By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

All buzz, no substance

Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote a column over the weekend in which, among other things, she reported that the print folks are upset about a blog written for washingtonpost.com by Dan Froomkin.

The Post’s national politics editor, John Harris, is among those concerned about having a blogger who is perceived as a liberal Bush-basher writing an online column labeled “White House Briefing,” as though he were a Post political reporter. It strikes me as a legitimate concern, and Howell was right to propose that the column get a new name.

I’m not going to link to everything. Jay Rosen’s got it all, as well as thoughtful Q&As with Harris, washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady and Froomkin himself. It’s well worth reading. Keep in mind that no one, including Harris, is proposing to get rid of Froomkin’s blog.

But I do want to say something about the ubiquitous blogging champion Jeff Jarvis, whose hyperkinetic presence is much sought-after by cable news programmers, and who is thought to be something of an expert on the emerging world of online journalism. If you do your homework and read the material Rosen assembled first, I guarantee you will be startled by this from Jarvis’ blog, Buzz Machine:

Deborah Howell … writes an ombudsman column for the Washington Post that illustrates, in its quotes from editors at the paper, the kind of clueless, destructive, and snobbish territoriality between print and online that is killing newspapers….

What a terrible insult and slap at a colleague who writes a very good, respected, and journalistic column for online. What a slap from a newsroom snot. [That would be the aforementioned John Harris.] But that is what newsrooms are like….

[T]he audience has clearly shown its support for the online Post over the printed one; the only reason online is not as successful is because advertisers are even more behind than newspaper editors. And the audience has clearly shown Froomkin their support. Perhaps the paper should be doing more of what he does. Did you ever think of that, o, vaunted newspaper editors?

This is just self-serving bloviation over what’s really a minor matter: trying to make sure that a highly opinionated blogger who writes for washingtonpost.com isn’t confused with Post reporters who are trying to cover the White House in a fair and neutral manner.

Rosen advances the conversation and adds to our understanding of what’s going on inside the Post newsroom. Jarvis subtracts from it. Then again, Jarvis’ only goal seems to be calling attention to himself.


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11 Comments

  1. Jeff Jarvis

    “Self-serving”? How.Read the political editor’s rhetoric again. He’s throwing out phrases like “total bullshit” in very public forums and the ombudsman is labeling this man liberal without asking him. I’d say this isn’t a minor tea-party chat. It’s a newsroom brawl.

  2. Lis Riba

    Dan, what do you think about comments from WP executives that suggest this is more about appeasing Republican power-brokers than actual reader confusion?John Harris: “They have never complained in a formal way to me, but I have heard from Republicans in informal ways making clear they think his work is tendentious and unfair.”Len Downie: “We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin’s column”

  3. Lis Riba

    Oh yeah, and in the Rosen interview you quote, when mentioning the “conservative blogger who took on Froomkin”, Harris isn’t talking about objection from the grass-roots, but the RNC eCampaign Director.Combining this with my previous comment, WP execs are explaining their position by mentioning comments from Republicans, people in the administration, and an RNC official. That’s a large part of the uproar. It feels like the objection to Froomkin is partisan pressure from bigwig Republicans, rather than the labelling issue they present it as.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Lis — Some of the comments you cite are indeed boneheaded. I’m focusing on the big picture: (1) Is Froomkin’s blog mislabeled? Yes. (2) Is anyone trying to get rid of it? No. Given those two facts, this is not worth the handwringing now taking place.

  5. lou

    I do think the comments posted at the Post blog site are fascinating. There’s a huge disconnect somewhere between readers and reporters. And while the lefty blogosphere has taken up this as a cause in the last day or so, the first emails seem to be a genuine outpouring of outrage over the ombudsman’s description of Dan Froomkin’s column as liberal. I hadn’t paid much attention because I figured it was a little turf war between the paper and the online folks, but my sister, a self-described Froomkin groupie, called me Monday all outraged over the whole thing, especially Harris’ response to Froomkin’s response to the ombudsman. I used to be in the biz, but she never was much of a paper reader until Dan and Howard Kurz’ online columns came along. So where I was shrugging my shoulders over a silly piss match, she was seeing condescension and arrogant underestimation of reader intelligence.

  6. Anonymous

    Dan, The “big picture” is whether his column is mislabled? As a reader of the WaPost I’ve been blown away by all of this. I don’t care what Dan’s column is named. I do care that powerful j’s and editors at the WaPost are requesting the name be changed, not because of what readers say or object to, but because powerful republicans find it “tendentious and unfair” (at the very least, that is what triggered it). I don’t think you have the slightest idea what the “Big Picture” is here. Do you really believe all the people upset about this are defending the name of his column? Do you think if Dan changed it himself two weeks ago, and put a note such as, “I didn’t want readers to be confused, so I decided to change the name to ‘My Thoughts'”, he’d have gotten even 10 emails about it? Come on. I came of age reading the Times and Post, and had such a great respect for both. Now I’m constantly let down and depressed by both.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    To Anonymous 1:49: Unclear writing on my part. The “big picture” is that “this is not worth the handwringing now taking place.”

  8. Anonymous

    Dan,here’s a question I hope you’ll respond to. In his highly disturbing comments, John Harris states, “It seems to me, based on many examples, beyound doubt that a large share of readers do believe [that Dan’s column is written by a WH reporter].” My question – if a reader doesn’t understand that Dan isn’t a “WH reporter” after reading his column, wouldn’t that make it obvious that the reader doesn’t know the difference between a WH reporter and a columnist conceptually? For those people, if you change his column’s name, would it mean anything to them? Like they’d all of a sudden think, “OH!? He’s NOT a WH reporter? this is all so confusing.” Maybe the Post should have a bright red box on each page, explaining the difference between columnists, reporters, editors, comics, etc. That’ll learn the rubes.

  9. Anonymous

    Dan, ok, point taken. I haven’t read anything else by you that I remember, so I may miss the nuances in some of your comments.

  10. Jacques Cuze

    Why do you think Jarvis calls it “Buzz Machine?” It’s all about Jeff. That’s all it ever was.

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