What did Peev say next?

Carrying on from Saturday’s post about the Scotsman’s ‘Monster’ story, Roy Greenslade has picked up on the debate and put forward a few more arguments surrounding the issue.

The Scotsman and Peev’s defence is that, as a rule, what is on and off the record is defined from the outset and allowing someone to retrospectively go “off the record” is like allowing someone to edit an article written about them. It’s a pretty fair point – if you let people go off the record in hindsight at what time do you draw the line? Must they make the claim immediately after comment, within an hour or just before the piece hits the printers?

Allowing someone to go off the record retrospectively does open that particular Pandora’s Box, but it’s an inescapable one in the real world as interviews do not tend to follow the rule-of-thumb that exists in ideal journalism.

As Greenslade points out, some interviewees tend to go on and off the record many times within a brief interview and trying to apply strict rules to that can be difficult. Often people will say ‘this is off the record’ and then proceed to make their comment before the journalist has time to agree or disagree; under the “rules” laid down by The Scotsman would not be counted as “official” either. In reality, laying down rigid rules in a very variable and unregulated situation like a conversation is pointless..

So again it comes back to the central point from before – whether Power was “officially” off the record it’s clear that she wanted to be and going against her wishes could do the journalist’s reputation damage in normal circumstances. If Power had been a regular contact, she’d likely never speak to Peev again. Peev asserted her right to quote Power as she has; I wonder if those she does speak to on a regular basis are as comfortable with the situation?

Most importantly, however, there’s a question that I’ve yet to see asked that could go some way to clarifying the whole situation:

What did Peev say next?

When Powers made a belated request to go off the record, did Peev say “no, sorry – too late”, “sure, no problem”, “eh, I’ll think about it”, “she’s a monster, eh? Tell me more” or nothing at all? If Peev really felt she was within her rights to quote Power’s comments as ‘on the record’, did she make it quite clear there and then or did she allow Power to think she was in the clear or still off the record?

As Peev has said – the tape was rolling so it was on the record; that counts for what she said to Power too.

On going off the record

A post by Shane puts the spotlight on an interesting side-show to Samantha Power’s recent “monster” comments in relation to Hillary Clinton.

The Scotsman’s decision to run with a story based around an off-the-record comment raises some ethical questions about the entire meaning of those three words, and about a journalist’s obligation to pay attention to them.

Going off the record can mean anything from being quoted as an anonymous source, not being directly quoted but having your unattributed comments published as fact nonetheless, providing context and background to an issue or providing information that cannot be referenced in any way in the finished piece but that may prove useful in the questions you later ask of those going “on the record”.

Usually the important thing is to not identify the source of the comments or information – although in Power’s case she would surely have meant it in the “don’t reference that at all” kind of way.

However rather than agree to her wishes, The Scotsman made it the centrepiece of a story that should have been about her new book. Legally speaking there’s probably nothing stopping them from doing so and it’s no good to Power now saying “I didn’t mean it, I was off the record” but there are ethical questions to this.

Going off the record can open a journalist up to a wealth of information that recorded conversations can not and from these types of comments alone, a story can be built up into something powerful and most importantly printable. Off the record can be a useful way of getting the inside story, getting pointed in the right direction with a lead or simply firming up your work with a comment that is too dangerous for the source of it to tack their name to.

As Shane points out, newspapers would be far more interesting places if everything told to journalists off the record was printed – but conversely newspapers would be consistently worthless if journalists were never told anything off the record at all.

Because of this and as Shane also points out, journalists usually keep up their side of the bargain for the sake of their relationship with a source; put bluntly the person giving you off-the-record information will continue to do so as long as you stick to your side of the agreement and as they learn to trust you more and more they might trust you with more and more information.

But as Fergal points out in the comments, in this case The Scotsman likely has no long-term use with Power as a source and it’s not like her ‘off-the-record’ comment was something they could use as the foundation of another story without landing her in it in the end anyway.

However, while in the short term letting the comment slide would have lost them a big-draw story for no obvious gain, it may come back to bite the newspaper – or even just Gerri Peev – when regular/potentially regular contacts begin to seize up for fear that their off-the-record comment are not off-the-record at all.

The situation is parallel to that of protecting your sources in court – a journalist must be willing to protect a source, even at the cost of their own liberty, or else they will lose their trust in an instant. If a journalist gains a reputation for him or herself as someone who identifies whistle-blowers at the first sign of personal trouble, then no-one will come near them in future.

Likewise you have to wonder if The Scotsman will see a decline in hush-hush information now that Power’s off-the-record comments have proven to be anything but that.

Then there’s a whole other issue of how much protection the off-the-record comment should afford a person. If a politician admits to being corrupt whilst off-the-record, what should a journalist do? I suppose the simple answer is that a good journalist will use that assertion to investigate and unearth solid evidence of said corruption thus maintaining their ethical integrity without letting a good story go by. Of course, it’s not always that simple (but it’s not as if you claiming a politician admitted they were corrupt to you would be much of a story in itself anyway – legally speaking).

From a personal point of view, an article I’m working on at the moment has involved a lot of off-the-record (unquoted, that is) conversations with people and it’s not the first one, either. It’s quite apparent to me that if I were to betray the trust of the people I’ve spoken to off-the-record, for this article and others, I’d be well advised to pack journalism in and doing something different afterwards. Having a reputation for being dishonest or untrustworthy with a source is about the worst kind you can have and it’s certainly not something I have any intention of gaining.

PS: I also think it’s ethically, and perhaps legally, questionable of the newspaper to say that Power’s comments represent “the [Obama] camp’s true feelings about the former first lady” – maybe they do, but can they back that statement up with proof?

On Today FM at 6:30pm this evening

I’ll be going onto The Last Word on Today FM this evening – should be at around 6:30pm or so.

The topic will be the DTT roll-out, coming on the back of the BCI’s announcement of a tender process for the three commercial multiplexes. If that means nothing to you, listen in!

I’ve been obsessively following DTT in Ireland since April 2006 (As my Portfolio can attest) so it’s good to see some real progress on it – and to get the chance to discuss it on the radio.

Tune in, text in, comment on how amazing I am (or am not). Whatever takes your fancy.

My bible(s)

I recently came into possession of two books/directories – one I bought and one that was given to me – which have quickly become equivalent to my Old and New Testament of Journalism.

First up, I forked out something like €26 for the latest Nealon’s Guide, which goes into great detail on the last Irish general election and all the TDs and Senators that are in place as a result of it. Within a day of buying it it had proved its worth by being an integral part of the research I conducted for this article.

The fact that it has contact details of each sitting TD – from office numbers to mobile numbers to email addresses – ensures it will be equally vital for Dáil30.ie (which will hopefully spring to life once I secure my recording equipment and can start setting solid dates for the various interviews).

The second addition to my working day is the Irish Media Contacts Directory, which was sent to me recently by Ronan, who works for the company. I wasn’t so sure on how useful this would be to me but again it’s proving itself quite quickly.

For a freelancer like myself it’s extremely useful to have easy access to the various contact details of various editors of various publications – especially when most publication websites are lacking at best. If I’ve got an article idea I want to pitch, it’s now a matter of flicking to the relevant page, finding out who to send it to and what address to send it through.

This is also going to prove very useful for Dáil30.ie – particularly the media campaign I’m hoping to undertake as part of pushing the project locally around the country.

So The Nealon’s Guide and The Irish Media Contacts Directory take pride of place alongside my diary (which is a lifesaver all by itself), notepad and contacts book.

Making money out of Ghosts

Having successfully downloaded and listened through Nine Inch Nails‘ ‘Ghosts I-IV‘ I’ve been thinking over the potential for the business model pursued by Reznor with this instrumental album.

There’s no doubt that selling digital downloads for $5 and CDs for $10 will attract a lot of interest from fans – as will the higher-end packages for those in the ‘hardcore’ category* – but there’s another possible outcome of the release that could prove even more lucrative than all commercial sales combined.

Over thirty years ago producer Brian Eno made an album entitled ‘Music for Films‘, releasing a further two volumes of the project later on in his career.

The original release by Eno was purely promotional, with just 500 copies being made and each one going to various film-makers to see if they’d be interested in adding some of the tracks within to their next film. If the film-maker liked it, they’d get back to Eno and discuss terms.

It’s unlikely that this potential revenue stream is not part of Reznor’s plans for Ghosts. He’s no stranger to soundtracks and many if not most of Ghosts I-IV‘s tracks would find themselves at home on a film or TV soundtrack. Where in the past an artist/producer like Reznor might have a hard time getting a film-maker’s attention for any suitable tracks they might have, what this release does is put the music as “out there” as possible. Now if someone likes a track, they can just come back with the details and arrange the royalty contract.

Interestingly the songs have been released under a Creative Commons licence which allows the free non-commercial use of the music; this means that if a student makes a college documentary or I want to add that little something to a free podcast I’m making, I can pick any part of any one of the 36 tracks on the album. All this does is make the album’s best tracks all the more visible (or audible) to the audience and, in turn, those always on the look-out for soundtrack content.

* theninhotline.net tells us that all 2,500 copies of the $300 Ultra-Deluxe Edition have now been sold. Doing the maths, that means that through just one of the four release options made available Reznor has already generated $750,000 in turnover – although it’s impossible to know how much of that would come back to him as pure profit.

Other blogs talking about Ghosts:
Jim Carroll, TenaciousT

Firefox Firsts

This isn’t the kind of thing I normally do on the blog but what the hell, let’s see if this takes off (and passes some time).

When you start typing a web address into Firefox a list of addresses you’ve previously visited pops up to assist you, organised according to how often you visit them. (The last time I used IE it just listed them alphabetically but that may have changed since.)

So, for example, when I type ‘b’ into the address bar ‘boards.ie’ is the first address on the list of suggestions because it’s the one I visit most often that begins with that letter.

It’s an extremely useful browsing option because it often means you only have to type in one letter to get to a site you go to every day but it’s also an extremely interesting insight into the user’s internet interests and a damn-fine way for others to find sites they might like that have never heard of.

So here’s my suggestion – willing bloggers take the letters from their full initials (including any double-barrel forenames or surnames, middle names and communion names etc.) and divulge their “Firefox Firsts” for each one on their site.

So, for example, my full initials would be A.P.J.M. My firsts for these letters are:

A:
http://www.adammaguire.com/blog/wp-admin/post-new.php
It’s surprising to me given the lack of blogging going on here on my part but there you go – my first ‘a’ is the page I go to to write up posts for the site. The link’s not going to be much use to anyone else so just out of interest I’ll point out that the next ‘a’ in my list was the Blog Awards website.

P:
http://penny-arcade.com
Not the only web-comic I like but certainly the only web-comic I read religiously every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Well worth checking out for any gamer geeks out there – the archive is huge and should provide plenty of amusement for anyone with a spare day to kill.

J:
http://www.jobs.ie/Jobs.aspx?Categories=5&Regions=3%2C4%2C5%2C6&Keywords=&Submit=Search
One of my favourites folders is simply entitled ‘Jobs’, and has links to various websites that sometimes display journalism-related jobs. This Jobs.ie search is one of those sites although I’d like to add that it’s absolute shite. In Jobs.ie-land, every job in the world fits into the Media/New Media category including Receptionist positions and an un-Godly heap of Sales and Telesales jobs.

M:
http://www.mulley.net
What more can I say? I have an RSS feed for Damien’s site in my Thunderbird account but I usually end up going to the site through Firefox to read comments and view any embedded YouTube videos anyway. Which is something I find myself doing an awful lot of the time!

Now as this isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally do on the blog you’ll have to forgive my etiquette – are you supposed to link to loads of other blogs to try and get the idea out, or something? Answers on a postcard, or even a comment.

The Irish Blog Awards 2008 – My recap

A belated congratulations to all the winners at this year’s Irish Blog Awards – and congratulations to Damien and his team of elves for the excellent show they put on.

Over the course of the night I got the impression of a community that was far more sure of itself than before; as well as more diverse and well-rounded. As a result of this I can’t help but feel that the whole ‘blog’ thing is at a tipping point in Ireland, or maybe it’s best described as a crossroads. Either way I expect next year’s event to be even better than the last and to feature even stronger nominees, be they new arrivals or simply the ever-improving “old” ones.

On a personal note I yet again missed a few people I was meaning to meet – but conversely met a few people I didn’t think I would. Everyone I spoke to was uber-friendly and interesting (even the woman who identified me as “the guy who leaves really long comments”… harsh but fair) and those I missed I’m hoping I’ll meet another time soon.

So again, a bit congratulations to all those involved in organisation, all those nominated and all the winners – looking forward to the Web Awards!

IBAs tonight – good luck and see you there

A quick good luck to all those nominated for awards at tonight’s Irish Blog Awards.

Looking forward to it myself – mainly as an opportunity to meet some people in person for the first time and to catch up with those I’ve not seen in a bit.

If there’s one bad thing I can say about last year it’s that too many winners had too little to say. So to those who do win, do your best to prove John Waters completely incorrect and squeeze out three sentences or more in your acceptance speech!

Talk to you there!

These people are scum

Engadget posted earlier today about a tech-related prank played on a child by his family and I had to direct anyone reading here to it.

The basic set up was that an Xbox360 box was stuffed with shirts and wrapped up as a Christmas present. The child unwraps it on camera and instantly thinks he’s gotten a swanky new 360, until he opens the box and his dreams are shattered. Cue laughter from everyone else in the room, accompanied by possibly the most genuinely hurt look you’re ever likely to want to see from a child.

The people who devised the prank, his parents I assume, can only be described as scumbags. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this. They’re idiotic scumbags.

It’s one thing to pull this kind of stunt with your kid if you’ve actually got the Xbox360 (or other coveted device) hidden away somewhere ready to be revealed at the opportune moment. That kind of thing can still scar but the chances are the few seconds of hurt and embarrassment they feel will be totally forgotten once they’re able to mentally shift back to the initial joy they felt.

But here there is no Xbox360 to pull the classic “gotcha” manoeuvre – just a small box full of clothes. Those in the room are genuinely tickled by his reaction – including the asshole who’s bellowing with laughter in the background from the very second he realises what’s going on. The kid is clearly blown away at first when he thinks he got just what he asked for and is clearly shattered when he realises his family are pricks.

He looks to his mother with such absolute venom and upset, after a minute of which she finally seems to show some remorse. But it’s too late at that stage. They’ve already ruined the kid’s Christmas, probably ruined every other Christmas to come and most certainly ruined a certain amount of the bond he has with his family.

This is probably how serial killers are made.

Engadget has decided to help the kid out by donating an Xbox360 of their own, assuming they can find the right guy, and even Microsoft wants to get in on the action. It’s a pretty noble thing to do and you can see their logic but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if his scumbag family just sold it all once it arrived – and not for the money, they’d probably do it just so they could stamp on whatever is left of this child’s soul.