Journalism vs. Blogging

Down in Washington DC, the Washington Post has manufactured a little maelstrom in the blogosphere by terminating the freelance deal that allowed Dan Froomkin to write White House Watch for the last several years -- White House Watch being a spectacularly successful and spectacularly thoughtful "I call B^&*s&*@" report on the exercise of executive authority and precisely the sort of thing that is missing all too often from contemporary "mainstream" journalism.

Glenn Greenwald at has a lengthy series of posts and interviews on what this means. In short, the move reflects the core pathology of the contemporary news media. A sample of Greenwald:

At the Post, Froomkin stated when government officials were lying; applied skepticism to claims from politicians; believed journalists should do more than mindlessly recite what each side claims; and treated politicians on all sides equally. In a minimally healthy political culture, those would be the bare requirements for being called a "journalist." In the establishment media culture we have, those traits disqualify you from the term and, if they persist, get you fired.

I mention this episode only to encourage all of you who care about the future of Pittsburgh journalism to read, watch, listen, and then ponder the extent to which the region's establishment media meet Greenwald's criteria. For all of the public angst about the economics of print and the survival of the news, we should all care that there is something there to save.


6 Responses to "Journalism vs. Blogging"

EdHeath said... 6/22/2009 8:05 AM

The name that comes to mind immediately is John McIntire’s and close behind there is Lynn Cullen. Pittsburgh doesn’t have many bloggers affiliated with newspapers , and of those the affiliation seems kind of loose. But McIntire and Cullen, when they worked for the MSM and ever still, are Pittsburgh’s version of Froomkin. McIntire’s story is particularly interesting. The rumor’s I have heard is that the MSM knew about the Mayor’s (then councilman) having been handcuffed at the Halloween Steelers game, but had no direct evidence, and the Mayor denied it, so no one would run the story. But McIntire pushed it on his blog, and the story came out, and the Mayor reversed himself. The blogs in general in Pittsburgh have mostly not done first hand reporting, but they have taken MSM stories and expressed the outrage over them that they deserve. Of course, editorializing rarely makes much difference. I mean, it *can*, but mostly only if politicians jump on board, and politicians can usually push ahead with ideas regardless of the editorials. Two things about that, though. First, we are adults and if a commenter expresses an opinion, we can make a judgment about that opinion, especially if we have been reading that commenter for a while. Even if the commenter feels the need to be even handed, get comments from both side, etc, the commenter should still be able to express his/her opinion about the issue. Second, it is nice if someone says what they know, not just what they can prove. Especially if not being able to prove it means it would never otherwise be reported.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/22/2009 12:12 PM

When you call Froomkin's blog spectacularly successful, what metrics are you referencing? Do any of them involve dollar signs? I hope the answer is yes, but I suspect the whole thing might have been an extended experiment for which they ran out of patience.

Mike Madison said... 6/22/2009 12:20 PM

I was thinking "widely read and cited." That's the sort of thing that news media (print and text media) usually like. I've now read a number of hypotheses about l'affaire Froomkin. In places where "large investment/low return, so it just wasn't working out" has been floated as a candidate, it's been mocked for one or both of the following (related) reasons: (i) yet again, the traditionalists in the news media kill a threat to the establishment; (ii) Froomkin-as-truth-teller exposed the shallowness of all other media.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/22/2009 8:37 PM

Yeah, you would think the media would be into being "widely read and cited" ... that's certainly true of the reporters themselves. But is it true of management, of the publishers? To my experience not so much at all.

Which is not to say Froomkin's pugnacious M.O. did not make him a prominent target for elimination -- I just don't think the MSM bloggers are viewed to have a terribly large amount working in their favor in the PRO's column to begin with.

Besides which I'm not sure the "core pathology" of the MSM fully applies to Pittsburgh journalism. At least national TV news "mindless recites" the claims of politicians, and gets excited about it. Any degree of consistent attention paid to politicians on the local scene -- regardless of quality -- would be a huge improvement!

EdHeath said... 6/23/2009 6:11 AM

Was Froomkin online only or did he also have a column in the print edition? Different set of advertisers, you know.

The timing of this is interesting. Froomkin is said to be very liberal, but also looked at everything with a critical eye. Which means he was being critical of the current President. Personally I don't think the media has been that easy on Obama, but you might have to say they just got a little easier.

Mike Madison said... 6/23/2009 9:16 AM

White House Watch was online only.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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