Duty to inform us about Paris Hilton?

Peter Himler calls me (at least via link) one of the “self-anointed new media pundits” and lumps me in among those who “believe the live media interview (is) outmoded.” While I appreciate the link (no such thing as bad publicity), I think he misunderstood what I wrote. At least he misrepresented it.

Calling what I wrote “vitriol” is a bit much. But the good thing is because what I wrote is available for everyone to see (and not buried in a reporter’s notebook), people can reach their own judgment.


:Updated – Peter weighs in with a nice comment below. Thanks for the clarification, Peter.

Actually, what I said was I thought all sides in the controversy had overreacted. Of course there’s a place for the phone or in-person interview… that’s the way we do most of them. And I suggested a way Calcanis and Winer could have done the interview and still have had their “cover” through an audio recording. Journalists quite frequently record interviews; in principle, there’s no reason why Winer or Calcanis couldn’t do the same (provided they cleared it in advance with the reporter.)

My disagreement with Levy was with the sky-is-falling nature of his lament, and his contention that journalists are “not acting out of self-interest, but a sense of duty to inform the population.”

Of course there’s some element of truth in that; as I said, we all have a mixture of motives behind what we do. Some of our motives are noble like that, but also in that mix for journalists is a desire to be first with the story, or get the exclusive.

For example, in my work we have had examples of representatives from two competing network morning shows interested in the same story. When one found out that the competitor had interviewed the subject earlier that day, the reporter put away the camera, packed up the lights, and went back without the story.

Did the story suddenly become something that was no longer important information for the public? Obviously not. Looking for the competitive leg up meant the second network didn’t want to cover the same story as the first.

That’s all fine. They have businesses to run, and a big part of their calculation is what they think will increase ratings. And, in Mr. Levy’s case, if he’s not thinking about writing columns that will attract and engage readers, you can bet his editors are.

Which is why I get a little impatient with journalists who act like everyone in business has ulterior motives, while they as journalists are above it all…just “acting…out of a sense of duty to inform the population.”

“Duty to inform”…is that why Barbara Walters got the post-jail exclusive with Paris Hilton?

So…the phone interview isn’t dead, nor should it be. But when Mr. Levy writes his column, or Mr. Vogelstein his article, they get to take time to say things in exactly the way they want.

Like I am right now. The Republic is not imperiled by some interview subjects like Calcanis and Winer asking for the same consideration. The journalists are free to refuse the request, and then the subjects can decide whether they want to participate or not.

We do lots of media interviews. We’ve done many by email, often suggested by the journalist for his or her convenience. I don’t think the stories were “impoverished.”

If anything, Vogelstein’s story (if he still writes it) will be more impoverished by not including Calcanis and Winer at all than it would have been by at least getting their considered remarks for consideration. He could have done the email or blog interviews and then decided not to use any of the statements, if he didn’t find them useful or genuine.

My fellow “self-anointed” pundits like Dan Gillmor, and Jeff Jarvis simply aren’t doing what Peter insinuates when he says:

The call for all interviews to be conducted via email is short-sighted, if not naive, from a PR perspective.

No one is saying all interviews should be conducted by email. That’s a red herring. Ironically, Wired is exploring crowdsourcing, collaborative journalism. Online interviews with Calcanis and Winer would have been in keeping with that.

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of nine, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

6 thoughts on “Duty to inform us about Paris Hilton?”

  1. Lee,

    Actually, you were not one of the “self-anointed media pundits” to whom I was referring in my post based on Steven Levy’s assessment of the Vogelstein mess. I simply thought your observations were thoughtful and worth linking to. With that said, if I misrepresented what you wrote, thank you for the clarification via this Trackback.

    One of the points I tried to make was that a) e-mail interviews are not about to displace live interviews, nor should they b) the PR competency of preparing clients (and journalists) to achieve their respective goals during an interview remains very much alive and valuable. It’s a process that isn’t as nefarious as some journalists depict.

    All best,

    Peter

  2. Lee,

    Actually, you were not one of the “self-anointed media pundits” to whom I was referring in my post based on Steven Levy’s assessment of the Vogelstein mess. I simply thought your observations were thoughtful and worth linking to. With that said, if I misrepresented what you wrote, thank you for the clarification via this Trackback.

    One of the points I tried to make was that a) e-mail interviews are not about to displace live interviews, nor should they b) the PR competency of preparing clients (and journalists) to achieve their respective goals during an interview remains very much alive and valuable. It’s a process that isn’t as nefarious as some journalists depict.

    All best,

    Peter

  3. Thanks for the clarification, Peter. I looked at the rest of your blog and really enjoyed it…and I subscribed to your feed, and will look forward to what you have to say in the future.

    I agree with your point A completely…but just add that it’s not a terrible thing if more interviews happen electronically. And as for point B, I heartily agree as well. It shouldn’t be a surprise to journalists that PR pros help prepare clients express their point of view, nor should it be seen as nefarious “spin.” My point is that journalists have needs and interests as well (bigger audience or circulation, for instance), and that cloaking themselves in “I’m just doing my duty to inform the public” is less than candid.

    I had started to just leave a comment on your blog, but then it got too long so I used it as a post in mine. Anyway, I really like your blog.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Peter. I looked at the rest of your blog and really enjoyed it…and I subscribed to your feed, and will look forward to what you have to say in the future.

    I agree with your point A completely…but just add that it’s not a terrible thing if more interviews happen electronically. And as for point B, I heartily agree as well. It shouldn’t be a surprise to journalists that PR pros help prepare clients express their point of view, nor should it be seen as nefarious “spin.” My point is that journalists have needs and interests as well (bigger audience or circulation, for instance), and that cloaking themselves in “I’m just doing my duty to inform the public” is less than candid.

    I had started to just leave a comment on your blog, but then it got too long so I used it as a post in mine. Anyway, I really like your blog.

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