24-year-old Nick Kaczorowski.
But Sydney Morning Herald journalist Paul Bibby created a profile and started a new forum on three different websites, asking:
“G’day, Does anyone know the guy from the Bunny Bucket accident?” and “Does anyone know this poor bloke…? what happened?”
Members of the forums on Chockstone, CragX and The Australian Climbing Association sites took issue with the fact that Bibby did not readily identify himself as a reporter, and that the SMH published personal comments on a thread in an article and was clearly “baiting for information”.
Daniel Roe from The Australian Climbing Association told Crikey that he regarded Bibby’s postings as a clear a breach of the SMH code of ethics, which says under the header “Fairness”:
Staff will use fair, honest and responsible means to obtain material. They will identify themselves and the newspaper before obtaining interviews or images.
Roe told Crikey, “Personally I don’t mind reporters utilizing online forums to expand their stories, so long as they identify themselves and their intentions, instead of trying to bait people for information.”
Rod Wills from CragX told Crikey that the online quotes then used in an SMH article were inappropriate, “Considering both were my statements on a thread, stating this forum shouldn’t be used for the media, I find Mr Bibby’s behaviour unethical.”
In response to the furor created online, Bibby issued this statement to Crikey:
I placed posts on three climbing websites purely as a first step in requesting an interview with the climbers about the accident at Pierces Pass. My intention was to message climbers who responded individually, formally identify myself, and request a phone interview. I used my full name and Herald email address in my profiles on the sites. On one of the sites my profile was inadvertently blocked. I did not receive or use information on the accident itself or the victim from any of the sites. Site administrators from two of the sites have accepted my explanation.
But, Bibby was not alone. The previous day the Daily Telegraph had the same idea for the same story, only their post was rather more overt. Stuart McLean, this time identifying himself as a reporter, created another forum, posting “Seeking help in identifying the climber who fell today in the Blue Mountains. Regards Stuart McLean reporter with The Daily Telegraph. I can be contracted on 04XX XXX XXX thanks.”
Members of the forum were not impressed. Simon Carter told Crikey that he took issue with McLean’s post because, “Because at that time Nick’s family had not been notified.”