MARK GLASER’S ASKING ME about the Weintraub/Bee affair, and whether my MSNBC site is “muzzled” since it has an editor. That’s a fair question (even if I suspect it was inspired by my cheap-but-accurate shot at most “journalistic ethics” rules, below), and the answer is, well, yes and no.
I’m not “muzzled,” since nobody slapped an editor on me in response to inhouse PC complaints, as was done with Weintraub — something that’s got to have a chilling effect, I’d think. On the other hand, the MSNBC publishing platform, which imposes a substantial delay between writing and editing, and which makes updates a pain, certainly costs in terms of immediacy. (This is exacerbated by the time-zone difference, since I have to email the posts to them, and somebody in the Pacific Time Zone then has to recode them and post them. If I send one late at night, it usually isn’t up until at least noon the following day. I’ve got one editor — people back him up when he’s on vacation, but there’s not 24-hour coverage with people sitting by the computer waiting for me to mail stuff in at any hour.) I much prefer the kind of on-the-spot posting and editing that Movable Type allows, but apparently integrating that with a gigantic, sprawling web platform like MSNBC isn’t easy.
I’ve dealt with that by doing more op-edish posts for MSNBC: things that are halfway between a blog post and a column, I guess you’d say. That works fine for me, as I can just post different sorts of pieces in different places (short stuff here, longer stuff there), with pointers back and forth as needed. Sadly, Weintraub doesn’t have the same ability — and I rather doubt the Bee would be enthusiastic about him maintaining an independent blog on the side.
UPDATE: Meanwhile Stephen Bainbridge is defending the Bee. Well, sort of:
Yes, I know it’s a newspaper. Yes, I know a lot of people (including journalists) blather on about newspapers being a quasi-utility vested with a public interest. But that’s just the nonsense they use to justify a unique constitutional privilege to libel people and invade their privacy. In the real world, newspapers are for-profit businesses.
Well, with defenders like these. . . . But although Bainbridge is right that the Bee is perfectly within its legal rights to do whatever it wants to with things it publishes, the Blogosphere is perfectly within its rights to criticize the Bee and to point out that the Bee is behaving with all the commitment to public discourse that we’d expect from a big corporation like Enron or Disney. Also, I think that Bainbridge is wrong to claim a contradiction between bloggers’ criticism of the BBC’s lax supervision of Andrew Gilligan and bloggers’ criticism of the Bee’s suddenly-intrusive supervision of Weintraub’s blog. Weintraub is an opinion writer, who hasn’t been accused of getting facts wrong. He’s accused of stating political opinions that some people don’t like. That’s hardly the same thing.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has some comments.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Bainbridge has responded to my response to his . . . oh, never mind. There’s more at his post. In partial response, something that Kevin Roderick notes: Weintraub (like a lot of other print reporters and pundits) “represents” the Bee in TV and radio appearances all the time without a Bee editor being interposed, even though a lot more people see those appearances than read a blog, making the “danger to the brand” much greater. I continue to blame jealousy and discomfort with new technology. I think those factors play a much bigger role than business considerations.
STILL MORE: Meanwhile, on the underlying merits (Weintraub’s un-PC comments about Bustamante), reader Jonas Cord notes that this Rik Hertzberg piece in The New Yorker basically says the same thing:
Cruz Bustamante is an affable mediocrity who has drifted upward on a combination of term limits, opportunism, ethnic ticket-balancing, and luck. Harold Meyerson, of the L.A. Weekly, calls him “the least charismatic and able of the state’s Democratic leaders.” Bustamante, whose grasp of substance often seems shaky, has been almost as unwilling as Schwarzenegger to subject himself to sustained questioning, and he has not yet demonstrated any discernible appeal for independents.
Cord notes: “Seems that the famously un-PC, right-wing, anti-Latino staff of the New Yorker agrees with Weintraub. If only they had an ombudsman to call!”
And, in answer to Glaser’s original question, what I like about a Movable Type-powered blog like this one is that you can produce a post like this, bit by bit, over an hour or so as new stuff happens. I don’t think you could do that with an editor involved, and certainly not if you had to email in each incremental addition. Especially after the editor has left for the day.