Sunday, July 29, 2012

Washington Post ombudsman comments on reporters resistance to pressure from sources; does this apply to bloggers?

Washington Post readers’ ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton has an opinion piece today, July 29, p. A15, “The tug of war over what’s ‘negotiable’”.  Online, the piece is titled “Insecure reporters need to stiffen their backbone”.  Maybe he meant the plural “backbones”.  He does mean bone, not a notochord. Reporters are nimble, not sessile like tunicates.  The link for his story is here
Apparently, the Texas Observer, which Pexton calls a “muckraking publication” caught a Post reporter allowing University of Texas officials to pre-clear stories written about them.  That behavior doesn’t comport with professional journalistic objectivity and integrity.  Social studies teachers should note the concept of “muckraking” now as they make their fall lesson plans.
The Texas Observer (in Austin) has a story by Daniel Mann concerning the incident, “Washington Post tightens ethics rules in response to Observer story”, regarding the earlier Observer story by Forrest Wilder, link here

It’s pretty obvious that the ethical considerations could apply to “muckraking” bloggers.  Already, the FTC requires bloggers to inform readers if they were paid directly or received gifts or review samples (like DVD’s) for what they write.  Already, I’ve received trivial requests from parties, such as to “Like” their entries on Facebook.  (“Likes” can convert to advertising income, sometimes, sad to say.)  I do inform readers when I have samples and I don’t let anyone influence what I write about them.  I try to keep the tone “kind and gentle” anyway. 

Only in two or three very unusual cases (over fifteen years) have I removed names of people from websites, where the circumstances were unusual enough and not likely to recur. 

And once in a while, I do discover an issue and draw attention to it, after it has been softpedaled or glossed over by major media.  This may have happened yesterday with a story that I wrote on my Trademark Dilution blog concerning the issue of restaurants wanting to monopolize their names across the country when they expand (possibly forcing other small businesses to change names, close, or become franchisees).  
Earlier this year I wrote a story about “intentional communities” after an unusual  (for me) experience with a personal visit; and this past week, I also wrote about a visit to a mountaintop removal mine.  I don’t let the parties affect what I say about them.
This issue, for bloggers, could expand even as photos of ordinary people become a more sensitive matter because of the rapid development of facial recognition technology.
Pexton’s article had another good vocabulary word for high school English teachers to note, “anodyne”.  Kids, there’s still a month of hot summer left.

Update: July 30.  CNN covered the issue today and said that candidates threaten to not give news organizations quotes unless they allow editing.  CNN says that most of Mitt Romney's quotes appear only on Fox, because other news organizations don't accept his demands.  

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