Journalists as dinner guests: Would you invite us?

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“I don’t associate with journalists. They’re a bad lot. I don’t like them. I don’t trust them.”

Those were the words — more or less — of a gentleman who had been interested in dating me about 8 years ago. We had met on an online dating site and were hitting it off until he found out what sort of work I do for living. And then he made tracks . . .

It wasn’t the first time a potential date changed his mind about me when he learned I am a journalist. It had happened at least two times before. But I had always suspected they were hiding something, that perhaps they were engaged in some sort of criminal activity or  something dishonest they were afraid I — or one of my colleagues following up on my tip — might make public in a newspaper report. So, I figured I was better off without them, and simply shrugged them off. . .

But today, after reading an article on the Independent site about British columnist Julie Burchill’s apparent feud with one Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah, I’m thinking some people don’t like journalists because of what we might write about their table manners and the like . . . and because we might name names.

Picture this:  You and your partner invite me to dinner. I bring a bottle of expensive champagne but instead of serving it, you give me some of your homemade wine to drink — which I don’t find particularly enjoyable. Later, in a blog item or a column or a book, I whine about your brew and lament that you didn’t serve my champagne. I also say some other uncomplimentary things about the dinner and you and your partner . . . and name you both.

Rather rude and ungracious, yes? And, perhaps, out of line.

Well, apparently, a similar situation unfolded when Ms. Burchill was invited to dinner with the rabbi and her partner, the article on the Independent site says. You can read more about it there, if interested. Granted, there’s more to their feud than a dinner gone wrong, but I am only interested here in the etiquette that seems to have been missing — on both sides of the table — and the apparent subsequent public shaming of the hosts (in a book) that has followed.

Most journalists, of course, wouldn’t name names in a report — or a book — about an unpleasant private dinner experience in someone’s home. Sure, in the spirit of learning from our experiences, we might write about dinner etiquette, and perhaps suggest that the host of a dinner should always serve the guest’s wine. We might also suggest that if the host forgets to serve that wine, the guests simply ask them to open it. That’s what I would have done. I think a lot of people would have done the same thing. And I think most of us — journalists or not — would show our appreciation for the effort put forth by the hosts, no matter what.

But you know what people think about a bruised apple in a barrel . . . See the first paragraph of this entry.

I imagine many people who read the article about Ms. Burchill and the rabbi will think twice now about inviting columnists, if not all journalists, over for dinner. Or associating with us in general. Because, what might we say about them in our writing? How might we embarrass them in print? How might we use them to further our own ends?

How might we unfairly hurt them?

– Jillian

4 thoughts on “Journalists as dinner guests: Would you invite us?

  1. Julie Burchill has been quite poisonous towards the trans community, I am surprised anyone even speaks to her!

    The few journalists I have met have seemed like reasonable people but any event I have been involved with and has been reported has not been reported honestly so I can understand if folk are wary. The dishonesty has saved me a fortune and a small forrest grows because of the newspapers I have not bought…

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  2. As a more serious answer, wouldn’t mind (depending on the person, of course). However, I have noticed certain people – journalists and writers and chroniclers of various sorts who clearly can’t separate the social from the professional. They act like every conversation is an interview, and you can see them mentally taking notes. (I believe David Sedaris said somewhere that various family members wouldn’t talk to him b/c they might end up in one of his pieces. Personally, when I see someone acting like that, I shut down from giving them any information. Such behaviour is rude as a person, and unprofessional as a journalist.

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  3. Knowing where to draw the line between business life and social life is part of professionalism, whatever your chosen job title.

    I’ve met journalists with big-name national outlets who have the ethics of Eden’s snake, and also some from two-bit local rags who are brilliant writers with impeccable professionalism. Ultimately, it comes down to whether a particular individual is honest, trustworthy and respectful. Just as when choosing friends from any other profession or community.

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