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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wide Open is closed shut

Let me add my voice to the cacophony of bloggers lamenting the events of the past 24 hours that resulted in the implosion of The Plain Dealer's experiment with bloggers on its Web site.

I'll let Jill, Jeff and Tom explain the details of what happened. In a nutshell, the PD did not think through this Wide Open experiment with bloggers. It held the bloggers (whom it hired to write in a partisan fashion about the issues) to the same standards to which it would hold newsroom journalists.

I won't presume to speak for the four bloggers who participated, but my guess is if the PD wanted them to work as "journalists" they would have been less likely to join in the experiment. Their charge was fundamentally different from those working in the newsroom. They were paid for their partisan views and those views (two conservative, two liberal) were supposedly balanced. It was naive of the PD editors to believe that partisan bloggers would not have contributed to or worked for some campaign.

The PD has a bigger problem on its hands in that the public, specifically the blogging public, has discovered how political power holds sway over editorial product. That's a PR problem for Ohio's Largest Daily. No matter how valid or invalid were Congressman Steven LaTourette's complaints, the public perception is that the PD caved because a public official, who should have a thicker skin about such things, whined about unfair treatment.

I'll be honest. I'm not a political blogger and I rarely spend much time reading political blogs. They are not my cup of tea. For the most part, my dissatisfaction in the experiment largely stems from the reality that the arguments routinely fell along partisan lines. I find reading such diatribes tiresome and not informative enough to convince one way or another to support any one side.

There were exceptions—moments when real, honest, authentic dialogue took place and it usually revolved around issues other than politics, such as religion. Of course one could argue that the religious questions were also political, but the comments really tried to dig deeper into the why, which made compelling reading. Credit is due to the four bloggers who took those issues and addressed them in such an intelligent fashion.

Maybe the experiment started with the wrong kind of blogger. Politics are always fraught with questions of ethics, conflict and bias. Some of the best political blogging, after all, comes from people within the political system. I've not had a problem with blogger transparency on this issue, but I know others have.

Maybe what the PD should've done was start such a new/old media experiment with more feature-ish topics—books, food, arts, education, religion.

I had high hopes that such a collaboration would work. Hopefully, this doesn't turn traditional media off of the experiment for good, but rather provides lessons for how to do better in the future.

UPDATE: Here are some links to more on this story:

Poynter Institute E-Media Tidbits

Bad American


Daily Bellwether


Jill said...

Thanks for this post, Wendy. You're the voice making me pick up my head when it's hanging low.

Wendy Hoke said...

You have no reason to hang your head, my friend. Your voice is so needed. You did well and will continue to do well. Of that I am certain.