Cleveland’s ditch

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?

  • I think the Plain Dealer’s claim that it’s all about having paid the bloggers is just a face-saving effort. They’re looking for any excuse they can to justify their idiotic response to the situation.

    As you say, they’ve dug themselves into an indefensible hole in the process. Of course, the fact that they never really spelled out their ethics rules for the bloggers (or anybody else), and that they never checked campaign donations by other paid contributors, makes the whole thing even more laughable. It’s a classic example of old-media-think, trying to rationalize actions that make approximately zero logical sense. And newspapers wonder why they’re being left so far behind!

  • Eric Gauvin

    You use the word “kerfuffle” way too much…

  • Tim Russo

    This entire episode is a total farce, on many levels. Here’s another level of it, vis a vis disclosure and background checks.

    When the PD did a front page story last year on 10 bloggers in Ohio, they purportedly did a background check on every one of them. The stated reason is that they do background checks on every person on whom they write a big story. As now, none of it passed the smell test. But it gets better.

    Apparently, none of that “background check” info was useful for the purposes of the Wide Open bloggers, several of whom were in both the 2006 cover story and blogged at Wide Open subsequently. So either the “background check” was not very thorough, or they never looked at it before starting Wide Open. My guess is that the “background check” for the 2006 story did not include the 15 seconds it takes to peruse the FEC website.

    All of this discussion, however, misses the main point, which is that the PD breached contract with these bloggers based on the interference of an outside party. Every level of their justification for it, whether based on some unspoken ethical standard or anything else, is window dressing.