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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Plain Dealer And Jeff Coryell: Ohio's Largest Newspaper Acted Properly

CLEVELAND (TDB) -- At a newspaper, few voices sound a dissonant note. It is supposed to be that way, because the news report it publishes isn't what the reporters and writers and columnists want it to be. It is what the editors determine it should be, what management seeks to make it and market, and Jeff Coryell could not single-handedly extend the perimeters of journalistic freedom.

How could he be privileged to say whatever he wanted to say, write whatever he wanted to write? He worked under the mantle of a large publication whose brand and audience he was glad to tap and access for money. So there were strings.

Newspapers and newsrooms are distinct from blogs, they are a composite of different personalities, tastes, worldviews and characters. They are the product of an older social order, rooted in a pre-technological time. They come from the industrial era and don't really see themselves operating under a set political doctrine. Mostly they reflect what's happening, they seldom lead, and they determinedly write about other folks admirable moments, and often about their worst times. They are products that serve the marketplace, and not places were there are absolutes. They survive in the gray area, a zone that is not welcoming to an activist.

There can be no singular style in that zone. For an activist, it is stifling, and can only offer an embittered departure. Jeff's blogging on the newspaper's portal was the prototype of a platform new to the publishing industry, and he went far beyond the comfort zone of a metro daily.

I think most mainstream journalists sense -- and some passionately believe --that there is something a bit shadowy about the blogs, that they lack a certain transparency. The newsrooms aren't prepared to turn their audiences over to such a group. They aren't ready to give them a seat at the Scribe bar.


  1. Interesting post, Bill.

    What I take away from this is simply that two paradigms are crashing, and the older one is having a REALLY hard time understanding the newer.

    Bloggers are partisans. We were hired to be exactly that. The balance was to come from opposing liberals and conservatives in the same vehicle. It makes NO SENSE to have a "no political contributions" rule for bloggers, as opposed to reporters.

    You know, your post makes it sound like this might have happened without Rep. LaTourette intervening. Not the case. No pressure, no firing. I'm on his list, he did what he needed to do to mess with me, and the newspaper went along with it. That's the story.

  2. Hi Jeff --

    I think it would have happened sooner or later without LaTourette. And not just to you. Yes, I am trying to defend the PeeDee here, but I'm also not trying to imply that you are a crook. I'm just trying to point out that you are free, or freer than they, because the Old Media is bound by history, market forces, reputation, traditional ways of doing things, institutional practices, a collective way of operating.

    You are right to view it as the crashing of two paradigms. (Wish I had been smart enough to say that.) And you are correct that the Old Media does not understand the new. The two are completely different. You are a news guerilla. They are not and can never be. I have called what bloggers do Ho Chi Minh journalism.

  3. I would take issue with the idea that bloggers are by definition partisans, Jeff. That kind of blanket statement can never be right, just as no blanket statement ever is. Blogging is merely a format, a platform, a medium through which writing is delivered. It says nothing fundamental at all about what constitutes that writing--where it comes from on the ideological spectrum, etc. It's really not unlike a pencil: a tool that can be used for whatever one wants to use it for.

    On the other hand, I think Bill is being a little too pat about how many subtle signals can be sent and received through even brief phone chats between veteran pols and veteran newsroom managers, especially those as practiced as Larkin. Just by choosing Brent to call rather than someone else sends one kind of signal.

    Some of this reminded me a little of the famous dynamics during the Scooter Libby case, when crafty Karl Rove tried to signal to certain members of the old boys' media club that they should avoid pursuing a story, and that they should simply trust him on it. It would have worked, too, but for the special prosecutor's digging. There's a built-in potential for corruption at work there.

    What I hope you both might consider is that both sides are going to have to learn to move a little closer to how the other operates in coming years and learn to appreciate and even layer in parts of the other's culture. Independent bloggers should think a little harder about the good reasons for being less partisan and less open about their biases (without surrendering to what Pho calls the "cult of objectivity") and traditional newsrooms are going to have to get comfortable with changing some of their ancient command and control culture that no longer make sense in the 21st century. Both sides have much to learn from the other.

  4. Hi John --

    I don't see any reason why LaTourette and Larkin shouldn't speak,and I don't see why it would be wrong for them to converse. It's a good thing for a newsmaker to be able to speak to an editor, and vice versa. It has happened, probably, since man started printing things on presses, and maybe before that.

    I can't see how a phone call from a congressman to an editorial page editor becomes a conspiracy against bloggers, or blogging. I'm a blogger now and people take my calls, or many do; sometimes they are easier to reach and more accessible than in my newspaper days. And your last statement -- both sides have much to learn from the other.

    I'm not so sure, John. Newpapering is like playing in an orchestra -- a conductor controls the the overall sound, the musicians play bits on their instruments.

    Blogging is like a rock n roll bank. You crank it and see what kind of sound comes out of your amps. Right now, blogging is like rock in 1957, a genre that is fresh and finding an audience, Not everybody likes the genre. But every day more and more tune in. Eventually, I suspect, there will be more people tuned into the new genre than the orchestras (newspapers).

    What happened to Jeff is that he tried to play his guitar too loud. He was in a nightclub where they still play Big Band music, not rock.

  5. I stand with Bill Sloat on this one. I'm sorry Jeff. I like you a lot and you're damn near my favorite blogger. But partisan blogging and non-partisan Journalism are two different things.

    If the BS Blog, PlunderDUMB, MommyDaddy Pho, Psychobilly and Brewed Fresh BS are regularly given a collective Ohiosphere pass regarding their blatant censorship and banning, that restricts freedom of speech, then the PD can do whatever they want in order to fulfill their Journalistic mission.

    Fair is fair. Partisan blogging is not "Journalism" anyway. At best, most blogging is one-sided rhetoric. At worst, some blogging is misleading and untruthful propaganda.

    However, I'll admit that Jeff's blogging has been among the fairest and most complete of the partisan bloggers. His blog (Ohio Daily Blog) has been one of my favorites.

    I'll continue to read Ohio Daily Blog on a daily basis. Jeff provides trustworthy information which I believe is about as truthful as you can get in the Ohiosphere.