Saturday, June 7, 2008

This is NOT a transcript

I'm sitting in on the Q&A at the end of a panel on public documents. Once you get a record, I think someone asked, what do you do then?

Well, the first guy said, you have to verify that it's real (think CBS and Bush's National Guard records). But, the other panelist said, if you have a legit record, the interview subject will rarely try to say it's not real.

True, but it does happen. I remember an instance from a few years ago in which a reporter gleaned from a government agency (via FOIA) a document that suggested that a public official had done something they shouldn't have done. The record clearly was a transcript of a telephone conversation including that official, with the official quoted in it as saying that the agency involved should do the thing they shouldn't have done -- and the document had a header up at the top that said TRANSCRIPT (actually it was something like "TRANSCRIPT OF SO-AND-SO CONVERSATION"). When the reporter tried to talk directly to that official, they wouldn't talk, and referred the reporter to the agency spokesman, who, when asked about it, said basically, "That's not a transcript."

I don't think the PIO could ever explain what that document was supposed to be if it were not a transcript, but that was the official line.

We used it in the story, along with the PIO's response. I think the reader could make the judgment for themselves.

Some other random observations as the conference winds down:

* The sky is clouding up outside and it looks like it will soon rain.

* I see more and more need for journalists to have computer skills -- and I don't mean being able to sort in Excel. There is so much of a use for, and need for, people who can do real computer programming, such as designing ways for databases to be hooked to Websites to be publicly searchable, do mashup maps, create dynamic presentations of social networking analysis diagrams and other ways to present raw data -- databases with thousands and thousands of records -- online. I feel so behind-the-curve. The problem is, so many people in journalism like me can't do the computer stuff, and the real computer experts often come from outside-of-journalism worlds and can't make the two mesh. Reporter 2.0 may be blogging, posting their own live audio and video a la Al Franken as SNL's one-man mobile uplink unit, but Reporter 3.0 needs to be truly cross-trained in IT. Information technology -- we journalists are all about the information, but we have to keep up with the technology, too, if we want to continue to reach the public and not just be over in a corner talking to ourselves.
* I'm in the membership meeting right now, and one of the board candidates just said how much she's gotten out of IRE. I second that. IRE is a great organization, and I have gotten so much from the hands-on computer training, conferences and other programs it puts on, along with its repository for stories done by other IRE members and tipsheets, its guidebooks on reporting topics, its listservs, I could go on and on.
* I got through the conference and bought only two books from the book sale. This may be an all-time best for me at an IRE/SPJ conference. I have a hard time saying no to the book sale tables and then a harder time having to lug my new library home. I got held up at the ticket counter at LaGuardia three years ago for having overweight luggage on my way back from the SPJ convention in New York, and a substantial part of my belongings had to travel back to Nashville in Frank Gibson's suitcase. The only ones I bought this year were the two for sale by David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, who authored a great quote that is somewhere else on this blog. I wanted to hear him speak yesterday, but I stopped off at the ladies' room first and found I had a run in my stocking so big that I basically had more hole than stocking. I wound up back in my room, changing into my khaki slacks. Darn.
* I have put in my order for the audio of the conference sessions. I have done this in the past and it's very helpful. If you're an IRE member and didn't attend the conference, you can order it for $15 plus shipping from IRE.
* Blog readers: Fender says hi.
* You are supposed to be able to read more about the conference at, I think, It's supposed to be a conference blog. Haven't had a chance to check it out yet. (ADDENDUM: Yes, that is the correct URL, and it's a very good blog.)
NOTE: I went back into this post on Sunday, post-conference, and fixed some typos and added some links. So it's changed a little since I first posted it.

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