What I learned from BuzzFeed’s Uber “story”

Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael seems to be a man with no manners, just like BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith. What I learned from the case of Michael’s dinner with journalists is that they are no rules of interactions between journalists and conversational partners. Like there is no definition of what a journalist exactly is, there are no set definitions for what off the record really means. But when journalists can’t agree on what it exactly means, how do we define what the conditions of “off the record” are? Especially in today conversations with someone who doesn’t see himself as a journalist.

We don’t really know what happened at the dinner between Michael and a group of journalists. Did Ben Smith, who was invited by columnist Michael Wolff, really not know about the dinner being off the record or did he just don’t care? Somewhere I read that Michael had already made clear that he isn’t serious about the upcoming thoughts (Michael made comments about digging up dirt on the private life and families of critics of his company, including a journalist). Nevertheless, it was stupid to say something like that. Even if his comments were off the record, it doesn’t give him permission to speak out loud such bad ideas.

But was it okay to publish the comments? I mean it was a dinner and not a press conference. On the one hand, public figures like Emil Michael shouldn’t be surprised when their confidential comments are published, because it’s nearly impossible to talk to a room of strangers (who are making money with publishing information) off the record. On the other hand, self-determined publishers like modern-day journalists and bloggers who didn’t learn traditional journalism with it self-defined rules, should think about an own behavioral code. What is acceptable and what not? How do I handle confidential talks? And to say it with Lenin’s words: Who benefits (if I publish this story)?

Like no one was fired over Uber’s advertising campaign in France where they planned to engage models as drivers, Emil Michael still has his job and is no subject to any other disciplinary action of the company. But we did talk a lot about Uber in the last weeks. Was it all an unusual advertising campaign of an unusual company? Were the journalist the naive ones? Did Smith just act like journalist greedy for coverage which BuzzFeed is famous for? It’s an unclear situation. I will take from that case that I have to develop social norms that I can work with and others are able to trust me.

As I’m no native English speaker this blogpost is also a writing exercise to improve my English skills. Please be aware of that in your comments. Thank you.

Image by Aletuzzi (CC0)

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