Standing in a crowd at an event with my reporter’s notebook and pen in hand, I would often overhear people saying things that I was sure they wouldn’t want to see printed in the newspaper.
And while sometimes it was quite entertaining to remain anonymous and listen in to (what they thought was) private conversations, I never felt right about listening in. It always felt sneaky, and it always felt like bad journalism.
In order to deal with these situations I developed the habit of turning around, presenting a wide smile while I held up my notebook and pen, and saying, “Can I quote you on that?”
Sometimes what they were saying was quite funny, and I was quite serious about wanting permission to quote them (I’m a sucker for a talented wit). But more often it was the wicked gossip and malicious meanderings of a self-important (read “broken”) individual that I would never, ever (not in a million years) consider quoting. To quote them would be to give their words an importance and lend their words a credibility it didn’t deserve.
Once something becomes published, whether it is in an email or in the newspaper, it tends to be able to transform itself into The Truth — even if it isn’t.
Whenever we begin share a bit of news (aka gossipy tidbit) with a friend, coworker, neighbor, or fellow parishioner, if we would first stop and ask ourselves “Can I quote you on that?” I have to wonder … would we share it at all?
PHOTO: The bird in the photo is a double-crested cormorant. A bird that is known for being an invasive species that destroys the natural habitat with its voracious appetites and poisonous waste.2