February 18, 2004

Why Journalists Should Blog

All the hemming, hawing and the on-the-one-side-this and on-the-other-side-that-ing about reporters and editors having a personal blog is a waste of good oxygen.

The issue is simple: Journalists should not involve themselves in activities that compromise their integrity or cast doubt on their ability to maintain independence from those they cover.

This is a cross-platform principle that existed before blogs and applies to freelance magazine writing, weekend panels on PBS, the neighborhood newsletter, or whatever comes next after blogging. So, a political reporter, for example, shouldn't trash the mayor in a column, label him an idiot on TV, picket his house with local activists -- or call for his resignation in his blog.

Steve Outing examines this argument at greater length today in Editor and Publisher. If you read the article, be prepared for much handwringing.

The best point in the story was made by Andrew Nachison, director of the Media Center at the American Press Institute, who said, as Outing put it, "that blanket prohibitions by news organizations on personal blogging are too draconian for this Internet age." Said Nachison:

"To stifle your most creative and energetic staffers, who seek outlets for that energy through blogs or other creative work produced on their own time, will lead to only one thing: those highly desirable employees will seek work elsewhere."(Emphasis added)

Exactly. Newspapers need more creativity, not less; they need their reporters and editors to be more expressive, not less. Newspapers should do all they can to encourage their staff members to as creative as possible outside the office with the hope that this energy returns to the newsroom.

Blogging is writing. Blogging is photography. Blogging is communicating. These are all good things for newspapers.

UPDATE: Tom Mangan adds this on Prints the Chaff:

"Long ago I decided I'd avoid saying anything bad about my employer on my blog. ... Ever since then, though, it has grated on me to think: Wait a minute, aren't freedom of speech and freedom of the press basic human rights. ... And aren't newspapers the most ardent defenders of these rights -- not just for themselves but for the citizens they serve?

"And what does it look like when these champions of the press are saying to us: You can write anything you want so long as you OK it with us first? Isn't that a kind of prior restraint forbidden to governments?"

To this I add: What it makes them look like is defensive, fearful, paranoid and untrustworthy of the very employees upon whom they depend.

Posted by Tim Porter at February 18, 2004 06:57 AM

Take that: I scooped you by one minute!

Posted by: tom on February 18, 2004 07:19 AM

Yes, it is a bit ironic that they would argue so much for the first amendment themselves, yet seek to control the voice of their employees so heavily. Just ask the Hartford Courtant and dennis horgan.

Posted by: bryan on February 18, 2004 08:55 AM
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