Addicted to novelty since 2001

A Weblog on the West Wing

I hate to sound like a Canadian thrilled to hear my country cited on network television. However, I was interested to see a (fake, presumably) weblog called DistrictScene breaking a story on The West Wing. The story concerned Josh Lyman’s character test-driving and crashing an SUV while the Whitehouse failed to support a green bill in Congress. The Whitehouse Director of Communications accurately observes that “all the major news agencies surf blogs now”.

Later in the episode, Josh calls to berate the blogger “off the record”. She posts his comments in near realtime. Does “off the record” still work for journalists, let alone bloggers? I think not.

6 Responses to “A Weblog on the West Wing”

  1. James Bow

    Very, very interesting. You notice the care they took to ensure that they didn’t specify a real blogger? When I saw that there was no http://www.districtscene.com, I tried to see if I could register it. Surprise! The domain is now owned by Warner Bros, even though no actual site exists.

    So, I just registered http://www.districtscene.net to see what happens…

    Districtscene.org seems available. Why not go for it?

  2. Andrea

    When I was in journalism school, we were taught to write up anything said off the record. Just why is the source telling you, if they don’t want people to know?

  3. alexis

    People say “off the record” all the time when you’re doing interviews. I try to abide by it.

    Usually they say it when they want to tell you some personal detail. I think some people use reporters as counsellors. I’m always surprised at the things I hear when I’m doing interviews.

  4. Cameron

    I watched the same episode with much the same reaction. It made me think, where do the moral obligations lie. When is information intended for just the receiver and not for a general audience. Is this not why you have private conversations with family, friends, coworkers, and/or employees. The topics are for just the two of you in order to resolve or discuss a personal issue. If you take that new found information and toss it around you will loose the trust of your friends, family, employees, etc, etc.

    Blogs work in a similar way. If you post a picture when a person in the photo has asked you not to, then you are obligated to not post that picture. It is much the same with conversation … your credibility depends on it. The term “off the record” is a more formal request used in the journalistic circles.

    Now, weblogs have a personality that is far different than that of formal journalism. So as a reader, one has to judge the credibility of the information independently … authors will have to respect the wishes of their “content” if they want to keep friends and readers. And I hope that journalists that read blogs as a means of research do proper background checks before putting their professional names behind a story.

    Now, as for the show (The West Wing)… personally I liked the squabbling between the energy representatives.

  5. Richard

    The best advice I’ve read for journalists about “off the record” is from Allan Fotheringham: “If a politician asks if he can tell you something off-the-record, excuse yourself and go to the loo and don’t come back.”

    Or like Andrea says, write it down anyway.

  6. Winston Smith

    When asked to speak “off the record”, it is usually a two-way street. The speaker is offering to give you a personal or non-public view/statement in return for your discretion not to publish the information.

    If you do decide to go ahead with it, you’ve blown your respectability with the source and they’ll never trust you again. If you want to burn that kind of personal captial, that’s fine.

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