Hoo boy did I stir up a hornet’s nest yesterday by having the temerity to questionwhether it was “right” to publish Viacom billionaire Sumner Redstone’s hilariously stupid voice message left for an enterprising reporter at the Daily Beast.
Columbia Journalism Review, with its brow ever furrowed as the print journalism business crumbles beneath it, now says I’m the new poster boy for sucking-up access. Pious journo-pundits are atwitter on Twitter, flaming me for even raising this question.
Everybody’s so tough when they’re talking about someone else.
For my part, I would have found it difficult to resist turning Sumner’s private message into public fodder—it’s good copy.
Especially in the Digital Age: You hear this billionaire’s real voice, in an unguarded real-life moment.
It’s a dopamine-rich squirt of aural voyeurism.
And it wudda made me a star—and have no doubt, many of us in journalism do want to be a star.
It’s why we have bylines okay?
But before we do something like that, we should be sure of what we’re doing and know it’s worth doing. And let me further inflame the flamers by saying I find many of their comments to be ridiculously high-handed and fundamentally naïve—an inevitable result when your years-of-experience rivals your shoe size.
Get over yourselves, guys.
You act as if I betrayed our profession’s secrets or something.
Can’t you just admit it—all reporters ply a give-and-take with sources; sometimes they leave out an expendable detail in one story to get something better on another story; and some reporters give a pass to a source they like while showing no mercy for someone they despise.
"I find many of their comments to be ridiculously high-handed and fundamentally naïve—an inevitable result when your years-of-experience rivals your shoe size."
It doesn’t make us wrong or evil or unethical or captive—it’s just business, and business is a relationship. One reporter made a good point to me on this: The Daily Beast reporter whom Redstone approached didn’t have a relationship with the chairman to begin with.
So for all reporters: If a good source of yours left a stupid message like that in your voice mail, would you publish it for all to hear, because the public has a right to know? Or would you give him a pass, because ultimately you like him and he’s too valuable to you in the long-term.
How dare I even ask, though—it’s as if I’ve revealed the secret handshake of a 23rd-degree Mason. Sorry to get their knickers in such a twist, let ’em flame away.
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