Beltway Blogroll on “Cleveland’s Blog Scandal”

Danny Glover of Beltway Blogroll posted this entry, “Misguided Buzz About Cleveland’s Blog Scandal.”

(parenthetical removed after fixing the hyperlink above)
He thinks Jeff Jarvis has been too hard on the PD, that the PD’s editorial hearts are in the right place and that “no one is without fault.”

I left this comment at the blog, and look forward to his responses:

Danny – thanks for writing about the situation, but please, email or call me, or Jeff. Or Jean Dubail at the PD. There are a few errors in this post:

1. You wrote, “More to the point, the editors had their journalistic hearts in the right place; they realized the promise of media convergence and welcomed it instead of fearing it, as too many of their colleagues do.”

This is true of Jean Dubail, without question. He was our online editor. But no one else there, with whom I dealt, as the “other liberal blogger” (we never were called the Democrat or the Republican – we went by conservative or liberal, or right-leaning, left-leaning) embraced the project the way Jean did.

2. I gave money also – to Sherrod Brown and Marc Dann. No one came to me, or the other three bloggers, at the time that they went to Jeff, to tell us that the same was expected of us, period. I did not resign in sympathy – I resigned because I had the same conflict and wasn’t going to wait for them to offer me the same ultimatum.

3. The online editor, Jean Dubail, knew of Jeff’s activities as early as the last week of September. I can’t tell you why there was any lag time between that moment and Oct. 30, for the PD to identify that we needed to be under the same rules as the newsroom staff or not blog. But the PD should explain that. I know that Jean didn’t want the experiment to be torpedoed – maybe he knew Susan Goldberg wouldn’t get it – but I don’t know that. You should call and ask Jean.

5. To place bloggers under the same rules as the newsroom staff would dispense with the reasons why the project was created in the first place: to have writers who could write politically, and who were already established in the blogosphere, add a different style and different content to the PD’s political coverage. Jeff Jarvis’s point, as others have states too, is that the paper wants to look like it’s changing, without changing.

Now, what do you think the answers might be to these questions:

1. Why didn’t the PD come to all four of us to re-set the rules, but rather only went to one of us? Doesn’t that seem odd and not in sincere furtherance of the ethics rule the PD says it must uphold?

2. If this ethics rule needed to be applied to us, why didn’t HR or someone else in charge of the contracts vet us before even sending us a contract? Isn’t it reasonable to assume that papers check out or do some vetting of every single newsroom staffer to make sure no similar issues exist?

3. If the mission of the project is accepted and valued, and admittedly political in nature, how is what we were doing any different from opeds or folks like Sean Hannity or Alan Colmes?

4. Why didn’t they tell Jeff that disclosure would be adequate?

5. Finally – how does this episode fit in with all the other ethically questionable practices going on at newspapers: the Miami Herald and donating to Clinton and failing to disclose the fact that the reporter who attended an event was a reporter? On top of writing in a column that they reserve the right to keep doing this same thing? Or the fact that the Columbus Dispatch Assoc. publisher, Michael Curtin, gave $25,000 to the Vote No Casinos group last year? Curtin has been with the Dispatch for 34 years, many of them as a political reporter and editor?

Danny – Jean Dubail tried to do something really worthwhile. Our mission – the one he gave the four bloggers – was clear: we were engaged to continue to write as partisans. He’d been reading our blogs for at least two years (mine and Jeff’s at least). He had back and forth with us for nearly two months before the site went live. He has been at the PD for years. I’m not the kind of person who feels comfortable saying that I’m 100% blameless in anything, anytime. That’s just almost impossible.

But I am 100% confident here that the PD was in the power position at all times and if it’s so in control of that ethics policy, then they either have unforgiveably poor HR and management (so that they missed a step in vetting us and telling us the expectation), or they aren’t being honest about what’s really going on on their end.

Finally, what if LaTourette had done what Jay Rosen suggested: get onto the Wide Open blog with a comment and reveal Jeff? Engage in some way in the dialogue, rather than call Brent Larkin, a longtime editor at the PD?

Danny, there are so many other ways this could have gone. Susan Goldberg picked the least best possible solution, if anyone wants us to believe that anyone besides Jean had their editorial hearts in the right places.

I know – I was there along the way – and before Susan Goldberg.

13 thoughts on “Beltway Blogroll on “Cleveland’s Blog Scandal”

  1. Explanation:

    The ownership can do as it pleases when it comes to showing bias whether in print or with money. The employees cannot. That’s ethics in modern journalism. That’s ethics in the modern corporate system. The two are one.

    Jill – you don’t have to apologize for anything here. Keep preaching sister, we’re reading it.

  2. Well – there is your best yet – seems to you.

    But I’m not you and you aren’t me and you don’t know what has happened since June and earlier in regard to this effort. I’m not kidding that it should be written up as material for a class and sold.

    There were many points at which this ethics issue could have cropped up and be managed. And it wasn’t. But Susan Goldberg showed absolutely cowardice by going the route of either living under the same strictures as newsroom journalists (which would have obviated the need for Wide Open completely) or not writing at all.

    I don’t know if or when we’ll ever know how her plan became THE plan, but it didn’t have to be.

    I’m happy to watch my already nearly non-existence traffic sink lower as a result of continuing to write about Wide Open, but I will write about it until I have nothing else left to say.

    Readers of this blog can place bets on how many more posts that might be. But remember, 57 Reasons to Vote No on Casinos.

    And I didn’t have to spend $25,000 like Michael Curtin, the assoc. publisher of the Columbus Dispatch.

    I STILL have no explanation for that ethically unsound contribution.

  3. So I’ll let that be my last word. But as Jarvis notes today, bloggers are unreliable that way. Then again, I’ve never really self-identified as a “blogger.” More a writer who happens to blog, among other kinds of writing.

  4. Good enough. And while it may understandably seem a distinction without a difference to you, I didn’t mean to say you’re being hysterical, only that the length and intensity with which this reaction has gone on and from so many quarters, mostly echoing each other, seems to me to be a tad hysterical, and quite out of proportion to the underlying events.

  5. John – if you insinuate on my blog that I’m a hysterical blogger one more time, I’m going to have to ban you.


    But please, stop insinuating that I’m a hysterical blogger. You have much better words in your vocabulary to describe me, based on actually knowing me somewhat, than that one.

    Be fair.

  6. As with much of this debate, there’s a lot of belief, assumption and assertion in that, Keith (I enjoy your blog, by the way). I come out of a tradition in which media criticism, of which I’ve done more than my share, has to be based on real reporting and fact-finding, all bolstered by an authentic attempt to understand the other side’s situation even as one criticizes. I would have preferred more of that approach to have happened on this issue. None of it gets the PD’s many mistakes off the hook, by the way. But as I argued earlier today on Buzzmachine, I think there were plenty of mistakes to go around here, on both sides. And the hysterical reaction of bloggers has simply polarized things further.

  7. Oh for heaven’s sakes.

    John: oh, the poor, poor, PD. My heart bleeds for having to withstand the “hysterical conspiracy-mongering reaction.” As far as I’m concerned they deserved every bit of it and more. You cannot tell me that the PD didn’t understand from the very beginning that political people do political things – like donate money to political candidates. Jill emphasizes over and over that she doesn’t believe the PD staffers were that naive and dumb.

    As I wrote in my response to Jay Rosen’s post at MediaShift Idea Lab there is no question in my mind that this was a political hit first and foremost with the whole ‘ethics’ argument being used as a rear guard smokescreen. Believe me, I’ve seen up close and personal just how malleable ‘ethics’ are at a newspaper. There is no doubt in my mind from more than a preponderance of the evidence that this looked, waddled and quacked like the duck it was – political pressure.

    Its really high time for the robed scribes in the ivory tower of Holy Journalism to come off their perches and admit what most people already know – the ethics of any media outlet are first, foremost and always, the ethics of the owner. There are more slants published each day in the PD and newspapers all over the country than in the Browns playbook.

    In the end what happened at the PD was really no surprise – it happens all the time at papers around the country. As I said in my MediaShift lab post the only difference here is that we got to see the inside baseball of how it went down. In most cases the reporter keeps their mouth shut if they ever want to work in the business again.

    And Danny, you really should have done more leg work before writing your post, especially accepting much of the PD’s version of events at face value. Its pretty easy to get the four blogger’s e-mails, isn’t it? A few questions to them could have easily saved you a little heartburn.

    And as to your column, let me reiterate what Jill said – this is a David and Goliath issue. The fault is clearly and wholly with the Plain Dealer, again, unless you believe they were being honestly stupid. In that case, the paper is run by a preponderance of dolts. I don’t believe it either.

    Why oh why oh why is it so hard for some people who really know better to simply admit the truth?

    Political. Hit. Job.

  8. Danny, I liked and agreed with your piece on Beltway Blogroll. And I don’t expect the PD to ever try something like this again either, especially not after the hysterical conspiracy-mongering reaction. They get points for trying, though.

  9. Jill: The only burden on the Wide Open bloggers was advance disclosure/transparency, which is a widely held ethic of the blogosphere. If the PD were uncomfortable with what you disclosed (i.e., the donations), they could have sought other bloggers, revisited their own ethical standards and explained their decision to readers, or dropped the idea altogether if they decided Wide Open posed too much risk.

    The burden on the PD was to have a conversation about its ethical lines before launch in order to avoid the scenario that unfolded after launch — and not to overreact as it did once the perceived conflict became apparent (whenever that happened). And yes, the greater burden was on the PD; it was the newspaper’s idea after all.

    This whole experiment would have gone much better if both sides had communicated their ethical viewpoints in advance. The result might have been the PD changing its mind about the whole idea … but that would have been better than launching it and then killing it.

    But I still believe (or maybe I should say “hope”) that some paper eventually will learn from Wide Open’s experience and implement the idea more effectively. The PD could do it if it wanted to, but I don’t expect that to happen. Too much pride appears to be in the way of that.

  10. Oengus – Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t actually understand a lot of what you wrote.

    If you’re saying that Wide Open is a set up, or blogs are a setup, I’m going to disagree with that. It depends on the blog and the blog author. I mean, you and I know that you read Wide Open and commented there frequently.

    Look how commenters set me up constantly. I didn’t stop blogging because of that – I didn’t like it and I lobbied my co-bloggers to think about how we could foster better conversations. But I kept pushing the kind of content that I felt would foster dialogue and offer information not otherwise available about topics too infrequently covered.

    If a candidate can’t respond to a blogger, they’ve got some pretty lousy skills of persuasion or communication.

    Beyond that, I’m not sure what else you wanted to imply in your comment.

    I disagree with this 100%: “Wide Open was an ill-fated experiment into an area that inherently biased and overtly opinionated.”

    Btw, when I spoke at the AAPC conference in Akron last month, several attendees wanted to know what candidates should do about blogs. LaTourette’s path wasn’t one of the options I offered – and it never would be.

  11. Hi Danny – thanks – I will respond here and copy to my post as well. Just a little follow up:

    1. Jean actually did speak about having free reign – that it was his baby so to speak. Again, you’d need to ask him just what that meant, but that was what was presented to us. Sure, I’m no dummy, I can imagine that he had to mean less than 100%, since he has a job too. But, again – you’d have to check with him. Seriously, we were really given the idea that there would be virtually no limits other than the ones the four bloggers defined.

    2. Re: your number 4: It’s true that not all bloggers give donations. I was a blogger who didn’t give donations. But here’s what’s fascinating about blogging: It’s been my activity in the blogosphere that moved me to donate. I’m not alone in that.

    Another point about this restriction, however, is that if it’s to be enforced for bloggers brought on by a traditional journalism outlet, then why bother? They can just use folks from their newsroom. Why recruit from bloggers who do give opinion?

    That snark and bias was part of what Dubail wanted. So – to say that you could get bias and snark without donations, sure – you could. But why? There’s no consistency in that.

    I do like your idea that we need to find common ground, but I feel that we had found that in Wide Open – giving readers a full continuum of political coverage, from one source ( that is).

    3. Re: your number 7: we’re agreed that there are a lot of other ways objectives could have been met or communicated and weren’t, but I’m not sure if I would have gone with what you suggest in #7. Maybe – I don’t know. Again – all four of us should have been approached re: the re-setting the standard for us. Not doing it that way leaves Susan Goldberg open to serious questioning as to motivation – unless we believe she just made an egregious error, and I don’t believe that, based on what I know right now. Could change, but I don’t know.

    4. Re: your #9 – I didn’t write about the Miami Herald as a “they do it too so it’s okay.” I stay away from that logic as much as I can.

    My purpose in mentioning the Herald was to say, “look how malieable this ethics standard is – how could the PD justify jettisoning the project, as well as someone who was following all the rules to which we’d agreed and were known at a minimum to Jean Dubail when another paper is embracing donations to campaigns in order to get access – and then be okay with the reporter not even disclosing that he’s a reporter?”

    The juxtaposition of the situations is what I observed.

    5. As for accepting some of the blame for what transpired, I have to tell you, Danny – where was the burden on the four bloggers, to do…what exactly? We communicated with Jean Dubail constantly for weeks before we went live.

    I even let a few folks like Amy Gahran know that this was coming down the pike – possibly Jay Rosen too – I don’t recall. Wendy Hoke, formerly of SPJ was another.

    Could I have pressed them more to tell me, what should I ask? what should I be sure happens/doesn’t happen?

    Yeah – why not.

    But again – it’s kind of David and Goliath, don’t you think? The PD had the experience, the size and the desire to start this project and it was the one that later wanted to press the new rule. I feel strongly that the burden was solidly on them by that point.

    So yes, we’re going to disagree here – unless I’ve persuaded you at all…


  12. Hi, Jill. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll respond to each of your points:

    1) I can’t speak for the Cleveland PD, but I seriously doubt that Jean Dubail had carte blanche authority to create Wide Open. As a long-time journalist who has pushed innovations in the newsroom, I’d be surprised if the powers-that-be didn’t have to sign on an idea like that. I’m also certain it wasn’t an easy sell — but the fact that Wide Open opened is a testament to the fact that the PD was willing to try something new when other papers won’t.

    2) My apologies for misstating why you resigned. I’ll update the post ASAP. I was just summarizing PD’s version of events in that case.

    3) I don’t know why there was a lag either, but it’s not really relevant to the points I was trying to make in my post.

    4) We’ll have to disagree on this point. It’s possible to create a blog like Wide Open without using bloggers who also like to contribute money to candidates. I currently have mixed feelings about whether bloggers should be held to the journalistic standard on political donations — see my comment at BuzzMachine on Jeff Jarvis’ latest post — but not all bloggers donate money. And just as bloggers shouldn’t have to embrace journalist ethical standards, newspapers shouldn’t have to embrace those of bloggers. The idea of convergence is to find common ground.

    5) The PD should have gone to all bloggers. Poor communication in both directions is what caused this experiment to blow up on the paper.

    6) Yes, the paper should have vetted its bloggers and advised them of its ethical standards before any contracts were signed.

    7) The difference obviously is the donation — the PD wasn’t comfortable with it. In my opinion, though, the editors should have told Jeff Coryell that if he wanted to continue donating to candidates, he would have to leave the blog. And if he wanted to continue writing, he would have to disclose the donation in posts about either LaTourette or his opponent. A post could have been written to explain to readers the lessons learned and the rules of the road going forward. That would have been a valuable exercise.

    8) I’m not convinced that the PD would have considered disclosure adequate — or that they should have — but that certainly would have been an option.

    9) Your line of logic about the ethics of the Miami Herald, a pretty common he-does-it-too response of bloggers when criticized by the media, doesn’t hold water with me. The wrongs of old media — and the things you describe are unethical my book — don’t make right the transgressions of new media.

    10) We’re in agreement on this point: “[T]here are so many other ways this could have gone. Susan Goldberg picked the least best possible solution.” But we obviously disagree on whether only the PD is to blame for what transpired.

  13. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for politicians to comment in public web sites.

    It is all about using the paper’s exposure to campaign, better yet the potential do that.

    With free reign, a content provider could offer disclosure, for example.

    I am supporting this candidate; I will vote for this candidate, fund them and even offer political campaign support for them. The writer could proceed to write whatever they want about the candidate and the opponent.

    We all know this did not happen, Jeff did not write about that candidate on Wide Open, but when asked not to, he said no. Perhaps Jeff or yourself cannot see that, maybe its because you did not intend to do that. However, it is out there that Jeff did take apart Latourette on his own web site last campaign. That in itself is only degrees of separation from what is smearing, web commentaries that are not affiliated with a media outlet can and do smear. However, I am not too ready to see the PD evolve into that, maybe better to call digress into that.

    The apprehension the PD had about the site is just that, a fox in the hen house. It is fathoms beyond commentating on politics to that of actually using the venue to campaign. Funding a candidate is only a small step in the direction they cannot go.

    I believe if you have honesty and integrity, that you cannot see the potential that being not just commenting on politics, but to actually use the venue to sway votes.

    If I am writing for the PD, and say I can not comment on a candidate because I support the opposition…but go to my personal site and there you can read what I really think Again only a degree of separation.

    Major media needs protocol and should focus on inspiring critical thinking, sometimes they do well and other times they fall short, but they have to avoid intentionally swaying or manipulating perceptions. Wide Open was an ill-fated experiment into an area that inherently biased and overtly opinionated.

    If the four want to have a crossfire site, then set one up, but I would not expect or better yet desire the mainstream media to sponsor it. I do not think Jeff Corell tag lines work for the PD, if you can see it or not the guy is bit jaundice.

    If a person leaves his wife over the phone, or if woman leaves her husband for a man that loves her better…. its the same thing in my mind. Power play, Latourette demonstrated power, Jeff looked like gum on the shoe. Bloggers have some power they can be like an asinine, pen in hand, taking people apart. Take it all with grain of salt it is all just an opinion.

    Yes congressman come post on my site, said the spider to the fly. Come in and comment we have no restrictions it is wide open, its totally unrestricted and wide open. We will be fair open minded and objective; we will not see it as an opportunity to lambaste you, we will not spread your words followed with our own comments all over the internet.

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