August 20, 2003

Blogging and Editing: Trust But Verify

Each time a newspaper reporter or columnist jumps platforms and begins blogging, someone asks: Who edits the blog? If it's not edited, then is it journalism? And, if it is, then is it blogging?

Andrew Cline, a professor of rhetoric, asked (and not rhetorically, I should add), the question about Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn's new blog, Breaking Views:

"He (Zorn) does not address how/if this blog will be edited. What is the hallmark of journalism? I think there are many credible answers to that question, but my favorite is: a process of editing, i.e. choices made on sound news judgment. This is not a hallmark of blogs."

To answer part of Al's question (even though he did so himself), Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenthal of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and authors of "The Elements of Journalism," say that "the essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. This, they argue, "is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art. Journalism alone is focused first on getting what happened down right."

In short, journalism is about telling the truth and verifying the facts that comprise that truth.

Editors - good editors - question facts, characterizations and language in a reporter's story or column as part of that verification process.

Do journalistic editing and blogging mix? I asked Eric Zorn and Daniel Weintraub, who writes California Insider for the Sacramento Bee, how editing fits into their blogs.

Says Zorn: "I did some homework on this very point myself. We've more or less adopted the SacBee model in which I can and do post directly to the site, but I do so shortly after emailing a short roster of editors, some of whom are on duty at any given time, so they can give it a quick look."

Says Weintraub: I post my items directly to the net and simultaneously to my editor, who backreads them. We decided to do it that way because we think for a blog to really work it has to be fresh, and spontaneous. I have 20 years experience in the field and my standards for what can and cannot go out there are in sync with my editors. If I have anything really racy, I will run it by them before publication."

Both Zorn and Weintraub are columnists and therefore receive a different level of editing in print than a typical reporter, one that allows more voice in their columns than would be found in an everyday news story, presumably making the transition to the freshness of blogging easier. (An argument can be made that newspapers could enliven themselves more with more vibrant "voices," but that's another issue.)

Zorn offers a strong point about how newspapers need to retain the mechanisms (editing, for one) that separate traditional newspapering from infotainment and pure punditry, yet free their best reporters and columnists to explore new forms of journalism.

"I'm not a flawless writer by any means," says Zorn. "Like anyone, I get things wrong and like any sensible writer I value keen-eyed copy editing. At the same time, I think any news organization that trusts its writers to appear 'unedited' on panels, on the radio, in message boards and even in e-mail responses needs to trust them in the blogosphere. Trust but verify. Ah, one of my best lines. I'll never forgive that thief Ronald Reagan."

 Eric Zorn Breaking Views
 Daniel Weintraub California Insider

Posted by Tim Porter at August 20, 2003 08:06 AM

But it is possible to report and verify without an external editor. A reporter who writes a story is *doing* journalism before an editor ever enters the mix.

Posted by: bryan on August 20, 2003 11:54 AM

Yes, the reporter is *doing* journalism, but a good editor will help him ensure the journalism is accurate or clearly written or, earlier in the process, help him develop an idea.

On a minimal level, mistakes happen and editors (sometimes) help catch them. In this item, for example, I referred to Andrew Cline of as Al (it's since fixed), but an editor might have asked me to CQ the name.

The best editors challenge and inspire reporters. I know someone will say those editors are rare, and I would agree. The vast majority of mid-level newspaper editors, regardless of their talents, are wedged into a hierarchy that too often demands expediency over excellence and rewards process over product. It is no wonder most newspaper reporters would rather have elective dental surgery than become an editor.

Still, editors who become partners with their reporters are worth having. They've got your back every time.

Posted by: Tim Porter on August 20, 2003 12:10 PM

I did a search for "talk about sports" as I am looking for information on where Halifax Mooseheads players lived and the history about them and their culture. We have and have had hockey players from all over the world play with the local hockey team here in halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I am researching anyone who has played in the past and the present for the Halifax Mooseheads hockey team. As I was web surfing, going from one topic to the next I came upon your website as I was researching "first blog", as I thought about creating a blog on the Halifax Mooseheads hockey team. Anyways I found this website blog in the search engines because of your text "first draft" and I thus read your whole blog to see if you had any information on how to operate a blog. Anyways I did find some of your information useful and I thank you.
I will be back, as you seem to know what you are talking about, to see if you added anything new that might help me.
Anyways, good luck with your website.
Take care and God Bless
Steve A Halifax Mooseheads Hockey Fan

Posted by: A Halifax Mooseheads Hockey Fan on February 4, 2004 04:12 PM
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