Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Way Things Work

Pardon my meta. Don't like it? I don't give a damn. Go somewhere else. There's a few things that need to be cleared up around these parts and I am about to do the clearing.

Let's be perfectly clear about one thing. I am not a journalist. There are many fine people trained in that profession and you will see me frequently refer to their work. They live by certain codes and certain rules. These codes and ethics protect them and at the same time protect those with whom they interact.

I am bound by none of these.

But, I still follow my own code to the best of my ability. Still, I have people who have never so much been in the same room as me question my ethics. I have those who are in the profession look down on me because of the medium I use. I have genuinely good people question why I am at a certain event when it's not a "blogger" thing. The thought that I might be after a story, just like them, never enters their thoughts.

But still I follow certain rules. Not because I am afraid of libel. Not because my corporate overlords require it. I follow them because it is the way I am.

Unlike many bloggers, I do not report rumors. I do not throw every piece of crap I receive against the wall to see what sticks. Oh, how easy it would be to just publish every salacious tidbit and never worry about the consequences.

If I am working on an original piece and someone tells me something on background that is where it stays. It is used as a lead to pursue a story and it is used to confirm things on the record. It is sacrosanct.

If it is on the record, it's fair game.

If I witness it myself, it's fair game.

That's the black and white part of the dance we dance.

Now here is the ugly part. Where the sausage is made.

We all use each other. Political groups use the media, and I mean all media, to get their story out. Media use their connections within political groups to get the real story. It's a relationship of mutual use for the benefit of both. It is tacitly acknowledged and as long as both sides feel the use is fair and is not misuse everyone remains happy and the game continues as it has for centuries.

The problem comes when one side feels the chafe of the use. It happens if a media outlet burns a source. There's a reason reporters go to jail when a judge orders them to reveal a source. It also happens the other way. Like when a campaign uses a a media outlet to beat the drum, to stir up certain passions, to manuever the story without the reciprocity of the opportunity to get the full story.

So there's a new rule I am going to follow more strictly and there are three words certain people in the game need to learn quickly.

Off the record.

In the past, knowing it could lead to future useful information, I've assumed many casual conversations to be off the record. It's just another part of the game. Even when someone tells you something you could report because they have not said it is off the record, you don't. Because the cold, hard fact is if you report that tidbit, a larger story down the road never happens because that source dries up.

But if you break the rules, the game changes. If a media outlet feels used, some of the casual assumptions may just be thrown out the window. You feel a lot less guilt about burning someone if they've held the torch to you first.

So, from now on, the record is the record. And if it's off the record, you damned well better say it.

And if this keeps me from being invited to certain soirees. So be it. I'll just have to work a little harder. I've been too damned lazy anyway.


Aerodad said...

Man, I wish I heard rumors. I mustn't be at the right soirees.

Amber Rhea said...

I think it was at SoCon, but maybe it was at PodCamp... I can't remember which... anyway, at one of those, somebody was talking about how with social media, nothing is "off the record." What I took that to mean was, the default state of things is not "off the record." So yeah, totally agree, if one wants something off the record one needs to say so. And in any case, one needs to own one's words.

Bernita Smith said...

give me the word and the Blogger Fem patrol will take care of the problem. Nobody talks smack to our man Grift and gets away with it.

chamblee54 said...

I suspect there is a good story behind this story. I also suspect it is in your best interests not to tell it at this time.
Maybe sometime you can change the names and write about it as a short story. Sometimes, the only way to tell the truth is to write fiction.

Blackjackk said...

I can attest to the integrity of the Grift. I gave a tidbit to him last year and told him explicitly what was on and what was off the record (factual info by the way - no rumors involved). He completely respected that opinion and even clarified in an email about what was to be used and what wasn't.

If it's off the record and you say it, he will absolutely respect your wishes.

Fight the power GD!!!

Open+Transparent said...

grift, would love to get your take on this column, which gets pretty wide distribution through the "Neighbor" newspapers:

Anonymous said...

FemPatrol reporting for duty.

I can put the hammer down anytime, just say the word.

Anonymous said...

Amber's spot-on. Nothing is ever "off the record," and you must own your words.

Anonymous said...


what is this relating to?

Or is it just you saying where you stand?