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“No” Means “No”

June 11th, 2007

There are certain products and events that have the ability to shake-up an industry. Game-changers. For baseball, steroids.  For music, the iPod.  And now for journalism, the blog.

This week’s Newsweek featured an article from Steven Levy, the mag’s tech writer, about a profile a WIRED reporter was writing on Silicon Valley blogger Michael Arrington (who writes www.techcrunch.com).  Like most good reporters, Fred Vogelstein (the WIRED reporter) wanted to interview third parties on Arrington for his story.  So he reached out to well-known bloggers Jason Calacanis and David Winer (who is a former contributing editor at WIRED).

Then something almost unheard of happened – both bloggers said “no” to being interviewed over the phone.  Instead, they wanted Volgelstein to submit his questions in writing and they would respond.  Winer even went so far as to suggest that he would answer Volgelstein’s questions publicly on his blog.  But neither blogger stopped there.  Instead, they let all their readers know that they had turned down WIRED’s request.  Suddenly, there was chatter all over the blogosphere.

So why did the bloggers reject the advances of a well-respected magazine like WIRED?  Here’s what Levy had to say:

As Calacanis wrote to Vogelstein, “I don’t want someone taking half a sentence or paraphrasing me … Just too much risk.” Neither Winer nor Calacanis is unaware of the value of a live conversation. But in their experience, that spontaneity is frequently abused to collect “gotcha” quotes that don’t really reflect the subject’s views.

Such complaints aren’t new. The twist is that the Internet has altered the relationship. Blogger and NYU professor Jay Rosen says interviews have been an exercise in unequal power between the writer and the submissive subject. But with blogs the subject has a direct channel to the public. “The interviewer used to be in charge, but that’s no longer the case,” says media blogger Jeff Jarvis. “I can decide how long the quote is, I can make sure the context is accurate.”

I have to agree with Rosen – the power of reporters over subjects has shifted.  It’s something we’ve all been tiptoeing around for awhile now, but Calacanis and Winer brought it front and center.

So PR people – take notice.  How many times have you calmed a client down after something he/she said was taken out of context?  Or was not included in an article at all?  Then you call the reporter and point out the grievance, but to what end? The damage has already been done.

It doesn’t need to be that way anymore. Blogs provide a solution. A good blog can empower direct communication with your clients and customers without reliance on traditional media outlets. This gives you a means with which to control your media fate – and can level the playing field with reporters.

Posted Under: Media & Journalism
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