Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Media Rant: Who Are You?

Countless times in my decades as a news anchor, friends have said to me in social situations, when the conversation gets intense, “am I talking to you, or to the media here?” The question never bothered me. I’ve come to know a lot of people who live in the public eye, who have learned, often through very painful experiences, to be careful what they’re saying, particularly to a member of the media, even though the conversation is taking place in a social setting.

Most good reporters have figured out you can learn a lot more by listening than talking, and they’ve also learned when, as a responsibility of their profession, they have to say to someone – even in a social setting – something along the lines of “I’m actually working on a story about this right now…can I use what you’re saying?” Trained, professional reporters understand many of the subtleties about a person’s right to privacy, even a person very much in the public eye.

Most good reporters also know a hell of a lot of things they can’t use in putting together stories, either because they don’t have permission to use the information, or can’t attribute it, because the information was either given to them on background or not for attribution. Good news sources know what this is all about. And professional reporters understand the rules of the game. And that’s how even the most aggressive reporter can get along with the most high-placed “sources” in social situations.

There’s a lot of confusion today about what “media” means, and who is and who isn’t a “reporter.” The lines have been blurred. Anybody can buy a videocam and walk around interviewing people, but if they don’t know the rules about how and where they can used that video, then they’re either an amateur or the potential target of a lawsuit. And everybody has a right to say to somebody who’s got a camera or microphone pointed at their face “shut that thing off, you don’t have my permission to record me.”

That’s exactly what happened in this little video, that’s getting a lot of play on social media around Madison. A public official, Brett Hulsey, told “New Media Meade” he wasn’t going to talk to him on camera. Meade is the partner (in every sense of the word) of UW Law Professor Ann Althouse, who blogs here.

Apparently Mr. Hulsey is concerned about how his words and images will be used by Meade, so he’s exercising his right to say “no.” Watching the little video clip reveals a great deal about why Mr. Hulsey feels that way. It’s a brave, new media world out there, and often I feel like a stranger in a strange land.


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  2. "And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins,

    "When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins..."

    Rudyard Kipling saw it coming in 1919 when he wrote "The Gods of the Copybook Headings."

    The poem speaks of human nature, some bits of which do not vary, even when a familiar society becomes self-indulgent and complacent, and morphs into something grotesque and unrecognizable.

    The bedrock of human nature seems to be reasserting itself in Madison, and that is very encouraging, because it suggests The Brave New World has yet to firm up its grip.

    As our blogger notes, you can equip anyone with a handicam and an attitude, but describing them, ipso facto, as a journalist is as ridiculous as giving a knife to a monkey and calling it a surgeon.

    Journalism is not produced by costumery or accoutrements or a sociopathic delight in causing harm.

    Real journalism comes with a public trust. It cannot be practiced without integrity, a sense of fairness (the rule book) and a moral compass.

    Again, as our blogger mentions (something every real journalist well knows), there is nothing to compel anyone -- even public officials -- to speak to anyone they do not trust, let alone subject themselves to ambush.