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Off the Record

I hate to pile on to the "blogasm", but Jeff has taken a stand on last night's West Wing. In it, Josh Lyman hit a Prius test-driving an SUV, and a blogger captured the story and the photo. Josh, in a huff, then called the blogger, berated them, and watched in surprise as his words, which he had declared to be "off the record," were posted.

Jeff says:

This little bit, frankly, pissed me off. Respecting the convention of "off the record" isn't something that only professional get-paid-for-it journalists do. It's something everybody does. It's like saying "Bless you" after you sneeze. It's just a thing. We all do it.

No, "we" don't. I have standards for professional etiquette, and they include things such as "don't quote anyone without first asking for permission to do so," but those are my standards, not someone else's. I don't swear a vow or sign a contract stipulating to these things. A reporter not respecting "this is off the record" is shunned, banished, and often fired. A blogger works for themselves, and they're rewarded with "the inside scoop" and increased traffic, ad income, etc - quite the opposite of being fired.

Jeff gets a little high on his horse now and then, and though it's true that bloggers had a good year, it's also abundantly clear that they're not journalists. They already openly do many of the things "real" journalists try to avoid: appearing blatantly partial, injecting personal opinion, and surmising or speculating in what could best be described as a frivolous fashion. Not every blog does all of these, and a select few don't do any of them, but "bloggers" do. Flat out stating that "everybody" upholds these and other moral or professional standards is unfathomably ridiculous and unaware.

Bloggers aren't gonna get respect as a serious journalistic force simply by saying "we're respectable, all of us." They'll get it by doing it. They've got a ways to go.

And hey, tell ya what: the deputy chief of staff of the White House calls me, I'm posting it. My own standard of professional etiquette goes right out the window the minute a senior government official calls and berates me for doing something that I, as an independent citizen and free thinker, have every right to do. Simple as that.

One Response to "Off the Record"

  1. I don't usually watch West Wing, but minor side thought: if politicians aren't prepared to be taken to task by individual citizens with a web site, they're in the wrong job. Theoretically, that's one of the principles of a democracy - they work for us.