My life as a source

Following up on yesterday’s piece on journalism and Sources Go Direct, and after reading more about this, I think the disconnect has been that journalists somehow think bloggers do what they do. We don’t.

That’s why Sources Go Direct is about sources and not reporters. I didn’t say Reporters Go Direct (and skip the paycheck). I said Sources. I’m going to say it again, sources, so hopefully you focus on the concept, as it is different from reporters, as different as a baseball player is from the sport of baseball.

Here are some related recitals.

I have never been a journalist, but I have been a source, sometimes quite actively, for many years.

I have not only been a source, I have been an anonymous source. That’s a big commitment to being a source. Took some chances, usually got away with it.

In those cases I was speaking on the record but not for attribution. That’s one of the permutations of sourcehood. You can also speak on background, which has different rules. You can’t be quoted in any way when you do that.

I once had a reporter out me in public when I had been speaking with him on background. That did not feel good. A lesson hard-learned. Not all reporters keep their word. It’s like honor among thieves. This guy switched over the PR soon after doing that. Obviously I would never hire the guy to do PR for me.

Also, I have employed PR firms. They take you around to analysts, so they can be briefed on what you’re doing, then you do interviews with reporters, who quote you and the analysts. It’s a mill. Dollars go in one side and reporting comes out the other end. When you see all of a sudden 20 stories about a new company that’s because they hired a PR firm.

On the other side, if you try to launch a product without a PR firm, you don’t don’t get much if any reporting. Even worse, you become safe for the reporters to undermine. This happens in tech a lot. It got so ridiculous at one point, when Google and IBM tried to undermine us using reporters, that little UserLand which employed no more than five people ever, was characterized by IBM as a giant who was throwing its weight around in an irresponsible way. This story appeared in CNET, back when they were more influential than they are today. (IBM was a giant multinational company that my father used to work for. Google was on its way to being you know, Google.)

BTW, Julie McHenry, a PR person I worked with once, told me straight out that their relationships with reporters was more important to them than their relationship with me was. I appreciated the honesty. What she meant was she’d fire me before she’d lose a relationship with a reporter. That was her bread and butter. Clients come and go all the time. (We were also friends, btw.)

I don’t do much private sourcing for reporters these days. I don’t talk to reporters much. I probably would if I knew more of them, but the ones I used to work with have moved on. And the young people who report now, well I have tried to explain myself to them, but the words don’t seem to register. It’s as if I’m speaking a foreign language! :-)

What I do now is post publicly the things I used to say to reporters privately. I put it out there for anyone to read. Any reporter is free to quote anything I say here. It’s all on the record and for attribution. It’s also available for anyone other than reporters to quote. Other bloggers. People on Twitter. Developers. Whoever, without restriction.

And this is what I mean about Sources Go Direct. I am still theoretically a source in that sometimes (rarely) stuff I say here gets quoted in reporting by professional journalists. But they could. And on Twitter, all the sources that get quoted today in the press, are going direct, in a huge way. This is the thing that Sources Go Direct describes. I coined the term after Twitter existed, but not the concept, that goes all the way back to the beginning of my blogging in 1994.

I said then that someday every member of the US House of Representatives would be a blogger. Okay it turned out slightly differently. They wouldn’t call themselves bloggers, because the term got muddied and now is misunderstood to sometimes refer to reporters who use blogging software. They call it tweeting instead. Weird word, but that’s what it’s called. And it’s not just the US House, it’s every politician worldwide, and every sports star, celebrity, even terrorist organizations are Sources that Go Direct, via Twitter and other social media systems. Same idea. It’s the way the world works now.

Did it have an impact on journalism? I would say it did, but not as large as you might think. There are still PR firms. And reporters and sources still have background conversations, some on the record others not. But a lot of the exclusivity is gone. When Trump tweets something, that’s available to everyone, reporters, competitors, trolls, equally. That is different. That is Sources Go Direct.

See the original post for any updates.