Sunday, February 9, 2014

An open letter to Najib from Blog Baladi


Dear Najib,
Just like we reached out to each other publicly, I am writing you an open letter. It took me about 48 hours to understand why I was so upset and why my outburst was so heart-felt. The reason was staring at me straight in the face but - as everything that's staring you in the face - you fail to see it.
And after much thoughtful consideration, I eventually found it:
You are an offspring of the digital world, for you blogging/tweeting/facebook(ing)/instagram(ing) are interchangeable.
I have been trained as a journalist since 1993, which means I am "old school" and come from the times when sources would be double-checked and editors would send you packing less than five minutes before "closing" to change the wording of a sentence.
So is for me what is part of the immutable laws of journalism are for you trivial details.
Let met give you some examples to illustrate this:
Remember when I lashed out at the  "El Khoury walk her" and you said that you had specified on Facebook that you were against that man's insult to women? Unfortunately, before you put the disclaimer on your blog - the entry (and the accompanying tweet) indicated that issue was taken with humor but also with endorsement.
In journalistic terms, a tweet is different than a facebook status, and is certainly miles away from a blog post (the technical term is "stand alone"). Meaning that each one much express the same thought exactly across different media without any ambiguity. I would like to remind you that Octavia Nasr who sat on the jury that gave you the much deserved "blog of the year" last year was fired from CNN over one tweet.
Sure, you are not a misogynistic man but being the person behind Blog Baladi you have a journalistic duty to be unequivocally clear as to where you stand. Someone like me, who has been scolded for using ambiguous words by editors has suffered from this (and hopefully learned a lesson) but since you never worked in high-pressure editing rooms, for you it is a matter of "details".
Which brings me to a second example. Remember when Narciso Conteras was sacked from AFP because he took out the video camera on the bottom of one of his images and you tweet was "ma badda hal2ad" (it's not worth the fuss) and everyone started tweeting back that yes, it is a big deal and it is about credibility and ethics. This again, was an example of how you never worked for international publications like some of us have (not bragging but my main journalistic career has been with international media). What you thought was a "trivial" matter, touched the core of journalistic ethics as it is practiced in high-caliber journalistic institutions.
You are used to simple sharing on Facebook, retweeting, or applying the +1 on posts without having experienced the huge moral responsibility that comes when being in such a very sensitive environment of media trying to keep their reputations intact.
The third example is - among others - what happened with the Le Gray giveaways. In your own post "Respect is free" you explained that it was you who reached out to the hotel, not the other way around, to organize this. And I clearly remember a previous instance where you disqualified your brother after he won the competition for a different dinner. Which are all the signs of someone with high moral sensibilities. But you see, again, when such competitions are organized by high profile media, the terms and conditions are very clear and are exposed to the public. Not left as a simple after-thought.
It makes a big difference who approached whom, it is highly important to indicate who can participate and who cannot. Even silly details must be mentioned such as when the very respected The Guardian newspaper says that the record company paid for the ticket to go interview the artist whose album is being reviewed simply to be clear as not be accused on being biased. Which is it is important for all of us to come clean with our freebies and hence the hashtag #sharmoutAD which I launched and which aimed at all of us operating in the digital world so that our "corporate connections" would not interfere with our public judgement.
Countrary to what has transpired to some, I am far from jealous from any financial rewards (or otherwise) you (or anyone else in the digital sphere) is making from their public image which started out with blogging. All I am saying is, for the sake of even-handed reporting all of us should come clear with who paid what, if we are reviewing a sample courtesy of the agent/manufacturer, who picked the tab, and under what capacity we were participating in any event or reviewing it or endorsing it. This applies to all of us, and yes, this would clear the space to any misconception as to what we are saying.
So for someone like me who has worked in journalism and advertising for a long time, reading you saying "you don't do paid ads" is a baffling statement especially that nowhere do you indicate clear terms of participation or explain how the whole thing came about. All of this is required when one works for so-called traditional media just to eliminate the shadow of a doubt - as we are all "guilty until proven innocent" (not the other way around).
Once more, I come from a totally different world. I am not saying your own standards are lax, I am simply saying you have never been exposed to the real machinations of the journalistic world.
Maybe this is why I took the whole matter so personally. I operate differently and come from a totally different realm where blogging is simply an extension of what I used to do as a journalist for international publications.
The highlight of this episode for you however is that it did uncover how many supporting friends you have, and for this I praise you. Naturally, it does sadden me that people who knew me in the past such as Maya Zankoul would say that I am a hater and people who never knew me such as Dana Khairallah (AKA Ivy) would judge my book not just by its cover, but by the ISBN number.
But it is all right, I have exposed my own writing to international journalists and they told me that, whereas my own wording could have been toned down, what I wrote was a no-brainer for them in terms of how journalism operates.
But don't you worry, you have friends to back you up, you have a great blog with incredibly high readership, so don't you mind some old throwback from the era where the whole media industry was different.
It is a different manner of seeing what a blog is and what a blog does.
After an initial writing which was done very late at night, I have corrected some of the statements above to made them clearer for future reference either to myself or anyone interested,
Best,
Tarek
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