Anonymous criticism backfires on Mpls City Council, newspaper

City Pages, the Twin Cities alt weekly, is under fire in Minneapolis for an anonymously sourced piece critical of a member of the Minneapolis City Council.

The article — Alondra Cano flunks City Council 101 — cited an unnamed colleague of Cano in a single incident recently in which she allegedly struggled to add an amendment to a 20-year neighborhood park plan.

“She’s always late to meetings. Sometimes she doesn’t show up at all,” says a council member, who spoke to City Pages on the condition of anonymity to maintain their working relationship. “When she does, she hasn’t done her homework and has to wing it. That’s what she was trying to do here. The problem is this is stuff she’s supposed to know. It’s city council 101.”

That’s a fairly Minnesotan stand: Trash a colleague but do it secretly to maintain a working relationship.

The kerfuffle reveals the danger of anonymous sources on the source and any news organization that grants the protection.

Anonymous sources, as the New York Times has found, should be used sparingly. “They’re journalistic IEDs,” a Times editor said in March about stories based on unnamed individuals.

“Sources always talk to news outlets for a reason, and that reason is seldom altruistic,” former New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan often said.

Mike Spangenberg, who writes at Question the Premise, contacted all of the Minneapolis City Council members and found all of them denied being the source of the City Pages story, he writes today.

“I get that there are very compelling reasons why a source may need to remain anonymous,” he writes. “But it’s hard to understand how calling a colleague ‘lazy’ and ‘clueless’ rises to that level.

Beyond the misogynistic and racist stereotypes deployed, the irony of some ambiguous number of sitting city council members criticizing the professionalism of a colleague who’s a woman of color by anonymously trashing her in the press is almost too much.

Council members are free to dislike Council Member Cano all they want; that’s their prerogative. But as a resident of Minneapolis, it is unacceptable to me for those council members to lob stereotype-laden insults at her from behind a cloak of anonymity. That’s cowardice.