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.