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Archive for February 19th, 2008

Public officials blogging, do you quote?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

The ethics of quoting blogs has been discussed (probably to death) before.

I understand that very fine line and have even danced dangerously close to it. On MySpace or Facebook or LiveJournal, or whatever your chosen platform, many people often have the (mis) perception of privacy. I get that you wouldn’t (or probably shouldn’t) just take it and run with information they posted in perceived confidentiality. This is for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the same as when you deal with inexperienced sources who aren’t as press-savvy: they shouldn’t be harmed because they’re naive. Or something more eloquently put than that. But you know what I’m talking about.

Now, tell me what you think about a scenario like this: An elected official in your community has a blog. The blog identifies him/her as that elected official and discusses issues related to that office as a means of reaching out to constituents. You have confirmed it is that person writing the blog.

Would you consider that blog fair game?

What if the first post in that blog instructs readers to “think of this as a press release”?

This conversation came up today and we didn’t all agree. So I was curious what other journalists think about it. I’m open to being wrong, but I’d like some help thinking through some of those issues that maybe just don’t appear to me because I am so open to transparency and new technology.

My stance is that blog post is more than fair game. My only concern is to confirm the material was posted by the individual and isn’t some type of hoax. Once you have that, why wouldn’t you use it — if only for a jumping off point for further reporting on issues raised. Heck, they want us (well their constituents) to consider it a press release. Even if they didn’t say that, I think if you’re going to stamp your name on a blog, tout you are a public official and use that as the topic of your blog than you have no reason to not expect people to hold you accountable for what you say the same as if you’d mailed out a flier with that message or said it during an open meeting.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. However, I’d be interested to hear what you guys have to say.

I’d also be interested to see what types of blogging your local officials do. Are there any university presidents, mayors, city council members, school board trustees, county commissioners, prosecutors, sheriffs, etc. keeping blogs in your community? Are they mostly PR/buzz? Or are they good sources for tips? How do you handle them? I know the city manager in Kent (where I went to college) keeps a blog about the city. But I can’t think of any other examples off the top of my head.

(BTW this was not a public official on my beat and there isn’t any controversy. It was just an interesting discussion in the newsroom.)