Tuesday, January 05, 2016

A resolution to use proper journalistic ethics...?

Every year around this time your host turns up in articles about New Year's resolutions. Bully for me. That I'm quoted here is less important than the way I'm quoted, however, so any journalism students who are still accompanying us on this journey should take note. Look at the following attribution from the linked piece: 

“My concern is that the resolution takes the place of the action,” he says. “We all know that the real transformational work is tough, grueling, and usually involves sacrifice and unpleasant choices.”
Traditionally, when you write "so-and-so says," simply and unadorned by any further setting/context, it indicates that whatever was said was said directly to you during a firsthand interview. The one exception would be when you're quoting a trademark line by a well-known public figure. (E.g., Bill Cosby says "Yeah, I like 'em alltall, short, round, skinny, white, off-white, living, dead...")

Such distinctions have faded in importance in recent timessince the advent of the Web, reallybut that doesn't mean we should stop taking a stand on proper journalistic ethics. The reader has a right to know whether the writer in fact talked to the subject, while the writer has no right to imply an interview that never took place. It's not a question of formality/informality or tradition for its own sake. It's a matter of clarity and, sometimes, copyright. When SHAM was first published a writer for an online magazine that shall be nameless cobbled together a dozen key quotes from the book, added some minimal connective tissue, and produced a supposed Q-&-A that had never actually occurred. I can only assume that said writer pocketed a nice writing fee (which was probably not refunded after I brought the writer's misdeeds to the attention of editors there). That writer violated both my copyright and my financial interest in the material by using my "borrowed" words for self-enrichment in a manner that fell well outside the most generous boundaries of "fair use." Or maybe the writer thought that's what I meant by self-help.

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