Saturday, February 17, 2007

I wanna spread the news that if it feels this good gettin' used...

Click for a little background groove:

So, the Frontline piece this week got me thinking about being used and abused.

In the piece, Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. explains how anonymous sourcing has changed - from a tool that journalists would offer to reluctant sources to come forward to "a condition that the source often imposes on the journalist."

Rosenstiel says, "To the public, a whistleblower who is 'Deep Throat', reluctantly guiding an investigative reporter is very different than a high ranking administration official lunching in an elegant Washington hotel spinning a reporter with the protection of confidentiality."

This is an important distinction that Norman Pearlstine of Time expounds on when he explains his rationale to hand over Matt Cooper's notes. Given the journalistic principle of protecting sources, Pearlstine puts it in context: Grand jury, question of national security, White House officials trying to undermine a whistleblower...

... when historically, as in Watergate, the whistleblower was the confidential source himself.

I think having a journalist culture in which sources frequently and arbitrarily allow themselves self-imposed immunity only invites exploitation. Allowing confidential sourcing should be used very gingerly and in the circumstances when the information is "newsworthy" and crucial to the story. This was not the case in the Plame debacle.

More generally, Nicholas Kristof and Earl Caldwell discuss what it's like being used...
Use Me

You mean everyone has an AGENDA!? Get outta town. Bob Woodward makes an interesting point as well, saying that a reporter can't say "the source was no good" and not blame his reporting.

I've already run into quite blatant attempts to exploit my potential as a PR mouthpiece. I think people assume students are particularly gullible in this department, because we have difficulty getting people to talk to us.

Consider the source, ladies... But in the words of the great Bill Withers - It aint too bad the way you're usin' me because I sure am using you to do the same.

Oh yeah.


At Saturday, February 17, 2007, Anonymous cy said...

it's discouraging to see that the idea of open discussion has been thrown out the window over the years. now everyone wants to be anonymous. and why is that? do people have more to hide?

maybe they do. but i believe open discussion is necessary for a democracy to genuinely exist. reporters should not be so quick to grant anonymity or confidentiality to any source. and i agree with LT that we should be aware that everyone has an agenda. nicolas kristof's story about being used was particularly striking to me. never do i want to be in that situation.

At Sunday, February 18, 2007, Anonymous TB said...

Using journalists as a PR mouthpiece... Hmmm...

Yes, I've encountered this. Many times. It's a curious thing given that I've only been "in the industry" for fewer than eight months.

Why do so many people assume we'll be willing to spin stories in their favor? Perhaps it's that, as an industry, we've already taken to 'integrating marketing communications' into our work to increase the bottom line. Why wouldn't we be willing to jeopardize our professional integrity for others as well?

Just a thought.


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