My Policy On Talking About (Other People’s) Personal Things Here

On occasion, I will be having a private chat with someone, either online or in the real world, and when they come to a part that they find especially personal, they will pause, look at me (the ones in the real world, at least) and say, “now, you know this isn’t for the blog, right?” and then once assured that indeed I know this, we continue the conversation. I’m not in the least offended by this — when one has a prominent blog in which one talks about many things, one gets this a lot — but it happens enough that if for no other reason than to have it here as evidence of my thinking on the matter, it’s time for me to post my policy about things other people tell me, and whether they show up on the site.

1. If you and I are having a personal conversation, in real life or through electronic means (e-mail, IM, etc), you may assume I have no intent (or indeed no interest) in posting all or parts of that conversation online. This includes both personal and professional details and aspects of the conversation.

2. If there is something in particular about the conversation that I find might be of interest to post on Whatever (or elsewhere), I will ask you “may I write about this?” If you say yes, I will (you may of course choose not to have the conversation attributed to you). If you say no, I won’t. This does not happen as often as you might assume, however.

3. I may from time to time discuss conversations I have had with others in a very general sense as a springboard to an entry (for example, as I did in the opening paragraph here). When I do that I leave out any identifying trace of those to whom I have spoken.

4. Conversely, because I do assume all personal communication is off limits to public airing, if there is something you would like me to note online, it’s best to tell me so explictly.

Now, you ask, what about conversations where it’s more than one-on-one? It pretty much falls out the same way as the above. My basic rule of thumb is that any discussion of personal matters or business matters relating to the specific parties in the conversation are out of the ambit of sharing online, and as a general rule I don’t spread gossip, so that’s out too. That said, if the discussion is in a publicly accessible space where others can join or listen in (say, at the bar at a convention) general discussion is fair to be noted. So, for example, if I were having a group conversation, I might mention online that the group discussed, say, the typical sad level of book advances. What I won’t tell you are the amounts, if any, that the people in the discussion listed for their own advances.

When do I feel fine about posting news about you, without your permission? When you have made such news available in a way that’s publicly accessible, or the news is otherwise available. So, as an example, if you post “Hey! I sold a novel!” on your blog or LiveJournal, I may blog about it. Alternately, if I read in the news that you won an award, I may blog about it as well. I do try to use my judgment on these things, however; I tend to value news sites and sites of people I know/trust over random blogs and journals. When I have doubts about something I’m likely to ping you first.

Basically: I’m not going to talk online about what you tell me unless you tell me you want me to, or I ask first.

21 Comments on “My Policy On Talking About (Other People’s) Personal Things Here”

  1. I’m a briefs guy, not a boxers guy. This is totally not for your blog.

    (Yes, it’s been a long week, that’s the best snark I could come up with… sigh)

  2. If you and I are having a personal conversation, in real life or through electronic means (e-mail, IM, etc), you may assume I have no intent (or indeed no interest) in posting all or parts of that conversation online.

    Wait. Are you telling me, John, that you DON’T want to talk about me on your blog? WTF?! I am so outta here!

  3. So we’re cool about that incident in Miami, right? Because I spent a fortune getting my record expunged, and really, that restraining order was just between us and the Cuban hookers I promised not to mention in a public for-


  4. I get this a lot in my journalist role. Not to do so much with personal information, but people being very nervous in general that I’m going to write something that makes them or their company look bad. It’s surprising how often I hear, through the grapevine, that a certain company or individual won’t talk to the press at all. (Thereby shooting themselves in the foot.) People are very nervous about writers and journalists. It’s a reminder of the power we wield, as well as the fact that in times of violence and social upheavel, journalist is one of the most dangerous occupations.

    I try to reassure people that I will be as fair as possible. Unfortunately, I can’t promise to make them happy all the time. (I believe I have at least one billionaire totally pissed off at me). But I do concur that one shouldn’t be afraid to be friends with or confide in a writer. We are not totally stupid and insane.

  5. I had sorta assumed that was your policy, since that seems to be the way you roll here on Whatever, at least from my observation.

  6. My policy is that anonymous mail is fair game; signed mail I keep off the site. If it’s really good hate mail, I might ask for permission to post it, or excerpt a fair use-sized portion without naming the guilty party. Because I admire the craft, you see. But I get so little of that.

    Anyway, I don’t get that much hate mail anymore. It all seems to go into the comment threads now. And there I delete all but the most amusing.

  7. I always ask permission – although my family have got used to me wanting to blog about silly things they do, so they tend to pre-empt me and ask if I’ll blog (or twitter).

    When it comes to email, I have a policy on my blog about pitch emails. If they send me silly pitches I’m more likely to write about the silly pitch and silly PR company than the product. But I give the PR people fair warning!

  8. Are you consciously following in the footsteps of David Sedaris, whose family will evidently no longer talk to him, lest they end up in one of his books?

  9. I strongly suspect that if David Sedaris’ family will not speak to him, the fear of showing up in his books is only a contributing factor.

  10. “Anyway, I don’t get that much hate mail anymore. It all seems to go into the comment threads now. And there I delete all but the most amusing.”

    Do I detect … wistfulness?

    Maybe we should organize an “Amuse John with Hate Mail a-thon.”

  11. My family have not quite become accustomed to me asking “Can I publish?” when they tell me interesting news. At random intervals or for unexpected reasons the answer is a no, so I continue to ask.

    It’s somewhat akin to calling people on their mobile/cell phone and always opening with “Can you talk?” It’s kind of fun watching 21st century etiquette evolve.

  12. Last year I got grief from a coworker because I said that Roy Blatty dies at the end of Blade Runner. BLADE RUNNER! The movie is damn near 30 years old unless you are sixteen years old and just starting to watch classics, the statute of limitations is 25+ years gone. Good grief.

  13. I just recently started blogging about my life. While I have nowhere near the readership of John, (He is the solar system, I merely a grain of sand) I have already had family members ask that question. As of right now I have been trying to stay away from anything touchy, that’s going to change and I have began asking permission from some friends and family. I hope no one says no.

  14. Ooof. I blog about friends (all good things) and don’t ask them. But nobody reads my blog, so it’s okay, right? But I suppose I shall now have to ask in the future… I never really thought about this before!

  15. While I’m glad to see that THIS is your policy, and while I’m glad to see that this IS your policy… I’m kind of sad that it should be necessary to clarify it, because it seems to as though it should be a very basic piece of etiquette. No different really from sharing personal information with others directly.

    I wish this were as contagious as LOL-speak.

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