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May 26, 2009

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As a beginner with no assurance that my pitch will be accepted by anyone, I would certainly feel dishonest! I felt bad even when I interviewed people for an assigned article and then the article got killed and didn't appear.

What you write here makes superficial sense, certainly. But look at it this way -- a free-lancer taking the pure God-fearing approach gives too much advantage to the company men. I'm sure you wouldn't question the legitimacy of a staff writer actually with his or her bum on a chair in the 'Wired' Lubyanka saying "Hi, this is [name], at Wired mag. I'm investigating...." That'd be OK even if [name], in reality, had no better prospects of getting the story printed than a free-lancer flying a kite.

You ask -- "who's to stop Joe Blow from calling and saying, "I'm writing for the New York Times"?" The answer is, nobody. It happens. Joe Blow sometimes gets what he wants, and sometimes he's actually an attorney looking for an advantage. That's life.

If you are a staff writer for, say, Wired, you are by all means entitled, even required to say, "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and I work for Wired magazine." You can say this because it's true. It is not true that you are writing story for Wired if you've yet to sell it. If we're talking about whether or not a story ever runs: that's another ball of wax. No one ever has any assurance than any story will run anywhere; we can only work with we know to be true at the time.

I have to agree with Nancy that it's wrong to claim a professional relationship that does not exist while putting together a pitch, but I will say that if Baum had written for "Wired" or the "NYTimes magazine" in the past, and knew an editor or two who would vouch for him in a general way in a pinch, I might not be so judgmental.

In my experience as a journalist, most people who appear in feature stories want to be interviewed and want the piece to appear in the most prominent possible publication, even if they're not quoted by name, and so they're not inclined to question credentials -- quite the contrary. Perhaps they should be, but...

You're absolutely right, Nancy. To misrepresent oneself as having landed an assignment during the pitch stage is unethical and dishonest and undermines us all. There just aren't any gray areas when it comes to truth, no matter how one chooses to view things. I can't see how a real reporter could ever argue otherwise.

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