Blogs: A good place for journalism confession (in Dallas)

The quotation from A.J. Liebling is one of the most famous in all of journalism: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

The interesting thing about the digital age, of course, is that millions and millions of people now own online printing presses and they are not afraid to use them. According to Editor & Publisher, this has created some fascinating new tensions in newsrooms. This is especially true among reporters who are driven to express their innermost feelings and convictions about the straight news stories that they cover for their newspapers.

Or they can even betray the secrets of their newsrooms.

Thus saith E&P:

Personal employee blogs, it seems, are land mines for media employers. The nature of the Internet is why. A simple family blog written by a reporter might contain a reference to trouble at work, or discontent with a boss. It’s so easy for such an item — meant for a tiny group but accessible by the entire Web world — to take on a life of its own and spread to a huge audience, embarrassing not only the employer but also the employee. The media operates in a Google-driven, Romenesko world now.

And then there are the blogs written by employees of the newspaper for the newspaper itself. There are times when they offer unique insights into the dynamics of news and opinion. For example, what happens when someone, in effect, breaks a story in a blog that the newsroom then declines to cover? What happens when a reporter writing in a blog manages to punch a hole in a story published in the newspaper that is published on dead tree pulp? Which is the official information? Which represents the newspaper?

One of the most interesting blogs operating right now is at the Dallas Morning News, where the members of the editorial board offer feisty commentary that is never seen in the newspaper. It is especially interesting to watch this circle of journalists wrestle with cultural and religious issues. The board insists that it is “moderate” to “conservative.” But on moral issues it is almost uniformly liberal or libertarian. It is fiercely opposed to ancient, orthodox forms of faith and morality.

This is fine, if that is what the Dallas Morning News wishes to offer its readers. But it is interesting to note that Dallas is easily one of the most culturally conservative newpaper markets in America, the new evangelical capital of America. Thus, its bloggers are very anxious not to accept labels that might turn off armies of Texans who read newspapers. The bloggers tend to fly in stealth mode.

But blogs will be blogs.

At the moment, editorial writer and columnist Rod Dreher (a traditional Catholic and friend of this blog) is trying to provoke his colleagues to respond to new developments in the highly divisive issue of gay marriage. Is there any path forward now for the editorial board, other than endorsing a court-created right to gay marriage or endorsing a constitutional amendment to define marriage? Is any compromise possible?

One response to Dreher by editorial writer John Chamless was stunning in its candor:

Where you and I have a fundamental difference is that I don’t think this is an important issue. It’s a hot issue because some people have very strong feelings about it, both pro and con. Still, while it is important to the people involved, it isn’t important to society as a whole. Whether we have gay marriage or not, that won’t have a noticeable impact on most people’s lives. Just to grab a random example, the globalization-free trade issue is much more important. Get a list of the most important issues from just about anybody, and gay marriage is going to be way down the list.

The obvious question: Does this man live in Dallas?

I wonder: If the newspaper did a poll, what percentage of people in North Texas would agree that changing the definition of “marriage” is an insignificant issue? I wonder, what percentage of Democrats in Texas would even make such a statement?

And, to state the question another way, what percentage of people who used to subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, but no longer do, would agree with this statement?

Blogs. You gotta love ‘em.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.einvolved.org Stacy

    Hello Guys,

    I apologize for this not having anything to do with the entry today. I was trying to find an email address to send a comment to you privately – Is there a place on here where you have an email address for both of you? That would be something to add unless I’m blind and didn’t see it. :)

    I was wondering if you are going to do any reporting on what happened at NRB recently? I’m interested in hearing a little bit about the behind the scenes action and any other information you might find interesting.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.ecben.net Will Linden

    “liberal OR libertarian”? In my observation, libertarians are vastly different from the “liberals” (“statist b_______ds”) who have surrounde me all my life (Those who are so “liberal” they support everyone’s right to be just like them, like the “pro-choicers” who do not recognize freedom of choice on anything BUT abortion.)

    “The opposite of liberal is stingy. The opposite of radical is superficial. The opposite of conservative is destructive. So I am a radical conservative liberal. Beware of men who use words to mean their opposites.” — R.A. Lafferty, THE FLAME IS GREEN

  • http://www.knightopia.com/journal/ Steve K.

    Thanks for the link to the E&P article. Kevin Hendricks and I will be doing a workshop on blogs at this year’s Evangelical Press Association conference in Minneapolis, and I’d invite anyone who’s interested to join us in this discussion of blogs and the place they have in our evangelical media outlets. There’s also a lot of other great seminars in the electronic publishing track this year (if I do say so myself). It should be a lot of fun (despite the fact that Terry Mattingly isn’t on the schedule to speak this year ;-)

  • http://www.knightopia.com/journal/ Steve K.

    FYI — Info on the EPA convention can be found at

    http://www.epassoc.org/

  • m0nt3

    As an online community professional, I have to ask, “Why the fascination with blogs?”

    Really, a blog is no different from any Web site that has been around since 1996. It is a place to publish and link to other things. Sure, there are simple content management tools, such as typepad, that make it easier for non-technical people to publish, but the concept of linking to stuff is as old as the Web iteself.

    So I ask, why is there a separate impetus on evangelical/newsroom blogs rather than evangelical/newsroom Web sites?

    I think allowing columnists (Possibly less-edited) access to publishing may have many rewards on the Web, and turning “readers” into “participants” should be a major goal of emerging journalism.

    However, I also agree with the “old-fashinoed” newspapers who view personal blogs as no different than freelancing. You are publishing. You now have access to a “press.”

    Most newsrooms would not allow a reporter to submit a letter to the editor to a community paper in the area.

    Imagine if the professional football team beat reporter signed a letter denouncing abortion, then printed out 5,000 copies at a copy center and handed them out at a political rally in town. Wouldn’t most newsrooms find fault in that?

    Why then should they be allowed to do the same thing on an electronic press?

  • Steve

    Just wanted you to know that The Dallas Morning News editorial bloggers are open to comments and to letting readers have their say on the blog. I back and forthed with Chamless a few times and then sent him some info on divorce research from The Howard Center and he posted part of it on the blog. See below:

    Divorce

    A discussion of gay marriage drifted into one of government and the family, which brought this interesting response from a reader:

    .

    No-fault divorce gave us the no-fault society. The sociometric research on the effects of divorce on kids is overwhelmingly negative, but nobody wants to talk about it because then we’re judging and having to face up to the fact that somebody’s “at fault.”

    For example, look at this precis from The Howard Center’s “New Research” site. These are not Bible College profs writing screeds against society’s ills. They’re usually (in the ones I’ve read) state university scholars trying to make sense of the social morbidity afflicting families of all kinds. They’re astounding studies that are published in peer reviewed journals, but never seem to make it into the papers, yours included. Think of the headlines. Carcinogenic

    The role of divorce as a social carcinogen comes to light in a study recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology by a team of public-health scholars at the University of Helsinki and the University of Tampere. Analyzing health data collected between 1981 and 1996 for 10, 808 Finnish women, the researchers uncover evidence implicating “stressful life events” in breast carcinogenesis. The Finnish scholars particularly stress “five major life events”: death of a husband, divorce/separation, personal illness or injury, loss of a job, or death of a close relative or friend. In statistical tests using multivariable models, it was divorce/separation that stood out as the stressful life event most likely to predict breast cancer. The researchers calculated a Hazard Ratio of 2.23 for divorced/ separated women (compared to peers in intact marriages). By comparison, the Hazard Ratio for women whose husbands had died was only 1.78, and the Hazard Ratio for women bereav! ed of a close relative or friend was only 1.43. Hazard ratios ran even lower for women who had lost a job or suffered a personal illness or injury.

    The researchers acknowledge that to date no study has “established a direct link between physiologic changes associated with life events and breast carcinogenesis.” However, they conjecture that stressful life events could trigger “changes in immunologic function” conducive to the development of breast cancer. They further speculate that certain life events (such as divorce) could cause “stress-induced disruption of the functions of the neuroendocrine axes” with a consequent “increase (or decrease) [in] the secretion of various hormones.” Such hormonal disruptions may elevate the risk of breast cancer.

    posted by John Chamless @ Feb 23, 5:26 PM


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