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We Build Alaska

The problem with anonymous news: Why the Blue Alaskan needs to be identified

Last week I posted a tweet from the Landmine offering $500 to the first person who could provide irrefutable proof of the identity of the individual behind the anonymous Blue Alaskan media operation. A lot of people responded with unfavorable feedback. I was also contacted by several people, including elected officials, asking me to delete the tweet and stop trying to uncover the identify of the Blue Alaskan. Some said I was putting the safety of the Blue Alaskan at risk by trying to expose them. Others said I was just “jealous of the competition.” Neither claim is true.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: the Blue Alaskan is not just some random anonymous Twitter account or Facebook page. There are millions of those, and I could care less about them. The Blue Alaskan is a much more elaborate and organized media operation. They operate a sophisticated WordPress website that posts a large amount of political content. They ask for donations, yet no business license exists for the Blue Alaskan.

They routinely post press releases as well as information that the average citizen does not have access to. Elected officials and politicos often share articles from the Blue Alaskan. Since its start in August 2020, the site has become a favorite news source of many progressives in Anchorage. It’s clear whoever is behind the Blue Alaskan has high-level institutional support, which likely includes funding.

The issue is not with the Blue Alaskan’s political leanings. That is irrelevant. I would feel the same way if it was the Red Alaskan.

The issue is that the Blue Alaskan wants to operate like a traditional news source but with absolutely none of the accountability. As it stands, we have no idea whether the Blue Alaskan is the work of an Alaska-based or outside PAC, a political campaign (or campaigns), or an individual with political connections that would affect how readers assess the content of articles. When the Blue Alaskan writes about a candidate, for example, isn’t it reasonable to wonder whether the writer has a personal or professional relationship with the candidate? If the Blue Alaskan posts about a company or organization, isn’t it reasonable to wonder whether the writer is or was affiliated with that company or organization–or with their competition? Disclosing conflicts of interest is a central part of producing ethical journalism. The Blue Alaskan never makes such disclosures. They effectively claim the right to operate in an ethical vacuum.

Some people have argued that the Landmine is acting hypocritically because we sometimes publish anonymous sources or opinion pieces. To this, I would say: of course we do. Most, if not all, major news operations permit the use of anonymous sources when it is the only way to get important information to the public. But let’s be honest: the Blue Alaskan isn’t a source. They are a publisher. A quick glance at the Blue Alaskan website shows a large amount of recent content, none of which would even remotely justify anonymous sourcing by ordinary journalistic standards.

Ultimately, the publisher takes responsibility for anonymous content. For example, Paxson Woelber and I recently published an article about Assembly member Jamie Allard and her supporters harassing Providence Hospital staff. That article included a confidential internal email and statements from an anonymous source inside of Providence. For obvious reasons, we protected the identity of our source. But we put our own names to the article as authors, and my name is on the Landmine as Editor-in-Chief. When you publish anonymous sources, you do not ask the reader to simply believe anything. Rather, you put your own credibility on the table as a writer and editor. This is an important distinction. By contrast, the Blue Alaskan can simply write anything–true, false, or in-between–with no accountability of any kind.

Last, people who say the Blue Alaskan is in some kind of imminent mortal danger if exposed are simply fantasizing. We live in the United States, not Russia or China. It is extraordinarily rare for journalists here to be imprisoned or killed for what they write. And there is no reason to think that anyone would be endangered by putting their name to the type of fairly conventional political content the Blue Alaskan publishes. This is not about safety. This is about convenience. Some progressives like that they have their own news outlet where the writers/funders/backers cannot be criticized. That’s understandable. But it’s not in the public interest.

Several people have told me it’s important to support the Blue Alaskan as a counterweight to Must Read Alaska. Now, don’t get me wrong: I abhor Must Read Alaska. Their “journalism,” which often consists of force-feeding a steady stream of noxious, dishonest or outright fabricated stories into the mouths of their conspiracy-theory-addled audience, is despicable. But at the end of the day, we all know that Must Read Alaska is published by Suzanne Downing. She is accountable for the trash that her outlet puts out. And we can judge the content on Must Read Alaska based on what we know about Downing. The fact that she used to work for the Alaska Republican Party, for example, can be taken into account by readers.

More broadly, a lot of progressives are acutely aware of the problems with online news and information that lacks transparency and accountability. Unaccountable online sources are blamed for an enormous range of social problems, from the proliferation of COVID-19 misinformation to thrown elections. It is ironic, then, that many Alaska progressives seem to think there’s nothing wrong with one of our state’s increasingly-prominent news sites coming out of a black box.

The Landmine is happy to share the Alaska media space with the Blue Alaskan. There is more than enough room for all. And the Blue Alaskan has done some good work. But at the end of the day, the Blue Alaskan owes Alaskans transparency and accountability about who is behind the organization.

The public deserves to know who they are getting their news from.

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Lynn Willis
2 years ago

Your concern in valid. To me hiding behind anonymity immediately reduces your credibility by 99%, yet I understand that those who want to see, hear and read lies and half-truths will seek them out because they simply want to “believe”. To a certain degree every person who hides behind an anonymous “nom de guerre” is just another “Blue Alaskan” to me.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lynn Willis
Mark
2 years ago

You are no better than any other news source. You cannot stand the other guys point of view so that makes them untruthful and your so innocent.

Elizabeth Henry
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark

The issue is transparency not viewpoint.

Jared L.
2 years ago

I always assumed it was Kellen

googly
2 years ago
Reply to  Jared L.

Kellen was a key part in the creation.

Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  googly

Who is Kellen>

Ho Lee Fok
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin

Kellen Brent Pierce. The guy that was arrested in Oregon for flashing and strangling women.

Areal Bilk
2 years ago

Spin it all you want – the truth is that Jeff, Paxson and Cale are doxing a person who desires to be anonymous. Once outed this person will see endless harassment, including in person confrontation and death threats. If they have children their kids will be subject to harassment from peers and crazed individuals who think it is okay to harass children for the sake of politics. The Landmine routinely stokes division and harassment and it should come as no surprise to readers that they wish to continue this trend. It’s sad that one day they will lament the loss… Read more »

Lol
2 years ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

lol you don’t even know if the Blue Alaskan is an Alaskan. It could be a PAC from California. It could be (and probably is?) a group of party insiders. Concocting a persecution fantasy about hypothetical kids getting hypothetical harassment from hypothetical “crazed individuals” is silly.

Also funny that you are attempting to bring Cale and Paxton into this. They are not authors on this article and if you’ve followed along on Twitter you’d see that Paxton isn’t a part of this effort to find the identity of BA. This is Landfield. See why authorship is important??

Areal Bilk
2 years ago
Reply to  Lol

Paxson is part owner of the Landmine thus he is in part responsible for this decision. Cale sold his stake so my apologies for associating him with this.
As for “Concocting a persecution fantasy” – look for Devon’s statement about her kids being harassed after she was outed.


Donald Handeland
2 years ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

“Paxson is part owner of the Landmine thus he is in part responsible for this decision.” We know this because it isn’t anonymous! Do you get why it is important now?

Shawn ODONNELL
2 years ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

That’s a little thin, don’t want all the harassment and danger don’t be a media figure but don’t hide it’s unethical

Ivan Hodes
2 years ago
Reply to  Areal Bilk

When I spoke out against Jamie Allard in front of the Assembly, I was obligated to give my name and show my face. As a result, people (that is to say, Jamie Allard) contacted my employer and tried (with a spectacular lack of success) to get me in trouble at work. If ordinary citizens have to do this—and they should—in order to make public testimony, I’m afraid I don’t buy the hypothetical risk to hypothetical kids that might obtain when a journalist/commentator publicly criticizes elected officials. It’s having your cake and eating it too. Nobody forces anyone to enter the… Read more »

wonkle
2 years ago
Reply to  Ivan Hodes

What’s funny is that when a DOD wrote testimony about the building purchases, Chris Constant and Forrest Dunbar wanted to dox that employee to the Progressive equivalent to Must Read Alaska, which is what led to the creation of the Blue Alaskan.

slipstream
2 years ago

I admire your journalistic integrity. However, you might want to reconsider a blanket criticism of those who do not wish to reveal their names (he says as he writes under a pen name). Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote eighty five articles and essays under the collective pen name Publius. These articles and essays are now known as The Federalist Papers and are widely recognized as important arguments which helped persuade voters to ratify the Constitution of the United States. They are often cited in Supreme Court decisions (and dissents) due to their clear explanation of the intentions… Read more »

Areal Bilk
2 years ago
Reply to  slipstream

Don’t forget Thomas Paine who originally published Common Sense anonymously. Common Sense was the pamphlet that unified American support for independence.

Nathan
2 years ago
Reply to  slipstream

I would counter on three points. 1) The Federalist Papers authority in constitutional law matters, as well as more general veneration of them is inextricably tied to the knowledge of the authors’ identities. The fact that two of the three authors (responsible for all but 5 of the essays) were part of the Constitutional Convention lends great credit to the authority given the essays. 2) The Federalist Papers were published by established newspapers who made the editorial decision to publish them, just as Jeff describes doing with anonymous sourcing of his own. Hamilton and Madison didn’t secretly print them and… Read more »

Elizabeth Henry
2 years ago
Reply to  slipstream

Yes good point. But they did ultimately reveal themselves. Typically the persona behind a pen name is soon known, but not always. Not uncommon when writing collectively. Albeit even some books of the Bible still remain without verified author. Hebrews being one.

John
2 years ago

the paragraph about must read is pure partisan cringe.

Force fed? Conspiracy-addled? Noxious?

Jesus H Christ, its like you are an undergrad at UAS

Lol
2 years ago
Reply to  John

Have you actually read MRA lately? It is conspiracy-theory central. Suzanne is probably singlehandedly responsible for more misinformation than anyone else in Alaska.

Moira
2 years ago
Reply to  Lol

It kills me every time MRK pops up as a “news” source in my feeds. She is a hate-mongering, toxic twit.

Elizabeth Henry
2 years ago
Reply to  Moira

Isn’t it just horrible when someone presents an opposing viewpoint? 😆

Elizabeth Henry
2 years ago
Reply to  Lol

You are generalizing. Yes, Suzanne has some strong positions on certain issues but she also provides some valid argument and much primary sourced information. Don’t misconstrue the comment section with the actual article. I find MRAK, as also this site, refreshing in contrast to Alaska News Source and ADN. You don’t think they are not promoting any ‘conspiracy’? Really? Is it only conspiracy if you disagree?

Last edited 2 years ago by Elizabeth Henry
Matt
2 years ago
Reply to  John

So John, you haven’t been to MRAK lately.

liz
2 years ago

Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A frequently cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

Flordiawoman
2 years ago

Jeff-I think this is a misguided effort and a waste of your time. Why not focus your efforts on discerning when Downing is reporting from Florida when she says she is somewhere in Alaska?

Sean P. Ryan
2 years ago
Reply to  Flordiawoman

As a strong believer in Creative Commons, I browse the Landmine’s Flickr photostream quite often looking for freely-distributable content. So Paxson traveled to Florida to take the photo of Suzanne standing in the Assembly Chambers? Um, sure, whatever.

Flordiawoman
2 years ago
Reply to  Sean P. Ryan

You know she is not an Alaska Resident? That does not mean she is never in Alaska, but not enough for residency clearly.

turbodigits
2 years ago

I hear you, Jeff, and for the most part I agree with you on this. But I’m remembering the ADN editorial with the threatening tone by the Keep Dunleavy chairwoman, warning that Alaskans who were thinking about signing the recall petition should reconsider because their identities would eventually be exposed. And we just saw our governor and his former COS get slapped down in federal court, 3 years after the fact, for an apparent attempt to pressure civil servants into putting political allegiance above their duties to Alaska’s citizens. Our leaders might not be so corrupt that they’d murder us… Read more »

Retired Politico
2 years ago
Reply to  turbodigits

Hear, hear. Couldn’t have said it better.

Shawn ODONNELL
2 years ago

Jeff all relevant and I agree 100%.

Curtis
2 years ago

Landfield complaining about someone else’s unethical journalism is the height of hypocrisy, very loose. This from the man who runs for public office and (co-)manages another candidate’s campaign while purportedly practicing journalism–if that’s what the Landmine is. As for anonymity, wasn’t Jeff’s whole story regarding Allard threatening Providence staff based on information from an unnamed source? Dismount that high horse, Landfield.

Ivan Hodes
2 years ago

Your concerns about anonymous publications are valid, but it’s hard to take them too seriously when Landmine publishes an anonymous gossip column *as a regular feature*

ISO lost plot
2 years ago

Let me get this straight…Because an anonymous blogger posts publicly available press releases and knows how to use WordPress, you have a hunch that they might be highly sophisticated and thus could maybe possibly potentially be part of some bigger apparatus with an agenda being obscured from public view? And that’s predicate enough for you to offer a cash incentivize for help outing a blogger, a big fat hunch with virtually no supporting evidence, and in the name of journalistic ethics? Even if you’re right, you’re wrong.

Jack
2 years ago
Reply to  ISO lost plot

Don’t they also post emails between assembly members that the assembly doesn’t want to take credit for sharing publicly/don’t post to their assembly member social media? Presumably because they feel it would be more strategically impactful if “leaked” to a ~news-adjacent blog and presented in a journalistic tone as of it were news and not just partisan politicking? Think you’re misrepresenting facts to say TBA just reposts publicly available material with the author’s commentary, do get the impression it’s serving as an intentional backchannel for presenting things like this to the public as though it is something newsier than a… Read more »

ISO lost plot
2 years ago
Reply to  Jack

Lots of conjecture and supposition with no supporting evidence. The Blue Alaskan doesn’t publish journalistic scoops and even if it did, by virtue of their anonymity, they will never be cited or syndicated by other news outlets unlike the Landmine which has been cited by Associated Press, ADN, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, etc. That’s what makes it a blog and not a journalistic enterprise. If there were some big money agenda behind it, it would be a terribly ineffective strategy. But more importantly, there’s been zero evidence presented by anyone that TBA is some kind of sophisticated operation backed by… Read more »

Moira
2 years ago

On what basis – other than pure speculation – do you make the statement, “Some progressives like that they have their own news outlet where the writers/funders/backers cannot be criticized. That’s understandable. But it’s not in the public interest.” I know this is an opinion piece, not news, but statements like that degrade your credibility as a neutral source – and make me sorry I donated to you last week. As for the identity of The Blue Alaskan: if it’s a organized publisher, not a highly productive individual, surely there are clues/tracks you can follow to figure it out. How… Read more »

Flordiawoman
2 years ago
Spartacus
2 years ago

First time I’ve heard wordpress and sophisticated in the same sentence.

Adam Trombley Reads Roberts Rules
2 years ago

Just stopped by to announce that I’m The Blue Alaskan. Please forward my $500 to 4As or the No Recall campaign. Jeff comes across as paranoid, entitled and delusional in this post. The Blue Alaskan is a blog with a nice wordpress theme; he makes it sound like Al Jazeera. TBA doesn’t seem to be breaking any major scoops. It’s mostly analysis and secondary reporting from social media. It’s not nearly as implausible that this is the work of one person as Jeff makes it sound. I think Jeff is jealous because The Landmine design is stale and could use… Read more »

Mike Burnham
2 years ago

This reads like rationalization to justify the bounty, that you should have written and published instead of offering the bounty in the first place. You can’t argue this with ethical credibility.

Jamison Paul
2 years ago

If he/she/it/they accept donations, they should be easy enough to trace.

Big Boss Dembosski
2 years ago

Jeff, you come across as profoundly sensitive and paranoid. Offering this risibly small award to dox another writer makes you seem very insecure in your self-appointed role as blogger king of Anchorage. It brings your whole ethos and brand into disrepute. All I see on The Blue Alaskan is commentary on publicly available information, not breaking news or exclusive stories.

Alaska Reader
2 years ago

My read on Landfield’s motivation was, right from the start, his own excessive insecurity.

Attempting to dox others and then looking to ‘justify’ that same despicable act is just more evidence of his extreme insecurity.

D (center left)McArthur
2 years ago

Cant believe I just wasted a good hr reading this sand box pissing match, especially since its a sunny day.
I like Jeffs site,I read it as well as She Who Wont be Named, mostly right wing dribble.Mostly just a compilation of red meat tidbits, designed to make the hungry clueless dogs snap there jaws.
The anonymous thing seemed to serve old Benny Franklin just fine.Doesnt really matter whether people knew who the author was or not.
All spelling and punctuation, letter form mistakes are my own, and won’t be corrected(least not by me)