Earlier this year, the New York Times sensationally fired one of its financial reporters, Zachery Kouwe, after it was discovered that he had lifted text for several stories from rival publications like The Wall Street Journal. (At the time, Journal editor Robert Thomson, who alerted the Times to the problem, called it a case of “fundamental journalistic integrity.”) Kouwe was eventually hired as a contributor by the Dealbreaker blog, one of the outlets he lifted from, because hey — he had the skill set, and that Bess Levin has a heart of gold lurking somewhere behind her brass knuckles. [Ed: We’re now told Bess had nothing to do with hiring Kouwe.] But now Felix Salmon reports that Kouwe was fired from there, too. And not because he couldn’t master the cut-and-paste-and-add-a-thought element of blogging, obviously. No, because he grappled with some of the blogging world’s darker demons.
Dealbreaker’s commenters never seemed to warm to Kouwe, and were ruthless to him in the comments sections of the posts he would write. Eventually, it got to him. Using the blog’s sign-up system to track down e-mail addresses of anonymous commenters, he eventually reached out to more than one directly, through e-mail. “It crosses a line when Zach sends unsolicited emails to posters (which I can bear witness too [sic] although in my instance it was entirely harmless),” wrote one commenter. “Many of us work at shops where unapproved communication with media outlets quickly leads to termination.” It’s all fun and games to comment at Dealbreaker until someone finds out who you are!
Levin quickly got in the commenter fray and assured readers that “what happened is NOT condoned by Dealbreaker and you can rest assured we’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure it will not be happening again.” One of those steps, of course, being that Kouwe’s contributing relationship with the blog was ended.
There are some lessons here. One, you should never try to engage directly with nasty commenters because you will never win (well, almost never), and anyway, they bite. But the lesson also goes the other way: Commenters, we can track you down, and so long as we want to keep our jobs, you are safe. But the minute we go off the grid …