Reporters in the Post-Privacy Society

So I was chatting with pal Virgil about the fact that we are entering a post-privacy society, and that in the future, when specks of nanocamera dust saturate most every public and private venue, we may have to let go of a lot of our hangups about, well, you know …

He quickly points out that the phenomenon of MySpace kids posting their naked party pictures indicates an actual generational shift in privacy attitudes — and that in the next 20 years doing so will no longer have a serious impact on, say, one’s job application, because the person interviewing you also has a revelatory Web page of some sort.

I mention this because today’s Romanesko notes an intriguing blogospheric exchange about the disclosure of reporters’ political donations, and other potential conflicts of interest, directly on the Web pages where their reporting appears.

CBS News’ Public Eye, reacting to a column by Richard Powers, lauds the notion of transparency, but questions how far this should go. Should a vegetarian covering the pork industry, for example, disclose their dietary (and thus political or ethical) inclinations?:

“Reporters’ Lives — Newsy or Nosey?”
CBS News, July 6, 2007

“Off Message: Who Are We?”
The National Journal, July 6, 2007

Sadly, the pretense of objectivity ultimately damages journalism because it pretends that reporters and editors are Vulcans in the Star Trek tradition — devoid of emotion, capable by their very nature of only crystalline logic.

This is clearly false, and pretending otherwise is ultimately manipulative, because doing so enables the propagation of covert agendas in the open civic discourse that is journalism.

It also creates fear among reporters of engaging in civic participation — a plague of misdirected conscience that does not afflict their employers, apparently.

Do we care that my former employer, Hearst CEO George Irish, once gave $1,000 to Evan Bayh, a Democratic Senator? Do we care that Gannett honcho Douglas McCorkindale donated to Dan Quayle as well as a Republican PAC called the Federal Victory Fund?

Please note that I am not saying that one should embrace P.O.V. and advocate freely in one’s reporting. (Although if that’s your flavor, feel free — just be open about it.)

Rather, I maintain that full disclosure raises the bar for a journalist’s performance, and thus for the news organization as a whole — especially those that propose to serve the diverse audience known as “the public.”

Faced with an informed (and usually skeptical) readership, the level of quality in one’s reporting must necessarily increase, merely to withstand the scrutiny.

Sounds like democracy to me.

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2 Responses to Reporters in the Post-Privacy Society

  1. Jen Burke Anderson says:

    July 9, 2007

    I started to set up a MySpace page about a year ago and then stopped and thought, wait a second, this just seems like a bunch of data mining. Why am I broadcasting this stuff to the public, where any Orwellian marketing dweeb can add further details to his profile of me?

    Regarding the younger generation’s invasion of their own privacy: New York magazine ran a cover story on this topic, promoted, naturally, by a photo of a nubile, naked young hottie taking a video of herself.

    I think these youngsters would change their minds if they knew the extent to which the more they expose about themselves, the more that information can be used to shape who they are without their permission.

    Read teens’ reaction to the Frontline documentary “The Merchants of Cool.” This was done in 2000 but everything they talk about is more true now than it was then:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/teens/

    Also, they may change their minds when they get their identities ripped off and their credit card numbers stolen (which happened to me very recently) and stalked by weirdos.

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