I thought I was done writing about the Cleveland kerfuffle, but reading Poynter’s coverage — which, by the way, didn’t include bloggers’ perspective; too bad — I can’t help but think that the paper is digging itself deeper into a trench that will be hard to climb out of later.
They are making what a friend called a Jesuitical distinction that the issue here is all about money: once the paper paid the bloggers, then the bloggers had to live by the paper’s (unspoken) rules. So what happens when and if the paper decides, as I think it should, to start an ad network across local blogs and sites? Do they all have to live by the paper’s rules? It’s just an ad network, after all. It’s not a case of putting the bloggers’ content on the paper’s site. Is that, too a distinction? And what are the rules? The paper now admits that it didn’t discuss its rule about campaign contributions with the bounced bloggers before they started to blog under the paper’s roof. What other rules are there? Is volunteering for a campaign just as bad? Attending a rally? Putting up a lawn sign? Wearing a button? Telling friends to vote for someone? Or is this just about money — the paper’s money going to the bloggers and then to the campaign? Does the paper now have to check on the behavior of all its syndicated sources of content to make sure they live by the Cleveland Commandments? Now what happens if the pay an op-ed writer; do they have to do a background check?
The paper is going through this Talmudic toenail clipping, I think, because they’re trying to argue that this is about some rule obvious only to them about contributions and not about political pressure. The paper sided with a politician’s definition of ethics without giving the bloggers the opportunity to express their view of ethical behavior. And now they’re digging that trench. I think they’ll come to regret that.
: LATER: And I meant to mention that it’s amusing to hear the paper say that they expect to restart the blog, only this time they won’t pay. I can’t imagine any self-respecting blogger going for the deal. if you’re going to abuse them, you should at least pay them, eh?