See no AP, speak no AP, link no AP

I kept telling myself I was way too busy to compose a long, thoughtful piece about AP’s supremely boneheaded, wrongheaded, counterproductive and just plain stupid move to threaten to sue bloggers who quote and link to AP stories but don’t pay AP.

But I am never, ever too busy to vote.

So please count my vote in the NO AP column. Until further notice, I won’t be quoting or linking to AP stories in this blog – even if they are written by my friends whose work deserves credit and re-distribution. And I will encourage others to do the same.

As Jack Lail notes in his blog this morning, there are several stories out about the rift, and his list doesn’t include Amy Gahran’s dandy E-Media Tidbits piece, “AP v. Bloggers: Hurting Journalism?”

But the article that held my attention this morning is written by Christopher Sprigman, an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law, on the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Blog.

Here’s his take:

… for some reason unfathomable to anyone with a lick of common sense, the Associated Press has decided that the blogs’ “quote and link” practice violates their copyrights. It’s hard to overstate what a senseless move this is for the AP. Nonetheless, it’s also true that unless everyone – the AP and bloggers alike – steps lightly here, copyright law could end up doing a lot of damage to both the blogs and the press. Let me explain . . .

Springman’s piece is worth a read and a re-read. And he has a call to action:

…We should reform copyright to require that plaintiffs in most cases be required, as an element of their prima facie case in an infringement lawsuit, to prove that they have been harmed. In a stroke, this reform would re-focus copyright on the task it is meant to perform: policing serious threats to the ability of content owners to profit from their work.

Amen!

As a veteran journalist, both print and online, I taught blogging last semester at the journalism school of University of Nevada, Las Vegas and (silly me) I taught the students that the most important issue on quotes is — or should be — all about attribution.

My playground rules for journalism include this:

  • No stealing other people’s stuff

I told the students that quoting people accurately and giving them credit, on the other hand, is a good thing.

And I know at least one person at the highest levels of the Associated Press agrees with me.

I had a hallway conversation at an APME conference in 2004 with Kathleen Carroll, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of the Associated Press. We talked about her work as a very (very) young AP reporter on the 1979 Wichita Falls, Texas tornado, one of the most deadly in U.S. history, according to NOAA.

Carroll kicked butt on the tornado story (according to eyewitnesses including my journalist husband), but she still remembers that one newspaper in Dallas used her material without attribution in their story. Twenty-five years later, it still annoyed her.

The AP started as a cooperative, to distribute and re-distribute reporters’ and photographers’ work around the world.

As a young print reporter, I remember how thrilled I was when the AP picked up my stories. One article I wrote was distributed by the AP to three continents with my name on it. I know that for sure, because I got letters from across the U.S. and Africa and Europe, including one addressed simply to “Charlotte Lucas, Dallas Newsaper, USA.” God bless the Post Office who made sure the letter found my desk at the late, great Dallas Times Herald.

So now the AP wants bloggers to pay — per word! — and to give them credit and to promise not to say anything bad about anybody? (Forgive me for saying so, but that sure sounds more like a muzzle of my free speech than a copyright license.)

So what happens when the AP picks up something written by a blogger?

Does the blogger get paid by the word by the AP?

Did the AP follow its own guidelines when it picked up quotes from blogger Mayhill Fowler about Barak Obama’s now infamous use of the word “bitter”?

Here’s what the AP wrote about what Fowler wrote:

The Huffington Post Web site reported Friday that Obama, speaking of some Pennsylvanians’ economic anxieties, told supporters at the San Francisco fundraiser: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. And they fell through the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

I know. I just broke my rule.

So is the AP going to sue me for quoting them using the words they accurately quoted from a blogger?

Or are we all going to get together and figure out how to figure this out?

Sex, texting, secrets and media lapdogs

I’m shocked (shocked, I tell ya!) at the high percentage of prudes and fraidy cat nannies in the Nevada press corps.

It’s Nevada, for crying out loud, home to Reno, divorce capitol of the world in the north, Vegas Sin City in the south, and legal brothels in between. It’s a place where even the taxicabs sport cleavage (trust me, that’s true) and everything including the nose on the faux sphinx has been “enhanced.”

In Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer, hires two svelte, semi-clad woman — one for each arm — to pretend to be showgirls and enhance his image.

It’s all about sex and the economy.

Up the road in the capital of Carson City, there’s Gov. Jim Gibbons, 63, a former flyboy and back-bench congressman who’s embroiled in a messy divorce. Come to find out he sent hundreds of late-night text messages to someone else’s wife and then held a news conference to say they were not love notes — the other woman was just advising him on taxation.

So in his case, it’s not sex — the texts were about taxes!

Jimbo could use some advice in that arena, because right now, Nevada is about $1 billion short of a full tax coffer.

But such is Gibbons’ grasp of math (and reality) that he claims he had no idea that it cost extra to send 867 text messages to his alleged paramour from his taxpayer-funded phone.

For this insight into the governor’s character, we must thank Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette Journal, who had the journalistic good sense to ask questions and demand public records. Here’s her story and here’s the timeline of the calls.

The RGJ’s Damon was also the first mainstream journalist to write about the Gibbons’ marital problems, when she reported online Feb. 28 that the governor’s office issued a public statement confirming a general lack of happy home and hearth. (I would link, but the article is no longer available.) That came a day after Las Vegas Gleaner blogger Hugh Jackson first wrote that the governor would be filing for divorce.

But it gets even odder: Gibbons took the unusual mid-term action of filing for divorce, then his spokesperson went on the record to talk about it and now he’s filed to keep everything secret. Does that make anyone else go hmmmm? (He didn’t seal the records the last time he divorced, when she got the kids and the Oldsmobile, and he got the Porche 911.)

Don’t forget this governor was sworn in during a semi-secret midnight meeting at his home with only an AP photographer present. He’s kept his cell phone number a secret from the Chancellor of Higher Education (and refused to return his calls with advice on taxes). And to the best of my knowledge, Gibbons’ reason for wanting to be governor is still a secret.

Gibbons tried to move the message from texting to taxes, calling a special session of the Nevada Legislature to take on the budget crisis. One proposal would have state workers and teachers take a pay cut by eliminating their 4 percent pay raises at a time when consumer prices are up 4.5 percent. (Full disclosure: My teaching position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was among those cut by a dean in response to the budget crisis.)

Outside of Nevada, the sheer number of cliches and outlandish details in this story are a non-fiction writer’s dream, as the Times Online in the United Kingdom proved in this piece. The nearby Los Angles Times called the situation a Gossip Jackpot. Even the New York Times, once known as the Gray Lady, couldn’t resist publishing the story under the headline “Nevada’s Texter-in-Chief.

Among the Nevada media, however, there’s a whole lot of mumbling and whispering, not to mention very prudie, wimpie behavior.

For the longest time, reporters were too timid to write something known to every fourth-grader in Northern Nevada who’d taken a class trip to tour the capital: That Dawn Gibbons was living in the governor’s mansion in Carson City and she’d relegated Jimbo to their home in Reno.

The governor’s personal life is a public matter and an important story, and here’s why:

  • He is a public official, whose salary (and cell phone) are paid by the taxpayers who have a right to know what he is doing.
  • Gibbons is under federal investigation for matters outlined here by TalkingPointsMemo. Up until now, his wife, Dawn, has been his defender-in-chief on those issues. If her attitude or her story changes, that could affect the investigation in a very newsworthy way.
  • Gibbons ran for office on a platform of family values. When he is accused by his wife of womanizing in office, after being accused during the campaign of drunkenly groping a woman in a Vegas parking garage, well, let’s just say, it’s a story.

From the start, some bloggers in Nevada seemed intent on protecting Gibbons, even apologizing for the fact that any story was published. Take this from conservative blogger Chuck Muth’s Muth’s Truths in February:

And the fact is many reporters, columnists and responsible bloggers in the mainstream media knew about the rumors of a possible Gibbons divorce at least a WEEK ago. So did I.

But not one of them reported on the rumors until a Gibbons-hating liberal, Las Vegas blogger wrote about it yesterday afternoon. And even then, not one mainstream newspaper that I’m aware of ran with the story this morning, despite the proverbial cat being out of the bag. That’s responsible, professional journalism – and it showed an admirable level of restraint over a story I’m sure all of them were dying to break.

Two more apologies for the story’s publication, this time from mainstream media writers, Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston and Las Vegas CityLife’s Steve Sebelius, were enough to prompt this from the Las Vegas Gleaner:

All hail the magnanimous restraint of a caring media

… Both journalists, in something of a departure from their profession’s custom, seem to wish that a high-ranking official in the governor’s administration would have said “no comment.”

Both also signaled their wholehearted agreement with a Gibbons-loving professional political activist in Reno, who wrote on his website that marital strife in the governor’s mansion would not even be a story if not for the utterances of the Gibbons staffer.

Having formed a triumvirate of hyper-sensitivity, all three writers took time out from burying [Gibbons Chief Operating Officer Diane] Cornwall in opprobrium to heap varying degrees of praise on the media and themselves for showing such magnanimous responsible restraint in these difficult times.

After all, the governor’s marriage has nothing to do with how the state is governed. Well, except for the strain divorce could have on the governor’s ability (such as it is) to do his job. And the impact it could have on his political effectiveness and prospects for reelection or even his capacity to last through the remainder of his term. And how divorce proceedings might intersect with various allegations of wrongdoing lodged against both Gibbonses.

On Feb. 29, I was on Ralston’s Face to Face television show and on KNPR’s State of Nevada with host Dave Berns, emphatically saying the governor’s marital woes warrant journalistic exploration. Simply put: It’s a story!

But even as the national and international media — and the Reno Gazette Journal and KNPR’s Dave Berns — try to set an example for how to cover a story, the locals keep floundering.

In early June, KLAS-TV’s investigative reporter, George Knapp, contributed to the ongoing static by pulling another embarrassing “Don’t-ask-don’t-tell” moment in his Knappster blog in Las Vegas CityLife:

I’m all but certain that the governor has accumulated dirt of his own and could obliterate his wife’s reputation if he chose to do so. (In fact, the nature of this damaging information is already circulating in political circles. We’re talking about some salacious stuff.)

The job of a journalist is to UN-secret things, not to keep secrets!

Then on Friday the 13th, I got a call from a reporter at the Las Vegas Review Journal asking if I, in my role as professor and journalist, could please explain to him why the story about the governor’s divorce is getting traction all the way to the United Kingdom.

Dudes, stop apologizing, stop tiptoeing, and go ask some smart questions!

For instance, why in the world hasn’t a Nevada news organization challenged the divorce secrecy? What could Gibbons possibly want to hide from the people who elected (and pay) him? What made the alleged paramour’s texted tax advice better than the Chancellor of Higher Education’s? Is Gibbons going to take a pay cut, pay raise, or get paid for not showing up as he did when he was in Congress?

Reporters are being laid off in newsrooms across the country, and what is the Nevada press corps doing? Trying to ensure a second career on the governor’s protective detail?

There’s a story here and you are required as a journalist to be curious, ask questions and write stories that put things into context.

Go do your jobs.

And that means you, too, bloggers!

Correction: As originally published, this article erroneously characterized CityLife as a mainstream media publication. Its owner, Stephens Media, characterizes it as a weekly newspaper. We regret the error.

Fried squirrel, politics and the media

Some followup notes from my delightful conversation this morning on KNPR’s State of Nevada, with host Dave Berns and his panel of so-called “witty academics.” (The audio with David Damore, Ken Fernandez and me from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Eric Herzik of University of Nevada, Reno, is here.)

During the show, I mentioned a wonderful resource at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which has been running a campaign coverage index showing how much attention the media is giving each presidential candidate. This one, covering the week of Jan. 6 through Jan. 11, shows Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton got far more media attention for her New Hampshire “comeback” than did the also victorious Republican Senator John McCain, who had not won in Iowa. Moreover, this index suggests that Democrat John Edwards is almost being ignored by the media.

One person who called in to the show wondered if the media is shying away from him because of Edwards’ criticism of the kind of big corporations that own the media. I wasn’t as articulate as I would have liked to have been on air, so here is an addendum:

My two cents is that this is more a reflection of “pack journalism” than any philosophical thing on the part of the journalists. I could be wrong, but news organizations are lousy places to pull off a controlled conspiracy thing — they’re generally too blessed disorganized and full of ornery back-talkers.

The screw ups I’ve seen over the years stem more from laziness and fear than some order from on high. The fear comes two ways. First, there’s the fear of getting beaten. If everyone else is covering Candidate X, you’d better do it too or you will look stupid. Second, there is the fear of someone yelling at the publisher because a reporter didn’t cover their event — or because a reporter asked impolite questions. That is very real and very true.

I was pressured that way in my coverage of Texas gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush, as I wrote about here.

Fortunately, everyone seems to have a digital camera and a recorder these days, along with access to free publishing tools on the Web. So it’s a lot harder for candidates and their spinmeisters to squelch things.

Also, I didn’t have a chance during the show to mention a couple of other fine journalism resources for election information. The Las Vegas Sun’s ace database folks put together a truly nifty interactive map that shows voting, party affiliation and contribution information by Zip Code for Clark County. Check it out and play with it — the data tells the story.

And another friend of mine over at Congressional Quarterly sent me a link to CQ Politics Primary Guide – nice stuff and good, accessible information.

Now, a reward for reading this far down.

I really wasn’t joking about Republican candidate Mike Huckabee claiming to have fried squirrel on a popcorn popper in college.

Here thanks to the good folks at Talking Points Memo, is the video:

Just because I am a calloused, cynical journalist, I do wonder if a popcorn popper actually gets hot enough to fry a squirrel.

But then, I wonder about a lot of things.

Perhaps some enterprising reporter will put it to a truth test.

Blog it (well) and they will come

Students in my Digital Storytelling class zoomed into the prime time blogosphere this week, providing live, multimedia coverage of the Democratic presidential debate and the accompanying mayhem at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Besides making more than 150 posts to the UNLV Presidential Debate 2007 blog, many of the students published audio, photos and text directly to the blog from their cell phones, using a new, free tool called Utterz.

The 17 students also provided solid journalistic coverage of the week’s events, including writing about CNN’s shabby behavior on campus. The post about CNN consistently ranked as the second most popular one on the blog after it went up Tuesday evening.

As of Friday morning, the blog was less than 100 hours old and had received more than 1,100 pageviews. Stats from our host, WordPress, show that the audience is coming from WordPress tags, MySpace bulletins, emails and link-love from places like Utterz and from my alma mater site in San Antonio and from my own Facebook profile, where I’ve posted and linked to it.

The students have been required to maintain a personal blog all semester, and this breaking news group blog was part of the plan in the syllabus all along. (Translation: They are being graded on their work, so there was some incentive — besides the sheer fun of it — to participate enthusiastically!)

Some aspects of the blog came as little or no surprise, because we spent a lot of time in class discussing things such as:

  • Transparency and ethics. So when I accidentally broke the blog Thursday evening, I wrote about it. That’s transparency — letting viewers know what’s going on, particularly when you’ve just screwed up.
  • Journalism. They know one of my basic rules is “quote ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” So when representatives of CNN acted rudely in public, the students wrote about it here, here and here. They told the truth. (New basic rule: Don’t underestimate students who buy their pixels by the barrel.)
  • Finding and telling true stories in different mediums. So they were as comfortable as could be expected when I didn’t give them any more specifics on their assignments than “don’t bore me,” and “tell me what happened,” and do it with text and audio and photos and video.
  • Marketing, search engine optimization and visibility. So when it came time to do this blog, they tagged the blazes out of their posts (and sent out bulletins on MySpace!) — and they got your eyeballs.

But one thing I hadn’t expected was how much time we would spend in class wrangling with technology. It amazed me how difficult it was to even get a blessed piece of audio off of a digital recorder and onto the students’ blogs.

So after I talked to Randy Corke, the co-founder and president of Utterz when I was at BlogWorld last week, I decided the student bloggers would try something I hadn’t planned on or tested because it sounded like just the pixie dust we needed to make this blog fly.

Utterz lets you use your cell to send in photos, video, text and audio, then it mashes them together and plunks the finished product right down into a blog post. If there’s anything else like this out there, I sure hadn’t heard of it. Update: Here is a linknk to what somebody a lot smarter than I am had to say about Utterz two months ago.

Because these students are almost digital natives and all the way fearless, they tried it on deadline, and they not only made it work, they made it sing. One of them immediately waded into a crowd of demonstrators, interviewed people with his cell phone and had the audio up on the blog in less than 10 minutes — it was his first live “radio” interview. Holy cow!

(Here is a list on Utterz of all of the student posts tagged UNLV — you can see the good, the tests and the things we can learn from.)

How long have I been waiting for something like this? I told Randy a story about something that happened long ago and far away, in Phoenix, where my husband was the assistant city editor in charge of the cops and courts team at the Arizona Republic in the mid-1980s. His reporters were lugging those huge, shoebox-shaped Motorola “mobile” phones around to crime scenes out on the sticks, and they also had those whiz-bang Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100s to file their stories.

One day my husband asked the Motorola representative if they couldn’t come up with some sort of gizmo to make the two devices physically connect to each other. The dude from Motorola just shook his head dismissively. “No one would ever use that,” he said.

And then there was the year of deadly hurricanes, Emily, Katrina and Rita.

As content director at MySanAntonio.com, I launched what I jokingly referred to as the world’s first interdenominational, multimedia hurricane blog. We pulled off the unthinkable: We got television reporters and newspaper reporters and newspaper photographers to all get along inside the same blog, and to file like someone else’s life depended on it.

We had it all — except the technology to easily pull it together. In the end, the “man behind the curtain” at that blog was one of my Web editors taking dictation over the phone because we had no other way to get the television meteorologist’s spoken words to go from a cell phone in a satellite truck in the field directly into the blog.

Well, now we do. And that’s not just a baby step toward real independent and mobile journalism.

Blogging, journalism and ethics

Just a quick note that I will be on a panel at Blogworld Expo in Las Vegas this morning talking about blogging ethics.

This should be a great discussion, and I will recap it here later today. As the students in my Digital Storytelling class at UNLV know, we’ve spent almost as much time on ethics this semester as we have on the storytelling aspects of blogs and journalism.

And then there was the time when an imaginary beaver turned into an ethics teaching tool right here on my blog

As is always the case, I know I’m gonna learn something today!

Beaver redemption

I had a delightful conversation yesterday with Don Wasek, co-owner of Buc-ee’s, and an acknowledged novice blogger.

“I am new at this,” he said in an email responding to my complaint that the Buc-ee’s blog had lifted my words. Then he asked if he could call me for some advice.

We chatted on the phone for a good bit, talking about blogging and the whys and hows. He said he uses the Buc-ee’s Blog to post the testimonials and comments that pour into the corporate Website from Buc-ee’s fans. (By way of explanation, the other co-owner of the convenience store chain is “Beaver” Aplin.)

Wasek explained to me that he didn’t use people’s names with their comments because the woman who set it up for him told him not to use people’s names without their permission. But he said he really thinks it’s more believable when you use people’s names.

Well, we sure agree on that one. I suggested he start soliciting permission from people who send in comments so he can use their words with their names on the blog — most of them would probably love it.

As for other bloggers, I told him that we like being picked up and quoted by blogs like his. The blogosphere works best when you quote other blogs in your blog and you link out to them. That helps people find your blog, and it lends credibility to your blog.

So I walked him through the blockquote format and showed him how to link out to another blog, in this case, to mine. (It’s all better now, he even spelled my name right!) I also suggested that he do the same link thing on another post he had on the blog quoting a story about Buc-ee’s from my alma mater, MySanAntonio.com.

As we were winding down, he asked if all of my students at UNLV just communicate through blogs. I chuckled and explained that I was teaching the students to use blogs to commit journalism.

But I said I’m thinking that we also need to teach the marketing and public relations students how to blog, since corporate blogging is a fine art at places like Dell and Google.

And then, maybe we could offer up a student intern to be Buc-ee’s blog guru for the summer. Ya think?

The dam beaver stole my words

I’ve been doing this journalism gig for a good while now, and never before have I had to take on an imaginary beaver for a very real case of plagiarism.

Buc-ee

But Buc-ee’s gone and done it now. He stole the words right off of my blog and stacked them over here.

If the beaver had spoken to anyone who knows me, he might have realized what a huge mistake it is to steal words from me. I take it very, very seriously.

As I’ve told my students at the beginning of each semester, in the 10 years or so I spent as an editor, I only fired three people; two of them were fired for plagiarism, one online and one in print.

Last fall, a few students didn’t take that warning seriously. Four of them stole other people’s words and turned them in as their own in class assignments. One stole from a story written by a reporter for the Associated Press, another stole from a story in the Las Vegas Review Journal and another stole from both of them and from the student newspaper, the Rebel Yell, taking words from a story written by another of my students!

They flunked the class. I was very happy to give them the grade they earned for such thievery: an F. Those students are now on academic probation, and if they do it again, they will be kicked out of school.

So what to do about the beaver? I can’t fire him and I can’t flunk him (though he has already flunked himself).

I can do something even better: turn him into a teaching tool!

Among other things, I’m teaching blogging this semester, and there’s been some discussion in class about whether the rules are different for bloggers. The short answer is no. Whether you are published in a newspaper, have your story broadcast on television or radio, or if you post in a blog, the same basic rules apply.

Here’s my simple version of the most important rules of journalism:

Rule No. 1: No stealing other people’s stuff.

Rule No. 2: No making stuff up.

Now back to the beaver. I’m sending this blog post to the email address on Buc-ee’s corporate Web site. That’s because Buc-ee’s Blog doesn’t have any contact information and has the comments field disabled on its blog.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’d love to see some student comments here after we talk about Buc-ee’s blunder in class today.

Update: Here is the text of the note that I put into the comment area of Buc-ee’s corporate Website this evening:

 

Hello!

I am writing to alert you that the blog that is being compiled under your auspices (Buc-ee’s Beaver Blog http://buc-ees.com/wordpress/) is not properly crediting people who have written about Buc-ee’s.

I am a journalist, and the post I wrote about Buc-ee’s, was purloined and posted, word-for-word on the Buc-ee’s Blog in a manner that made it appear as if Buc-ee’s had written the words.

I have written about the plagiarized post here: http://charlotteanne.wordpress.com/2007/09/17/the-damn-beaver-stole-my-words/

I would be quite happy for you to properly quote my work *with proper attribution,* and I will update my audience (and the students in my journalism class at the university) once you have done so.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

Charlotte-Anne Lucas

 

 

 

There’s no such thing as off-the-record for journalists

Linda Greenhouse’s snit-fit over C-SPAN’s attempt to record her appearance in Washington D.C. at a journalism educators’ conference Friday is a stunning show of arrogance and cluelessness.

(Here’s the take on it by Columbia Journalism Review, and here is this morning’s limp defense of her move by Slate.)

In an interview with the AEJMC Reporter, Greenhouse denied the suggestion that she threatened to walk out unless C-SPAN’s cameras left:

“I have absolutely nothing against C-SPAN,” she said. “I never turn down an invitation from C-SPAN.”

But she said the panel would not “have the same kind of intimate conversation” if the discussion was televised.

Greenhouse followed up with a letter of explanation that’s quoted here.

OK, so Greenhouse is saying she didn’t want C-SPAN to broadcast her comments because she wanted to have an “intimate” conversation with 50 or so professors in “private.” So did all 50 journalism education professors in the audience agree not to tell anyone what she said? Hardly. She never asked that the discussion be off the record, according to the CJR account.

If she just assumed the event was off the record once the cameras left, then that’s just plain stupid, or arrogant, or both. And it is also assuming a level of control over the audience (and fellow panelists from Slate and the Washington Post) that — if it ever existed — certainly is nonexistent today.

No one can accuse Greenhouse of being afraid of TV. But it does sound like she wanted to say something different to this “intimate” crowd, something that she is afraid to take responsibility for on a broader stage. Journalism is no place for such cowardice.

Everything that a journalist does is on the record — whether it is the questions asked at a news conference or the negotiations with a source over obtaining whistleblower information. While the source may consider the conversation private today, what the reporter did or said, and the terms of the agreement or conversation can become painfully public. Just ask Judy Miller.

How a journalist asks a question can be as important to the context of the story as the answer. A reporter once handed me an audio recording of his interview with a mentally retarded inmate on Texas’ death row, to accompany his story online. When the reporter asked me to edit out his questions before posting it on our Website, I was mystified. “I don’t want people to think I sound stupid,” the reporter said. But he assumed we would leave the prisoner’s words verbatim. Really, now? Dude, your questions are on the record!

Even the way a journalist votes in an election can be on the record. Think not? If you choose to participate in party politics and vote in a primary, your choice of flavors becomes a matter of public record. And it can be held up to public scrutiny. Former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, a Republican, once neutralized half of the capitol press corps at a news conference when he revealed (in front of television cameras) that several reporters had voted Democratic in the gubernatorial primary, and therefore must be biased against him.

When someone speaks in front of a room full of 50 people, there is no pretending that it is “private,” or that your lips are moving but you aren’t making a sound.

Journalists, of all people, should expect that their words and actions will be held up to the same accountability standard as for public figures.

And if you’re afraid to stand behind your words, then pick another profession where it’s OK to be a coward.

Update: The AEJMC met the day after the Greenhouse incident and said its open meetings will be open in the future. Here’s the story from the association’s site:

The AEJMC board has made it official: Journalists are welcome to cover the association of journalism educators in the future.

That’s good. But I still say its some kind of kinky to call a gathering of 50 journalism educators “intimate,” and any reporter who thinks their remarks are off the record in a crowd that size is a fool.