Wick Communications

Don’t ask me anything uncomfortable

In Ethics on 10 Oct 2013 at 8:29 pm


When is an interview with a newsmaker just another public relations event? Well, among many other times, when you are talking to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.

Spiegel spoke with Pacific Palisades Post reporter Reza Gostar recently and a curious disclaimer appeared at the end of the story:

Full disclosure: Spiegel agreed to be interviewed by the Palisadian Post under the guideline that no controversial questions would be asked. He also would not let this reporter audiotape the interview.

Strange, for a guy who is on the cusp of making a killing by sharing the awkward moments of others. (Snapchat, for those who don’t know, is a mobile app that allows users to take and share photos of themselves. Snapchat photos disappear in a matter of seconds, which means it would have been handy for former Rep. Andrew Weiner. But I digress.)

The story is an innocuous look at a local boy who went off to Stanford, founded a company and just generally did well. It also calls Spiegel “extremely guarded” and notes he was accompanied by a PR representative. …

Ironically, the company blew the entirely positive press by being so guarded. The disclaimer went viral rather than the story itself. It’s a classic case of trying to control the message and having that control blow up in your face.

So here’s the question: Would you agree to an interview like that?

You are forgiven if you would. Spiegel was an important get for the hometown paper. The reporter and editor probably didn’t think it much mattered anyway, since they really only had in mind a feature-y story that needn’t touch on the more controversial aspects of the company – such as it’s utility for sexting or the fact that so many underage people use it for I don’t know what.

Attempts to manage the media are nothing new, but I suspect they are more prevalent than ever before. I think that is particularly true in Silicon Valley, which is particularly curious. Companies like Apple, Google and Snapchat are notoriously closed loops. Don’t you find that odd for companies that make millions out of sharing and exploiting our information?

I’m not suggesting you necessarily accept pre-interview guidelines like this. I like the Pacific Palisades Post story, despite the disclaimer and I think the disclaimer goes a long way to setting things right for the reader. But I can also imagine telling young master Spiegel to take his shpiel elsewhere. You could also conduct the interview under his rules and run an accompanying story laying out the things Snapchat finds “controversial,” talking to privacy experts and others.


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