Meanwhile, back in Jersey

Compare and contrast this with the Cleveland kerfuffle (in which a blogger who contributed to a campaign was called unethical and the blog was killed, below):

At the Star-Ledger’s version of Comment is Free/Huffington Post, NJVoices, Gov. Jon Corzine’s former girlfriend, Carla Katz, a union official, went on the attack against a Ledger reporter who has been dogging her.

Editor & Publisher, sadly, is confused about the paper having Katz blog: “So it seemed at least a bit odd when The Star-Ledger of Newark, the state’s largest newspaper, gave Katz a blog this past summer as part of its new NJ Voices program, which offers blog space to non-newspaper people.” I don’t see anything odd about it at all. Isn’t this somebody you’d want to hear from? Isn’t it the paper’s job to find a way to have her be heard? Isn’t the blog a new opportunity to do that? Doesn’t this break open the closed control of the presses? And what the hell, it’s fun when something erupts:

:But last Friday, the blog burst forth with controversy when Katz took on Star-Ledger reporter Josh Margolin, one of the paper’s top statehouse scribes. She wrote that he was “downright obsessed” with covering her and attacked him for stories such as his recent article about dissident union leaders filing charge to have Katz ousted for allegedly misappropriating funds.

“…no other union leader’s or union’s internal local drama (and trust me, we all have internal drama) gets consistently and continuously plastered across the pages of the Ledger, almost all with Josh’s byline,” Katz wrote. “It is more than slightly disconcerting to see the comparatively normal internal drama of our local covered in the paper with the same intensity of the Yankees recent quest for a new manager.”

Katz eventually asked readers to send her stories about Margolin, who was among the reporters honored in 2005 when the paper received a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of former governor James McGreevey’s resignation.

“So, I was thinking that if the Ledger is going to write soooooo much about me and the Local that I should even the playing field and, well, write about Josh. The Josh chronicles,” she stated. “So folks, send me your best Josh Margolin stories. I’ll keep them anonymous unless they are Pulitzer material. And I promise, I won’t hold a grudge.”

Margolin told E&P he has no problem with Katz having a blog or criticizing him: “Once anyone is given the space to blog, the call is clear, they have the right to say what they want to say.”

Star-Ledger Editor Jim Willse said he had invited Katz to blog on the site because “she has opinions about a range of matters just as her fellow bloggers do that are of interest.” He said the Margolin posting was not edited, although he expressed it made him “a little uncomfortable.”

“It is a bit of uncharted territory,” he admitted. “But if you are going to invite someone to write commentary on a blog, you have to let nature take its course.”

Compare that with the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s attitude toward an open conversation, quoting their ombudsman, Ted Diadiun: “This is a story about how The Plain Dealer got itself spattered by some primordial ooze last week.” Bloggers being the ooze. They see this as a story of control: “[Political blog] Wide Open debuted in September, and [Plain Dealer online editor] Dubail sat back to watch the fun. For his trouble, he wound up being called a “moron” in his own brainchild the second day out, when one of his bloggers linked to an unflattering story about the paper that had been in one of the city’s alternative weeklies. But in general, the blog did what he wanted it to do.” He concludes:

But that’s the way things work in the blog world: “Yellow Dog Sammy” [the blogger ejected for contributing to a candidate] 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.

No, that’s the newspaper imposing its view on the public, calling bloggers unethical and refusing to acknowledge their ethics of involvement and transparency. The paper’s refusing to learn anything new, to see other worldviews. Primordial ooze, indeed.

(Full disclosure: I worked with both papers as president of and still consult for the Ledger , where I pushed the start of NJVoices.)

  • Cooler Heads

    My only concern is that, if you did your job right at the SL, then their blog is a BIG billboard, rather than someone’s small, private site. So, Katz is a labor leader. Are their other voices with axes to grind, from the anti-labor side of the fence?

    Seems to me that even if its a blog, if it comes under a newpaper’s banner then it needs to follow the equal time rule.

  • The internet is the equal time rule.

  • Cooler Heads

    Jeff, kind of. It’s only an equal time rule if everyone gets equal access.

    What if the paper allowed everyone to have the same billing as Katz, with a photo and name in big type, and have their voices heard? Wouldn’t that be an equal time rule? How does a paper select its bloggers from outside the realm of the newsroom? That selection process is not transparent, and given the rule of the internet, it should be.

    But as for Katz going after the reporter, I think that’s fine. And I applaud the paper for not intervening.

  • Wow. Thanks for noting this, Jeff. I would expect that Dubail was far closer to the Star Ledger style – that’s what the face the PD is putting out there. But when the pressure come to the paper, in the form of a threat that the paper’s editors imagine could come not only from the one Congressman but maybe from more, the paper’s powers folded and projected that loss of power onto the bloggers.


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  • Ted Diadiun


    I’d like to clarify something, if I may:

    You commented that “they (the Plain Dealer) see this as a story of control,” and offer as proof a quote from my column that, “in general, the bloggers did what he (Dubail) wanted them to do.”

    But that statement didn’t mean the bloggers generally did Dubail’s bidding — it meant, as I noted earlier in a part of the column you didn’t quote, that the bloggers’ mission was to “opine daily about the political scene, play off each other and generate response from fellow online politics junkies. They got free rein on what they could write.” THAT’s what Dubail wanted them to do, and that’s what they did.

    This was never an issue of control or political pressure. It was always about long-standing newspaper ethical concerns, about conflict of interest. The bloggers were never told they couldn’t comment about whatever political issues they wanted, never were censored. It was only after the newspaper discovered that one (and later, two) bloggers had contributed money to political campaigns that they were told they couldn’t write about those campaigns while being paid to write on a Plain Dealer blog.

    That separation is so well established in the newspaper world that it usually goes without saying. But with this arrangement, those ground rules should have been discussed up front. Quite simply, it occurred to no one — not the editors and I will take on faith not the bloggers — that it would be a problem.

    Everyone feels bad about this. I think that reasonable people can disagree, as you and I do, about whether the newspaper should have established different ethical guidelines for the Web site that would have acknowledged the bloggers “involvement and transparency,” as you put it.

    That is a discussion worth having. I think it’s too bad that the discussion degenerated instead into conspiracy theories about political pressure and why The Plain Dealer “really” took the steps it did.

    The Plain Dealer makes congressmen angry all the time, and publishes many stories they hate. To imagine that some complaints from a congressman could bully the newspaper into silencing a blogger is ludicrous.

  • Sorry, Ted, but that’s utter crap, complete bull.

    You say that your rules “go without saying.” Apparently so. You hired bloggers with clear opinions who are involved in their communities but then when you find that they contributed to campaigns — which in any other quarter would be considered a mark of civic participation — you accuse them of being unethical. That is grossly insulting. You are imposing YOUR standards on the perfectly normal and acceptable behavior of citizens whom you hired to be citizens. But you didn’t know what to do with it.

    i found your column appalling. You can keep denying your meme about political pressure. But the bottom line here is that you revealed yourself to be utterly clueless about blogging and citizenship, You didn’t try to listen or learn. You imposed your worldview on them.

    You embarrass me.

  • Ted Diadiun

    Et tu, eh? I thought that here at least, we could have disagreement without personal attack.

    OK. I’m sorry I bothered.

  • Spare me the victimhood. Yes, we disagree, and strongly.Personal attack? No more than your attack against the bloggers you hired. You called them unethical. I’d take that personally.

  • Tim Russo

    Mr. Diadiun,

    You and others continue to assert that you “discovered” that a blogger had made a donation of $100. When and how did you “discover” this? That’s the point. Whether you “discovered” it from Congressman Latourette or not, the fact that you “discovered” it after the thing was launched is itself laughable. Ever hear of Google? The FEC website? Either way, the entire episode was as foreseeable as the sun coming up tomorrow.

    Jeff, I’m sure you are aware, Diadiun’s entire M.O. is to be “grossly insulting”. This latest Diadiun column is not the first time he has literally dripped the pages of the PD with his sanctimony and arrogance toward the minions, let alone bloggers. Mr. Diadiun, if you had one shred of decency you’d issue an apology for your tone, your arrogance, and for writing a piece so patently ignorant of the basic reality of the topic you dare to write about.

    It really is a shame that such a major newspaper, with the deep pockets and complete freedom that comes with being the paper of record, er, the ONLY paper in a one newspaper town, allows people like Diadiun to lord over whatever fiefdom they may have left. I certainly hope there are people at the PD who will put Mr. Diadiun in the corner and move a once great newspaper forward. There is so much opportunity out there.

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  • From a macro very detached cubical I’m wondering what this newspaper is delivering to the opponent of the $100 contibution. If not cash now thru well insulated channels, then its a get for the good ol boy network in the near future. Like, say a new high school on someones property, a new highway thru a farm.

  • Jeff, oddly, all the slurs and hits on bloggers being unethical etc. – I think I’ve learned that I’m used to that expectation from some corners and so I don’t, in fact, take it personally. I’m pretty unshakable when it comes to some things, and I have a very good sense of where my ethics are.

    Susan Goldberg made a mistake, and it wasn’t even that they had to “discover” the donation made by Jeff Coryell. The mistake is really about what the paper did after they made that discovery. And anyone who believes in the value of the standard that allegedly was violated by the substance of that discovery and puts the onus on the bloggers is being absurd. Susan Goldberg is the experienced manager, we should think, yes? We were the wild west riders working up a dust field of debate, yes? That’s what they wanted.

    And when they found that they needed to or wanted to change the rules, they went about it all wrong. THEY went about it all wrong. No onus on the bloggers – we did what was expected, and then some.

    That’s the innocent version scrubbed of the LaTourette/political connection, which is how the PD “discovered” the donation in the first place. Which points to two things: 1) bad HR standard policy follow-through and 2) exertion of pressure – slight or heavy – from a politician.

    I have no doubt that the PD rebukes complaints. I might even buy separation of complaint and subsequent action.

    But not until Goldberg explains why they split up their offense – why they went after Jeff and impliedly were going to wait for me to come to them? with what?

    Now THAT is what would have been unethical, disloyal and against character for me.

    And I guess that’s also why shoutouts that I’m some unethical blogger goes right past me.

  • Mr Diadiun –

    Your column was, indeed, grossly insulting and deliberately intended to smear me. You mischaracterized what I was told (by Eaton and Dubail) and how I behave (“creating reality”). However, my biggest complaint is how you – speaking for a newspaper, no less – misprepresented the facts to buttress your attack.

    I did NOT learn of LaTourette’s displeasure when talking to Sabrina Eaton (which took place after October 11th). As is evident from my initial email to her, I already knew what was going on because LaTourette began complaining about my participation a day or two after we opened for business on September 24th. LaTourette’s comment to Eaton was merely a continuation of his complaining, not the origin. YOU should have found that out within a few minutes of looking into this sordid affair.

    The reason nobody talked about extending this “no contributions” rule to bloggers at the outset is because if MAKES NO SENSE. We were not hired to be objective reporters or to be the sole voice on a story. We were hired to give our opinions in a context in which they would be immediately challenged by opposing voices. There IS NOT ETHCIAL CONFLICT. Do you inquire about political contributions by syndicated columnists or guest op-ed writers? You do not; they are paid for their opinion and their political activities are a plus, not an impediment. However, when LaTourette latched onto my contribution to O’Neill as a focus for his complaints, your editor’s subsequent imposition this new policy suddenly became so important that I was fired before I had ever written even one word about LaTourette at Wide Open. Some emergency!

    The fact is that I had to be removed because LaTourettte wanted me gone, and all your protestations about how LaTourette “had nothing to do with it” don’t even pass the “straight face” test.

  • Actually, I communicated with Sabrina Eaton on October 16th. October 11th was the very earliest date on which when might have learned of my contribution when talking to LaTourette.

    LaTourette started to complain about my involvement in Wide Open to someone at the Plain Dealer, presumably Brent Larkin, long before he learned about my contribution. I made that contribution just a few days before an O’Neill fund-raiser on September 29th. He complained on either September 25th or 26th. So, my contribution was at or about the time that LaTourette started raising a stink, but LaTourette didn’t find out about it until O’Neill filed a fund-raising report much later.

    This really wasn’t about a $100 contribution, not for LaTourette, not for the paper.

  • First paragraph garbled, sorry – October 11th was when Regula’s retirement was leaked, and that was the subject of Eaton’s interview with LaTourette in which he complained about my contribution to O’Neill.

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  • To me there is something very sad about all this. The Plain-Dealer may have had good intentions; but it’s not enough to have good intentions. You also need good ideas, accurate perceptions, and at least some degree of online sophistication. You have to have some distance on your culture, too– as in “That separation is so well established in the newspaper world that it usually goes without saying.”

    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. I understand that the official line from the newspaper is “we didn’t bow to pressure” and that they’re rolling their eyes in the newsroom over the online commentary that says they did, but…

    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?

  • There’s a reason why Jay Rosen is a professor in this field:

    “he [LaTourette] rejected the engrained ethics of a vigorously democratic political culture.”

    The proliferation of blogs is in part because people feel like they aren’t being heard, that they want a way, a place, to express themselves and their frustrations. I’m extrapolating from Jay’s quote above that this proliferation of, in addition to the intrigue around political blogs, stems precisely from the ethics of and interest in and dedication to a vigorously democratic political culture.

    Makes me think that those who try to contain, ignore or otherwise diminish that culture are scared, sadly, of…full-fledged democratic political debate.

    And that fact -that people are scared of that culture, is scary in itself. Think about China, Pakistan and Myanmar for starters.

    Think it can’t happen here? Isn’t it already in subtle ways, in niche places, like…political blogs?

    Food for thought. Feast, really.

  • I think LaTourette’s supporters should be criticizing him for being anti-participation, and a bit of a boob, in addition to a bully. He could have scored by demanding that the $100 contribution be noted on the blog whenever he was written about, transparency and all that, and scored by insisting that this not disqualify Jeff because the Congressman feels the contest of ideas is important.

  • Tim Russo


    Politics is a zero sum game for minds as small as Congressman Latourette’s and the people at the PD whom he calculated would respond to his tantrum in precisely the way that they did. That’s how the game is played, the PD has proven repeatedly that it will play along happily. Until the PD enters the real world and stops kidding itself with this nonsense Mr. Diadiun is spewing, nothing will change that.

    Which I guess is the point of blogs in the first place.

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