Mark Glaser, a friend and columnist for the Online Journalism Review, has a small beef with bloggers, which he related to me by email and allowed me to share on this blog.
It’s simply this: an increasing number of bloggers whom Mark has interviewed by email post their interview comments on their blogs — before the interview even runs!
Mark says this has happened to him many times now, most recently yesterday when the irascible Jeff Jarvis posted his interview responses (scroll down) on Buzz Machine before they appeared in OJR.
There’s another twist, too. Apparently Mark sent Jeff an email that expressed some disappointment with this, and suggesting that an exchange between reporter and interview subject is understood to be private. Jeff sent back a note saying that in the age of blogs, no one should expect an email to remain private. (I may be misrepresenting Jeff’s thoughts here; if so, he’s free to clarify.)
Says Mark: “If someone is writing a story that quotes you, often it’s a promotion of you, your site, blog, etc. Why would you want to upset that journalist by posting stuff without their permission? I’m not really sure what to make of it, other than to take your advice and always put something in emails to bloggers like: THIS IS NOT FOR PUBLICATION ONLINE UNTIL AFTER THE STORY POSTS. I understand the transparency angle, but sometimes that should be counterbalanced by common courtesy. Why not just ask for permission? The interview involves two people, and they both should give consent for seeing their words posted somewhere.”
This post-your-own interview thing is spiraling into interesting new directions, and the trend cuts both ways. Sheila Lennon today posted an item on her blog (“Me and my different drummer”) recounting her email exchange with Mark G. and recalling the transcript of the New York Times interview she posted on her personal blog one year ago, which helped kick off this trend.
Now, here’s the thing. I’m one of the early proponents of posting full transcripts of interviews. (In January I posted transcripts of interviews I conducted with others, and sometime before that I posted transcripts in which I was interviewed.)
But to post an interview before it’s even published by the publication that initiated the interview is a slap at the reporter. (Afterward is fine, but before?) I’m not sure what’s to be gained by doing that. And you’re sure as hell certain to be crossed off his or her list of sources the next time around.
As for emails being private or public, that’s a big subject and could easily fill an entire column. Joe Clark had a very public run-in with the folks at Edelman PR for publishing their email exchange without their permission. And there was the case of the reporter (whose name escapes me) who sent some off-the-cuff observations about a conference she was covering (including comments that a speaker was kind of
cute) to a few friends by email and was mightily ticked off when one of them posted her thoughts to the Web.
My own view is that I think Jarvis is wrong if he believes any private correspondence between two people is fair game for publishing to the entire world. (I can think of many private emails I’ve received that I could have published because they were interesting or newsworthy, but doing so would have been hurtful or harmful to the sender.) I once mentioned to Doc Searls and Glenn Fleishman that I occasionally post snippets from emails to my weblog without asking the writer’s permission, and they were aghast (although I suspect this is becoming a very common practice). I still do it on rare occasions, when it’s fairly obvious that the writer is offering information intended for a wider audience and would have no problem with it. I generally email the person, letting her know I just posted her comments and that if she objected I would immediately remove them. Nobody has ever asked for a posting to be taken down.
As a journalist and a blogger, I have mixed feelings about all this. I’ve seen bloggers post email comments without permission often enough now that I’m circumspect in the wording I use to interview subjects or to approach potential sources. There have been rare occasions when I’ve attached legal wording to the bottom of an email that points out reposting my comments without permission would be a violation of copyright laws. I’ve done that only when dealing with someone who has ulterior motives or an axe to grind.
Having said that, I’ll also add that some of the bloggers have a point, too. Part of the attraction of blogging is its transparency. By posting transcripts, exchanges with reporters and private emails, people get a much closer look at the guts of the research, writing and reporting that makes up the journalism process. Bloggers complain that their comments are sometimes taken out of context, or that the nuances of their statements are lost when they’re quoted in an email interview that doesn’t involve a full transcript. So I can’t fault them for revealing part of the exchange with the reporter that led up to the publication of their words. The real bottom line is: Why did they feel the need to do this? Do they ascribe dark motives to the journalist? Do they think it’s important to scoop the reporter who’s interviewing them? Is it carelessness, lack of time? Or is it simply done in the interests of full disclosure?
I don’t know. You tell me.