Reporters: Are YOU \”On the Record?\”

(UPDATE Apr. 27: I cross-posted this article to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits weblog. The comment thread there is very interesting, don’t miss it!)

As I mentioned previously, yesterday I got interviewed by my local paper. Then I read a new posting from PR maven Steve Rubel, The Era of Transparent Media Interviews, and it got me thinking.

More and more often, journalists interview people who have their own weblogs. When a reporter interviews someone, the assumption is that, as long as the journalist has properly identified herself, anything the source says is considered on the record unless there is a specific, overt agreement otherwise.

But does that tacit agreement work in reverse?…

That is, as a blogger being interviewed by a reporter, could I also consider the content of the conversation (including the reporter’s questions and description of the story plan) on record for the purposes my weblog?

Hmmmmm…. That seems fair and just to me, personally, and in keeping with my belief that journalists are not a special, privileged class. However, the quandary of whether interviews are mutually on record would probably be handled best by Poynter’s ethicists. (Hint hint!)

MY PLAN FOR NOW

The next time I’m called for a media interview, I’ll establish at the outset that I consider both sides of the conversation to be mutually on record. If the reporter has issues with that, we’ll negotiate as warranted before proceeding with the interview.

Similarly, since I’m also a journalist, when I inteview sources I will make a point of asking if they have their own site or weblog, and whether they’re intending to write about the interview. I will consider the whole conversation mutually on record unless otherwise specified.

We’ll see how that goes.

4 thoughts on Reporters: Are YOU \”On the Record?\”

Comments are closed.

  1. I would suggest a concept of “professional discretion”. By default, unless
    sworn to secrecy, you can do whatever you want with the conceptual content
    of the conversation, short of directly or implicitly identifying the
    participants of the conversation. So, you might write that you were
    interviewed by “a journalist” or “by a major media outlet”, with freedom, so
    long as you respect the other party’s right to a professional degree of
    privacy.

    If you were having a private conversation with someone on a non-professional
    basis, you would similarly be “obligated” to respect their privacy, while
    at the same time free to discuss “details” at a more abstract social level.

    Traditional journalists may have their own canon of ethics, but us bloggers
    simply need to incrementally navigate towards a balance between benefits to
    society and inherent rights to privacy.

    The better job we do of respecting the rights of others, the more willing
    others will be to participate in a free and open dialog.

    — Jack Krupansky

  2. I would suggest that, yes, the journalist’s comments should be considered “on the record” unless otherwise stated. However, with this arrangement comes responsibility. If the blogger accepts “off the record” or “deep cover” conditions, would he or she be willing to protect the source’s identity under threat of law? Reporters’ protection has been diminished by recent court rulings. The blogger’s rights would be considerably less, I would predict, if existent at all. Hats off to the first blogger who will serve a jail term to protect a source.

  3. Think first is my suggestion. A while back I did an email interview for a monthly zine which strongly prefers first rights. . About a week before the zine was due outI saw a notice on a list that the interview was posted. Huh? I pulled the interview immediately. I was furious. I felt that the interviewee had violated my copyright on the questions, had been very discourteous to post before my zine published and even more not to let me know about it instead of just finding out through the list. Maybe a few hundred people have read the interview on the site. The zine had over 20,000 subscribers.