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The Anonymous Tip Box: Why Do We Bother?

Yesterday, the New Yorker launched an anonymous tip box. Excuse my skepticism, but I’m not sure why any newsroom wastes their resources on those things. (Sorry, boss!)

Instead of being a useful, secure tool for the public to use as a means of contacting an organization, tip boxes are in reality just a kitschy, spammy, and not particularly secure design element. I get why we have them — to make a show of transparency — but how many leads have you ever gotten from the tip box?

Every time I glimpse one of the notifications from ours in my inbox, I half expect the Syrian Electronic Army to pop out. But it’s usually an insult, jibberish, or a well meaning publicist with a request to cover an event entirely unrelated to the theme of our blog.

The key element here is safety. No one in their right mind– or at least the kind if people you’d want to be conversing with concerning a potential story– is going to try to contact you via the tip box. It’s like calling someone on a landline: intrusive and unlikely to result in a timely connection. It’s called email, or at this point, even a Twitter DM. 

If it weren’t for the disturbing news this week about the Justice Department’s seizure of AP’s phone records, maybe I could find room in my heart for the tip box. But if phone records aren’t safe from our own government, why would anyone leak something through an online tool such as the tip box? Perhaps I’m still just in shock and feeling vicariously betrayed, but the digital anonymous tip box is akin to the charming little crinkly noise my Kindle makes on my iPad. It’s a cute reminder of the more idealistic days of yore — the ones we like to think existed or hope for. But it’s all sort of a farce, isn’t it? 

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