On the Record

Corporate Blog Specialist (which sounds like a space commander’s rank on Star Trek) B.L. Ochman reminds you, me and everyone who writes a blog or comments on a blog that everything we say here is, potentially, fair game for journalists to quote — including things you posted but later changed.

Dead and edited posts can survive indefinitely as cached content on search engines until the search engine removes them. That’s how errors sometimes become factoids on the Web — even after you’ve corrected them on your site, the old, mistaken version might still find its way into another blog, and eventually a news story.

One especially obnoxious way for that to happen, Ochman warns, is through a “stealth inteview,” in which a “lazy” or time-constrained reporter or blogger will copy-paste something you wrote on a website, and present it as if you said it in answer to their probing questions. In fact, they didn’t take the time to track you down with any questions at all. Instead, they typed your name into a search engine and…

Online, for all the world to see, will be every post you ever made to a blog, forum, discussion group or mail list; every mention of your name on Websites, newsletters and blogs anywhere on the Internet; articles you have written or been mentioned or featured in; and if they are properly search engine optimized: all the press releases you have issued.

Unless you’re closely monitoring what’s being said about you and your company, you may never even know you’ve been included in a story via a Stealth Interview. Whether that encounter hurts you or helps you has a lot to do with whether you know how not to come across like a jerk.

If you said something brilliant or something wonderful was said about you, you’re in great shape. If you ever wrote an insipid or nasty comment in a chat room, responded less than perfectly to an interviewer’s question in a story that was printed, posted or streamed online it won’t be a secret.

It’s perfectly reasonable for a reporter to quote something written online. It’s all on the record. However, given the wealth of statements that reside forever on the web and the myriad contexts in which they were made, I believe it should become standard practice for reporters to tell readers precisely where their quotes came from. If the subject said something to you, you can say, “In an interview with me…” If they posted it as a comment on a blog in 2002, you must say, “Four years ago, commenting on a web post concerning XYZ, he said….”

It’s surprising to me that this would even be an issue. A reporter who covered a speech by the president wouldn’t think of presenting quotes from the speech as if they’d been said in an interview, would they?  Or 10-year-old quotes as if they were stated yesterday?  Of course not — I hope.  And aren’t reporters upset, supposedly, that bloggers who got PR talking points from Wal-Mart via Edelman didn’t always cite the PR agency as their source?

What goes for bloggers should be go equally for reporters.  For those of you who might be a reporter’s target, however, be forewarned. This obvious mandate to disclose context is not an ethic all reporters follow.

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