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Wired Magazine Kerfuffle: Interviewing protocols now being rewritten because Journalism failed to establish ethical guidelines 4/27/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Interview, Journalism, Middlemen, News, Wired.

This week, the big buzz in the tech community was the refusal of “A-list” bloggers to submit to phone interviews with Wired Magazine reporters. They insisted on being interviewed by e-mail or on blogs instead. The reason for the insurrection was that they were tired of being misquoted, taken out of context, or being caught in “gotchas,” to which just about anyone who has ever been interviewed by a reporter can surely relate. What’s changed? Because of the Internet, journalists are no longer the indispensable middlemen connecting these news sources to the public they need to reach. Interviewees now have more leverage to set the rules. The field of journalism might have avoided this new battle if, years ago, they had established themselves as a true profession and developed standardized ethical standards and practices for interviews. In the process of developing these practices, interviewers and interviewees would have built a consensus around ground rules that seem to be fair. Each side would have adhered to them, trusting that the other side would as well. Only now, at this late date and with a crisis at-hand, some journalists are scrambling to write new rules for the future. But, it’s too late. In the emerging news environment, each interviewee will be free to negotiate his or her own rules of engagement. (Hat tip: David Strom)


1. Ethical Martini - 4/27/07

I’m not sure I agree that professionalism is the answer for journalism ethics.
We have to be careful about assuming that journalism is a profession. On idealistic grounds it might seem so, but the political economy of the news media precludes it in fact.
Professionals have a service-client economic relationship. A journalist does not have this relationship with an audience.
Journalists are actually proletarian, they are waged workers who participate in the production of the news commodity.
It is the dual nature of this commodity that that creates the ethical dialectic in journalism. The ethical imperative is overwritten (and over-ridden) by the commercial imperative.
The real solution is for collective ethical responsibiity (CER) mandated, managed and supported by membership of an industrial body – a union – with democratic rules and the strength to work effectively on the job.
For more radical suggestions, visit me at ethical martini

2. Steve Boriss - 4/28/07

Good comment. I’m not sure whether it would have made sense for journalism to become a true profession either. But the field has certainly created a problem for itself by convincing its own members that they are quasi-professionals, through mostly vague recitations of standards and methods (e.g. objectivity, discipline of verification, the public’s right to know, etc.). Most seem to believe that because of these still-undocumented principles, their members are self-evidently more worthy of our trust then, let’s say, bloggers. Moreover, here in America most journalists mistakenly believe that they were singled out and given special rights (freedom of the press) in the Constitution, and the craft continues to lobby (unsuccessfully, so far) for federal shield laws to give them special protections against testifying in court. Consequently, while journalists might be able to keep a straight face while saying to potential interviewees “you can trust me, I’m a journalist,” interviewees cannot.

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