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Jay Rosen Lets Himself Get Played by Jim Rutenberg

Jay Rosen writes:

PressThink: Last Week That Man Tried to Run You Over. Why Are You Having Dinner With Him?: It’s good news that journalists at the New York Times will no longer participate in the bloated and compromised White House Correspondents Association dinner.... Two weeks ago, Jim Rutenberg, a Times correspondent in the Washington bureau, interviewed me about the upcoming Correspondents dinner.... Rutenberg’s article made me wish I had followed, in this instance, blogger Dave Winer’s policy. When asked for a phone or e-mail interview, he usually declines. “If you have a few questions, send them along, and if I have something to say, I’ll write a blog post, which of course you’re free to quote,” he said last week.... Jeff Jarvis wrote: “The interview is outmoded and needs to be rethought.” I know I’m rethinking it. Rutenberg and I had a pretty detailed conversation.... But what Jim needed me for was the bloggers vs. journalists debate.... (Subtext: Wow, the left is as angry with the press as the right was. Just listen to the so-called Net roots attack us for not carrying their message.)

Notice that it is “activists” who are upset with the White House press, and it is their conflict with civil, professional and reasonable journalists that creates friction enough for a story. I wanted nothing to do with that narrative.... But Rutenberg recruited me into his narrative anyway.... [Rutenberg wrote that the]

blogosphere... is populated by people who “feel that the press was run over, and kind of told itself some story to avoid confrontation and lapsed into a phony kind of balance,” said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. It is enough to make some reporters bristle. “Some of them seem to want us to hate the people we cover,” said Ken Herman, a White House correspondent for Cox Newspapers and an association board member. “They don’t seem to understand that you can have a professional relationship with them where you don’t hate them, and you can sometimes talk to them, and maybe have dinner with them.”

Herman’s “bristle” has nothing to do with what I think. But I was not misquoted. I was used to make a point Rutenberg wanted to make before he talked to me.... Still, Rutenberg didn’t violate any of the rules for interviewing sources.... I knew what I was getting into when I called him back. Reporter and I talk for 30 to 45 minutes; he decides which twelve seconds he wants to use. If he has a pre-existing narrative that he wants me to ratify, chances are good I will say something he can use to do just that. Them’s the rules. I would have been better off blogging about his e-mailed questions. As Scott Rosenberg observed last week, “In the online conversation, the reporter doesn’t get the last word. And the reporter doesn’t get to filter which parts of the conversation are available to the public. No wonder journalists want to stick with the phone”...

Jay Rosen should have listened to Brad DeLong and Susan Rasky's First Rule for Sources: Know Your Customers:

Nieman Watchdog > Commentary > Twelve things economists need to remember to be helpful journalistic sources: 1. Know your customers. Is the journalist... looking for a broadcast soundbite, for two paragraphs of context, or help in understanding... [the issues]? Is she on a tight deadline?...

If the journalist is looking for a particular quote, figure out whether you want to be the person who gives that quote--and if not, get off the phone. If the journalist is looking for two paragraphs that can be dropped into the story as "experts say the real issues are..." give the journalist your best two paragraphs quickly. If the journalist is looking to educate him or herself, you can have a conversation--but at the start reserve the right to approve whatever quotes they want in the end to use, so that you can be sure that they are quotes you are comfortable giving.

If not--well, then, the journalist will play you like Jim Rutenberg played Jay Rosen. It's not "them's the rules." It's the interviewee who sets the rules. It's "I let Rutenberg turn me into a sock puppet, and I'm unhappy."

But Rosen got something back: Rutenberg's desperate attempts to pretend to himself that things are OK with him and his slice of the journalistic profession:

The most revealing moment... Rutenberg[:].... “But don’t you think Bush is paying the price for that now?” he said. Here was a way of acknowledging press failure that allows the story come out all right at the end. Presidents are supposed to pay a price if they diss the press, and look!... The system worked.... But consider what Bush quit first. His chief of staff denied that there was any fourth estate role. “In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election,” said Andrew Card. “I don’t believe you have a check-and-balance function.” Bush told reporters the same thing at an August 2003 barbeque in Texas: “You’re assuming that you represent the public,” he said, “I don’t accept that.” Back ‘em up, starve ‘em down, and drive up their negatives--that was the policy. Allies in the culture war were eager to help the White House marginalize and discredit the Washington press. In Scott McClellan, a stooge figure actually took over in the White House press room. Strategic non-communication became normal practice—-itself an extraordinary break with the past...