Posts about Weblogs

Cleveland’s burning river of bloggers

Ted Diadiun is called the “reader representative” at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In his latest exchange with bloggers and the public, that’s a misnomer. He is the paper’s representative, explaining the paper’s way of doing things and trying to impose that system on any who come in contact with the paper. He makes no apparent attempt to understand the bloggers’ worldview. And that’s tragic because if anyone should be trying to grasp and champion new ways to look at journalism from the readers’ eyes, you’d think it would be the reader representative. Not Diadiun. This is why newspapers are having trouble adapting to new realities. They won’t ackowledge other realities.

See the background in this story from my perspective here and here and see also Diadiun’s comments. The long and the short of it: The paper hired four bloggers, two right and two left, to blog together. One liberal blogger contributed to a campaign and was told not to write about his opponent; he refused and left; the other liberal blogger left in protest; the paper stopped the blog. Bloggers accuse the paper of being pressured by a politician. The paper accused the bloggers of being unethical for making contributions.

The problem, in my view, is that Diadiun isn’t listening and learning. That, you’d think, would be the fundamental qualification for his job. Indeed, that is what journalism most needs today — new perspectives, new understanding of the public, a new relationship with that public, and new ways of serving it. But instead, Diadiun just defends the paper against an accusation of buckling to political pressure and lashes out at the bloggers as aliens to the newspaper ways.

I made some of these points before but wanted to examine the Diadiun attitude in more depth because it is so revelatory of the cultural change newspapers are having problems making. Pardon the length, but here are my reactions to Diadiun’s column:

The conflicted relationship between professional and citizen journalists — newspapers and blogs — is at various times a romance and a fistfight.

More and more, newspapers are putting their news and information online and using the Web to expand their reach. While hardly anyone doubts that print will one day give way to the Internet as a news source, how and when we eventually get there is unknown. But we do know that nothing proceeds smoothly along its evolutionary path without an occasional mudslide.

This is a story about how The Plain Dealer got itself spattered by some primordial ooze last week.

Note the victimhood there: The Plain Dealer got splattered. It got splattered by bloggers, denizens of the primordial ooze. Note how self-centered this is: It’s about the newspaper.

Diadiun explains the origins of the blog, saying that “it all began, as many vexations do, with the best of intentions.” This wasn’t a pleasant or a learning experience. It was a vexation. Dealing with the public in a new ways is a vexation. Diadiun continues:

Their 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.

Wide Open debuted in September, and [assistant managing editor for online news Jean] 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. Ultimately, Wide Open would attract 600 to 800 visitors a day.

More victimhood. The blogger dared to link out to the alternative paper, which dared to dislike the P-D. Newspapers are accustomed to controlling the press and thus the conversation. They don’t suffer criticism easily. You’d think an ombudsman would have grown a thick skin to this kind of talk. Apparently not.

Now Diadiun tells the story of the contribution:

Then, on Oct. 16, reporter Sabrina Eaton wrote a story about how much money Ohio’s congressional candidates had raised, and she named some of the more interesting contributors.

Among the names was one of the Wide Open bloggers — Jeff Coryell of Cleveland Heights (known in the blogosphere as “Yellow Dog Sammy”). Coryell, one of the two liberals, had contributed $100 to the campaign of Bill O’Neill, the Democratic opponent of U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican.

At first, Coryell didn’t understand why this would be news. Eaton explained that because he was a paid contributor to a Plain Dealer-sponsored blog, failure to include his name in the story would be deceptive. Then he became suspicious: How had she learned about the contribution?

As it happens, she had found out from LaTourette.

After she got the list of contributors but before she had looked it over, she had interviewed the congressman for another story. He had seen Coryell’s name on the list and asked about the ethics of such a donation.

It was a fair question. Any reporter knows that giving to a political campaign is prima facie conflict of interest. LaTourette or no LaTourette, Eaton would have used Coryell’s contribution in the story: She knew his name and his connection to The Plain Dealer’s blog, and it was obvious that fairness demanded she tell readers about it.

Here the paper is imposing its worldview and way of working on the public: Coryell gave a contribution and — note the fancy language — that is “prima facie conflict of interest.” Who’s interest? What conflict? The paper hired a liberal blogger. The blogger is involved in the community. How is that a conflict? Ah, it’s a conflict in Diadiun’s formulation because the paper paid him (they never say how much). It’s a conflict inLaTourette’s formulation because Coryell gave to the other guy. But is it a conflict in a citizen’s view? In a blogger’s? I’d say that’s a question that’s worth exploring. But Diadiun doesn’t explore it one inch. He brings his worldview and insists it must be Coryell’s. He’s not representing the reader. He’s representing the paper. More:

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.”

The editor exhibits no more curiosity than the ombudsman. That is equally troubling.

Let’s say that no money changed hands in either direction. Let’s say they had Coryell join a blog for free and he pushed LaTourette’s opponent without having contributed. What’s the difference?

The editor says that had they known he’d dared to exercise his right — and, some would say, his responsibility — to support the political process as a member of his community, they wouldn’t have put him on their blog. Well, did they ask him? Did they discuss their ruleset with him? Or did they just assume that anyone who publishes in any form follows the same rules they made for themselves? It’s as if they can’t imagine a parallel universe where people publish differently. Newspapers define publishing. That’s what this exchange says.

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 with two of his gang of four gone, Dubail reluctantly folded the experiment Friday.

The fallout from all this draws a bright line between the way newspaper reporters and bloggers ply their crafts.

In Diadiun’s head, there’s a bright line. But I’ll just bet that if you ask bloggers or readers, the line wouldn’t be nearly so bright. Shouldn’t the newspaper try to understand new ways to do things? When they invited bloggers in, they wanted bloggers’ voice and coolness. But they didn’t want to learn bloggers’ ways.

If they’d asked, they might have heard bloggers suggesting that newspaper people should operate more like them. Perhaps newspaper reporters should declare themselves liberal or conservative as these bloggers did. That itself would be a sin under American newspaper rules. But that transparency would be welcome. Not revealing your opinions and acting as if you don’t have them is a lie of omission. And making contributions and revealing them? Well, I hear journalists complain that bloggers shouldn’t be called citizen journalists because journalists are citizens, too. But do journalists act like citizens? Are they involved in their communities? Do they support the political process? Their employers take money from politicians buying ads but they think that to give money makes a journalist unethical. Can’t that be discussed? Apparently not, not here.

But the real reason the Diadiun got his back up defending the paper, representing it, is because Coryell et al were accusing the paper of crumbling to political pressure:

Coryell concluded that he was “fired” because of political pressure from LaTourette. Both Eaton and Dubail explained to him that the ethical concerns of the situation had nothing to do with LaTourette’s objections, but he was unpersuaded.

So Coryell is unethical for his relationship to a candidate but they are not unethical for their relationshiop to a candidate. They can’t see it any other way. And worse, Coryell dared publish what happened:

And he spread that view throughout the blogosphere. On his own blog, on local blogs and on the big national forums such as the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, you can find posts from Coryell that The Plain Dealer bowed to political pressure. Others picked up the cry, spreading his interpretation as if it were the truth and adding their own spin that still others picked up and embellished.

But that’s the way things work in the blog world: “Yellow Dog Sammy” rejects the ingrained ethics of the newspaper world, preferring to read editors’ minds and create his own reality.

What a slimy slap that is. Diadiun doesn’t give Coryell the respect to use his name but puts his handle in quotes to degrade him and then says he rejects the ingrained ethics of the newspaper world. Diadiun calls him unethical. Diadiun presumes that Coryell should know what the newspaper thinks are universal ethics. He dismisses Coryell’s account as creating “his own reality.” He as good as calls him a liar. And he keeps going:

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.

Here’s the reality:

You can’t contribute to a political candidate and then write about his or her campaign, either as an employee or as a paid free-lancer for The Plain Dealer, on paper or online. Period.

Steve LaTourette has got nothing to do with that, now or ever.

Now this got more interesting in the comments on my post. Coryell asked the very good question in response to Diadiun’s last pronouncement: Do they ask op-ed contributors and syndicated columnists about their contributions?

Diadiun finally acknowledged that the newspaper rules were more unspoken than spoken. He commented:

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.

That is, they assume that no one contributes to campaigns and if they do they forever cut off their right to speak about those campaigns. That’s absurd on its face, but not to Diadiun. He continues:

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.

So the paper is above reproach and above questioning, even via the reader representative, who called the bloggers unethical rather than trying to discuss this from their perspective. I called that crap and Diadiun then played victim again: “Et tu, eh?” Spare me, I said.

Coryell called Diadiun’s column “grossly insulting and deliberately intended to smear me.”

So much for the conversation. So much for the P-D’s attempt to get bloggy and cool.

(Repeated full disclosure: I used to work with the Plain Dealer at Advance Internet, where I oversaw its affiliate website,

Thanks to a blog

I’ve just had a magnificent week-plus in London thanks to the hospitality of many Londoners — and this blog. Without Buzzmachine — and my mentions here and on Facebook that I would be over there — I wouldn’t have done any of this:

First, I wouldn’t be writing and consulting for the Guardian, which I unabashedly admire, and wouldn’t have gone there to work with them. I also wouldn’t be consulting for, which is turning out to be fascinating. At both places, I met with no end of smart innovators.

I wouldn’t have had one of the great dinner conversations in memory with Tom Loosemore, ex of the BBC and now reinventing the future of media at OFCOM, the British regulator; Tom Coates, also ex BBC who’s already reinvented bits of media and is trying to keep doing it at Yahoo; and Paula le Dieu, also ex BBC (this is a theme for the week) and a leader in Creative Commons and now an exec at a leading digital agency in London. It was worth the trip to see Paula squeal like a schoolgirl at the wonders of the One Laptop Per Child machine Tom No. 2 brought along. (I can’t wait to get my hands on an OLPC; one of its great educational features is how it makes its code transparent to children.)

I wouldn’t have had an incredible day in Cambridge, thanks to Bill Thompson, who has his fingers in many media pies and has many smart friends, some of whom came along for lunch and then a wander around the town: John Naughton, who among many things is also a media columnist, at the Observer and who is starting a neat new company with Quentin Stafford-Fraser; Rex Hughes, who just got his Cambridge PhD; Rufus Pollock of the Open Knowledge Foundation; David Good; and a leader at the Open University who had to leave earlier. I was having such fun in the conversation that I didn’t want to tour Cambridge but the tour with the group only extended the talk and the fun on a beautiful fall afternoon. I wish my kids could go to school here.


I certainly wouldn’t have been invited to the home of Seamus McCauley, a strategic exec at Associated Northcliffe Digital, and his wife, who held a bonfire party to watch the fireworks behind their yard (Guy Fawkes day, you know) and there I got to meet Simon Cast, who is better-read in blogs that most anyone I’ve met.

I wouldn’t have been invited by Robin Hamman to join a blog event at the BBC, where neat things happened.

Wouldn’t have gone with Robin and others to a Yahoo dinner, where interesting things also happened.

Wouldn’t have had drinks and dinner with Kevin Anderson, ex BBC and now Guardian, and his blogging mate Suw Charman plus two of their friends, ex BBC both, and by sheer chance Neil McIntosh and his wife and brother, Ewan, who I’ve been wanting to meet in reality and not just in Facebook and who just happened to be waiting for a table at the same restaurant (small town, London).

Wouldn’t have finally met and had a Saturday lunch with Martin Stabe, the killer media blogger at the Press Gazette.

Wouldn’t have had lunch one day and coffee another with Paul Brannan, deputy editor of BBC.

Wouldn’t have meet Katie King, ex Reuters and now a Burston exec; we got to talk about the Nieman Foundation and the future of journalism.

Wouldn’t have had breakfast with Edward Roussel, head of digital at the Telegraph, and seen what they’re up to in video.

Wouldn’t have caught up with Tom Shelley of the Economist Red Stripe project over breakfast.

And I wouldn’t have met Ivan Fallon, CEO of the Independent in London, and Mark Labovitch, head of digital, and heard about their strategy.

Oh, and by the way, I can’t resist pointing out where I met the guys from the liberal Independent:


I wouldn’t made all these friends and had all these great conversations and benefitted from their hospitality and I also wouldn’t have had this work. None of this would have been possible if I didn’t have this blog (and Facebook, too). Is blogging worth it? Well, yeah.

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.)

Off with their headlines

The Cleveland Plain Dealer didn’t know what it got when it hired four local political bloggers to collaborate on a group blog at (which I oversaw when I was at the parent company). They got citizens with opinions. You’d think that would be obvious. In fact, you’d think that was the goal.

But apparently not, for when one liberal bloggers was found to have backed and contributed to a candidate, he was fired. Then the other liberal quit. Then the paper shut the blog. E&P has the story. Here’s the explanation from the paper’s assistant managing editor for online, Jean Dubail:

As most readers are no doubt aware already, Jeff Coryell is no longer blogging on Wide Open. The reason is simple: When we learned that he had contributed to a particular political candidate, we asked that he refrain from writing about that candidate and his opponent on this blog. Our concern was that since Jeff and the other Wide Open bloggers are paid, his views might be taken as those of the paper, which could raise legitimate questions about our fairness. Jeff was uncomfortable with that restriction, so we felt obligated to end our relationship. It goes without saying that Jeff did nothing wrong. His contributions to Wide Open were first-rate. But clearly I should have anticipated this potential difficulty when we set up the blog, and avoided putting him and us in this position. In that sense, the fault is mine.

Well, indeed. The logic of all this is baffling. The paper knew it was hiring opinionated people. But it didn’t want involved people. That is a “difficulty.”

What we’re really seeing is the view of journalism from inside the cloister of the newspaper: Once you take a dollar from the paper, once you take its communion, you are transformed: You take a vow of political celibacy. You have no opinions and if you do, you hold them to yourself, like impure thoughts. You don’t participate in your community but stand apart from it. And you don’t mingle with those outside the walls who speak the vulgate, blog. So the priests of the paper said that the bloggers were sinners. And they were excommunicated.

Perhaps, having heard Luther’s tap-tapping at the door, the paper would have been wiser to reexamine its own assumptions about its world. Perhaps it should have had a discussion about discussion. Wasn’t there value in bringing in the voices of active, opinionated, caring citizens? Wasn’t that why they did it? Wasn’t the transparency and involvement of these people worth examining and perhaps learning from?

Apparently not.

Here’s a telling line from Dubail’s pronouncement on the blogo closing the blog (pinned with Luther’s nail):

We still believe that newspaper and newspaper Web sites need to engage the new media. Our first effort in that direction obviously didn’t fare well, but it would have been a still greater mistake not to make the attempt.

They think this is “new media.” And they think that’s something they need to try. (I would have hoped they’d have come to that conclusion about 12 years ago.) Of course, it’s not just new media. This should be a new relationship. It should be about discovering and joining in a conversation. I saw another sign of this at the BBC the other day when staffers kept fretting about filling a blog, as if it were a show rundown or a blank page. I told them to stop looking it that way and instead to take the advice I’m giving my students: Find the conversation. Join in. Contribute to it — indeed, contribute journalism, answering questions, finding facts, fact-checking the ones that are there. But to do that — beware — you have to talk at a human level with other humans with opinions (who don’t want to talk to a closed door).

So perhaps what the paper should be doing is not trying to impose its definition of “journalist” on any who receive its dollar but instead rethink that definition themselves.

: See also this post from a year ago contemplating this from the other perspective: what’s the line (if any) between activism and media?


After starting yesterday with great conversations at Sky News, I traveled more than an hour on three trains to get to the BBC. It’s as if they tried to find locations that would put them as far apart as possible.

Robin Hamman invited me to be part of a session on blogs with BBC staff and it started off with Hemma Kocher of Headshift sharing lessons from a study of the Beeb’s blogs. The numbers aren’t final, so I won’t share them. But I was fascinated with what they studied: how many posts — and how many per blogger — on how many blogs at what average length with how many comments and how many links to BBC sites and to the world outside.

: At the end, Richard Sambrook — who may just be the highest ranked journalistic blogger, as measured by both size and title — talked about his blog:

Closing the day, I mentioned a colleague who loftily declared that anyone who blogs is merely engaged in an act of narcissism. Some truth in that of course. But it overlooks some more interesting reasons.

There’s no better way to understand the huge changes sweeping the media than getting your hands dirty online. It’s fallen to us to reinvent the industry and we won’t do it with heads in either the sand or the clouds…