Busy dissertating, preparing to move to Memphis, getting ready to start a new job, and planning a wedding, I didn’t notice this article by Howell Raines until a journalist friend of mine sent it to me.
Apparently Raines thinks that Romeneko’s “gossip” site “inadvertently ushered in the era of fact-free journalism.”
Does anybody else find it a little bit ironic how sensitive journalists can be to…gasp…airing their NEWS in PUBLIC?
While there can be legitimate reasons to keep some personnel matters under wraps, last time I checked, our core ethic as journalists is one of transparency, which applies to us just as much as it does to the government agencies whose internal memos and emails we can request under FOIA. Like the government agencies we watchdog, I believe it is important that we open ourselves up to public scrutiny because we operate in the public trust. If, as a newsroom leader or employee, you are doing something that would be incredibly painful to you and your organization if it were to be disclosed, my thought is – 99 percent of the time, you probably shouldn’t be doing it, or at the very least, you should be sure you’ve thought through your actions carefully and can defend them. I don’t disagree that Romenesko probably makes newspaper executives jobs harder, but that’s one reason they get paid the big bucks — and I’m also not convinced that Raines or anybody else can really attribute their job loss to being “Romenesko’d” as opposed to, well, bad management.
I think the profession as a whole benefits from a through airing of issues like the Blair debacle. I worked for the Committee of Concerned Journalists at the time that episode occurred, and we frequently had fruitful discussions in training sessions about not only verification, but internal communication and leadership. The climate of fear that was created in part due to Raines’ leadership at the Times was preventing important information from being shared. This is something that folks at many newspapers could relate to, and almost all said that they could certainly improve internal communication — which can be limited in a still-rigidly hierarchical system.
I’ve read Romenesko for years. I guess there is gossip on the site, although I don’t usually see anything particularly salacious. More often, however, there is what I would call “news.” Indeed, most of the site is composed of summaries and links to mainstream media articles, which undergo standard verification procedures. And exposing something like an internal memo that some would prefer to be kept secret may be a question of judgment, but it certainly isn’t “fact-free.” Yes, it’s depressing to read about layoffs and buyouts, but burying our heads in the sand and pretending they aren’t happening, or that knowing about how other paper’s have handled them isn’t helpful, doesn’t seem particularly useful to me.
I augment my media diet by reading my former colleagues at Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Daily Briefing and I’m increasingly adding more journalism blogs to my RSS feed to balance things out. But Romenesko seems to me a useful compendium of what is going on in the industry, and I guess the Raines argument just strikes me as ironic coming from somebody who makes a living exposing wrongdoing wherever else in society it may linger.