Pique'n yer interest 

Why Sea to Sky needs communications training

I�ve been reporting for Pique for just over a year and in all that time I�ve held the same conclusion: public bodies and people in this corridor are in serious need of communications training.

In the months I�ve been here I�ve encountered several instances of people speaking out of hand at a public meeting and then requesting that I not quote them. In one instance, at a public meeting in Pemberton, a politician made a controversial remark and preceded it by asking that present media not report it.

In another instance, again a meeting in Pemberton, someone remarked on interactions between a local businessman and a minister, then charmingly asked me not to quote them � in full view of the mayor, village councilors and just under 10 people in the public gallery. If I didn�t quote them, someone else easily could have.

Let me tell you a little bit about �off the record.� It�s an agreement whereby a journalist won�t quote someone in exchange for a continuing flow of information. It�s a necessary evil that compromises one�s ethics but nevertheless helps release important information that people would otherwise not know. It�s a solid agreement and not just something you can assume.

It�s also purely an ethical agreement � there�s no legal recourse you can seek if you want to be kept off record and the journalist quotes you anyway. That journalist may sully his reputation as an ethical reporter and risk having no one want to talk to him ever again, but he can�t be sued. (Such a situation might actually be worse than being sued.)

Why, then, do we bother keeping you off record?

It�s simple � we need you, and with information concentrated in so few hands in Sea to Sky, we need you to keep talking to us. There�s a lot we don�t know, and we need the clandestine tactic of speaking without attribution in order to make stuff known. If someone has a piece of information they want to offer me but they�re worried about reprisal, I�m only too happy to agree.

But really, when you speak off the cuff at a public meeting in full view of others, it�s absurd to suggest that we not quote you, simply because you spoke when you shouldn�t have.

I haven�t yet documented the most egregious examples I know of. Last May, David Burke at the Question wrote a column lambasting an anonymous presenter at an open meeting. He was far too polite in criticizing a man who made an offensive comment about an unnamed group, then threatened a Question reporter into not quoting him.

I don�t know who the man was, nor the group he was disparaging, but it makes no difference: he just needs to learn to shut the hell up.

The media isn�t here to make you look bad � but if you�re stupid enough to do that on your own, in a public hearing no less, you ought not to place the burden of your reputation on the media�s shoulders. If you�re stupid enough to say things that make you look bad, just imagine our willingness to help you.

There are exceptions. Journalists will not print libelous statements if they know what�s good for them. We�re on the hook for your careless defamation as much as you are. But if you�re saying something that�s in the public interest, it�s unreasonable of you to say it at an open meeting and expect us to protect you.

It�s not always so unreasonable that we won�t do it, but imagine our reluctance when there�s plenty of others to quote you as easily as we could. And then imagine what fools we seem when we don�t!

So, Sea to Sky, let that be your first lesson in communications class � if you don�t want to be quoted in a public forum, don�t speak. To do otherwise is to take your local reporters for morons.

 

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