I'll be sad if Techcrunch editor Michael Arrington ever figures out what all those tedious journalism-school terms like off the record and deep background actually mean. Because I hate the way tech people act as if Arrington and other established writers work for them. They see journalists as outsourced copywriters, under specific orders what and what not to write. Yesterday Arrington blogged, "We got a senior person at MySpace to talk to us about it off record .. . this person confirmed that [MySpace cofounder Tom Anderson] is really '36 or 37' and that MySpace has been trying to keep this quiet." He was promptly chewed out by a member of the Valley's most know-it-all caste: a software engineer.
Anyone talking to media knows that telling a journalist something "off the record" ... clearly means that the comments aren't to be used a primary source. The point of "off the record" is to steer a journalist the right way so they can dig in deeper and get the real story from a real source, on the record.Anyone knows that. It's another presumptive Valley ritual. Some mid-level Google employee or seedless entrepreneur buttonholes a hapless "journalist" and goads him or her to run a story about some big secret thing because it's their job, right? (Techies add "... right?" to the end of any dubious statement. Watch for it.) "Oh, but you can't quote me. You have to go find someone else to quote, right? Run, little reporter, run!" I swear to God I have one email which actually says that: "Run!"
Here's how it really works: If you don't want your blabbermouth rumor quoted by Michael Arrington, me or anyone else, then shut up. It's that simple. I side with grizzled newspaper critic Dave Winer: "Too much is made of whether someone is a journalist or not." To presume that talking out of turn to a reporter binds the scribe to a different ruleset than anyone else is asking for trouble. Professional pundits like Arrington make the same goofs as anyone, only to much larger audiences. As Winer said about the guy, "You can make a mistake and still have integrity." But a gossip is a gossip.