A Small-Town Paper, Freaking Out Over "Cyberstalking," Abandons Journalism

Effluvia

As I've argued before, local newspapers can display disappointing levels of competence and professionalism. Or, as the cynic in me suggests, perhaps they're simply displaying a disappointing inability to conceal lack of competence and professionalism, like their larger cousins usually can.

Nevertheless I can still be surprised, on occasion, by the complete meltdown of a local paper.

This is such an occasion.

The Sky Valley Chronicle Freaks Out

The paper in question is the Sky Valley Chronicle, which has descended from an archetypical slightly nutty local paper into something more closely resembling a disturbed teen's Livejournal page. This weekend someone drew my attention to this freak-out in which the paper announced that it is the victim of cyberstalking. It's quite breathtaking.

The Chronicle opens with a donkey punch to the English language:

SkyValleyChronicle.com and it’s [sic] parent company are preparing to file at the earliest possible date documents and evidence designed to result in federal, or at the very least state cyberstalking charges being filed against at least one and possibly more individuals in Washington State that operate a rumor and accusation filled Internet blog and Twitter account, both of which are maintained almost exclusively, according to those who have monitored them over time, as vicious cyber-attack platforms against individuals, companies and institutions.

And so on, with a similar contempt for diction. The article is only nominally informational; you won't find out anything about who is doing the stalking or what motivated them or where readers can view the objectionable content for themselves or what precise words or acts amounted to stalking. Rather, the editors of the Sky Valley Chronicle have used the paper to post the ultimate passive-aggressive Facebook status update: "All the haters fuckin' with me are gonna pay, that's all I'm sayin'."

Continuing with the meltdown:

One of these platforms is allowed to continue to operate unhindered and unchallenged in this perpetual cyber-stalk mode by a well known, national Internet service provider.

That sounds like the people who operate the Chronicle tried to get an ISP to take down a blog they didn't like, and failed. Without details, it offers nothing but a vague grumble.

The Chronicle is looking at the possibility of incorporating such action into a class action on behalf of various individuals who believe they have been stalked and harmed over an extended period of time by the same cyberstalker.

Here the Chronicle begins to offer its ass-damp legal analysis. Since the only "such action" the article has previously mentioned is — as far as I can tell — a request to the government to file criminal charges, this is nonsensical. Criminal cases can't be class actions. Moreover, to anyone even gently acquainted with class action procedure, a class action against an allegedly defamatory blog is silly.

Cyberstalking is a federal crime that involves the use of interstate wire transfer and comes into play under state anti-stalking laws, slander laws, and harassment laws.

Cyberstalking is use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization.

It may include the making of false accusations or statements of fact (as in defamation), monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, the solicitation of minors for sex, or gathering information that may be used to harass others.

Cyberstalking is different from offline stalking in that it occurs through the use of electronic communications technology, however it sometimes leads to offline stalking or is accompanied by it.

This, as a summary, is largely vague gibberish. There is no federal "cyberstalking" law per se. There are preexisting laws — laws passed before "cyberstalking" was a catchphrase — that might be applied to "cyberstalking." Those laws include, for instance, interstate threat prohibitions. But those laws don't make it a federal crime to post something defamatory to your blog. To the extent the government has tried to use such laws to proscribe mere abuse — as opposed to threats — they have been found unconstitutional.

The Chronicle proceeds to talk about "cyberstalking" in general, speculating like so:

CYBERSTALKERS ARE OFTEN DISTURBED INDIVIDUALS

Finally, the Chronicle begins to talk about the "cyberstalking" to which it has allegedly been subjected. But it remains vague:

The Sky Valley Chronicle, and individuals associated with the newspaper have been the victims of a cyberstalker or a cyberstalker aided by others since the end of August 2012.

Since that time we have been carefully and meticulously gathering evidence to move forward in building a case for criminal prosecution and possibly civil action as well.

Dig the shoutout to Homer's "Boogeyman or Boogeymen" in that first sentence. The Chronicle goes on to speculate that its unidentified stalker, whose actions are not described, may pose a physical danger:

Some of our people have become extremely fearful for their lives over the past few months as the person we believe is behind the month-in, month-out stalking campaign has stated in the past that the individual owns or has a gun or carries a gun.

Since we do not know what this person is capable of, and we do suspect some mental issues are involved here, we have taken life-preserving precautions until this matter is resolved.

So — somebody unidentified has said that someone unidentified owns or carries a gun in rural Washington state, so the paper is taking "life-preserving precautions." That's journalism right there.

Next, finally, a very small hint of specifics:

The Chronicle has for months been gathering evidence that includes, but is not limited to, email threats, audio tapes of phone calls made by cyberstalkers to the paper’s advertising clients — calls intended to damage our business with said clients and harm the reputations of workers and owners of the company – numerous downloaded web pages of blog and Twitter postings of defamatory and untrue accusations and statements, outright lies and the vile, untrue accusation that a person in our company is anti-Semitic.

We believe the totality of the evidence over time, including statements from our clients and other materials, will show beyond a reasonable doubt that a cyberstalker, possibly aided by others has been, and is now actively engaged in a targeted, coordinated campaign of ugly, mean-spirited, Internet cyberstalking designed to inflict severe emotional pain and distress and damage the good names and reputations of people associated with the Sky Valley Chronicle and its corporate ownership as well as to harm the paper's financial position through attempts to turn our clients against us and pull their advertising by spreading lies and falsehoods.

So: judging from this, the Sky Valley Chronicle believes that it is a federal crime to say mean and untrue things about them on the internet, or to their advertisers. People contemplating letters to the editor, take heed. (They use the term "email threats," but as a rule of thumb, people who have been subjected to true threats can describe them; people who only vaguely refer to threats often received nothing but mean language that they feel are threat-like.)

So, What's Going On?

All of this puzzled me. What could make the proprietors of a local paper flip out in a woefully unprofessionally, legally incorrect screed like that? The remarkable article itself provides no actual facts from which one can evaluate the situation.

I wrote to the Chronicle seeking comment. I've gotten no response to date.

I also did some Google searching. I rather quickly found the Gold Bar Reporter, a blog about the tiny town of Gold Bar, Washington. That blog discusses goings-on in Gold Bar, and reflects an ongoing dispute between a woman named Ann Block and local officials. I wrote Ms. Block seeking comment, and received a prompt response. Ms. Block claims, in substance, that a Snohomish County official accessed her non-conviction criminal records illegally, that county officials responded inadequately and improperly to her complaint about it, and that she believes one of these county officials writes for the Sky Valley Chronicle. She indicates that she will file an action about all this under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, which allows a citizen to sue state or local officials for violations of civil rights conducted under color of state law. (For reasons I might discuss in another post, that would be a very dubious claim to levy against the Chronicle). Ms. Block also accuses the Chronicle of antisemitism. As far as I can tell that is on the strength of this ludicrously unprofessional piece in the Chronicle, which furthers my analogy to a Livejournal page:

POOR GOLD BAR:
The Gods just won’t cut it any breaks
November 21, 2012

Chronicle Staff

(GOLD BAR, WA) — There must be a dark cloud of doom hanging over Gold Bar. Are the gods in a foul mood? Was someone Hitler in a previous life?

Calling that antisemitic strikes me as very unpersuasive; meretricious Godwinizing is not the same as antisemitism. However, characterizing it as antisemitic is a classic statement of opinion based on disclosed facts, and therefore not susceptible to defamatory meaning.

Over at the Gold Bar blog, Ms. Block posts a very odd email from a lawyer representing the Chronicle:

From: Craig Sjostrom [mailto:cdsjostrom@comcast.net]
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2012 9:21 AM
To: anne.k.block@comcast.net
Subject: Sky Valley Chronicle

Dear Ms. Block:

I represent the ownership of the Sky Valley Chronicle.

I understand that you or persons acting on your behalf have made, and published, defamatory statements about my client, and have in addition contacted some of its advertisers, apparently in an effort to discourage them from continuing to do business with my client. It also appears that you have been attempting to determine personal information about the person or persons who own the Chronicle, presumably to some nefarious end.

These actions will absolutely not be tolerated. .. any further communications between yourself and my client shall be made exclusively through my office. This also goes for anyone acting in conjunction with you or on your behalf.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

CRAIG SJOSTROM

Now, our readers know my mantra — vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of meritless thuggery. If this is a true reproduction of the email, Mr. Sjostrom offers no specifics whatsoever about what Ms. Block has said that is defamatory, which leads me to view the assertion with grave skepticism. But what I find truly remarkable is a lawyer's suggestion that there is something wrong about attempting to determine who owns a newspaper. That strikes me as information that citizens should want to know in evaluating the newspaper's credibility, particularly if — as Ms. Block suggests — local government officials are in any way involved in the writing or operation of the newspaper.

I haven't seen anything on the Gold Bar site that justifies the pants-wetting hysteria at the Chronicle. The Chronicle's vagueness — both in its article and in the communication from its lawyer — makes it impossible to evaluate the claim of defamation or "cyberstalking" further. I suppose it's possible that someone out there was written something terrible, or that communications to advertisers have actually been defamatory. But the Chronicle is not conducting itself in a manner calculated to give its vague accusations any credibility. Consider its update post, which ratchets the hysteria well past the Livejournal stage into diary-of-a-self-cutting-teen-in-a-summer-creative-writing-program level:

To all of you over the years who have been victimized by this stalker, please understand this: you were not simply inconvenienced by this person or embarrassed and angered by what the person did to you over the Internet and in other means of communication, you were the victims of a heinous, ugly and ongoing crime.

. . .

You were, and perhaps still are, the victims of one of the most vicious and insidious crimes that can ever be perpetrated on another human being for unlike a common street mugging where you can recuperate from your injuries in a hospital and earn back the money that was stolen, you will never ever fully recuperate mentally from the reign of terror imposed upon you and your family by sick, twisted, cyberstalkers who destroy forever your sense of peace and security in your home, place of work and mind.

As of this date and time we've been informed of an interesting development that suggests to us at least the possibility that underlings may already be being set up to take the big fall when rubber meets road. Will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

The update also suggests that the Chronicle staff got my email, but rather badly misunderstood my intent:

And to the former federal prosecutor who contacted us and indicated a willingness to help put this perp behind bars, we appreciate the contact.

We’ll be getting back in touch with you.

Here, for the record, is what I actually sent them:

Dear Sky Valley Chronicle Staff,

I am an attorney, a member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, and a blogger on issues including free speech, defamation threats, internet culture, and online misbehavior.

I read with interest your November 30, 2012 post "Sky Valley Chronicle Prepares To File Federal Cyberstalking Charges." As a writer on free speech and legal threat issues — and as a former federal prosecutor — it interested me. I am preparing to write a post about it.

Is anyone at your paper willing to answer some questions about the situation discussed in the article?

There are three possibilities: (1) another former federal prosecutor wrote them, (2) they have lost their shit too thoroughly to comprehend an email, or (3) they are deliberately lying about my email in an effort to intimidate.

Why Should You Care?

Why should you care about this small-town kerfuffle?

Well, first, you should care about freedom of expression and journalism in America. Even if someone has been uttering true threats to the staff of the Sky Valley Chronicle, or has uttered actual defamation about its staff, the Chronicle has handled it in a stunningly unprofessional and misleading manner. This could have been an opportunity to educate the public about First Amendment issues and the true contours of specific laws, and the Chronicle has blown it with a series of disturbed and unsettling rants. If the journalists at issue are so upset about the subject that they can't write coherently, research the relevant law, or write in an accurate and informative manner about it, they ought at a minimum to post this sort of emotional breakdown as a signed personal statement, not as an alleged news item from the paper. Instead of acting responsibly, they've used their modest soapbox to promote confusion and ignorance about basic free speech principles.

Second, you should care about cyberstalking. It does, in fact, exist. We've discussed various forms of vile online harassment here, and will continue to do so. But the Chronicle's approach hurts the credibility of dialogue about cyberstalking. It abandons any attempt to find a principled definition or any effort to define carefully the laws that might apply to it. Instead, it merely emotes. That's not what journalists should do.

I'll continue to follow this story and let you know what I find out.

Updated to add:

The Sky Valley Chronicle has updated its "Cyberstalking Update" to address my question above about why it misrepresented the nature of my inquiry to it:

Update 12/4/12: Hey “former federal prosecutor popehat.” We knew you were a tank town shill as soon as your message hit the loading dock. Why do you think no one ever contacted you? Why do think the line above was even slipped in?

Where did you toe pickers and yam heads learn to do intelligence work, amateurville? Be sure and tell cyberpunk the legal walls are slowly closing in and it is hellfire serious business that’s on the way. Oh, And say hi for us to the “sister,” hear? Oh. And did we mention the FBI is about to be contacted regarding an issue that has to do with this case? Ya'all have a nice day now, hear?

I'm confident that's exactly how they teach them to handle this sort of thing in journalism school.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

92 Comments

92 Comments

  1. Adam  •  Dec 3, 2012 @9:35 am

    Hitler analogy in the lede? Wow, they don't waste time in Gold Bar.

  2. Oomph  •  Dec 3, 2012 @9:37 am

    "The update also suggests that the Chronicle staff got my email, but rather badly misunderstood my intent"… Oh come on now Ken, you saucy little temptress, everyone knows that "I read with interest" is the internationally recognised euphemism for 'I totally support and agree with everything you said'. You must have led them on…

  3. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @9:45 am

    My first Graphic Design job out of college was at our local "newspaper media empire", I can tell you from experience it usually does have it's share of nutbags, some really great people too! But also the nutbags, and more often than not, the nutbags are running the show, sadly enough.

    Also, that site made my brain hurt, as if millions of web developers suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus  •  Dec 3, 2012 @9:47 am

    They must not show "The Front Page" in j-school any more. More is the pity.

    Papers are supposed to write at a sixth grade level, as I recall, the better to get the "facts" out in an easily comprehended format I suppose… or to make it more likely your bird will learn to read by staring at the bottom of its cage. This sounds like somebody misconstrued that as "write like a sixth grader."

  5. Grifter  •  Dec 3, 2012 @9:52 am

    I love the button at the bottom, with its hilariously misplaced semicolon…

    "Gosh it;s a swell read!"

  6. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:01 am

    How about this little gem they've got right, smack in the middle of their front page:

  7. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:02 am
  8. Troutwaxer  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:02 am

    More has now been posted at the Gold Bar Reporter site. (Go beyond the front page and click on the "News" link for some interesting hints. I'm not gonna quote it here – some whack-job almost-lawyer might conclude I'm conspiring against his client and add my name to the maw-and-paw-suit.) It looks like the usual small-town frictions have boiled over into the local paper and the local paper is panicking. What I can tell you fer-sure is this is the biggest kerfluffle in Gold Bar since Wilbur Hannigan's goat ate Grandpa's false teeth!

  9. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:03 am
  10. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:05 am

    Oh, and Gold Bar is only a 5 hour drive from me, just in case you want some in-person investigative reporting Ken :P

  11. darius404  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:36 am

    It's odd, John: I can't seem to find either of those pictures on their website (aside from the urls you provided). I even did a Google search for both images, and found the pages they supposedly come from; yet I don't see the images on those pages. Maybe it's just something with my browser. Do they still show up for you, on the respective pages?

    The pages I tracked the images to: http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/ for the first one, and http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/BREAKING-NEWS/PHOTO-OF-THE-DAY-BR-They-hunt-at-night-1127082 for the second.

  12. aczarnowski  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:37 am

    Do the writers have to pay the editors for multiple sentences per paragraph there? Maybe they could toss some of their extra commas into a slush fund to help cover the costs?

    Thanks for digging into it seriously because the issues you raise are serious. But, man, a few good editors at that place would help. A lot.

  13. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:52 am

    @darius404 – I think they're rotating ads, they're probably randomized, because when I went to the second link you posted, which pulled up this one >_<

    http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/?t=banner_click&bid=585&bref=breaking_news_display

  14. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:58 am

    It does sound like the town itself has a problem with vexous litigants, including Miss Block, spending ~$100K/yr in lawyers:

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019717703_goldbar20m.html

    It also doesn't help that, thanks to bad computer security and bank complicity (dont' get me started), the town lost ~$200K to computer hackers.

  15. Dan  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:58 am

    Ridiculing a small town newspaper is kind of remedial for Popehat readership. That makes it no less fun, but still. So what if it looks like a late 1990s high school online newspaper.

    This ad is particularly absurd: http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/999/images/ban201105231400421062675767.gif

    And if you really want to know who runs the paper, why not order the LLC documents from WA SOS? https://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/OrderDocs.aspx?ubi=602843864 (Though these could be dead ends that only reveal LLC officers, not true owners) They used a Canadian proxy registration service as the administrative website contact.

  16. Ken  •  Dec 3, 2012 @11:01 am

    Nicholas:

    That detail would be an excellent example of a fact that would be helpful in a responsible article about the situation.

  17. TexasAndroid  •  Dec 3, 2012 @11:12 am

    I wonder if this is just about to go all Streisand Effect on them. With Ken@Popehat blogging about it, its likely getting a order of magnitude more attention than it was yesterday, and it could easily go viral in the next day or so. :)

    Time to break out the popcorn and watch the fun ensue. :)

    Hmm. Maybe I should submit this post to Reddit, and see if I can do my own little bit to push it towards viral status. :)

  18. Josh  •  Dec 3, 2012 @11:22 am

    Typo in the first sentence, I think you mean "local newspapers can display".

  19. Shane  •  Dec 3, 2012 @11:50 am

    OMG, Goldbar and to think I almost bought a double wide there. The funniest part (at least to me) is that half the damn town floods every time the crick (see what I did there) rises. I am astounded that they even have their own paper, guess the yuppies need some drama in their lives since this was the only place that they could get a house that didn't cost 6 children's education at Harvard.

  20. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @11:54 am

    A quote from my friend on the story:

    Sounds like that "news source" is owned and operated by a single menopausal woman.

  21. Matthew Cline  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:11 pm

    Wait, so vexatious litigation is a form of cyberstalking? Who knew!

  22. Bear  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:12 pm

    Waitaminnit…

    I'm looking at the seattletimes.com piece. The "entire city general fund" is only $500,000, but hackers managed to steal $450,000 from it…

    …and no one noticed until someone else busted the perp in Oregon?

    Better: That was apparently _after_ they recorded the employee embezzling money.

    And the local gabrag is only worried about a "cyberstalker"?

    -POPCORN-

  23. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:15 pm

    Bear: Yeup. The litigants may be douchebags (e.g. this article is MUCH better from the original small town paper on another one of the litigants losing an appeal http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/GOLD-BAR/APPEALS-COURT-RULES-FOR-GOLD-BAR-IN-RECORDS-CASE-1176771 ), but there is clearly also some INSANE mismanagement involved.

  24. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:21 pm

    Oh, and Miss Block reportedly owes the town $8K in legal fees for skipping a deposition:

    http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/FEATURE-NEWS/GOLD-BAR-CAN-T-GET-A-BREAK-BR-First-burdensome-records-requests-then-lawsuits-now-big-time-thieves-steal-450-000-1178894

    http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/999/news/Judgment%20Summary%2011-2-09706-.pdf

    It sounds like if Miss Block was really such a thorn in the paper's side, the public record Miss Block has established should be enough to provide a much more reasoned response.

  25. AlanH  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:40 pm

    Ahh yes, Snohomish County (not Snoqualmie County, btw): our own slice of hillbilly heaven just 45 miles from Seattle.

  26. Ken  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:43 pm

    Nicholas: you would think, wouldn't you, that if the paper believed its "cyberstalker" was someone it had reported about repeatedly, it would report that to assist readers in assessing the situation.

  27. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:53 pm

    Yeah, something doesn't make sense here. It sounds like there is a town which has a few real douchebags going into a war of court & words with other douchebags, but there is no problem in naming douchebags, especially in this context.

    The lack of names is really strange.

  28. tsrblke  •  Dec 3, 2012 @12:54 pm

    Ken,

    Pretty sure you saying you were a member of the 1A guild is what set them astray on your email ;). I mean after all 1A is specifically to protect *journalists* right. So you must have been offering to help these poor journalists whose 1A rights were under attack right?
    (In case anyone's snark meter is off, Snark fully intended here)

  29. Lizard  •  Dec 3, 2012 @1:00 pm

    "With Ken@Popehat blogging about it, its likely getting a order of magnitude more attention than it was yesterday, and it could easily go viral in the next day or so."

    I'm waiting for the first lawsuit over "malicious calling attention to", in which local issues of concern to a dozen people because the target of today's Two Minute Hate, thus making it difficult to do business as usual because, suddenly, everyone's watching. (I'm thinking, oddly, of the incident where a Maine state senate candidate's Warcraft hobby was used in attack ads, and quickly gained national focus and mockery on Colbert. Two decades ago, it would be unlikely that a small local election would ever had been noticed; when it became national news, it very likely helped the candidate win, albeit by a tiny margin of victory. I'm sure someone, somewhere, will decide that tipping the balance of power in any conflict by turning the local into the global is, somehow, worthy of a lawsuit. There's all sorts of petty little small town squabbles that explode out into the wild now, which makes it harder for the petty tyrants that dominate small town politics to keep on with business as usual, when the people reporting on them or criticizing them are utterly out of reach of their payback.)

  30. Waldo  •  Dec 3, 2012 @1:22 pm

    "There are three possibilities: (1) another former federal prosecutor wrote them, (2) they have lost their shit too thoroughly to comprehend an email, or (3) they are deliberately lying about my email in an effort to intimidate."

    Number three was my first thought. Although, on further reflection, I probably should not rule out number 2 completely.

  31. Josh C  •  Dec 3, 2012 @1:22 pm

    I believe you skipped a fourth possibility: sheer negligence.

  32. flip  •  Dec 3, 2012 @1:30 pm

    This newspaper needs to learn that there's a difference between cyberstalking and criticism. I've been harassed online and off, and so I understand that you can totally freak out about it; but these guys are OTT for a newspaper.

    Strange that they didn't post info about what exactly the cyberstalking entailed. "Employees have been receiving death threats" is far more convincing than a ramble about people who are disturbed. Talk about biased reporting. These things aren't news, they're clearly opinion.

    Regarding the Gold Bar article on the Sky Valley page…. one wonders whether the editor is MIA, or the writer is the editor. How does that escape notice? It really smacks of someone who isn't a journalist…

    On another issue: is it normal for newspaper websites to have their domain info set to private? Or not to have any info about the staff? On all the local newspaper sites for my area they have at the very least staff info and names.

  33. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @1:43 pm

    @flip – To me, lack of personel info indicates very few personel, most likely, one crackpot.

  34. Matthew Cline  •  Dec 3, 2012 @1:45 pm

    Nicholas: you would think, wouldn't you, that if the paper believed its "cyberstalker" was someone it had reported about repeatedly, it would report that to assist readers in assessing the situation.

    Hmmm, maybe the newspaper thinks that if it names the person then that person will sue them for defamation, and that if they provide enough details so a reader can easily identify that person it would legally be the same as naming them, so their vagueness is an attempt to avoid being sued?

  35. nlp  •  Dec 3, 2012 @2:03 pm

    At the beginning of the post, where the writer from the Chronicle was wringing his or her hands about the horrible evils the paper had undergone, I thought that Deborah Frisch had, for some reason, felt threatened by the Chronicle and was using her standard approach toward redressing her grievances. I was disappointed to learn that this was a simple spat.

    I suspect that if anyone at the Chronicle had ever encountered Ms Frisch, the current situation would be regarded as kindergarten level stuff.

  36. flip  •  Dec 3, 2012 @2:07 pm

    @John

    To me, lack of personel info indicates very few personel, most likely, one crackpot.

    I agree. How likely is it that a small town newspaper will really have its staff not known amongst the people? I mean, I can think of several names for reporters or editors for my local ones, even if I don't know who the CEO is or the chief editor. Most newspapers want you to know at the very least, the names of the people who cover certain topics, so that you can better direct your news/PR to them.

    Is the Sky Valley an actual hard print paper? Or is it only available online? If the latter, it suggests (combined with the other info) that it's just another site with a newspaper layout. This would also explain the rather strange ads. Like this one:
    http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/999/images/ban201203182238071914640576.gif

    Interesting: a google search for the general Sky Valley phone number provided on their contact page also seems to be for "Sky Valley Mystics".

  37. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @2:16 pm

    @flip – Deeper into the rabbit hole we descend!

  38. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @2:18 pm

    @flip – Also, they spelled "booyah" wrong >_<

    (unless they meant it to be pronounced "boo-yeah" ಠ_ಠ )

  39. flip  •  Dec 3, 2012 @2:39 pm

    @John

    Sadly I'm in the middle of doing some work, otherwise I'd do a little more snooping around. It would be worth looking at the Gold Bar Reporter site as I noticed that the phone number/Sky Valley Mystics was mentioned there…

  40. Ygolonac  •  Dec 3, 2012 @4:21 pm

    I kind of wonder the Chronicle lunatic(s) followed the Renton PD's little kerfluffle with the anonymous cartoonist from last year?

    http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/2011/08/04/police-search-for-video-cartoonist-who-mocked-cops/

    If so, I expect they missed the actual, important points.

  41. AlphaCentauri  •  Dec 3, 2012 @4:49 pm

    I wouldn't read too much into the delayed response to the $450,000 theft. These types of thefts are very common. The victimized local governments and small businesses don't understand that they are on the hook for the losses, since they see it as a bank error (and since the bank is on the hook when the victim is a non-commercial customer). They were probably calling the bank arguing about why the money wasn't in the account and not believing it was really gone. For more toe-curling stories about this type of fraud, check out Brian Krebs' blog:
    http://krebsonsecurity.com/?s=cyberheist&x=0&y=0

    As far as the anonymous registration: Yes, it's inappropriate. But a small organization like this probably doesn't have a legal department advising them on every little matter. When a domain registrar offers proxy registration as a free service and tells them it's to reduce spam, people who don't know much about domain registration tend to choose the service. They aren't thinking that a business needs to have a physical address and a public email contact either way, or that it could be difficult to prove ownership of their own domain name in a dispute.

  42. kayfox  •  Dec 3, 2012 @6:10 pm

    As for credibility: The fact that none of the articles seem to have bylines is whats getting me. Most respectful newspapers have bylines, so that the reporters are somewhat accountable.

    Also,
    http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=602843864

    No officers, fun.

    http://bls.dor.wa.gov/LicenseSearch/lqsLicenseDetail.aspx?RefID=1147624

    Camping on alot of names for newspapers much?

  43. John Ammon  •  Dec 3, 2012 @6:52 pm

    Not to mention no source links in most of the articles as far as I can see, that's just bad form.

  44. Chris R.  •  Dec 3, 2012 @6:54 pm

    Based on the first paragraph of a run on sentence I think they should be banned from journalism.

  45. flip  •  Dec 3, 2012 @8:52 pm

    @Alpha Centauri

    They aren't thinking that a business needs to have a physical address and a public email contact either way, or that it could be difficult to prove ownership of their own domain name in a dispute.

    I have nothing against using the privacy function, particularly as I use it myself. There are a number of reasons why the privacy setting is useful, not just preventing spam.

    Besides, there's nothing stopping them from using the privacy function, but posting contact info on their own site.

    @Kayfox

    Some places I know have feature articles with bylines, but their more mundane news items are written with a company tagline. But this has always been something I've seen for online companies, not newspapers.

  46. James Pollock  •  Dec 3, 2012 @9:04 pm

    You guys all missed the point. The cyberstalking in question is that pictures of the owner of the skyvalley paper have showed up on "isanybodydown.com".

  47. Bear  •  Dec 3, 2012 @10:14 pm

    @ AlphaCentauri • Dec 3, 2012 @4:49 pm: "I wouldn't read too much into the delayed response to the $450,000 theft."

    It wasn't so much a delayed response that caught my attention. The phrasing of this paragraph made it sound as if they hadn't _noticed_ before the Oregon deputies discovered it:
    "Now that the employee theft case is before county prosecutors, Beavers has been dealt another crisis: After an arrest in Oregon, Clackamas County sheriff's deputies discovered Gold Bar was a victim of a financial fraud ring. Hackers raided the city's bank accounts and stole $450,000."

    Heh. If I were Block, I might argue that I _had_ paid but the town's accounting is so bad that they couldn't tell and now the money was stolen.

    (And I nominate James Pollock • Dec 3, 2012 @9:04 pm for "Winnah of the Thread".)

  48. kayfox  •  Dec 3, 2012 @11:34 pm

    @flip,

    Some places I know have feature articles with bylines, but their more mundane news items are written with a company tagline.

    This is usually because the article is supplied by a news service of some kind, like a city news service or a wire service like Associated Press.

  49. Anony Mouse  •  Dec 4, 2012 @1:31 am

    Man… the free rag in my town is pretty much run by a single dude and his name is everywhere on it. He's on the masthead (three or four times), on every byline, on the staff box…

    Hell, my step-brother works for a really dinky little paper (the town's so small it's only published once a week) and they have a full staff info box in every copy, listing everyone from Editor-in-Chief down to practically the janitorial staff.

    Of course, it'll just be weirder if Ken's guess was wrong and it isn't Block. Maybe whomever is behind the Sky Valley Chronicle is freaking out… about themselves! (cue dramatic/spooky/shocking music here>

  50. flip  •  Dec 4, 2012 @7:08 am

    @Kayfox

    This is usually because the article is supplied by a news service of some kind, like a city news service or a wire service like Associated Press.

    Not entirely true. I worked at one such place where we wrote smaller articles with no bylines, and features with bylines. This was for a web publication (not a newspaper), but yes, for newspaper sites more than likely they're coming from another news wire: but again, locally those newswires are usually given the byline and I assume the same is done in the US? In my brief browse at Sky Valley, I never saw any news wire being given credit.

  51. Oomph  •  Dec 4, 2012 @11:11 am

    "did we mention the FBI is about to be contacted regarding an issue that has to do with this case? Ya'all have a nice day now, hear?"
    Sooo… they complain about being cyberbullied and then (oh so subtly) threaten to call the FBI on nasty Mr. Popehat. I assume that their next step is to hire Mr. Blade III as council.

  52. Lizard  •  Dec 4, 2012 @11:20 am

    Of course, "contacting the FBI" and "having the FBI actually give two shits" are not synonymous. That's like me writing to the White House about my neighbor's barking dog and then claiming "The President has been informed about this matter, so you'd better tell Yappie to shut up."

    What's that Shakespeare line? Something like:
    "I can call forth demons from the briny sea!"
    "Well, so can I, and so can any man. But do they come when you do call for them?"

  53. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 4, 2012 @11:57 am

    Wowwww, that update is, umm, wow…

  54. Anglave  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:05 pm

    Look out, the FBI is "about to be contacted"!

    Winner of the "most ridiculous threat" award.

  55. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:07 pm

    Unless you are friends with Shirtless FBI guy, then it is a real threat…

  56. John Ammon  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:15 pm

    Oh wow, I just read the update… Anyone getting a major case of déjà vu?

    I think the Carreons moved to rural Washington and Tara is running the local newspaper now >_<

  57. Josh Stegmaier  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:16 pm

    Are we sure this is an actual newspaper? At this point, I'm convinced this is a high schooler's Livejournal. They probably just thought "The Sky Valley Chronicle" made them sound smart.

  58. John Ammon  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:28 pm

    @Josh – They appear to have a lot of legal documentation about themselves and their name, I would use the term "newspaper" quite loosely in this scenario, but yes, they do appear to be "2 legit 2 quit".

  59. Lizard  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:32 pm

    Maybe I'm just lacking testosterone, or something, but I've never understood the mindset of people who insist on picking fights (physical or otherwise) with people who can clean their clocks, especially when they're in the wrong and they know it. The little guy who stands up to the big guy when the little guy is in the right is admirable, if tactically deficient; the little guy who stands up to the big guy when the big guy is in the right is a putz.

  60. John Ammon  •  Dec 4, 2012 @12:36 pm

    I would clarify that based on my limited knowledge of the situation, I don't think that either side in this small-town kurfuffle is in the "right", I think they're both being morons and they probably both need to learn a harsh lesson.

  61. Fritz  •  Dec 4, 2012 @2:18 pm

    More, please.

  62. Mcnugget  •  Dec 4, 2012 @3:16 pm

    I live outside Seattle. I drive a crappy car that I never lock. Gold Bar is the only place that my car has been "broken into". My *UNLOCKED* car's door handle was destroyed (I guess to "break-in" to my unlocked car). Once inside they took my totally rad totally broken radio/tape player that stopped working about a year prior when it decided to eat the bon jovi cassette I was playing. Probably out of shame. Then it wouldn't release it. So it sat inside my tape player in my car mocking me. Umtil they stole it. I hope they re-spooled it and got hours of enjoyment from it. They destroyed the dash of my car to get out something that I don't even think is worth enough to pawn. That is the logic and mentality of everyone in Gold Bar.

  63. Bear  •  Dec 4, 2012 @4:33 pm

    RE: that freaking bizarre update (Chron's, not Ken's)- "Why do think the line above was even slipped in?"

    So… they just admitted that they inserted a deliberate falsification into a "FEATURE NEWS" article (labeled as "news", not editorial/opinion).

    IANAL yadda yadda ad infinitum, but I've gotta figure that admitting to falsifying "news" reports isn't going to help them in any sort of defamation suit (no matter who files one). Unless they can find a way to get this into Leesfield's Florida court. What kind of attorney wouldn't be telling his client to STFU at this point (and no Carreon/Blade references; that's too easy)?

  64. AlphaCentauri  •  Dec 4, 2012 @5:30 pm

    Once upon a time, when someone had an episode of mental illness, their friends and family tried to shield them from public spectacle, so they would have a better chance of getting on with their lives when they recovered. But blogs and youtube are letting people document every detail for posterity. His rantings sound very much like someone with paranoid psychosis, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. He goes on and on for paragraphs about persons and events he isn't able to name or explicitly describe.

  65. Bear  •  Dec 4, 2012 @6:18 pm

    Question for the actual lawyers: Is insanity a defense in a civil suit? Maybe that's what the Sky Valley Imbecile Chronicle is shooting for.

  66. Matthew Cline  •  Dec 4, 2012 @6:20 pm

    What it the world is a "tank town shill"?

  67. Dark water  •  Dec 4, 2012 @10:19 pm

    Billy Joel's initial draft of "Uptown Girl"?

  68. gramps  •  Dec 4, 2012 @10:20 pm

    Matt– Tank Town, according to the on-line dictionary, refers to a small town, a railroad term for someplace with nothing to offer but a water tank to replenish the boiler.

    I think the term as used by the "journalist" is an attempt to insult Ken. It looks to me like the literary equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. He knows not who he faces…. Taint will be snorted.

  69. flip  •  Dec 5, 2012 @3:34 am

    Re: the update.

    If the editor/author is reading this… you just confirmed my suspicions. There's no way this is an actual newspaper run by an actual journalist. Any editor would have canned a writer for posting that. This has to be the work of one person, or at the most one person with no oversight.

  70. darius404  •  Dec 5, 2012 @4:17 am

    @flip

    It could be a small group of people who know each other personally. A handful of people who share a similar mindset or outlook, and want to "report" on things they consider important. Whoever it is, and however many there are (likely no more than a few), they seem sort of paranoid. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was more than one person, if they're family or close friends.

  71. V  •  Dec 5, 2012 @5:06 am

    @gramps
    I don't imagine his intended readership living in small towns would take too kindly to someone using that term.

  72. flip  •  Dec 5, 2012 @7:26 am

    @Darius404

    It could very well be. Either way there's no editorial oversight.

  73. Joe Pullen  •  Dec 5, 2012 @7:43 am

    Where did you toe pickers and yam heads learn to do intelligence work, amateurville?

    Bwha ha ha. If this person knew the truth about the combined information intelligence gathering skills of this group I think they might just faint.

    Also, I wonder who they are referencing with the “sister” term – Anne Block? Do they think Ken is somehow affiliated with her? Someone over there has an overactive imagination better suited to writing fiction than acting as a reliable news source.

  74. Lizard  •  Dec 5, 2012 @8:04 am

    Slightly OT, but the weird-ass slang in the "update" makes me hear it in the voice of a Bugs Bunny impersonating James Cagney in a 30s gangster flick. "You toe-jam pickers better listen up, see? You ain't in amateurville here, see? You're just a bunch of yam pickers, and you'll amscray if you knows what's good for you!"

  75. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 5, 2012 @8:42 am

    Joe: The problem is although this group has insane intelligence capabilities, it IS popcorn-driven. And although this small town bru-ha-ha is crazy, it looks to be low on the popcorn factor.

    If you want popcorn, lets look back at Charles "chuckles" Carreon…

    He got a stipulation to delay his response to the complaint, but according to him, Levy did NOT stipulate on an extension on the motion to award costs & attorneys fees on Charles the Coward's ducking of service:

    http://ia700801.us.archive.org/13/items/gov.uscourts.cand.256701/gov.uscourts.cand.256701.docket.html

  76. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 5, 2012 @9:07 am

    Although, I don't know, there may be some good popcorn in little ol Gold Bar…

    E.g. some sock puppet created an Anne Block wikipedia page, that was then cited in the paper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_undeletion/Archive_75#Anne_K._Block

    which then resulted in an against the paper complaint http://skyvalleychronicle.com/FEATURE-NEWS/GOLD-BAR-WEBSITE-CARRIES-UNTRUTHFUL-ARTICLE-ABOUT-NEWSPAPER-AND-CITIZENS-BR-Falsely-claims-Gold-Bar-Mayor-and-former-mayor-are-ghostwriters-1109011

    And it certainly sounds like Miss Block qualifies as the "won't stop until medicated" Pro Se litigant: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2017434837_goldbarreporter06m.html

    So it looks like a cage match between a bunch of poo-flinging chimps: with Miss Block and her friends on one side and the local "paper" on the other. Fun to watch from behind a sheet of lexan, but not much fun to activate the Intelligence Crew around here, since both are well, reprehensible and seemingly deserving of each other.

  77. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 5, 2012 @9:09 am

    Oh, and it looks like the "Gold Bar Reporters" have noticed, and well, their poo is only slightly less entertaining than the Sky Valley Cronicle's flinging feces:

    http://www.goldbarreporter.org/

  78. Lizard  •  Dec 5, 2012 @9:15 am

    "Ken is right, the SVC has turned into a livejounral for a disturbed teenager and their names are Crystal Hill and DEM Pennington."

    The disturbed teenager has two names? That's pretty disturbed, all right.

  79. Nicholas Weaver  •  Dec 5, 2012 @10:14 am
  80. Chris R.  •  Dec 5, 2012 @12:30 pm

    This story has everything, yams, stalkers, shills, loading docks, former federal prosecutors turned rogue, and the FBI. I see lifetime movie!

  81. mojo  •  Dec 5, 2012 @3:59 pm

    Wow, man. Barney Fife on a nasty mix of crank and mescaline.

    Seriously weird.

  82. John David Galt  •  Dec 5, 2012 @8:55 pm

    That's what I thought of, too. If the paper had just drug-tested its editorial staff, this whole thing might have been prevented.

    Although it is fun to watch the fur fly, if it's not yours.

  83. SA  •  Dec 5, 2012 @9:26 pm

    Good gods, each of the first three paragraphs is a single runaway sentence. The second paragraph is a doozy: 925-some characters before that poor tortured sentence's misery is terminated.

    If they'd rolled a d3 for each word to determine capitalization, it'd almost pass for an entry by Ms Cox.

  84. Narad  •  Dec 6, 2012 @3:17 pm

    Slightly OT, but the weird-ass slang in the "update" makes me hear it in the voice of a Bugs Bunny impersonating James Cagney in a 30s gangster flick.

    I was instead reminded of The French Connection and Poughkeepsie.

  85. Daniel  •  Dec 10, 2012 @7:19 pm

    I am a relatively new reader of this blog, and not a legal professional. However, is it my imagination or are FOI's increasingly being abused in order to harass and intimidate, and if so, how is it possible to mitigate this. The goings on in Gold Bar, combined with this blog post, are what prompted the question: http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/12/06/freedom-information-laws-used-climate-sceptics-rifle-through-scientists-daily-emails

  86. Brian  •  Dec 11, 2012 @12:16 am

    In fairness, the author at some point likely ate at least one yam, which made him, for a brief moment, a person with yam inside his head, or a "yam head," as it were. In light on this fact, I believe a apology & retraction is appropriate, in order to avoid defamation & federal criminal cyberstalking charges.

  87. Brin  •  Dec 17, 2012 @10:58 pm

    Please let people still be reading this thread… I know I am late to the game, but I found another "article" on their site that addresses this whole cyberstalking/bullying whatever

    http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/FEATURE-NEWS/SNOHOMISH-COUNTY-MAN-DENIED-RESTRAINING-ORDER-OVER-EMAIL-HARASSMENT-ISSUE-br-Judge-cites-technicality-1200098

    And I would like to say that my old Livejournal was MUCH better written than their posts!

  88. Lizard  •  Dec 18, 2012 @8:40 am

    a)My Transformers fanfic was better written than their posts.

    b)I'm not following the alleged logic that "Since you replied, you aren't being harassed", as most people being stalked/harassed used to have less hostile contact, and, generally, it seems to me that to be granted a restraining order, you *should* show you made reasonable efforts to resolve the issue without the law getting involved, but given the paper's reporting, I doubt we're getting the whole story, here.

    c)Every email system I know of has filters. It should be trivial to just send all those "harassing" emails into the trash, unseen.

  89. flip  •  Dec 19, 2012 @8:00 am

    I wonder if Mr Wright is actually the author of that hack piece.

    @Lizard

    The logic is that if you were scared for your life, you wouldn't reply to emails. If you replied, that means you're not scared, therefore it's not harassment but merely a conversation (or at least a heated exchange).

  90. Lizard  •  Dec 19, 2012 @8:08 am

    @flip — As I said, it tends to be transitional — someone starts off not scared, or believes they can resolve the issue, and it is escalated to the point where they are in fear. Obviously, to determine this, you look at the timing of the email, the content, at what point someone does stop responding, etc. This is, presumably, why we have human judges to make such rulings.

  91. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 19, 2012 @10:32 am

    Flip, you don't have to be afraid to think there's a threat.

    Me, personally, I react to threats with anger and further challenges, but that's only because life has taught me that cowering does no good, but charging forward solves most issues.

  92. Dan Weber  •  Dec 19, 2012 @10:52 am

    a)My Transformers fanfic was better written than their posts.

    I was 90% sure that that was you from the old a.t.t. Now I'm sure.

    Also, I really liked your fanfic. I love how I keep on running into authors of stuff I like here. Small world.