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LEADING BY EXAMPLE?: On Thursday morning, the Columbia Journalism Twitter feed blasted out an advertisement for an event that would take place on its campus later that night: “TODAY: Delacorte Lecture: An off-the-record conversation w/Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter, 7pm, Lecture Hall.”
For years, Columbia has hosted these lectures featuring magazine editors. The audience is usually made up of J-school students who are studying magazines and are required to attend the talks. The lectures are — as the Columbia Web site advertises — open to the public.
As a result, they have always been on the record and, over the last few years, recordings of them have been posted online after they’re over. That is, until the last few weeks.
The recordings of the three most recent lectures — with New York’s Adam Moss, Hearst’s Ellen Levine and People’s Larry Hackett — haven’t been posted. At the Hackett lecture, Cyndi Stivers, an adjunct professor at Columbia who is running the series this year, approached a WWD reporter in the audience to inform him that the event was off the record. Hackett also told the room that it was off the record. Likewise, the Carter lecture is also supposedly off the record.
So what’s the sudden reversal in policy?
Elizabeth Fishman, a Columbia spokeswoman, said that, “Recently, as these [lectures] are increasingly covered — and I think that’s partly a reflection of the instant news cycle — we have found that these editors are hesitant to be as candid as they would be if they were speaking just to a class. If that’s the case, our students are going to get less out of it.”
She said that it’s up to the editors to make the events off the record (and clearly they’ve recently been happy to accept). But since the event isn’t in a classroom — it’s a public event at a journalism school, of all places — isn’t it overly optimistic to assume everyone would honor the off the record arrangement?
“It is a true shame that such a journalistic institution as ‘on the record’ cannot be honored in a journalism school,” Fishman said.
Victor Navasky, a professor at the journalism school who runs the series but is on sabbatical this year, took a slightly different tack. In an interview, he said that in his time running the series, he never remembered an editor asking for a session to be off the record. And if they did?
“I can’t recall who, but I’m sure that it’s happened that someone says, ‘I’d prefer this to be off the record,’ and I say to them, ‘That’s fine, but you do so at your own peril. It’s not just open to journalism school students. It’s open to the public. You have hundreds of people out there.’ The one policy that has been in place for some time is that it is open to the public.”
He continued: “If I said, ‘This is off the record,’ I’d be fooling myself to say something in front of 200 people. I don’t know who they are.”
— JOHN KOBLIN