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.