There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil. Walter Lippmann

As most of you know, I frequently attend conferences–both legal tech related and those related to technology in general, like CES. I do this because I am interested in the field and because I like to think what I write as a former practicing lawyer is valuable. The latter idea, of course, carries the responsibility to be candid and to “call em as I see em”. I have tried to do that since I started blogging some seven years ago.

Most of the time, the conference organizers provide media complimentary passes for me and others who write about the legal system. In most cases, these passes are only for admission to the conference, not travel expenses or any remuneration. That’s fair. In addition, none of the conference organizers have tried to dictate what I write or demand that I write a certain number of posts about their show.

At least, that was true until recently. As a prerequisite for a media pass, a legally related conference recently demanded my commitment that all my posts be “positive and upbeat” and “promote the conference and its significance”. In addition, before even setting foot at the conference, I would be required to write an article announcing the event. And a post promoting the event and its significance. While at the conference, I would be required to post daily about it and its daily highlights. Then, after the event, I would agree to do a comprehensive post about the conference and its key messages within one week.

Oh, and by the way, I was told that only those media who “best align with the program objectives” in the organizers’ view would be eligible for passes.

I take pride in the fact that I try not to be biased. My blog is described as a no-bullshit blog

All of these requirements struck me as an expectation that attending media would only write puff pieces about the show and what we saw and heard there. I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I take pride in the fact that I try not to be biased. My blog is described as a no-bullshit blog. I even had shirts printed up with that logo. 

If I need to be critical of what I see and hear at the conference, I would have to do that in the face of my commitment to always be “positive and upbeat.” Even if there was nothing to be positive and upbeat about. 

Recently, much has been written on problems of sexual harassment at legal and other conferences. Would this have happened if everyone had promised to be positive and upbeat in what they wrote about the conferences they attended? Is this an effort to ensure no bad publicity, even if something important needs to be said?

Moreover, if I agree in advance to write a designated number of posts, I may have to throw out a lot of bullshit if I find there is nothing of interest to write about on a particular day. What if I got there and decided there was not much of significance going on? Or that there weren’t a lot of highlights on a given day?

And if I made these commitments, then you would be rightfully skeptical of anything favorable I did write.

Be careful what kind of leaders you’re producing here. I don’t know if Charlie’s silence here today is right or wrong. I’m not a judge or jury, but I can tell you this: He won’t sell anybody out to buy his future. And that, my friends, is called integrity.

Lt. Col. Frank Slade, from Scent of a Woman

Making these kinds of commitments would not be fair to you as the reader. They would not be fair to me as a writer.

Sometimes, you have to say no to a client. Sometimes, you have to say no to an engagement

I may not be a classically trained journalist, but I do know something about integrity, and sometimes that requires you to make choices. It’s true of writing about the law, it was certainly true of the practice of law. Sometimes, you have to say no to a client. Sometimes, you have to say no to an engagement. It’s called integrity. It’s called ethics.

So I won’t be going to this conference. Frankly, I would have thought better of the conference organizers if they just said we aren’t providing media passes. Instead, they seem to think those of us who write about legal are PR people there to puff their show, lackeys to do their bidding. I’m not, and the people I know who write about legal tech and innovation aren’t either.

The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics rightfully recognizes that media should refuse anything free that “compromises integrity or impartiality or may damage credibility.” Even though I’m not a professional journalist, I feel I am responsible to you to be objective, honest, and independent.

Allowing an organization to dictate the nature of my content in exchange for access would undermine my credibility and your trust. It’s not going to happen.

Photo Attribution: Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash