Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Learning from the public washing of other's journalistic dirty linen. . .

The pace of internet journalism is anything but measured and contemplative. And blogs are ravenous beasts, always demanding to be fed.

It's true that I write most of this particular blog, but it's also true that I'm writing it as a staff member of WMRA public radio.This makes it an appropriate platform for me to ask hard questions, site incidents from my own and others' experiences, and offer researched information. In my opinion, it does not make it a platform for my personal opinion.

Yes, I am opinionated. Quite heatedly so, at times. So, Tom DuVal, our generally cool, calm and collected (as long as you keep him away from his always-ailing computer) General Manager reads this blog behind me. His mission is not to rewrite as much as it is to remove what an old NPR editor of mine used to call "Martha-isms," those times in a piece or a post when there's too much of me and not enough story. Tom keeps me heeled to my ethical master, the canons of  journalism. For which I am, most of the time, very grateful.

In my opinion (and we'll see if Tom allows me to opine about this), good journalism is the product of the tension between writer and editor. And this is not always a smooth and pretty process. Particularly now that all these reporter-written blogs (mine included) have entered the picture. Blogs are inherently more personal. So where does that leave blogs written by reporters?

Anyway, it was with great interest that I read today's Omblog, in which The Washington Post Ombudsman gives voice to readers' concerns about the paper, both the on-line and on-the-page versions.

It's a long and, to me, interesting column about an internal Post flap, that begins with this,
An "inappropriate" blog item causes a stir
In his “D.C. Schools Insider” blog on Wednesday, education reporter Bill Turque offered a fascinating behind-the-scenes explanation of how The Post’s newsroom and editorial page operate independently.

He described being scooped the previous day by a Post editorial. It had included information from the office of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee on her recent claims to a national business magazine that some teachers had been laid off because they “had sex with children,” hit them or were chronically absent. Turque wrote that Rhee’s office had provided fresh information to the editorial board -- but not him -- and noted that The Post’s editorial page support of Rhee had been “steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring.” He said this, coupled with Rhee’s comfort level with editorial board member Jo-Ann Armao, who writes education editorials, had assured Rhee a “soft landing spot for uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures -- kind of a print version of the Larry King Show.”
A public conflict between Editorial staff member and beat reporter is, itself, interesting. But what really set me thinking as a reporter/blogger were these three paragraphs from deep in the piece (bolding and italicizing were done by me).
Turque said his original item had been read by his editors, including education editor Craig Timberg and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, a high-ranking editor who oversees The Post’s local coverage. Both took the blame.

“This whole thing was my fault,” Garcia-Ruiz messaged me. “I saw the original post, approved it, and should have edited the opinion out of it. The issue of beat writers straying from analysis to opinion in blog posts is one we dealt with when I was [in his previous job as Sports editor] and I know better. When it was brought to my attention last night, I edited the piece as I should have done originally, called Bill to explain why I made the changes I made, and then republished it.”

Similarly, Timberg said he had approved the post. "I feel really badly about the way this turned out," he said. "I feel as though I misjudged the extent to which there was room for a rough and tumble conversation" in the blog. "I feel like I've embarrassed the news organization and I wish that weren't so."
That's the end of the "Omblog" excerpt.

What I'm curious about is your take on the issue of opinionated reporters who blog. Is it still possible for you to trust the impartiality of our news reporting once we stray on-line, unchecked, from "analysis to opinion?" You know we all have opinions, so are we being transparent or simply taking advantage of our blog pulpits when we express them on these ephemeral on-line pages?

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