Yesterday afternoon, a reporter from the Boston Herald called my home number. A number I never give out professionally. Because, you know, it’s my home number.
A number I have listed under my husband’s name so I’m not easy to find. Because even though I know that my stalker ex-boyfriend from the early 1990’s knows my husband’s name and our current address (pathetic, I know), the many years of dealing with him has left me in the habit of erring on the side of caution when it comes to privacy.
The reporter wanted to ask my opinion about the recent 8-week maternity leave ruling in Massachusetts. I put the reporter on hold so I could get Laurel settled with an activity while I took the call, then asked her how she got my phone number. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “I’m happy to talk to reporters but I never give out this number. I prefer that media contact me by e-mail, as indicated on my website. Can you tell me how you got this number?”
Reporter: “I looked it up in a database.”
Me: “I shouldn’t be in a database. This telephone number is not under my name.”
Reporter: “Actually, I looked it up under your husband’s name.”
Me: “Excuse me? How did you find that information? My husband and I have different surnames and I purposefully list the phone under his name so I’m not easy to find. I prefer to keep my daughter and husband as separate from my public activities as possible.”
Reporter: “We have a special sleuthing database that we pay a lot of money to have access to. It’s the same kind of database that background investigators and the police use.”
Me: [Envision mouth hanging open] “I find that really, really creepy.”
Reporter: “Oh, well don’t worry, you were really hard to find. I don’t think anyone else will be calling you soon.”
As if that was supposed to make me feel better.
Admittedly, as this conversation went down, I was: a) in a state of shock; b) still interested in conversing about the 8-week maternity leave ruling; c) exhausted and emotionally hung over from BlogHer; and d) having flashbacks of sitting at my college public safety office asking them to kick my stalker ex-boyfriend off campus if they saw his car on the property. Had I been in a more lucid state of mind, perhaps I should have refused to speak to her given that she clearly didn’t respect me enough to not violate my privacy. But I did give the interview. And she was actually very nice and we had a very pleasant conversation.
That said, this experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever perception one might have of the Boston Herald, it’s still a newspaper. And in my lofty, idealistic world, that means that reporters ought to operate by a code of ethics, which not only includes reporting honestly and with integrity, but not violating the privacy of the people to be interviewed. I know I’m probably more stringent about privacy than most due to my stalker issue + my many years in academia and in HIPAA training, but still, there ought to be standards. I refuse to pass along private email addresses when people ask me to make connections (instead I ping person B and let them know person A wants to connect), much less pimp out private phone numbers. And even if I had access to some expensive database, were I in this reporter's shoes, I certainly wouldn’t go digging for private information when it takes about 10 seconds to click over to a person's contact page (which even has an easy to click to Media Inquiries section) and fire off an email.
In the past four years, I have been contacted by media outlets large and small and never, ever has one of these outlets found it necessary to dig for my home phone number via a private investigation database. In fact, just today I received an interview request from WGBH and lo and behold, they contacted me via the media request e-mail address provided on my website.
So Boston Herald, if this is the way you teach your reporters to roll, I suggest you revise your practices. Because sadly, yesterday, one of your reporters acted no better than my stalker ex-boyfriend.