More recently, a good friend who still works for a news organization raised the question of transparency and blogs like mine, which are anonymous or in which their publishers, like me, use a nom de plume. But what’s transparency and what’s not? What’s truth and what’s not?
My decision to identify myself as Soccer Mom on this blog rather than by my real name is ultimately a creative decision. I could say, from a writing standpoint, I feel more free—and therefore more honest and transparent—in expressing myself about certain topics, than I would if I used my real name. (That’s not the case in other works I’ve published under my own name.)
By the way, my employers recently became aware of my personal blog, and they turned out to be fine with it. They support any employee’s right of free speech—as long as the employee isn’t using company time to work on their personal hobby or money-making venture. Believe me, this is no money-making venture, and never will be. That was never my intention. I love learning more about my community, digging, raising questions, writing, sharing the information, getting dialogue going. It’s more than a hobby. It is, as I published yesterday, an addiction…
Meanwhile, the question of transparency and bloggers versus traditional news organizations was much on my mind last night and today. Yesterday, the Contra Costa Times published a story about the theft of the flag of mainland China which had been flying in front of OI-C Bowl Chinese Kitchen and Bar on North Main Street in downtown Walnut Creek. The Times story was based on original reporting from its night cops reporter, Roman Gokhman.
However, Gokhman left out what could be a key piece of this story. It is that this theft follows a blog I posted on the flag on March 24. As the Mayor of Claycord said in his own post about the flag theft: "The Times actually wrote the story about the theft of the flag, but for some reason, gave no mention of 'Soccer Mom's' recent article, which was probably the entire reason for the theft."
The Mayor has had his own dealings with the Times jumping on stories that he has broken but not giving credit, instead making these stories to appear to be their “scoops.” So not cool. Of course, the Mayor has been gracious about it, as explained by Phil Bronstein, editor at large of the San Francisco Chronicle, in an August 2008 blog. In this blog, Bronstein is trying to deal with the “New Media Puzzle”:
Local blog Claycord … broke a real story with the help of its community of readers. … When some guy started buzzing his small plane way too low over homes in the area late the other night, reporting done by Claycord contributor "The Mayor" and commenters on the site helped identify the naughty pilot, took photos of the plane at low levels, and even found out the alleged pilot had a restraining order out on him related to some apparent domestic dispute.
This is happening more and more with some blogs - they break real news. CBS-5 did a segment about it and gave The Mayor and his blog credit (the right thing to do.) But the Contra Costa Times took the story and gave no credit. The Mayor was forgiving and understanding, even though the reporter sent him a less-than-forceful argument for why they stiffed him. To his credit, the CCTimes reporter did sound a little, well, conflicted about it all …
Moral: always give credit where it's due.Your owe your audience a proper accounting. And they'll eventually kill you dead if you don't, especially these days when it's so easy to check the trajectory of a story.
By the way, I’ve had good dealings with CBS-5 as well, picking up on stories I’ve broken and giving me credit.
And, as readers of both this blog and Claycord.com know, I’m not as gracious as the Mayor. I’m Crazy Soccer Mom. I called the Times night desk last night. I left voice mails with Gokhman. I also e-mailed him and some of his editors.
I pointed out in my voice messages and e-mails how bloggers often get accused of “stealing” content from traditional news organizations and professional journalists. I fully confessed to my frequent “theft” of content from the Contra Costa Times and other traditional news sources. But I said I always give them credit and say that this information comes from them, not me. I also said that, yes, I occasionally complain about how the Times covers certain stories. But, ultimately, I support their continued existence and the important public service role they play in the community.
As I write this on Saturday morning, the writer and editors are no doubt off duty, and maybe will be off-duty through the weekend. But if I get any response, I’ll post it.
Okay, one could question why I’d want to take credit for a story that might have prompted a criminal act. Well, I don’t think what I wrote caused a crime. The criminal caused the crime. I didn’t expose anything that was not visible to the hundreds of people who walk or drive daily up and down Main Street in Walnut Creek. That flag was flying in plain view. I was asking the question of what people thought of it, after receiving a complaint from a reader. I personally took no position on whether this flag should fly or not.
As I mentioned in what I wrote last night, I believe I could have handled my original story better in one regard. I want to slap myself on the head for this oversight. Before publishing, I should have called the restaurant owner and or manager and asked, “why are you flying this flag?” This was a Basic Reporting 101 oversight. I would have written my post anyway, but with their response.
Of course, my blog could have nothing to do with the theft. Maybe the thief doesn't know about Crazy and noticed the flag on his or her own, was offended for whatever reason, and stole it. Unfortunately, whether the owners of the restaurant want to acknowledge it or not, that flag has different associations for different people, some positive, some negative. This flag flying in downtown Walnut Creek pushed buttons. The button-pushing certainly was apparent in the comments shared on my original post.
As for the Times failure to mention Crazy’s original blog in its story?
Well, I think by omitting it, the writer left out a potentially crucial piece of the story. Maybe the restaurant manager is angry at my blog, maybe the restaurant manager complained about it, and said I published an improper story. If that was the case, the reporter should write that. If that was what this manager said, then that’s the background of her restaurant’s current situation. And it deserves a mention.
Or, maybe the restaurant manager never mentioned Crazy in her interview, because she doesn’t know about it. Maybe Gokhman is unaware of Crazy, or at least that I “broke” this story about this flag flying and that it might not sit well with some people.
If so, he and his editors are aware of it now.
And, today, as unpleasant a task as it will be, I will call the restaurant, apologize for not getting their response in the first place, and apologize that their flag was stolen. I will also see if they will share their grievances about my blog, or this theft situation.
I’ll end yet another of my long diatribes with this question: Ultimately, who is being more transparent and thorough in reporting this story? The traditional Times and its staff writer who signs his story with his own name. And fails to provide possible context to the event he's reporting. Or me, the anonymous blogger who doesn’t work for a “credible” traditional news organization like the Contra Costa Times.
In this case--and, yes, I’m biased--I vote for myself.