"It's just evil, pure and simple."
They teach you in journalism school not to begin stories with quotes, except in unusual circumstances.
This would be unusual enough.
After all, it's not every day that an editor, speaking on behalf of a relatively large daily newspaper, uses those words to characterize another paper in the same market.
Several weeks ago, that's exactly what happened.
Gazette entertainment editor Warren Epstein, in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about anonymity of restaurant reviewers, condemned the Independent for our stories "outing" the true identity of Gazette restaurant critic Nathaniel Glen.
"What is the journalistic reason for one paper outing another paper's critic? To me it's just evil, pure and simple," Epstein said in the Pittsburgh story.
That comment is so ridiculous, it isn't even funny.
Especially considering that the Gazette has never addressed our legitimate questions about the ethics of having a much-publicized "public" contest to find a new reviewer, encouraging readers to enter, printing stories about the "competition" process then selecting a staff writer under a fake name.
Then there's the question of why a restaurant critic deserves a pseudonym, more than any other reviewer or critic. The huge majority of newspapers believe it's more important to be transparent and open and that any critic, especially when taking shots at legitimate businesses, should be accessible to targets or readers, by phone or, if needed, in person.
Instead, the Gazette wants to ignore its problem until perhaps it goes away.
Sorry. Ain't gonna happen in part because the 2,000-pound gorilla has given us fresh ammunition.
After our last story on this subject, a couple readers went to the Gazette's online dining blog, asking about the issues we raised. "Nathaniel Glen" jumped in, wondering why we hadn't named our sources for his true identity (when, in truth, it's common knowledge around their newsroom). In a later post, Dave Philipps (!) gave a follow-up response.
A few days later, someone at the Gazette must have blown a gasket. All those postings were erased ("This post has been removed by the blog administrator"), and a day later the entire thread vanished.
We weren't posting. But we were watching.
Since then, nothing.
It would be easy to reconvene our experts from The Poynter Institute, every other large daily paper in Colorado, the New York Times and start another ethical discussion. This one could be about creating blogs and encouraging reader involvement, then removing posts and responses with no explanation. (Usually, newspapers don't touch such content unless it's libelous, slanderous or over-the-top offensive.)
But back to the real issue. Epstein and the Gazette also have made the argument that somehow a critic using his or her real name compromises his or her ability to dine unrecognized in restaurants.
We have two answers to that. First, our three reviewers use their names, and their integrity hasn't been compromised. Second, the Gazette's own Teresa Farney and Epstein give their own opinionated comments about restaurants and fast-food places, in the paper and online, using their real names and faces. Farney and Epstein are long-established and well-known throughout the city, but the Gazette has no problem with them playing critics' roles in the restaurant scene.
We're planning for this to be our last word on the subject, because we realize that a lot of people simply don't care. But we've made a big deal about this because we do care, and because we feel strongly that our ethical questions were (and are) legitimate.
Dave Philipps or Nathaniel Glen, if you prefer is a good writer who deserves to be recognized for who he really is. And isn't.