Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

New Site Aims to Be Localized Wikileaks Operation Whistleblowers Can Post Anonymously

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

New Site Aims to Be Localized Wikileaks Operation Whistleblowers Can Post Anonymously

Article excerpt

A couple of recent college graduates and a few of their associates this week launched Honest Appalachia, a website they hope will become a version of WikiLeaks for this part of the country.

Jim Tobias, 24, who graduated last year from the University of Pennsylvania, and his friend, Garrett Robinson, 22, a graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, say their whistleblower site will be a place where people can anonymously submit information without fear of retaliation.

The site launched Tuesday. Nothing had been posted as of Thursday.

But Mr. Tobias, who splits his time between Charleston, W.Va., and Montana, where he works in the summers for a conservation nonprofit, said he's hopeful the site will take off within a few weeks.

"We've gotten pretty good response," he said. "Lots of journalists are interested. I think people are sort of intrigued."

A spokeswoman for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., which gives grants for all manner of efforts devoted to government accountability, said Honest Appalachia is more than a site for dumping documents.

"This is a secure website," Gabriela Schneider said. "It's not a model where you just throw things out there. They're using the power of the web to reach a broader audience of people who might see problems in their home town and give them an opportunity to create accountability."

Honest Appalachia and sites like it, she said, are using technology to help citizens and journalists "amplify their voice and give them proper channels" to shine a light on wrongdoing.

A $5,000 grant for one year from the Sunlight Foundation contributes to Honest Appalachia's development as it reaches out to potential whistleblowers in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Whistleblowers offering documents must download a software program that renders their computer anonymous. Mr. Tobias, who said he has worked as a freelance reporter for a few years, said he and his team of volunteers in West Virginia and Ohio will review submissions for authenticity and remove data that could be used to identify the sender before they post anything.

"We do our own analysis, we check everything," he said. …

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