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Schwenk On


The back and forth over Steve Schwenk, the guy who made the mistake of getting nasty with the New York Times’ political writer Adam Nagourney, hasn’t died down. And, from a reporter’s perspective – a reporter who often relies on email to do her job – it probably shouldn’t.
No one should get fired over this. But it’s probably worth a good think or two. Neither side realizes it – bloggers do, of course – but this is an interesting look in on how different cultures are adopting technology. I always get a little freaked when I go East. For me, it’s time travel to the 1990′s. There are almost no Tivos! Wifi access is hard to find and rarely open. Here in San Francisco an always-on connection is understood to be important to daily life; access is easy and often free. And TiVo? Can’t do without it. In Washington, people use their Blueberries as phones and, well, this is really strange: they hold them up to their ears and talk instead of using earpieces.

Email on the East Coast is different, too. People post on blogs then send redundant email messages to advertise their posts. They have blogs but they don’t know what a “blog roll” is or how to amend it. They tend to treat email as duty, a chore, as correspondence; they get so much! They can’t read it all! The quick East Coast “got it” commonplace here (’cause it’s sent from a ‘berry during a meeting to make sure you know you’re still in the loop) is rare. On the West Coast – and we saw this during the Quattrone trial – email is chat. It’s a on-going conversation. Which is one reason why Steve Schwenk, who seems to know his way around HTML, probably felt a little too free to get nasty and Adam Nagourney and Danial Orkent felt as though they were within their rights to hold him accountable for his letter. Two different cultures using technology in different ways.
I’m not going to defend Schwenk’s nasty crack. He’s been using the comments sections in various blogs and website to get his story out more completely and he’s doing a fine job. On his hobby site, he has also posted a letter to The Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent detailing a little bit more what happened between these three men. And he underlines the culture clash pretty well. From now on, he says, he’ll send email as if it were public comment.
That’s probably not a bad idea for someone who is prone to get as hot and bothered as Schwenk. But for someone like me who reports – and chats – via email, it’s a bad sign. Publishing email over the objections of the sender – I don’t do it, write to me here and I’ll ask you for permission — is a step back from conversation. It creates a barrier between reporter and source. It’s a precedent and a bad one. And I so hope and pray that the Times didn’t tell Schwenk his email, once sent, was their property as some on other sites have intimated. That’ll only make things worse.
In his on-line letter, Schwenk is basically asking how reporters are going to treat people they “meet” via email. The answer should be: With the same courtesy and consideration we extend to folks who we deal with in the real world. I hope he get an answer. And I hope that’s it

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:57 AM | Permalink

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