Gizmodo’s prank

Gizmodo’s prank at CES was wonderful: they walked around with a TV-B-Gone turning off televisions at display booths and even during presentations. Many of Gizmodo’s commenter’s aren’t happy about it, but I’m delighted. In too many fields, journalists (including bloggers) are too damn close and cozy with their subjects, because their subjects are also their advertisers. It’s always a good sign to see someone willing to bite the hand that purportedly feeds them. Ostensible displays of independence are always appreciated.

Update: Banned!

Update #2: The point is not to suck up to the consumer electronics industry; if it takes a dumb prank to signal that you’re not completely servile to the industry you cover, so be it.

Update #3: Gizmodo in its own defence:

[W]hen I see some fellow press damning us for the joke, I feel sorry for them: When did journalists become the protectors of corporations? When did this industry, defined by pranksters like Woz, get so serious and in-the-pocket of big business? … Consumer electronics tech journalism is very tricky. Those who strictly cover commercial CE depend on a powerful handful of companies for the very lifeblood of their content. That’s a dangerous position. …
Many of our harshest critics have done far worse than clicking off a few TVs. I’m talking about ethical lapses such as accepting paid junkets to Japan by Nikon, or free trips to Korea by Samsung. Turning a blind eye to Apple’s mistakes when they didn’t make an iPhone SDK and sought to lock down the handset. Stock prices torn downward by publishing incorrect leaked info. Writing about companies that also pay you for advertorial podcast work. All of these examples are offenses from the last year. And I consider those offenses far worse than our prank, because it ultimately it puts the perpetrators on the wrong team. As one reporter put it while chiding me, “Journalists are guests in the houses of these companies.” Not first and foremost! We are the auditors of companies and their gadgets on behalf of the readers. In this job, integrity and independence is far more important than civil or corporate obedience.

Repeat after me: Journalism. Is. Adversarial.

On media interviews

This whole fracas between Wired reporter Fred Vogelstein and bloggers Jason Calacanis and Dave Winer — the former prefers interviews by e-mail or recorded audio, the latter prefers to blog responses to media questions; both decline to be interviewed by phone — reminds me of what I learned both during my brief journalism career and when I was in media demand during DFL’s first season:

One, the reporter needs to talk to you much more than you need to talk to the reporter. It meant that as a reporter soliciting information from my small-town neighbours, I had to be on my best behaviour. It meant that they weren’t necessarily awed by the prospect of being in the paper (especially not the local weekly). It also meant that, when the shoe was on the other foot, once I reminded myself that I didn’t have to reply to every media inquiry (especially when it became clear that off-line media coverage had no impact on my traffic), I felt a good deal less put upon.

And two, the story the reporter is working on is not necessarily your story. It’s not a question of objectivity, simply that there’s a compelling story that’s driving the reporter (or at the very least her desk editor). That story may not match up with what you want to talk about, so your words may be put to unexpected purposes.

Reporters, in turn, need to realize that regardless of the “gotcha” implications of phone or in-person interviews (which is what has been getting most of the attention in this debate), any media interview is an inconvenience to the interviewee. An e-mail response may take as much time as a brief phone interview, but it’s much less emotionally and mentally taxing, and is minimally disruptive to a busy schedule. (Live interviews are the worst, even if it’s by phone and you don’t have to go into a studio.) That, more than anything else, is why I’d rather do things by e-mail than by phone or in person: it’s less work and stress.

A PEI newspaper editor’s professional foolishness

It’s probably not wise for a newspaper editor to argue that a critic of his paper is “way over the line of free speech” and that the paper may sue that critic. But that’s what Charlottetown Guardian managing editor Gary MacDougall is apparently saying about an anonymous blogger who’s been criticizing PEI businesses and institutions. That just strikes me as the kind of rhetoric that no one in the journalistic profession should be using, and that could come back to bite him in the ass someday, because it’s professionally foolish: MacDougall will not now be able to use freedom of speech as an argument to defend himself or his paper without looking silly.

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