December 15, 2005

Froomkin's Advice to the Press

Jay Rosen covers the Dan Froomkin affair and provides a link to the best column Froomkin has done on the bright future of the press online, if only the press can be bold enough to grab on.

Here is one point from that article that I found absolutely right on.

Even at papers with visionary leadership, where reporters routinely file Web versions of their stories, they almost never file Webby versions.

The Internet is an exceedingly visual medium. When imagery is available, reporters should routinely be creating alternate versions of their stories, as photo essays or Flash-type photo and graphic presentations, either narrated or with elegantly written cutlines.

And it's a multimedia medium. Reporters should routinely consider, when they hear someone's voice or see them in action, how presenting such information can add value to their journalism.

Reporters should routinely be attaching relevant URLs to their stories.

And reporters should routinely be churning out FAQs and primers on their beats, because on the Web this contextual information has enormous value -- and longevity.

When these sorts of things happen now, it's generally an exception, or it's done by online producers well after the story is finished.

Really well-done blogs and the online media do provide more context to a story and provide important information that allows people to delve much deeper. This is a definite advance over dead-tree media.

Froomkin also believes that excellent online media could help break the blog echo-chamber problem.

Real people are the antidote to the blog echo-chamber. And real people are what journalists can and should and do inject into the blogosphere, by telling their stories, by encouraging them to tell their stories themselves, and maybe even by "posting" what we hear from real people as blog entries.

So how did this Froomkin bruhaha actually get started?

The new ombudsman said the problem with "White House Briefing" arose because the real White House reporters were concerned that the name caused them a problem:

"Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter."

But when Jay Rosen and Brad DeLong pushed on this aspect, it turns out that this complaint seemed to have come from Republican operatives like Patrick Ruffini, not the readers and not the reporters.

It would be one thing if the great mass of readers were confused, or angry. But if the only person who Harris points to who is confused and angry is an RNC operative--well, put it this way: should the touchstone of the Washington Post be making RNC operatives happy?

But wait, there's more. When John Harris points to Patrick Ruffini, he does so in a way that downplays Ruffini's true identity. Harris calls him a "conservative weblogger." He doesn't call him "the former head webmaster for Bush-Cheney 2004" or "the current eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee." Now Ruffini is a conservative weblogger. But this is the Judy Miller mode of sourcing: Pat Ruffini is a conservative weblogger, just as Scooter Libby is an ex-Capitol Hill staffer. The fact that this identification is totally misleading--that the right way to identify Scooter Libby is as Cheney's Chief-of-Staff, and the right way to identify Pat Ruffini is as a RNC operative--doesn't matter to Harris. He doesn't want to admit that Ruffini is astroturf. He wants to claim that Ruffini is the grassroots. And when the ethics of sourcing accurately collide with the imperatives of pulling the wool over some readers' eyes...

Brad reads Ruffini so we don't have to, in order to understand why Froomkin is seen as so biased. It turns out that according to Ruffini Froomkin stepped over the line by being aghast at the White House response to the Terry Schiavo affair and being horrified that Americans can be kicked out of Bush speeches for having the "wrong" bumper sticker. There are more than a few conservatives that reacted the same as Froomkin to these situations so it's difficult to see that these are valid examples of his bias.

Perhaps someone can ask the Washington Post White House reporters if they are the source of the controversy? Are they worried about their access? Or is it the publishers and editors who believe they need to kowtow to the White House? Can we get some real examples? I think we need to know the answer to what is the source for this controversy in order to correct the underlying failure in our fourth estate.

Posted by Mary at December 15, 2005 01:30 AM | Media | Technorati links |

Amen, Mary.

The WP White House team (the 'real journalists') are sitting on a story -- how Froomkin "made their job more difficult". What was the nature of those difficulties and whose reactions to Froomkin created those difficulties.

Lets hope the 'real journalists' can bring themselves to behave like real journalists. Let's hope their editors and bosses aren't ignoring or suppressing this story.

Posted by: AlanDownunder at December 16, 2005 04:12 PM

Froomkin? Dan survives.

Posted by: The Heretik at December 18, 2005 09:59 PM