Deborah Howell (with whom I used to work at Advance) writes an ombudsman column for the Washington Post that illustrates, in its quotes from editors at the paper, the kind of clueless, destructive, and snobbish territoriality between print and online that is killing newspapers.
Political reporters at The Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing,” which is highly opinionated and liberal. They’re afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.
John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility” as objective news reporters.
I have to stop there. What a terrible insult and slap at a colleague who writes a very good, respected, and journalistic column for online. What a slap from a newsroom snot. But that is what newsrooms are like.
This is a debate, not a slap fight. And it is a debate that, if dissected, could help reduce or eliminate the cluelessness Jeff rightly derides. However (and there is always one of those with me) the argument is not between online and print, but two different styles or processes of writing. Jeff Froomkin’s commentaries could be published in the paper, but they make more sense in the immediate environment of the online publication; that they arose in the blog format doesn’t separate them from printed words in any fundamental way—they are, if anything, a throwback to the confrontational and opinionated journalism that held people in power to account of the past.
Jeff’s right that there is no reason to discount Froomkin’s work, but he wraps that in a celebration of the Web and approaches to writing that presumes people who write for print are going to be buried. Instead, there will be print (although not necessarily newspapers like we’ve known them) and electronic publications; seeing the difference between the artifacts (McLuhan’s medium as message is important here) produced with the writing is important, but the telling thing is the approach to the subject itself.
The catalog of supportive postings from Froomkin’s readers, which Jeff piles into this argument, doesn’t change the fact that Froomkin’s honest in-the-face-of-power style would succeed anywhere. Jeff’s comments, ending with “Perhaps the paper should be doing more of what he does. Did you ever think of that, o, vaunted newspaper editors?” only prove that the debate is ineluctably personal, something Jeff has faulted me for before.
I’d like to see the debate bring everyone forward, not attempt to leave a lot of folks behind just because we don’t work with the same medium. People matter more than the medium.
UPDATE: David Coursey takes the opposite side of the argument in ‘Open Source Content’ Has No Quality Control :
There is a stupid notion going around that the news media would be better off if anyone and everyone got to make a contribution to it. Blogs and podcasts are examples of this and reader-generated electronic “newspapers” are beginning to spring up. People who should know better see this as democratizing the flow of news and information.
Whether David likes it or not, the change is happening all around him. Dismissing public participation in the news and the definition of the world is the other face of elitism that dismisses print journalists from relevance. Making the process open and accountable, so people can participate in public debates based on improved information, is worthy and necessary. This is a door that can’t be closed.