Should journalists blog their notes?

Stephen Baker defends practice of blogging reporter's notes--but only in certain cases.
Stephen Baker

The question came up at a BW staff meeting yesterday. Some of my colleagues had seen that I'd posted notes of a couple of interviews, and they were concerned. After all, journalists battle in courts to protect their notebooks and shield their sources. If we publish notes occasionally, does that establish a weakening precedent?

Their concern is justified. So I'm going explain my thinking on when it makes sense to blog notes--and when it doesn't.

As a news publication, we get access to lots of people who have interesting ideas and important information. Their PR people call us up. (UPDATE: I think this part of my post has been misunderstood. I mean the PR people set up the meetings, but the people we interview are the company execs they represent.) They come by the office. We talk, and often much of what we learn, while interesting, isn't really news. In our traditional magazine mode, those interviews would just sit around in our notebooks, rotting. With blogs, we can take a bit of what they say and create a post. But why not give the public the entire interview? It's like a TV station that gets an hour-long interview with a cabinet secretary. Thirty seconds of it might go on the evening news. The rest of it might as well go online.

This process of interviewing people who come by is very different from reporting a story. When we do that, we're far more active. We call dozens or scores of people. Some speak on the record, some don't. Sometimes we write down only comments that are pertinent to the story. This all turns into a big pile of reporting. Some of it contains hearsay, errors, contradictory accounts. Some could be slanderous. It's our job to comb through this reporting and produce a story that is fair and accurate. In most cases, we don't want to open this trove to plaintiff's attorneys, other journalists, or business rivals and associates of our sources.

So here's the deal. When we get access to execs and public figures who are looking to get their message out, we'll feature them on the blog, when appropriate, and occasionally blog the notes. But when we're actively reporting a story, we'll keep our notes to ourselves. With time, this policy could change. But for now, I think it's a good place to draw the line. Your thoughts?

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