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Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

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Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

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Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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November 11, 2007

Out in the Great Wide Open

By now you may have heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere.

By now you may have heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four “outside” voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. They were paid as freelance contributors.

Here’s the way the “reader representative,” Ted Diadiun, described the meltdown. It began when Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican Congressman, found out that one of the Wide Open bloggers, Jeff Coryell of Cleveland Heights, had contributed $100 to his opponent.

LaTourette was unhappy that the newspaper would pay someone who financially supported his opponent to write political opinion. He complained to editorial page director Brent Larkin, who referred him to Editor Susan Goldberg, whom he had never met. LaTourette set up an appointment, then thought better of it and canceled.

Goldberg was also unhappy, but not because LaTourette was unhappy.

“The issue here isn’t blogging, or political pressure,” she said. “The issue is our financial tie to these four bloggers. To allow someone we pay to use our site to, potentially, lobby for a candidate they financially support would put us in a place we can’t go. Had we known that he had contributed to the opponent of a person he might write about, we wouldn’t have put him on the blog in the first place.”

After some deliberation, Dubail told Coryell he would have to agree to refrain from writing about LaTourette if he wanted to continue with the blog. Coryell declined, and they parted ways. The other liberal blogger quit in sympathy….

And that was the end of the blog, Wide Open. But the episode was just starting. (See Editor & Publisher’s account, and Jeff Jarvis once, then again. Danny Glover thinks Jarvis has been too rough on the P-D. Here is Jeff Coryell’s resignation, and Jill Zimon’s I’m quitting too post. See Jill’s blog, Writes Like She Talks, for continuing coverage.)

My own conclusion tracks with what what Mark Potts said: “A classic case of a newspaper so stuck in the old ways of doing things that it shoots itself in the foot when it ventures into something new. The paper’s management has rolled itself into a defensive ball over something that shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place, making things worse in the process.”

Which is especially true of Ted Diadiun’s odious explainer, “Wide Open blog bumps up against journalistic ethics,” almost a primer in legacy media sludge think. What not to do in a blog storm has rarely been better shown. Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen (ONO), bid your members to study Ted’s work that you might warn them not to repeat it. And if you need help, Jarvis took the column apart point-by-point.

“This is a story about how The Plain Dealer got itself spattered by some primordial ooze last week,” Diadiun wrote. That would be the mud—an image of ethical taint—that gets slung casually around in the blogosphere. Because a lot of people were sympathetic to Coryell’s argument that he was dumped after a Republican Congressman complained, some of the mud hit the newspaper in Cleveland. In case you’re wondering what “newspaper” signifies these days, that’s the building where they keep the ethics, at least according to Diadiun. “The fallout from all this draws a bright line between the way newspaper reporters and bloggers ply their crafts.”

What he means is: bloggers can afford to have zero ethics, journalists cannot. It takes a special kind of mind to divide up the world that way, which is why I am including Ted Daidiun’s column in Cold Type, my anthology of great curmudgeon lit. (Other selections here and here and here and here.)

Since so much has been written on this episode, and I am late in commenting on it, I offer a few points not made elsewhere: (Okay, so twelve points is not exactly a “few.”)

  • Advice to newsroom people: if you’re caught up in a situation that appears to pit journalists with ethics against bloggers who ain’t got none, you may actually be facing a conflict between one ethic and another, and it would be good to find out what the “other” is before deciding what to do.
  • In this case the other ethic is not “giving money to a politician and writing about his opponent for the newspaper is just good clean fun…” but rather the principle of transparency. In my view the Plain Dealer’s editors could have asked the Wide Open bloggers to disclose all their political contributions in their bios at the site. If they were especially concerned about being fair to LaTourette they could have asked Coryell to mention the $100 in a “full disclosure” note at the end of any post he wrote about the Congressman.
  • If Coryell had quit over the demand to disclose—unlikely, in my view—I would have supported the Plain Dealer. And if Coryell had quit over that and gone to the blogosphere with his complaints about political pressure, lots of people would have told him to take a hike. That’s how the ethic of transparency works. (By the way, here’s my transparency page.)
  • Transparency is not some new media buzzword but an alternative means of generating trust. In one system, which the Plain Dealer unwisely called “journalistic ethics,” the newspaper tries to generate trust by persuading readers that no one at the Plain Dealer has a hidden agenda, or an ax to grind. In the alternative system—sunlight ethics—trust is generated when the newspaper persuades readers that all interests and stakes that might bear on the story have been disclosed. I don’t think either system is perfect. I don’t think either choice solves all the problems an editor will face. But they work differently.
  • Inexplicably, neither Susan Goldberg, the top editor, nor Ted Daidiun have explained why they didn’t respond to the discovery of the troublesome $100 by instituting the transparency system at Wide Open. This would be far more appropriate for an opinion blog written by people from the political community who weren’t told to check their political commitments and interests at the door.
  • Instead of explaining why the transparency option was rejected, Goldberg and Daidiun have tried to suggest that it was the money they were paying the bloggers that tied them in knots and forced their hand. This is weak. “Just like when we hire a freelancer to review a play, we would never hire somebody who was an investor in the theater production,” Goldberg said to a Poynter researcher. “We can’t have people on our payroll who won’t play by our rules.” Well, her analogy is bad. It requires us to see as essentially similar a theatre critic giving a good review and thereby profiting from the increased business that a well-reviewed play would do, and Jeff Coryell writing a critique of a Congressman he wanted to defeat and thereby profiting from… well, how would he profit, exactly? Susan Goldberg has no idea. In Daidiun’s column she worries that Coryell could “potentially lobby for a candidate,” forgetting that lobbyists are paid by those they lobby for.
  • On top of that, Jean Dubail, the online editor, said the bloggers were paid a “nominal fee.” So now you have a nominal—let’s call it symbolic—payment being used as the substantial, in fact the one and only reason for the Plain Dealer’s wacky decision. It’s these kinds of things that cause people to suspect that the reasons given are not the real reasons.
  • Ted Daidun is supposed to be the “reader representative” for the Plain Dealer. But he decided to abandon his post and become, as Jarvis said, the newspaper’s rep for the duration of this incident. I can’t find anything he said or wrote about Wide Open that suggests he understands the distinction. Wide Open, after all, was written by four readers of the Plain Dealer raised to the status of writer. Daidun abandoned them too. He didn’t even ask that his column run as a post at Wide Open so readers could comment. (No comments allowed on his column, naturally.)
  • Dubail, in my opinion, should never have let Ted Daidun be the voice of the Plain Dealer on this incident. I have no idea how it happened, but that was a strategic error. (Full disclosure: I had a few email exchanges with Jean about the Plain-Dealer about joining NewAssignment.Net’s next project, but we hadn’t gotten very far when this thing blew up.) Danny Glover thinks Diadiun’s column was “over the top, but that just means he, like Jarvis, would be a good blogger.”
  • Daidiun writes: “[Coryell] rejects the ingrained ethics of the newspaper world, preferring to read editors’ minds and create his own reality. Other bloggers pick that up and repeat it as gospel, and suddenly we begin getting questions from all over the country about why we’re letting Steve LaTourette run the newspaper.” The Web’s engrained ethic of transparency—which for the most part is rejected by newspaper journalists—includes linking to what you are talking about. By this standard Daidiun’s column, which doesn’t even link to Wide Open, falls short of the ethical standard (most) bloggers keep. He should keep this in mind next time he talks about bloggers without linking to what they said.
  • I don’t understand why the four bloggers for Wide Open didn’t get together once the ultimatum had been given and decide what to do as a group. Do you? (Todd Blumer, another of the Wide Open bloggers, seems to have the same question, while Jill Zimon writes, “Why didn’t the PD come to all four of us to re-set the rules, but rather only went to one of us?” See also Jeff Coryell in the comments: “The four Wide Open bloggers didn’t act together partly because I didn’t reach out to them.”)
  • Finally, as I wrote at Buzzmachine: What I have not heard from anyone at the Plain Dealer is why they aren’t a little more suspicious of Congressman LaTourette’s response to the big revelation about $100… The Congressman didn’t have to be outraged and demand action to correct this alleged injustice. What he could have said is “Politics–and political opinion–ain’t beanbag. People have the right to express themselves and be heard in the newspapers. I’m glad that Clevelanders like Jeff Coryell are engaged in the issues, and trying to get others to pay attention. I recognize that when people get engaged in politics they also give money to those they support. This is normal. This is democracy.” He could have said that, but he didn’t. Instead he rejected the engrained ethics of a vigorously democratic political culture and made a fuss about a writer already publicly identified as a political opponent. Why? What does the editorial page of the Plain-Dealer have to say about that? Has it lost its voice?

* * *

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Also from the Plain-Dealer, this piece may be the greatest “curmudgeon says bloggers suck” column ever— and that’s a big category. It is practically a work of art. You cannot get more old school without issuance of a death certificate. Favorite line: “Or do I mean blog? No, I think I mean blab.”

“Establishing written guidelines with contributors — whether they are paid or not — is critical, says Tom Regan, news blogger for National Public Radio and former executive director of the Online News Association. I agree with Tom on this. And when the 12 newsrooms participating in beat reporting with a social network are announced on Nov. 14 (watch for it) they would be wise to establish such guidelines for the networks each beat reporter pulls together.

Jeff Coryell in the comments to this post: “It may be that bloggers ought to be more rigorous with disclosures even on their own independent blogs than they are.”

Kathy Gill: “Way back when (2005), the LA Times tried an experiment with wikis without really understanding what wikis are all about. It looks like the Cleveland Plains Dealer has done the same thing with a four-reader political blog.”

Danny Glover of Beltway Blogroll in the comments: “The opinion wiki was a bad idea from the start and was doomed to fail based on the content it was bound to generate. All the Times did was create a new forum for an online flame war, thus giving old media sanction to that particular type of new media bad behavior. Wide Open did not fail because it was a bad idea. It was actually a great idea — and one that a smart newspaper will embrace and improve upon someday soon.”

See also Glover’s Your Ethic, My Ethic, Our Ethic. “Journalists and bloggers will never be able to work together in peace until people in both worlds find some common ethical ground,” he says. “Right now, the two groups are talking past each other with an air of superiority.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 11, 2007 1:04 AM   Print


Jay -

Thanks for the thoughtful reaction. All very good points. I'm especially glad to see your last one, since Rep. LaTourette's role ought to be critically examined and largely has escaped attention.

Part of the problem in that regard is that people tend to accept Ted Diadiun's flawed chronology. He writes that LaTourette first complained, and I first learned of that complaint, in mid-October, relatively late in Wide Open's 5 1/2 week span. Actually, LaTourette complained a day or two after we started (on Sept. 24th), before he even knew about my $100 contribution to his opponent. After the Sabrina Eaton interview with LaTourette in mid-October, Jean emailed me to say that LaTourette was "still complaining." So LaTourette's involvement seems more tangential in Diadiun's telling than in my experience of the events.

The four Wide Open bloggers didn't act together partly because I didn't reach out to them (for which I have expressed some regret) -- it felt like a matter addressed specifically to me, not at all of us. There was no ultimatum presented to the four of us, just a phone call to me in which the issue was LaTourette, not contributions generally. In any event, the two conservative bloggers indicate that they do not make political contributions at all, so they are not in the same situation as I and my liberal colleague. (One of them did assist a Congressional campaign informally, which raises a slippery slope question about the newspaper's purported concern over my political contribution.)

Your thoughts about transparency are important and may point to the correct resolution of the dilemma of newspaper-hosted partisan bloggers. Indeed, it may be that bloggers ought to be more rigorous with disclosures even on their own independent blogs than they are. For me, I have this sense that my political orientation is so overt, and information about my contributions is so readily available online if anyone wants to get into it, that specific, post-by-post disclosure of my contributions seems pointless. However, in light of this episode, I am close to re-thinking that, at least when I am promoting or attacking particular candidates. (At Wide Open, by the way, I generally wrote about issues rather than particular races.)

Posted by: Jeff Coryell at November 11, 2007 12:17 PM | Permalink


I agree a better (more accurate) frame is the difference in ethics instead of "projos have ethics, bloggers have no ethics." I also agree with disclosure being the preferred option for both groups.

I do think this has more to do with varying ethics in "old media" news organizations than old vs. new media. Old media experiments in new media just highlight the ethical differences among the old media organizations.

Newsroom policies vary on campaign donations

The list: Journalists who wrote political checks

Posted by: Tim at November 11, 2007 12:26 PM | Permalink

'Though not $-related:

Critics Question Reporter's Airing of Personal Views

Journalism Educators Bar C-SPAN Cameras

Posted by: Tim at November 11, 2007 1:16 PM | Permalink

"In the alternative system - sunlight ethics - trust is generated when the newspaper persuades readers that all interests and stakes that might bear on the story have been disclosed. Inexplicably, ...[they haven't] explained why they didn’t respond to the discovery of the troublesome $100 by instituting the transparency system at Wide Open."

Maybe there's a reluctance to acknowledge the value of transparency because, once it's acknowledged, readers will wonder why it's not implemented elsewhere in the paper.

Posted by: Anna at November 11, 2007 3:46 PM | Permalink

It was only a matter of time before someone brought up the L.A. Times' wiki experiment as a parallel. I thought about raising the issue myself -- but to shoot down the parallel.

The opinion wiki was a bad idea from the start and was doomed to fail based on the content it was bound to generate. All the Times did was create a new forum for an online flame war, thus giving old media sanction to that particular type of new media bad behavior.

Wide Open did not fail because it was a bad idea. It was actually a great idea -- and one that a smart newspaper will embrace and improve upon someday soon. It failed because of poor communication at the outset from both newsroom to blogger and blogger to newsroom, and then because of the Cleveland editors' impulsive reactions to a bad situation.

The paper should have given the idea more thought to process before starting Wide Open, and they should have done the same once they realized they had goofed. The same is true of the bloggers. This experiment didn't have to end as it has for anyone involved -- and I'm hopeful that someone will learn from the mistakes made along the way.

The L.A. Times wiki, not so much. That one deserves to stay dead and buried.

Posted by: Danny Glover at November 11, 2007 8:06 PM | Permalink

The notion that reporters can't have opinions or express them outside of their work product is absolutely nuts and just another ruse by press "victims" to a) change the subject and b) get revenge. Now commentators can't have a life?

Everybody in this business knows someone or of someone who has been left to twist slowly, slowly in the wind over a breach of the Caesar's Wife rule. A Washington Post reporter has just been disciplined [] for writing a nasty reply to an email blast on behalf of DC Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry. Tim Page admits he went over the top but it is unlikely that the reporter, a Pulitzer-prize music critic, would ever have occasion to write about Barry, so the nexus there is hard to fathom.

Judges have opinions and they sentence people to death. A little perspective, please.

Posted by: John C Abell at November 12, 2007 9:04 AM | Permalink

From Gill:

What I don’t understand is why online media aren’t using hypertext as a means to provide transparency for every by-lined story.... This is no different from the type of transparency that Jay outlines — and the fact that it’s not used (shout if you’ve seen it anywhere) speaks volumes about where publishers and producers see themselves relative to their readers/watchers.
Ditto. A hyperlinked byline is too easy. Hyperlinks in the online story should be required by now and I consider it a rhetorical choice (a dumb one) not to have links.

More Undercurrent: Action in Greensboro on Open Source Journalism

Here’s my initial round of advice:

* Change policy from the industry standard, “never link out in news stories” to the new standard, “always link out.”

Posted by: Tim at November 12, 2007 10:15 AM | Permalink

I'd sympathize with those who insist journos of whatever stripe be purer than Caesar's wife--if that's the term.
Than the driven snow. Cleaner than a hound's tooth.

Because, right now, you have a credibility problem and no amount of shuckin' and jivin' is going to fix that until you fix that.

Little stuff, like absolute transparency...important.
Big stuff like hiring Attila the Hun as a journalist-hating public editor with a forty-year contract. Important.

Currently, in France, the journos' reaction to the staged/faked al Durra footage is..."so what?"
Everybody does it.

Even if that isn't you, you're part of "everybody".

So if dumping a blogger over a $100 contribution is de minimis, it's still a good idea. Considering the larger circumstances.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 12, 2007 3:53 PM | Permalink

Jay, couldn't this whole thing have been averted by the PD determining ahead of time that bloggers who'd donated money couldn't appear on its site? I'm not saying that's what they should do, just that the PD seems to have made a complete, and totally avoidable hash of this situation. Or, to salve its conscience, invite bloggers from two different sides to contribute material? What a completely unavoidable mess.

Posted by: Redactora at November 13, 2007 11:44 AM | Permalink

The answer is yes, Redactora, could have been avoided with some precautions upfront. The editors in Cleveland have said that, too. This is just bad decision-making. And following that a miserably bad column by the "reader's representative."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 13, 2007 1:19 PM | Permalink

The editors got smart after the fact.
I presume they get good money. Maybe they could be asked to anticipate the predictable.
Problem here is, it never occurred to them that this would be a problem.
Which is a problem.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at November 13, 2007 7:25 PM | Permalink

Who in their right mind would expect political bloggers to be uninvolved in politics? The fact that the other three have not contributed is more worrisome to me than the fact that one did. A contribution is easily disclosed, and if two brain cells are alive and talking to one another it ought to occurr that a "liberal" blogger would support somebody/anybody other than LaTourette. If I, from the wilds of NE OR, know where LaTourette stands I'd think the PD could figure it out. For disclosure's sake - I'm a left wing Democrat.

If you check around you'll also find that LaTourette is a whiner about politics and hasn't exactly played "nice-nice" himself. I'm religious about links, accurate use of quotes, attributions, and disclosure - and even (Jay) appologies for sloppy characterizations. I also am an uncompensated writer...but it wouldn't make any difference if I were, since the agenda is not hidden. That is the PD's problem, not that there is an agenda, but that it's public without public acknowledgement. There is always an agenda - make it public, let it go. A person without an opinion simply doesn't know anything about the subject or doesn't care and neither is a recipe for accurate information.

Oh well, I make no pretence to being a jounalist...

Posted by: chuckbutcher at November 19, 2007 4:45 AM | Permalink

Presentation to MTV Street Team 08 on...

The Art of Blogging: How to Get Into the National Conversation.

And break news, get noticed, while etching yourself into the Web.

Jay Rosen, NYU Journalism, OfftheBus.Net and

The Web: Google.

Live Web:
Google News
plus Google Blog Search plus YouTube Politics...

My top ten suggestions for Street Team bloggers who want to do real journalism and get talked about for the right reasons...

1. Monitor the Live Web. Follow the news, and what's being said about it on blogs and user-generated sites. Memeorandum, Real Clear Politics, the Page , CNN's Political Ticker, plus Drudge , Huffington Post.

2. Link out to any conversation you want in on. Learning to use blog search: Google Blog Search, Technorati, Ice Rocket.

3. Adopt a state beat AND a national (or community of interest) beat. Appoint yourself beat reporter for both, and monitor the key sources of political news for both.

* Sara Benincasa has to cover New York, but she's interested in comedy-- writing and performing. National beat could be: what comedians are saying and doing about the election, nationwide.

* Kyle de Beausset, Massachusetts, is dedicated to chronicling the migrant experience through new media ever since. National beat: subjecting what the candidates say about immigration to the experience test.

* Or: Work backwards from constituency to beat: Ron Paul anyone?

4. Filter the flow of political news--and chatter--for the communities you serve, state and national. Filter and comment blog: Instapundit.

5. Develop your own social network of beat sources and actors within a subculture, interest group, emerging community or demographic, and let them speak through you.

6. Be the only one there--recording, observing, taking notes--when something important to the national conversation happens. How? Your network tells you!

7. Do some original reporting: dig and investigate for yourself. The New Republic just did it.

8. Save the users time by condensing, summarizing and pulling scattered things to together in one place. Daily Briefing.

9. Interview someone who adds to the conversation; edit and package and background it properly.

10. Guide us in to a world we may know of but don't know about.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 9, 2008 10:07 AM | Permalink

From the Intro