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Should journalists blog their notes?


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June 17, 2005

Should journalists blog their notes?

Stephen Baker

The question came up at a BW staff meeting yesterday. Some of my colleagues had seen that I'd posted notes of a couple of interviews, and they were concerned. After all, journalists battle in courts to protect their notebooks and shield their sources. If we publish notes occasionally, does that establish a weakening precedent?

Their concern is justified. So I'm going explain my thinking on when it makes sense to blog notes--and when it doesn't.

As a news publication, we get access to lots of people who have interesting ideas and important information. Their PR people call us up. (UPDATE: I think this part of my post has been misunderstood. I mean the PR people set up the meetings, but the people we interview are the company execs they represent.) They come by the office. We talk, and often much of what we learn, while interesting, isn't really news. In our traditional magazine mode, those interviews would just sit around in our notebooks, rotting. With blogs, we can take a bit of what they say and create a post. But why not give the public the entire interview? It's like a TV station that gets an hour-long interview with a cabinet secretary. Thirty seconds of it might go on the evening news. The rest of it might as well go online.

This process of interviewing people who come by is very different from reporting a story. When we do that, we're far more active. We call dozens or scores of people. Some speak on the record, some don't. Sometimes we write down only comments that are pertinent to the story. This all turns into a big pile of reporting. Some of it contains hearsay, errors, contradictory accounts. Some could be slanderous. It's our job to comb through this reporting and produce a story that is fair and accurate. In most cases, we don't want to open this trove to plaintiff's attorneys, other journalists, or business rivals and associates of our sources.

So here's the deal. When we get access to execs and public figures who are looking to get their message out, we'll feature them on the blog, when appropriate, and occasionally blog the notes. But when we're actively reporting a story, we'll keep our notes to ourselves. With time, this policy could change. But for now, I think it's a good place to draw the line. Your thoughts?

11:00 AM

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? Reporters Blogging Their Notes from Micro Persuasion

Stephen Baker at BusinessWeek got into a bit of a a debate with his colleagues because he blogged his interview notes. He explains why. His interaction with PR professionals and gatekeepers is one factor in his thinking. But, Steve, what [Read More]

Tracked on June 17, 2005 01:28 PM

? Should journalists blog their notes? from A Networked World

Steve Baker over at Business Week has started something by blogging his interview raw material. I'm going explain my thinking on when it makes sense to blog notes--and when it doesn't. As a news publication, we get access to lots [Read More]

Tracked on June 18, 2005 03:15 AM

? B?r journalister blogge sine notater? from raymond

Blogspotting har en interessant artikkel her:

So here's the deal. When we get access to execs and public

figures who are looking to get their message out, we'll feature them on

the blog, when appropriate, and occasionally blog the notes. But when

w [Read More]

Tracked on June 18, 2005 05:19 AM

Why do you need a bright line rule? Sometimes when reporting a story you'll follow a tangent that doesn't end up as part of the main story, but is interesting none the less. Why not blog that, as long as it doesn't involve things that you have to call the lawyers about? And, as far as PR people go, frankly I don't want to waste my time with what most of them have to say (or not say, as the case may be). That is why we have things like PR Wire, anyway.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at June 17, 2005 01:25 PM

Good points, Ernest. If I ran my own publication, I'd be very flexible and blog all sorts of notes. But I draw the bright line to reassure people on this side that I'm not starting a trend that will soon be leading them to publish things they want to keep private.

As far as the PR people, I'm not saying that we interview them. They bring by the CEOs.

Posted by: steve baker at June 17, 2005 01:49 PM

Steven-

Don't get into any legal trouble, and don't give up your sources that prefer anonymity. Other than that, a blog is the perfect place to dump your notebook. I wouldn't mind if you blogged your opinion as to the nature of the notes (ie, the guy sounded nervous, looked like he was joking, etc.). You have access to meaningful context info that the reader can only speculate about. I trust your eyes and ears for these details. But, yeah, it'd be great to hear what some of these guys say off-topic.

I agree with Ernest about the PR guys. Let's keep blogs spam-free for as long as possible.

Pete Zievers

Posted by: Pete Zievers at June 17, 2005 02:54 PM

Reporting NEWS and delivering ENTERTAINMENT are two distinctly different activities. Blogging news interview notes crosses the line and moves the news reporter from that category into that of an entertainer. Blogging PR notes has a similar effect on a news reporter, yet, in my opinion, not so on an entertainment reporter. For a news reporter, this activity can easily be mismanaged, careers can be affected, and the integrity of a publication can suffer.

Or, are we witnessing the birth of a new form of journalism?

www.indium.com/rickshort

Posted by: Rick Short at June 17, 2005 03:48 PM

Posting interview notes on blog seems to be an extension of what some newspapers and magazine already do. Some publish full interviews, longer articles online, (and only some extracts and abridged versions in the print) because of the space constraint.

Again, in some cases, only 10-15% of information a journalist collects actually make it to even the first draft of a story. It's not that the rest is not worth publishing, or cannot be published. I don't see any reason why such information should be withheld from readers. If a journalist thinks its worth sharing his notes, why not?

Posted by: Ramnath at June 18, 2005 03:43 AM

I think you're thought it out correctly...although I'm sure there'll be exceptions where it isn't quite clear-cut, I do believe using the "rotting notebook" content in blog-form is a win-win for all parties concerned.

Kudos for taking a lead on this issue.

Posted by: Michael Parekh at June 18, 2005 09:54 PM

I don't advise anyone to use a blog as a site in which to "dump" things.

Half-baked stories, interview notes, random scribblings, mundane drivel, it all sounds the same to me. Boring.

I feel an interview is one of the worst ways to communicate information, while the carefully structured list is one of the best.

Given a choice to read (a) raw interview notes (b) polished interview (c) top ten points that derived from interview, most users would read the (c) list of points.

Web users are in a hurry. They skim, scan, and skip irrelevant details, what is of no interest to them at that moment in time.

Interviews are usually disappointing, lots of rambling, too much personal frivolity, too much trivia, too many carefully crafted statements, and too dense, too difficult to swim through searching for the meat, the juicy parts that contain actionable wisdom.

Posted by: steven streight aka vaspers the grate at June 19, 2005 11:03 PM

Steven, I'm with you. I wouldn't read most unedited notes and interviews. But you and I don't have to click on them. The question is this: If people find some value, is there a reason not to make them available?

Look at it from a historical point of view. Some journalist in 1920, just to pick a date, has an interview with the vice presidential candidate on the losing Democratic ticket, Franklin Roosevelt. He includes two quotes in his story. Wouldn't history be served if he posted his notes?

Posted by: steve baker at June 20, 2005 12:36 AM


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