UPDATE: This story has been modified to include corrections.
The definition of the common press concept of "off the record" was challenged yesterday in an interesting turn of events that all played out online during and after a DNCC media event called the Winter Media Walkthrough. Several large media outlets utilized digital media to cover the event, including the Charlotte Observer, which shot and published a slideshow and tweeted alongside News 14.
Did these large Charlotte media organizations violate an off-the-record agreement with the DNCC by tweeting photos? (Updated clarification: The DNCC made clear in its earlier press advisories that some parts of the event would be on the record and other parts privileged. The parts that were reported by the above media outlets were legitimately on the record.)
The tweets came out early in the tour. There was a photo from the floor from CharlotteObserver.com’s site manager, Dave Enna, and a “view from the seats” image of the tour groups from News 14’s Kate Geir. The Observer’s DNC-only Twitter handle, @dnc2012clt, tweeted an image of the press credentials issued to the media personnel. Reporters were explicitly told in the press advisories sent Jan. 10 and 17 that all logistics and planning information is off the record. (Update: DNCC press secretary Joanne Peters told CL this afternoon that none of those reports involved any privileged information about logistics or planning.)
“Violations of this policy,” the e-mail warned, ”will result in removal from the media logistics email list.” Hundreds of journalists from around the world joined the Democratic National Convention Committee at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Charlotte Convention Center and Bank of America Stadium to get a first glimpse at the three locations slated to be consumed by the convention come Sept. 3-6.
During the tour, and just as disclaimers about the 'off the record' requirement were being made, WBT’s Chris Miller tweeted about Observer columnist Mark Washburn being met with a frosty response from an unnamed official who welcomed Washburn to leave after he demanded to know why the secretiveness if the DNCC is indeed hosting the most transparent convention to date. The subsequent tweets and slideshow from the Big O contain images of the arena as the tours were occurring, DNC personnel, photos of reporters, editors, publishers and authors from nearly all of the major news organizations in the world and, of course,
stock presser shots of Steve Kerrigan. See the slideshow below and decide for yourself. Let us know in the comments if you believe tweets should be considered on or off the record!
(Update: According to DNCC press secretary Peters, neither the slideshow nor the tweets nor the excerpt from Mark Washburn's column violate the "off the record" portion of the DNC event.)
UPDATE: Mark Washburn’s column on the situation, in his own words:
I rose and squawked. I don't like off-the-record. I prefer in-the-newspaper.
Silly me thinks that if you gather hundreds of media people in a city-owned building to discuss how much their suites are going to cost, it's unseemly to order them to keep it on the down-low.
Silly me thinks if you're spinning "the most open and accessible in history," then you should skip the stealth stuff.
Theodore LeCompte, chief operating officer for the convention committee, stood up and set me straight.
"If there are issues with the ground rules, you are perfectly welcome not to attend this session," he said.
Silly me stuck around.
By lunchtime, Chris Miller, morning news reporter on WBT-AM (1110) and one of the journalists in town you probably don't want to push around, had been pulled aside by a convention press aide. She was concerned about a tweet he had sent that began, "DNC official just announced everything is now off-the-record." He says she reminded him everything was off the record.
Even going off the record, I guess.
For the record, CL editor Mark Kemp is in full agreement with Washburn's comments. "Our position is that organizations like the Democratic National Convention Committee should not hold media events and then demand they be off the record. We generally don't like the idea of anything being off the record. It sets a bad journalistic precedent."