Blogging at the Washington Post

Harry Jaffe reports on new blogging developments at the Washington Post:

Chris Cillizza is the first person hired by—based in Virginia—to spend most of his time in the downtown newsroom, accordin g to political editor John Harris. The Post may have found the crossover reporter to bridge the gap between its print newspaper and Internet site…..

He doesn’t mind being called a blogger: “Blogs can be news- and information-driven without opinion. I see it as real-time reporting with the ability for people to comment.” ….

In time, Cillizza’s brand of crossover reporting might be the norm at the Post. Says Harris: “Chris does represent a bridge between the Web newsroom in Arlington and the one here in DC. I have no doubt that the two operations will merge. It’s inevitable.”

Five years ago, Harris says, there was trepidation among reporters about the emergence of “Everybody’s gone through the stages of grief—from denial to acceptance to now when they’re competing for better play on the Web site.”

The debate here is still centered on “objectivity” with Cillizza noting he dosen’t vote and he wants to be “as objective as humanly possible.” As Jaffe comments: ” He’s got a politically monastic streak that must warm the heart of executive editor Len Downie”.

The welcome Cillizza has been given is in sharp contrast to the recent strife over web based Dan Froomkin’s White House briefing blog. WP Obudsman Deborah Howell ignited a controversy earlier this month when she wrote of “the two Washington Posts” – the paper and the web site:

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.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility” as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column “that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display.”

Harris is right; some readers do think Froomkin is a White House reporter. But Froomkin works only for the Web site and is very popular — and Brady is not going to fool with that, though he is considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger.

This is partly a territorial dispute, partly about new technology and partly about the nature of journalism. As Editor and Publisher reported WP politics editor John Harris and Froomkin have diferent interpretations of what is going on. Froomkin:

“My agenda, such as it is, is accountability and
transparency,” Froomkin wrote. “I believe that the president of the
United States, no matter what his party, should be subject to the most
intense journalistic scrutiny imaginable. And he should be able to
easily withstand that scrutiny. I was prepared to take the same
approach with John Kerry, had he become president.”

Froomkin, who does some original reporting himself, is
like a blogger in the way he points to other sources of news, offers
context to the day’s political reporting and points out themes in the
mainstream media’s reporting. “Regular readers know that my column is
first and foremost a daily anthology of works by other journalists and
bloggers,” Froomkin wrote on “The omnipresent links make it
easy for readers to assess my credibility.

And Harris:

“The first issue is whether many readers believe
Dan’s column is written by one of the Washington Post’s three White
House reporters,” he wrote. “It seems to me–based on many, many
examples–beyond any doubt that a large share of readers do believe
that. No doubt there are some who enjoy the column for precisely this
reason. If I worked outside the paper, I might presume myself that a
feature titled ‘White House Briefing’ was written by one of the
newspaper’s White House reporters.

“Given that there is such confusion, the question is
whether this is a problem. For me it is a problem. I perceive a good
bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism–or
at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I
understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically
based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and
adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his
comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news
organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does?

“If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate
disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate: should change the name of his column to more
accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin’s take on the
news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to
cover the news.

The choice of words is interesting. Froomkin frames his work not in terms of objectivity but in terms of transparency – the term that Dan Gilmour suggest is a better contemporary motif for journalistic ideals.

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