Why Raines is Wrong About Romenesko

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.”

Huh?

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.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Why Raines is Wrong About Romenesko

  1. Matt Harris

    I tend to agree with your thoughts on Romanesko, but I do have one contention.

    Context, as much as the traditional five Ws, is a principle of newsgathering that has been pounded into our skulls. I fear that, at times, Romanesko falls prey to the same pratfalls as other blogs: It takes tidbits of information and assembles them together in a manner that is high in utility but can offer a false impression of an issue. I read Romanesko about once a week, on average. In no way am I tracking the unfolding drama (or trauma) in journalism. Yet, I am struck with a sense of dread when I click around on the links.

    But this is just a gut reaction. I do not know the exact circumstances that separate struggles in Columbia, S.C., with those in Milwaukee. Yes, I’m aware of the broader trends, but it’s the specific, local factors that I’m lacking. In short, if we are aware of broader trends, and a mindset of impending doom already been fostered, then do we just skip over the details and specificity that come with context and nuance to the discussion of any issue?

    For me, Romanesko can create a Chicken Little-mentality where journalists, editors, and publishers start hand-wringing and rummaging about for solutions without have a discussion regarding the nature of the specific circumstances at their publication. This is exacerbated by the very fact that the conglomeration of newspapers and other outlets in chains encourage the “group-think” phenomena.

    Again, I’m not the news connoisseur that you are, but I figured I’d add my two cents.

  2. changingnewsroom

    Thanks for commenting, Matt.

    Good point re: context…although I think that depending at how you look at it, blogs can actually do that really well through providing links to source material/additional info that you might not have the space to get in a traditional story (Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0…http://publishing2.com/… has a lot of interesting thoughts about what he calls “link journalism.”)

    Although there are undeniably local differences, I think that, unfortunately, the issues affecting newspapers are actually fairly uniform. (E.g. We don’t yet have an adequate business model for online; classified advertising, which once formed the bulk of our business, is disappearing; the economy is general is obviously bad; and newsprint/ink prices are rising fast.)

    In my hometown of Milwaukee, where they recently announced job cuts, the paper has about a 70 PERCENT penetration rate on Sundays, highest in the nation and astoundingly high. They just won a Pulitzer. The Milwaukee economy as a whole is conservative and therefore is not as strongly affected by real estate booms and busts and the like. They are locally owned by Journal Communications. But even still, they are still struggling just like everybody else…revenue is falling like a rock. So while context is always important, in this case I’m not sure you are going to find much variation between newspapers economically. I’ve also heard about some problems at a lot of smaller newspapers too, which had previously been doing better. All in all,😦.

  3. Ciekawy blog, dodalem go do ulubionych, bede tu wpadal czesciej

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