Between a blog and a hard place

In his excellent New York Times column, the Media Equation, David Carr explores the sticky, complicated case of a blogger whose private emails (not recent, btw) undermined the image the Washington Post had in mind for him as a blogger on the conservative movement. WaPo fired him. Carr elucidates the problem mainstream media outlets face when they strive for “voice” and sharp analysis in their blogs. Is it possible for a human being to be smart, engaging and truly insightful and not develop some personal opinions in the course of reporting?

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7 Responses to Between a blog and a hard place

  1. Nicholas Jain says:

    The most interesting quote relating to the story was from Raju Narisetti, a managing editor for the Washington Post “But we’re living in an era when maybe we need to add a level” of inquiry, he said. “It may be in our interests to ask potential reporters: ‘In private… have you expressed any opinions that would make it difficult for you to do your job.” http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ombudsman-blog/2010/06/blogger_loses_job_post_loses_s.html

    This made me consider all the things I’ve ever uttered in private or in public. I’m sure I’ve said things that I can’t remember today that could possibly offend someone or some group in the future. This litmus test goes too far.

    The Washington Post with their long history of political reporting gets into a jam when they try to intermix reporting with opinion. I think they’re doing this to compete with new news sources like Politico. This hybrid reporting-commentary doesn’t work for The Washington Post as people expect separate reporting and commentary. Also it appears that the WaPo doesn’t have the stomach for this new type of reporting with different ethical standards as they fired Weigel based on old emails and not his work for them.

    It’s impossible to not develop personal opinions in the course of reporting but after a brief read through Dave Weigel’s blog http://voices.washingtonpost.com/right-now/ it appears that he provided fair reporting with the useful commentary that the WaPo was wanting.

    • Nicholas Jain says:

      I also thought this tweet from Weigel was interesting.
      “Having endured my first “media firestorm,” sort of surprised at how many lazy journalists covered it w/o contacting me.” -daveweigel

  2. rsmp7c says:

    This really caught my attention because I feel like separating oneself from a story has been the topic of discussion- and controversy- for decades now. I think as humans we innately form opinions about certain subjects and people, based on our past experiences, location, childhood, influences etc. It is impossible not to feel anything at all. At least that’s what I think. I don’t believe as journalists our job is to be apathetic, in other words to be dummies. There is a line, however, where we represent a certain company/brand and have agreed to act in a certain manner in essence, to keep our jobs. I thought Carr’s article was witty and very interesting. Overall, he’s saying that it’s ridiculous to ask a journalist for his/her opinion about certain topics, but then place them in a box with non-partisan limitations. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there has to be some responsibility of the newspaper as to what they expect from the writer. It should be a conversation as to whether that journalist is able to be transparent enough, or the newspaper wants its employees to simply regurgitate news (which sometimes is appropriate).

  3. emcneill says:

    Carr’s column really highlighted for me the ways in which journalists are often expected to be above human weaknesses or flaws – including expressing their own opinions on occassion. It is obvious that, in the course of reporting the news, unbiased facts are key. However, I think the public – and I guess newspapers – should remember that there is no such thing as a social vacuum, and people are the products of their environments and experiences, which is what makes a population unique, diverse and interesting.

  4. alyshalove says:

    I did the same thing as Nicholas– “This made me consider all the things I’ve ever uttered in private or in public. I’m sure I’ve said things that I can’t remember today that could possibly offend someone or some group in the future.” And on that note, I empathize with Dave Weigel.

    But his behavior should have changed once he accepted his job at the Washington Post. While the article states that most of the comments he made were before he was hired, it suggests that some were made while he was on the job. Once Weigel had a politically sensitive job, it should have been his responsibility to cease sharing charged opinions through outlets that could become public. It’s not just his image; he’s representing the paper as well.

    I do think it’s a shame that The Daily Caller published his comments instead of quietly providing them to WaPo so they could have a sit-down conversation with Weigel about image. If his reporting was solid, it’s a shame to lose him due to offhanded comments he thought were posted privately.

  5. Krystin A. says:

    Simply being insightful tends to draw one toward a conclusion about a particular topic, and by drawing a conclusion, one is also expressing an opinion about what’s happening (even if said conclusion is based infact). I agree wholeheartedly with Nicholas that WaPo’s experiment of blending opinion with reporting seems to be a bad idea – they’re just asking for punditry, or at least walking, as Carr puts it, toward “the edge”. One misstep there, as Weigel found out, will launch you right off.

  6. Will Guldin says:

    Here is an interesting article about this that I found through TIME’s Swampland blog:

    http://dailycaller.com/2010/06/25/emails-reveal-post-reporter-savaging-conservatives-rooting-for-democrats/

    I like it because of the quote from the writer who says its “tough” to find fresh angles on his coverage of the TEA Party. I agree that journalists are bound to have opinions about something they cover, but I see his views as a big problem. No matter what our personal opinions are, you have to care about what you’re covering.

    I mean, if you can’t find something interesting, then how are you going to tell their stories?

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