Gawker Media is flying in the face of conventional media wisdom. While other outlets are doing away with anonymity, we've built anonymous accounts into our new comment system. We'll accept some disorder if that's the price of freedom in one's personal life, in politics and the press.
For anonymity, we're introducing the "Burner" — a new way to submit information or commentary without associating any real identity. To use a Burner, just enter a pseudonym in the login and start typing or uploading. That's it. Your machine is linked to that particular pseudonym and we'll provide a randomly-generated key if you need to switch to a different device or continue a conversation later. But there is no username, email address or password that could compromise your identity. Yes, even if we're hacked.
But what's to stop authentic information and opinion from being drowned out by the background noise of the internet, or trolls from hounding away knowledgeable sources? Each contributor — whether anonymous or not — will now be given the power to moderate the conversation they spark. Interesting questions might warrant a response; corroborating responses can be accepted; and harassers can be dismissed. Give the source the ability to tell us what they know, then let the reader determine whether they've satisfied the critics, just as one would in judging a panel debate or a courtroom cross-examination.
Even if we safeguard the identity of a witness, he or she can still be questioned. In fact, the more serious the claim, the more important it is that the whistleblower or other source be subject to challenge. And challenge in public.
One assumes Ahmed Chalabi's account was subject to some test by Judith Miller of the Times, the chosen vehicle for his propaganda about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. But not a sufficiently rigorous examination. And we have long moved past an era in which we put that much trust in journalists, even of an institution as respected as the Times. It's time for the leakers and the moles to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of information; and it's time for them to be subject to challenge, not just by their pet reporter, but by readers.