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Should Members of the Media Always Identify Themselves at Conferences?

By  Aug 13, 2007

Topics: Security

Many of you have heard of the NBC reporter's hasty exit from Defcon last week, but was she 100% wrong to refuse the press badge?

I'm not coming close to condoning her ultimate goal: using a hidden camera to "out" a hacker agreeing to do (or doing) something illegal.  That's pretty low, and it shows a pretty poor understanding of what conferences like Defcon are all about.  I've been to a few Defcons and BlackHats, and they are unique in their mix of people trying to break things and others trying to prevent people from breaking things.  But nowhere have I seen bad guys using the shows to hatch evil plans.  Of course I haven't been privy to every conversation, but everyone I've met has been there to learn -- and to have a good time.

But was NBC reporter Michelle Madigan wrong to register as an attendee (or "HUMAN," as the badge labeled us)? I've given it a lot of thought, since I also attended the show as a HUMAN.  I think she was wrong.  Was I wrong to do that, too?  I don't think so.

As a reporter, Madigan was there to "cover" the show, much like beat writers from other news organizations.  Most of them had columns to write and reports to file, and it makes sense for them to identify themselves as press since they might want to quote someone in their report.  Everyone benefits by knowing the agenda and intentions of the person they're talking to.  Hidden cameras benefit no one in this case, and they violate the spirit of trust created by Defcon's organizers.  Could she have found someone to do something illegal?  Probably, given enough time, but that person would have been an exception to the majority of honest people there.

So why was it okay for me to register as a HUMAN?  Here's the thing: I wasn't reporting from the show.  I don't have a column, I wasn't doing a show write-up, and I wasn't seeking interviews.  I was there as a site editor to pick up on the latest security trends, hang out with people who write for me, and hopefully meet more people who will write for me in the future.  I was pretty up front in telling people what I did, and at no time did anyone have to wonder if their name would appear on my site in an interview.

Nothing underhanded going on there.  But what do you think?  At the very least it would have saved me the $100 reg fee to have gone as press.  But I kind of think it would have brought unwanted attention to my presence, and it might -- especially thanks to this NBC reporter's experience -- have made people less interested in speaking openly with me.

So do you think I should get a press badge next year?

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