Ombudsman: Washington Post “fails” a blogger

I’m teaching a 7-class module about media ethics as part of an interdisciplinary ethics course at Armstrong this semester. In recent meetings, we’ve talked about the commercial demands on newspapers in the internet age and about the growing importance of social media. Here on Savannah Unplugged, I’ve written lately about how bloggers can find niches for themselves.

So I was especially interested today to read The Post fails a young blogger by Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton. He’s blunt about the Post’s goal of having bloggers take advantage of aggregating stories and capitalizing on page views about trending topics. And he’s blunt in his assessment of the lack of clear standards for such practices and lack of support for blogger Elizabeth Flock, who resigned recently after concerns that she slightly altered a couple of paragraphs from another source. That amounts to plagiarism, at least in a traditional sense, but it pales beside practices that are commonplace on the web.

From the piece:

But The Post failed her as much as she failed The Post. I spoke with several young bloggers at The Post this week, and some who have left in recent months, and they had the same critique.

They said that they felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing. Guidelines for aggregating stories are almost nonexistent, they said. And they believe that, even if they do a good job, there is no path forward. Will they one day graduate to a beat, covering a crime scene, a city council or a school board? They didn’t know. So some left; others are thinking of quitting.

The whole piece is well worth a read, as it deals not only with this failing but also with recent staff cuts at one of the world’s leading print publications.

Pexton closes by noting that “this week, announced a new program to cross-train journalists — digital journalists will learn the ways of street reporters, and reporters will learn the ways of digital and social media. This is an excellent, and overdue, idea.”

I’m not so sure. As long as we assign journalists to one of those camps and expect them to grasp the other, then we’re stuck in the old models. Journalists of the future are going to have to be equally at home as “street reporters” and as functional experts in the world of “digital and social media”.