September 28, 2003

The Limitations of Ombudsme...

The Limitations of Ombudsmen, Pt. 137: Ya, I know it's boring ... next post begins here.

Sacramento Bee Ombudscreature Tony Marcano has published thublished the sequel to his silly column last week explaining (inaccurately, as it turns out) why the paper had decided to assign an editor to opinion columnist Daniel Weintraub's popular recall-themed weblog. The move triggered an avalanche of blog posts and e-mail, some of it (the horror!) unfriendly in tone. Marcano and his staff (yes, he has one), reacted directly to some by whining tersely about "name calling" and "insults." Then in his new column, he really sinks his teeth into the whole "reader's representative" thing by ... turning their varied complaints into the worst kind of strawman/caricature. I kid you not:

To sum it up: Blogs good. Newspapers bad. Ombudsman dumb.
A reminder -- Tony Marcano's job description is to serve as the reader's advocate, or at least a neutralish third party who attempts to run interference between the newsroom and its consumers. (And yes, bloggers not living in Sacramento are damn well Bee consumers, because they'd been happily reading Weintraub's daily commentary.) You might hope that such a person would sift through the histrionics and unpolished presentations of the customer, and take an honest look at whether there were good core points being made.

Instead, we get defensive (and inaccurate) name-calling like this:

There's been lots of punditry in the past week saying it doesn't matter whether The Bee caved in to the [Latino Legislative] caucus or its own staff [ed. note: it was the latter, despite Marcano's original reporting to the contrary; a fact unearthed by Mickey Kaus]. I find it ironic that those who have slapped a censor label on The Bee would have it slap a muzzle on staffers who have a contrary opinion.
This is considerably more ridiculous than much of the overheated blog commentary Marcano finds so beneath him. I don't really care too much about whether Daniel Weintraub has an editor (aside from that extra layer taking away some spontaneity), but I find it wrong and sad that a bunch of newsroom types would react en masse to an opinion columnist's opinionated assertion, and that this complaint would lead directly to him being assigned a new editor. Does this mean I want to "slap a muzzle" on those staffers? Christ, no, and how absolutely stupid to say so. I wouldn't mind slapping them, just for yuks, but I'd prefer each and every one of them had blogs of their own, so they could whine to their heart's delight for all to see. If disagreeing with newspaper employees equated slapping muzzles on them, there wouldn't be a single hack in the country without a leather face-guard.
The other side of that argument, based on the flood of e-mails from bloggers and their readers, is that any oversight violates the basic raison d'etre of blogs. Editing is heresy, they say.
"her*e*sy n., pl. sies. 1. religious opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine."

Yep, if there's one thing these 3 million blogs are known for, it's the doctrine, man, the orthodoxy. You know what The Unification Church of Blogology does to heretics, Marcano? To infidels? It's really too horrible to contemplate on a Sunday night, but ... well, first we pour water all over the bathroom floor, and then....

Unsarcastically, some people think blogs shouldn't have editors, others disagree. More interestingly (and more to the point), many people think appointing an editor to an op-ed blogger, in the wake of objection to an opinionated assertion, sets a worrying precedent. That would be an interesting ombudsman-column topic, wouldn't it!

This entire debate can be boiled down to one question: Are blogs by their nature incompatible with newspapers?
Has anyone besides Tony Marcano asked this question? A final excerpt:
For an outside perspective, I went to Howard Kurtz, who writes the Media Notes column for the Washington Post (which currently has no blogs).
Note that "outside perspective," to this newspaper ombudsman, means "another guy who writes about journalism issues for a dominant big-city daily newspaper." No, the real "outside perspective" in this column was the one that Marcano spent much of his time mocking, misrepresenting, and mostly failing to engage, even though that's what he's paid to do. On paper, at least. (Link via Howard Owens)

Posted by at September 28, 2003 10:10 PM
Comments

One of the many silly parts of this tiny controversy (to me!) is that plenty of (if not most) indie web writers *welcome* editing -- whether that's through an official editor (Tony Pierce has Ken Basart to clean up the typos and such; Glenn Reynolds has an editor at MSNBC; all of us Fox News bloggers had editors) or through the casual system of readers offering fixes of facts & language. It matters very little (to me!) if the very talented Weintraub has someone to check his stuff before or after he posts. The real outrage is that angry, impotent, nobody-reads-us Bee staffers demanded their heralded colleague get the same treatment they get, just because that's the treatment they get.

That ombudsman geek is just enjoying his tiny moment of power in a world that doesn't care at all. So, let him get busy with the idea of showing those uppity talented writers a thing or two, and let him go home to his cat and pornography.

Posted by: Ken Layne at September 28, 2003 10:24 PM

I think you two should just have sex and get it over with, already.

Posted by: Paul at September 28, 2003 10:46 PM

Me & the Bee Ombudsman? Hell yeah! (But you have to at least videotape it, Paul, for the DVD edition.)

Posted by: Ken Layne at September 28, 2003 10:49 PM

Ken, where's the paypal link for that DVD ... I'll take an advance copy, please.

Posted by: Howard Owens at September 28, 2003 11:14 PM

Okay, but don't expect a Director's Commentary. Maybe some deleted scenes and an HBO First Look presentation, but that's about it. If you twist my arm, I'll throw in the crappy theatrical trailer.

Posted by: Paul at September 29, 2003 12:03 AM

Too late!

Posted by: JFT at September 30, 2003 06:58 AM

"To sum it up: Blogs good. Newspapers bad. Ombudsman dumb."

Exactly.

Posted by: A Friend at October 1, 2003 12:57 AM
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e!) if the very talented Weintraub has someone to check his stuff before or after he posts. The real outrage is that angry, impotent, nobody-reads-us Bee staffers demanded their heralded colleague get the same treatment they get, just because that's the treatment they get.

That ombudsman geek is just enjoying his tiny moment of power in a world that doesn't care at all. So, let him get busy with the idea of showing those uppity talented writers a thing or two, and let him go home to his cat and pornography.

Posted by: Ken Layne at September 28, 2003 10:24 PM

I think you two should just have sex and get it over with, already.

Posted by: Paul at September 28, 2003 10:46 PM

Me & the Bee Ombudsman? Hell yeah! (But you have to at least videotape it, Paul, for the DVD edition.)

Posted by: Ken Layne at September 28, 2003 10:49 PM

Ken, where's the paypal link for that DVD ... I'll take an advance copy, please.

Posted by: Howard Owens at September 28, 2003 11:14 PM

Okay, but don't expect a Director's Commentary. Maybe some deleted scenes and an HBO First Look presentation, but that's about it. If you twist my arm, I'll throw in the crappy theatrical trailer.

Posted by: Paul at September 29, 2003 12:03 AM

Too late!

Posted by: JFT at September 30, 2003 06:58 AM

"To sum it up: Blogs good. Newspapers bad. Ombudsman dumb."

Exactly.

Posted by: A Friend at October 1, 2003 12:57 AM
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Remember personal info?








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