Yellow crayon Redux: Journalism vs. Blogging

CrayonCornerToby Bloomberg and I wrote a Yellow crayon post last Friday taking Jonah Bloom to task for his crayon coverage. Boy, did that set off a firecracker. Bloggers thought it was an OK post because it was just a blog rant, and others saw it as a defense of, or an opportunity to talk about crayon — and Jaffe in particular.

Unfortunately, our intent was to call out Bloom on a perceived abuse of ethics — not defend crayon’s performance. This redux post serves to refocus the conversation on the ethics at stake, and the blurring lines of blogger versus journalist. These issues are increasingly at play as the blogosphere garners more respect and the traditional media has begun moving towards social models.

Because the offending post is under the Ad Age masthead, I personally hold great issue with it per reasons outlined in the original post. Again, Jonah’s post occurred on an official Advertising Age blog with a by-line from its executive editor. That means it may as well have been its editorial opinion page.

Believe me when I say that crayon’s prospective clients who read that post with its Advertising Age masthead will see it that way. Jonah’s blast will live forever in the ether as official editorial coverage, not a blog rant. Thus in my mind, it demonstrated extreme abuse of Jonah’s power and position.

In summary, as someone who grew up in a newsroom, served as a journalist and has a ten year career as a PR pro, and now a two year career as a blogger, I believe that newspapers and trade pubs have a right to editorial opinion. But they need to present a balanced view somewhere associated with this, either as a cross linked companion piece or as a counter opinion. With all of the cursing and very pointed remarks, this was a long, far cry from balance.

And Toby said in both comment streams:

I’ve been thinking more about why Jonah’s words hit a nerve for me. The post was so off target of what I expected from a leading professional publication.Of course Jonah has every right to his opinion. But for me this was like a school yard bully – because of the reach and influence of Ad Age – throwing mud at a mate. My expectations of Ad Age’s content, developed over many years, was thrown off balance. And was dis-concerting .. thus my reactions.

Ethics of Journalism versus Blogging

This does bring the question of what separates a journalist from a blogger ethically. Given the FEC’s recent ruling — judging blogs as a form of media — we can see there is much gray here… perhaps the post should have been dubbed gray crayon instead of yellow. What would someone from Annenberg or Northwestern or NYU — what would a Jay Rosen think of Jonah’s post and its context: A journalist blogging under the publication masthead?

CK asked some great questions in Toby’s version of the post, which I will attempt to answer in this new, refocused thread:

CK: What would have been ethical in your opinion? If Jonah hadn’t been so strong…or if Jonah had used several examples, not just one?

You got it, CK. For reporting and editorial actual reporting, facts and a professional tone would have done better instead of the atypical blog rant in the form of a personal attack. Criticism from a journalist is fine, but it needs to be backed with facts and more than one incident.

I think Jonah was commenting on crayon, not Jaffe bad writing. If it was just writing, what was Jonah smoking that day? If you’re going to do this, then cite all of the missteps, call Jaffe out on Nikon, Holtz and Hobson’s departure, his perceived demeanor. Discuss the difficulties of launching new businesses and start-ups in unproven markets. But this had no merits beyond a ridiculous mocking in a Strunk & White falsetto.

Strong is subjective. Strong writing could have occurred without the blog rant tone. The New York Times, New Yorker and the Washington Post serve as benchmarks in this realm… And yes, their reporters blog without these kind of rants.

CK: Or if Jonah hadn’t blogged on it at all?

Ahh, the real issue. Well, if journalists want to blog under a publication masthead then they are still governed under the ethics of journalism. Thus the unwavering point of view. Blogging yes, fine, but clean it up and play by the rules… Or conversely, post it on a personal blog.

Just because a journalist blogs doesn’t mean they lose their role in the conversation. But they have a different tone and ethics — which by the way makes them more credible than the average blog.

One of the best examples of an executive editor blogging with a decent voice is Federal Computer Week’s Insider blog written by executive editor Chris Dorobek. Chris blogs, has tone and personality yet doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of the masthead like Jonah did.

Is it as opinionated as some blogs? Maybe not. But is Gig-Om as opinionated than a lesser ranked blog? Maybe not. Break out your gray crayon.

23 Replies to “Yellow crayon Redux: Journalism vs. Blogging”

  1. I just wonder whether we aren’t still perpetuating this myth about what journalism is. Most of the articles I see across a very wide range of publications are driven by pre-determined agendas and editorial mandates, not objective “let the facts drive the slant” reporting. Maybe it’s always been that way and blogs are finally bringing a counter voice to the table, airing truth. Rather than try to put put humpty dumpty back together, maybe it is time to pop the myth of objective journalism up on it’s pedestals and call it as it is.

  2. I just caught up and Geoff, your viewpoint is really interesting and one I’m only beginning to see. When I read that blog (before I started reading the post here and at The Buzz Bin) I just thought it was a somewhat humorous knock on the language Jaffe used–and rightly so because it was, indeed, corporate mumbo-jumbo.

    I do see your point about balancing editorial opinion with something objective in the news pages, though.

    Michael

  3. Geoff,

    First, let me say up front I have no issue with your point of view. But I do have a different point of view. You said I was not upset with it because I saw it as a blog rant. Fair enough. More accurately, however, I saw it as editorializing, which is perfectly ethical and right for an editor to do.

    Like you, I grew up in a newsroom, having worked as first a reporter, then a writer and then an editor. I have also worked as a contributing writer and editor for major dailies and popular magazines. When I wrote as a writer, I was practicing reporting, which calls for fairness and research of facts. When I wrote as an editor, I spoke my mind, which is both ethical and was my job. It is in that latter role that I see Bloom’s piece. Nothing unethical about it and I see no problem with it under the AdAge masthead, since he was writing as one of their editors.

    Do I think Bloom’s piece added anything to the discussion about crayon? No. Do I think it was well-written and well-thought-out? Nope. Do I think it was even worthy of publishing? Again, no. But was it ethical? Yes. He wasn’t reporting, he wasn’t required to get more facts than what Joe laid out, and I didn’t see it as a personal attack but instead an attack on the content and tone of Joe’s piece–a legitimate angle to pursue.

    All that said, I want to thank you for raising the ethics issue. We spend far too little time raising it.

  4. Lewis: Apology if I paraphrased you or linked to you incorrectly, I was trying to link to you to pull you into the chat from the other posts… And to give you another link!!!

    Michael: Great to see you here. I’d love to hear more of your viewpoint given your position as a journalist-blogger.

  5. Geoff,

    Blog rant is fine and I greatly appreciate you linking me in. I only use the word editorializing because I have my journalist hat on in this conversation, not my blogging one. Don’t get to wear the J-Hat often these days.

  6. All I can say is, “Wow.”

    The contradictions of Cluetrain have come home to roost.

    “You own what you write” is a double-edged sword, indeed. For as Lewis points out, we are capable of wearing many hats. Yet we ultimately may have to eat our hats (if not our words) should anyone identify a single head under those many hats.

    I think I smell a “Now is Gone” post a-brewing…

  7. Lewis: I hear you. I just started a monthly column writing up tech. for Smart Business Ideas. I love it, and it makes me realize how much I miss journalism.

    Ike: No doubt, my man. Well stated. Per email to you and CK, there are no clear cut paths anymore. Are we forging new ones? Where will they lead us? Have new media forms finally arisen to the point that old media have embraced them in full?

    Lots of tea leaves to play with. I think we may be blogging on this train for a bit….

  8. Geoff: Like CK and Lewis, I’m having a really tough time understanding your objections here.
    As Lewis pointed out, Bloom is a columnist, not a reporter.
    So is Frank Rich of the New York Times and both he and Bloom hold the title “Editor”
    Every Sunday, without fail, Frank Rich publishes a column that mocks George Bush and his administration far more viciously than Bloom mocked Jaffe.
    Maureen Dowd, another columnist, often rips into other political figures (Pat Buchanan is a favorite target for her venom.)
    Now politics aside, I’m not sure I see the difference.
    Jaffe and Bush are “public figures” so to speak in their respective professions and are fair game for columnists (not reporters) who cover that profession.

    I’m curious if you would have felt the same way if Bloom had mocked a posting on say Donny Deutsch’s website? And I don’t mean that facetiously. It’s just a question of where do you draw the line? To wit: a few months ago there were some very nasty comments to a post on another advertising blog. The commenters mocked some fairly low-level people in the industry, one of whom I vaguely knew. I felt badly for the people in question, because they weren’t “players” and the nasty comments could prove very damaging. But again- where do we draw the line? I really don’t know.

  9. Well, I guess we just don’t see eye to eye on what a journalist’s responsibilities are in the modern era.

    BTW, comparing a column calling out Jaffe to one calling out Bush is really an outlandish comparison, in my opinion. The fallacies of Bush are well chronicled in those newspapers. I suggest a better example next time.

    Ad Age has not presented factual reporting on this issue. A column is nice, but somewhere fair and balanced view is required of a true journalistic publication.That’s what separates the New York Times of the world from the New York Posts. I don’t know how I can possibly make that clearer. Regardless of our differences on this issue, I appreciate you coming by, Tangerine.

  10. Toad – I’m taking this a slightly different direction Tuesday on Now is Gone… but let me address your point.

    The lines between news/entertainment and fact/opinion are blurring beyond everyone’s control. Blame the newsies who can’t get enough Paris or OJ in their diet. Blame the Roger Ailes of the world for finding a profitable niche that felt previously disenfranchised. Blame media consolidation for trimming the independent outlets. Blame whomever you want.

    The only fact in question here is Bloom’s judgment. If Stevel Rubel can go through the wringer over an errant Tweet that painted his employer, then the same goes for Bloom. Bloom is entitled to share any opinion he pleases, as long as he’s willing to face the consequences. In this case, the consequence is “a lot of people in ‘PR 2.0-land’ are now concerned about Bloom’s biases.

    No one is calling for Bloom’s ouster. As far as I know, no one is canceling their Ad Age subscriptions. But from an editorial point of view, if you are the Executive Editor of a major publication, it’s not too swift to snark for Snark’s sake. It makes you look petty, and it threatens to color future statements beyond their intent.

    My guess is Bloom is probably revelling in the extra ink – just as you claim that Jaffe is getting more attention than he might otherwise merit. My other guess is that we’re going to see a lot more of this, as editors try to speak the more colorful and inflammatory language of blogging. It gets you more notice, and it sure as hell kick-starts a conversation. My only caution: know what you’re getting into before playing with Great Blogs of Fire. (Sorry Geoff, couldn’t resist. I love it when a good metaphor comes together…)

  11. Geoff: Thanks for posting again on this; I know it’s sucking up time and you rock for it. A few things…

    “BTW, comparing a column calling out Jaffe to one calling out Bush is really an outlandish comparison, in my opinion.”

    I gotta say, insofar as social media, Jaffe has been one of the most assertive personalities (Jaffe would agree); so I can see Toad’s reasoning of fair game (no I’m not comparing Bush and Jaffe other than they’re “public figures”).

    I can also see your reasoning of fair-balanced reporting and using several examples, not just one. Especially when it comes to mangled prose (Bloom’s focus) as so many do it. A bit of an aside, Bloom’s post taught me once again how important it is to push back when the client thinks the prose is perfect since it “sounds good to them”.

    I’m still grappling with the fact that we voice such strong opinions on our blogs, why not Bloom, too? That said, I do understand what you’re saying with it being a professional media blog.

    I value the strong opinions in the ‘sphere, but I don’t want those opinions to be unnecessarily damaging. So right now I’m not sure where we draw that line.

  12. OK, Toad, CK and Lewis. Let me play Devil’s advocate. You are right, it’s perfectly acceptable for Ad Age to run columns like this and they have no ethical responsibility to present a balanced point of view.

    Per Ike’s column later (coming in a few hours), then they also have to understand the impact on their masthead. Which in my opinion, given their less than stellar maintenance of the Ad Age 150, their second life coverage and this, makes them the equivalent of the National Enquirer or the New York Post for social media marketing.

    You sacrifice quality, and you pay one way or the other. Unfortunately, this marks a significant departure for Advertising Age. But hey, if Murdoch can buy the Wall Street Journal, why not this?

    Personally I’d rather demand better standards and hold Advertising Age accountable for its faux paus and hope we don’t have to call it the New York Post of new media. I value a decent authoritative media source that has a little more going for it then an unrestrained “journalist” like Bloom ranting like a 6 year old. I can read Strumpette for that.

    Authoritative media still have a voice in this increasingly blended marketplace… The voice of fact checking, balanced points of view.

  13. I might be diverging a bit, but at Ragan Communications there are at least six or seven people who blog under the Ragan banner and I’ve only met two. These bloggers write about whatever they want from wherever they want without any editorial oversight from Ragan headquarters in Chicago.

    I suspect that’s different at Ad Age, but I know that we have received angry e-mails or calls from readers who want to know why Ragan has a problem with this person or company. This kind of baffles us until we realize that one of our bloggers just skewered someone on their blog. Or we get e-mails about indecency, and then we realize Steve Crescenzo blogged about his testicles again.

    So it’s an interesting question, and one I don’t see as much reason to get worked up over because I agreed with Bloom’s critique of Jaffe’s prose … ACK! I do understand what Geoff is saying about providing objective coverage of something before editorializing on it, particularly because that might be (and I dont’ know for sure) the only information the average Ad Age reader receives about the shake up at crayon.

    But I know at Ragan it’s almost impossible to coordinate ahead of time our reporting with what is written by our bloggers, who might post about something obscure in the middle of the night. Or they might post something about their body parts, and we aren’t in the business of covering our blogger’s body parts … at least not yet.

  14. @GeoLiv: Ad Age, last time I checked, was trying to throw off it’s stodgy “for account and media types only” image and play in the hipper ballpark that Adweek plays in.

    Jonah Bloom is a prime mover in this, as his columns often assume a snarkier, hipper tone than say Bob Garfield.

    I still say you’re confusing his status as an editor with his status as a columnist. Op-Ed columnists have a lot more play and, even at the New York Times, get away with things that the editorial page writers can’t.

    I mean it’s not like Ad Age is a bastion of high-end journalism. It’s a trade pub that for too long reprinted press releases, but is now coming into its own with real reporting and columns like Bloom’s. He mocked the doublespeak of Jaffe’s post because it claimed to be all about transparency yet it was quite opaque. He didn’t personally attack Joe or claim that his company sucked or that Jaffe was a fraud or anything.

    @Ike: Yup. Totally agree.

  15. Reading these comments… Still disagree, but realize this is the way the group conscience sees it. It’s too bad that so many people are willing to accept hat I would call pulp fiction in their trade news.

    Giff had it right when he said, “Rather than try to put put humpty dumpty back together, maybe it is time to pop the myth of objective journalism up on it’s pedestals and call it as it is.”

    For another journalist’s take on this discussion check out, “The Road from media Ethics to Information Anarchy,” by PC Magazine’s John Dvorak. Thanks, Ike, for sending me the link:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,2184130,00.asp?kc=PCRSS03079TX1K0000584

    “The public is the police. Things get even more complex as bloggers and new-media publishers arrive with a mix of news, hoaxes, and singular opinion. There are no standard ethics for any of these people, and despite stupid attempts to create a blogger’s code of ethics, there never will be one except on a publication-by-publication basis. The holier-than-thou old media thinking will fall by the wayside. In new media publications, ethics are demanded by the readers, not the editors.”

  16. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Gone » Yellow crayon Redux: Journalism vs. Blogging, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  17. I like to read the opinions of bloggers, they may not have the traing and sometimes go for shock tactics but it all adds up to a wide spectrum of opinions.

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