Plain Dealer’s Wide Open experiment, 1.0, shuts its doors

Earlier today, I resigned as a freelance blogger for the Wide Open blog. Jean Dubail gave me the choice to post about my decision, or let him do it. I decided to write about it, and that’s why this post is cross-posted at Wide Open.

Jean and several other people at the PD and in the blogosphere know that for almost two solid years, I’ve asked and written about and pushed issues related to integrating traditional journalism, new media, bloggers and citizen journalism – all in the name of providing better and more content for readers who consult more and different types of sources for reading news and information. Someone confirmed to me this afternooon, when I said to him, “I know there must be some folks saying, about how my efforts to integrate these groups were in vain, ‘I told her so,’” that, yes, some people are saying, “I told her so.”

But their agenda isn’t my agenda. And I’m exceedingly okay with that.

Given this ideal I have about integration or at least collaboration, the decision made by the Plain Dealer to tell Jeff Coryell that either he stop writing about particular political figures or he could no longer write at Wide Open leaves me feeling incredibly sad and more than a little discouraged about the prospects for news gatherers and distributors across the spectrum to be able to produce, together, content that readers want.

However, I am not giving up on my hope and expectation. It isn’t going to happen on Wide Open, not under the current conditions. But it is happening in other places and I will continue to seek out those places, write about those efforts and, with luck and pluck and work, be involved with them too.

[I'm a person who, several years ago, walked into a glass door not once, but twice, within two seconds, because I couldn't believe the door was there the first time I hit it. It hurt, a lot, but I eventually got the door open and walked through. We will get this door open and we will walk through.]

What strikes me the most about the experience and the place in which I find myself right now:

1. Wide Open was an experiment. Political bloggers were sought out to blog, unfiltered, unedited. That’s what we did.

The PD’s decision to say to Jeff, essentially, either follow what we require of our traditional journalists when it comes to political donations and stop writing about a particular political official and his opponent, or leave, is an intolerable restraint for a blogger. It turns the blogger into nothing more than a traditional journalist, already subject to such restraints, who also has to blog.

There is nothing wrong with newsroom journalists being made to blog – we have excellent evidence of that in Ohio. However, Wide Open loses its width and its openness as soon as there is such a restraint. The restraint silences the unique voice that readers seek out from blogs – which is what was sought out by Jean Dubail, and rightly so. And the restraint replaces the blogger’s voice with someone who has editorial restraints placed on him or her, just like a traditional journalist.

Do some political bloggers on some blogs agree to such restraints? Very possibly. But this experiment can neither be Wide or Open if I’m going to be told that I can’t write about Sherrod Brown or his opponent or Marc Dann or his opponent because I gave them money. Jeff didn’t hide his contributions, nor have I – they are discoverable with a one minute search at the Ohio Secretary of State’s office website, Ohio Money Tree and the FEC.

If someone really needed to know before they allowed us to write for them.

2. Susan Goldberg talked about being “platform agnostic” when she began at the PD. But this failure at Wide Open suggests to me that what she meant, intentionally or unintentionally, is that she can really only tolerate overseeing an operation in which traditional journalists, complete with the usual restraints – and not bloggers or citizen journalists who give money and give time and give efforts to their political passions – will provide news on any and all platforms. That’s fine, but it’s not Wide Open.

3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this situation absolutely, unequivocally would never have occurred were it not for Congressman Steve LaTourette of Ohio’s 14th Congressional District calling the PD and making Jeff Coryell’s involvement an issue.

How do I know this? How can anyone know this?

It is simple:

What if Jeff had given money, not to Bill O’Neill, but to LaTourette? Does anyone, anyone, actually believe that LaTourette would have called Brent Larkin to say, “You won’t believe this! You just allowed someone to sign an independent contract with you to blog on Cleveland.com who gave me $100! Vaporize him!”

I don’t think so either.

If you want to know more about what I think on this situation, I’ll be writing more after I do trick or treat duty etc. I have barely scratched the surface, but plenty of others have gone further. (No one believes that this is all I have to say, now do you?)

I want to thank Dave and Tom for trying out this experiment, I want to thank Jean Dubail because I believe he really cared about the integrity of the experiment as being able to withstand the fact that each of the four bloggers are, hello, partisans. I also want to thank Chris Jindra for her time and, of course, Jeff for his personal and professional support and friendship as we tried out this thing. Thanks to the readers too, no matter how nasty and obnoxious your comments might have been.

This experiment is, in my estimation, over. It may continue on, but it will be something else, some other experiment because every reader will know that every one who blogs at Wide Open has restraints hanging over them, just like traditional journalists, restraints which Jeff and I reject as intolerable in what is suppose to be a Wide Open forum.

And there is nothing experimental about people writing under restraints that neutralize their passions.

28 thoughts on “Plain Dealer’s Wide Open experiment, 1.0, shuts its doors

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  6. Yes, Jeff, you still sound a tad paranoid. At least to me. Big papers, like big institutions everywhere, are almost guaranteed by their very nature to cause disappointment to many, because they can’t be everything and do everything everyone would like. The PD has more than its share of problems, but few if any are the result of the kinds of furtive conspiracies of which you always seem to suggest.

    And I agree with Sloat that a strong, well-conceived disclaimer statement would have probably solved this, or at least insulated it from the worst.

  7. Great decision, Jill…
    Yellow Dog Sammy is right (Dem dogs always are)…
    It was a clash of two paradigms…Older media (PD obviously) do not know yet how to cope with the political blogosphere — left or right.

    History lesson for PD: Daily Kos raised its national visibility considerably in 2003-04, in part, because Dkos actively raised $$ for targeted congressional campaigns (Obama,Stephanie Herseth) and Howard Dean. So the PD’s self-absorbed and self-delusional position on Jeff Coryell — with or without LaTourette’s complaint — is damn naive. (Duh…you mean bloggers are political activists?) And Mike Curtin of Dispatch isn’t the first big dog publisher/editor type to contribute to campaigns — or even candidates. Check the records for past PD publishers Vail and Machaske.

    Keep up the great work right here on WLST. There will be other sphere “experiments” that will welcome you. Look for an outreach from a “deceased” Ohio governor who was a fan of yours on Wide Open.

  8. Good Morning Jill,

    In your second to last paragraph, didn’t you mean to write “intolerable”, not “tolerable”?
    _____________________________________
    Remember when I questioned you in a comment on WLSTs a month or two ago (I searched WLST but couldn’t get a link) about why would anyone link to the Dirty Dealer? Maybe my comment then struck readers as a paranoid, far fetched conspiracy theory….how about today?

    Will you still link to the DD and help them build an audience and profits which are used to support their systematic and willful abuse of honest expression?

  9. Hi Jill –

    You have integrity, you have class, you have a great intellect and you will still be writing powerful commentary and publishing it in your own house.

    Pretty cool, Jill.

    Sorry that Wide Open didn’t work out. I don’t think the disclaimer was strong enough, as I’ve said in other places. I don’t see any reason why bloggers can’t put their money and their mouths in the same place. I think the public at large can grasp that concept if they are educated a little. I can see why overt partisanship makes an orthodox, traditional MSM newspaper freak out. In your heart of hearts, I think you understand that, too.

    Somewhere down the line there is probably a huge upside to this event, Jill.

  10. Pingback: MY COMMENTS…

  11. Shalom Jill,

    The mammals did not need to figure out how to live with the dinosaurs; the dinosaurs needed to figure out how to live with the mammals.

    And we know the outcome of that relationship.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff

  12. Dear Jill from “writes like she feels” and “That Woman” you have the courage of your convictions and I, for one am “feeling” very proud of ” Write like she Talks! Loraine Ritchey

  13. Hi Jill.

    I agree with you that it is important to have all voices heard, especially when it comes to politics.

    My new blog “The Political Voices of Women” is a spin-off of my list of over 200 women who blog on politics. These are women from professional journalists all the way to mommy bloggers with an opinion (and all of them are potential voters, and all are read by potential voters).

    I believe that it’s a mistake to minimize any voice as less important than another, and I’m hoping that “The Political Voices of Women” will prove that.

    Once things settle down for you, I would love it if you would consider contributing to the new blog, either as a guest blogger or a regular contributing editor.

    Best wishes,

    Catherine Morgan

  14. Jill;

    Very admirable, I know you had high expectations for this experiment. Certainly there will be other down the road, but for now we’ll just have to wait.

    One positive aspect that I saw was the complete and unanimous support for Jeff from all quarters. This certainly demonstrates a greater sincerity toward debate and dialog among Ohio bloggers than the Plain Dealer. This is something all of Ohio’s print media should reflect upon.

    Again, I applaud to your effort.

    Brian
    One Oar in the Water

  15. Jill it’s a shame for both the PD and for their readers; I respect your decision, I don’t understand why they feel this is an issue. What I COULD understand, would be for them to say they want each WO Blogger to add a disclaimer if they are posting comments regarding someone they have financially supported. In a way it’s also odd that those with knowledge and interest may have worked on campaigns without donating money, but being equally vested in that candidates win.

    I’ve always felt it was a tad insulting to assume that just because you supported someone and even possibly gave them money you can’t have an intelligent thought about them (or even disagree) after the fact. A puzzlement.

    Anyway, thanks for being such a classy NE Ohio role model.

  16. Wendy, I’ve worked with the Toledo Free Press for coming up on 90 weeks doing a weekly column on blogging in print and online. The focus is at times on other political blogs but mainly just blogs in general. They’ve also been great about listing me as a media partner when it’s come to live blogging political debates that they’ve sponsored this election season and the last. Granted, it’s a smaller paper than the Cleveland Plain Dealer, it’s a weekly and I don’t get paid for it, but there are some newspapers out there that are very supportive of blogging in general so I hope that will continue.

  17. Jill,

    Posted this comment at Wide Open a bit ago, but thought perhaps I better put it here too:

    I imagine that it was not easy for you to give up a paid gig at Ohio’s largest newspaper. I respect your decision, give you lotsa credit for making it, and sincerely wish you the best of luck. I’ll continue to enjoy both WLST and The Ohio Daily Blog.

    And aside from this whole mess, I commend the PD for undertaking this experiment in the first place.

    You can read about this fiasco in next week’s Cauldron.

    Warmest regards,

    Mark

  18. Jill, my dear friend,
    What could I say that has not already been said so well here. You approach everything you do with such care and analysis. I know how well you thought through the decision to participate in Wide Open. And I know full well your struggles with it as time wore on. NO ONE can doubt your credibility and your transparency. You held up your end of the bargain, probably giving this assignment way more than it was worth financially.

    Like Lisa Renee, I still hold out hope that something of this nature can work. Maybe politics is too contentious a place to start. Maybe the collaboration should begin with more feature-ish subjects. Either way, I hope this kind of experimentation continues. And I hope (and this is the freelance journalist in me talking) that the PD has learned about the kind of care it needs to take in crafting such arrangements. And I hope it turns back to the j-school 101 lesson about perceptions being reality. (The public and readership THINKS the PD can be pressured into backing off and that perception is their reality.)

    Mostly I hope that you take all you learned about dialogue through this process and take it to the next level. You can do it.

    Your devoted groupie,
    Wendy

  19. How in the world are political insiders supposed to write about inside political stories without being involved in the political process at all? I never got that part about Wide Open from the beginning.

    If you are interested in politics and involved in politics and knowledgeable about politics, you are one, probably paid by someone, or two, have donated to someone.

    Jill, as always you handled this issue in a classy way. The PD and the rest of the 527 MSM, drive by, antiquated media (yes, dear I know you hate those terms) screwed up again.

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  22. I agree that resigning was the only thing you could do under the circumstances but I do hope that in the future there is a way for bloggers to be a part of the MSM where they still remain true to what made them bloggers. I’m never going to be one of the “I told you so” movement. I wanted it to work, hell I hoped that it would be so successful that it would catch on in other parts of the state.

    I suppose the best way to look at this now is for most of us how we learn what to do next time is to look at where the failure or the problems came in and strive to figure out a way to avoid that the next time.

  23. That’s telling it like it is. Everyone knows this but I need to say it here and now: you are a class act Jill. And I think you’re obviously better off right here on your own blog with the rest of us, tellin’ it like it is.

  24. Pingback: Two Down on PD Wide Open Blog: Jill Miller Zimon Calls It Quits « Bad American

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