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Blogger-Newspaper Relations

The Wal-Mart/blogger story, and the New York Times getting scooped by its own subject (Hat Tip: InstaProf), has gotten me thinking about my own newspaper-blogger relations, and what newspapers seem to expect from bloggers.

A few months ago, I contacted a reporter for one of the local dailies about what I considered to be either bias or sloppiness in one of her stories. After a somewhat unsatisfactory exchange, I finished off the correspondence by saying that I intended to publish it on the blog for people to judge, and that this was her chance to respond to criticism I was planning to level.

She reacted as though I had sent her electronic anthrax. "Don't publish this; I never intended to participate in your private forum." I shopped around for some opinions, and eventually decided to respect her wishes, not wanting to antagonize people unnecessarily. Still, even now, I have a hard time seeing why a correspondence concerning her very public work should be kept confidential after the fact.

And then, last week, I received an email from a section editor from one of the local dailies ("local" ranging from Ft. Collins to Pueblo) saying that he was canvassing Colorado blogs for story suggestions, There was no request for confidentiality included. I replied with a fairly comprehensive but constructive critique of the paper's reporting on the subjects, with some specific examples. I got back a respectful reply, and he even took the time to correct one criticism I had made.

When I told him I'd like to publish it - and let's face it, a major daily asking for advice from bloggers is news - he replied that the whole thing had been off the record and he'd prefer not to let that be known. Although he did say that my critique was my own, and I could publish that as a stand-alone piece. Again, it seems to me this is expecting a courtesy he'd never extend to, say, a mayor who went around calling newsrooms asking, "How'm I doin'?"

Since I agreed to keep these exchanges off the record, I'll continue to do so for these cases. But it seems that the newspapers are expecting a degree of freedom that they'd never extend to other public figures. So from here on out, all bets are off unless they specify and receive agreement up front.

UPDATE: I would like to point out a distinction here. On a couple of occasions, Jim Hughes of the Denver Post has called to interview me for a story about blogging. It never occurred to me then to "scoop" him by running that fact. The two instances cited above are substantially different.

It's not news that a reporter interviews people for a story. That's his job. It is news when a newspaper seeks out bloggers' advice on how to do its job. It's also news when a reporter agrees to discuss her story that's already appeared in print, and answer questions about the topic at hand. After all, she's emailing with a blogger.


Dang, I take a little bit of time off and miss all the good stuff!

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