After a frantic session of smashing keys on my keyboard to finish a draft of a write-up I’m working on, based on some even more frantic notes, I decided to spend my lunch break lying on the sofa. Checking Twitter and ADN to see if there were anything interesting going on.
Nothing – so I turned to Zite for a quick news-fix.
There I stumbled across what seemed to be a take-down piece published on Techdirt, written by Mike Masnick.
I tend to read these pieces not because I enjoy them, but to try to find the motivation of the writer for writing it and to analyse the journalistic quality of it.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people need to be taken down a few pegs, so they can get their feet back down on the ground and hopefully get back in touch with reality again. Unfortunately, many of these take down pieces often seem a bit vindictive.
It didn’t take many paragraphs for my reading of the article come to a screeching halt.
To be 100% clear: we have zero obligation to not publish her “off the record” comments. We made no arrangements with her to honor her requests that certain comments be “off the record.”
Masnick tries to further justify this claim by writing:
Again, we made no agreement to keep certain comments on or off the record. Yes, it is a journalistic convention that journalists respect such requests when the people are sources, but it is standard that both sides first agree to that convention. It is not a unilateral thing that you can just declare. When talking to sources we generally offer to keep certain comments off the record. Sometimes sources approach us and ask us to keep certain comments off the record, and we then consider the situation and decide whether or not to accept. It is then that the source chooses whether or not to share.
In this case, none of that is happening. First off, Teri Buhl is not a “source.” She is the subject of the story, and we wrote about her comments and discussions with others that made their way into the public record. We have no obligation to keep anything “off the record” nor did we ever agree to any such thing.
To summarise what Masnick is claiming, in a cheeky tone of voice; as a journalist, if you do not consider the person talking to you as a source, additionally considering that they are not important enough to be respected, even-though the source has requested the off-the-record privilege, you should completely ignore it [for your own benefit].
Good luck with that!
That is the best attitude to have, as a journalist, if you want people to not trust you. Even if you would claim to keep something off-the-record if requested, I can’t think of anyone who would ever trust someone making the same [public] claims Masnick is making in his write-up.
Yes, some journalists are devious. Pretending to be very trustworthy, and suddenly stab you in the back, completely ignoring that they promised you off-the-record privilege.
Even if Masnick is at least honest about his intentions, trust is not a word that comes to mind reading what he write.
He is right however that this is only a privilege, not a guarantee, given by the journalist to a source. On the other hand, it is in the journalist’s interest to honour that in most situations to show that he or she can be trusted.
Given you ever want to hear from that source ever again.
It is also a journalist’s privilege to not publish something, even if it has been said on-the-record. Because a journalist is often more aware of the possible reaction from the public than the person providing the information.
When showing a source that you actually honour the off-the-record privilege, you can often be entrusted to be given access to very exclusive information, because trust also foster a good, close relationship between the journalist and the source.
The off-the-record privilege can be a very difficult thing, both for the journalist and the source.
Off-the-record or not, any information given to a journalist can often be very newsworthy. Which is why some don’t always trust journalists.
I guess I good question to ask yourself, before publishing anything, on-the-record or off-the-record, how will this affect my trust and credibility as a journalist?