Posted by David Oates 4 years, 3 months ago

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I saw this rule take effect twice in as many weeks under similar circumstances. Let me explain.

A business colleague of mine who is renowned for his start-up prowess told me of a recent occurrence when he ran into a reporter at a high tech venture networking event and boasted about how his firm just invested in a new company. The deal wasn't finalized yet, but my friend told this very above-board journalist the range of money he was talking about, thinking that the reporter would follow up to get his comments down on paper later if interested and when the deal closed. Well the journalist was interested - to the point that the story ran in the next day's business section, accurately quoting my friend on the facts as he presented them over a beer.

Another instance happened just last week where a prominent female attorney who, along with three other business women, decided to launch a rally against a local politician embroiled in a now nationally-known sexual harassment scandal. Plans took hold the next day while she was at an evening gala that was also attended by the anchor of a popular local morning newscast. Seeing an opportunity, she approached the reporter with the story and casually mentioned to him her own, albeit brief, encounter with the politician 10 years ago where his advances were very inappropriate. Much to her disgust, she became labeled as another victim of this politicians' alleged perverted behavior that ran alongside the rally announcement, taking up precious white space and air time away from the event; the story that she wanted to be told on its own. She pushed through it with class, though, and used it to draw attention to what was by all accounts a very successful rally.

While much different stories, the common theme is this. No reporter is bound to take comments off the record when statements are made to them outside of official business hours. If you say something out in public to a journalist, it may very well end up in a story they're working on. In fact, it's their job to continually be inquisitive and report what they see. Asking them to do differently would be the same as expecting a firefighter to pass by a burning house because he or she is off duty.

Don't get me wrong. Most reporters that I know don't have an axe to grind or hidden agenda. An overwhelming majority want to report the news as it happens with the highest degree of fairness. But reporters are not your friends simply because you see them at a cocktail or networking event. They are professionals at their craft and take it as seriously as we do ours. It's prudent to always respect that.

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