Re: tech writers, journalists (was rabbit hole)
Subject: Down the Rabbit Hole, Pt. 2
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
Having just made it back from my first conference as a
journalist, I thought I'd mention a few random lessons I've
learned from the experience:
A journalist is not quite the same animal as a tech writer, and a different set of rules and courtesies (and liabilities) applies. As a tech writer you can strike up a conversation with someone at a conference like this and you're just exchanging discussion among peers in the field. A journalist asking questions is on the job, or else expressly _not_ gathering information, just chatting. You can step into ethical conflicts if you seem to making small talk and your interloqutor's comments appear in the media later.
Many people fear speaking on the record, whether out of shyness, fear of repricussions for what they might have said about an organization, or fear of saying something wrong. Some of them have been burned by other interviewers - you see a lot of this among scientists who have been misquoted in the past.
Your suggestion of following up later with private messages is a good one, but as a journalist you'll have a tough time resisting the fresh little tidbits your hear floating around sometimes. Face it, one of the fun things about the trade is the occasional nice quote that presents itself to you like a flower.
After getting a master's degree in journalism, I'm amused to work in some tech writing environments in which the prevailing attitude is something like "Um, and get that written down, but don't make it a priority." I feel a little bit like Perry White, the grouchy editor from the Superman comics: "Great Ceasar's ghost! That's no way to run a newspaper!"
Don't quote me on that *G*
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