This post is a little off-topic for Techno//Marketer, but I think it's an important issue to address concerning social media and it happened in my hometown. (This post is not, and will never be, political in nature.) The local newspaper here in Cleveland, The Plain Dealer, took a fairly progressive step and created an area of their site dedicated to political debate and hired four bloggers to create the content. Two covered things from a liberal perspective and two from a conservative under the banner "Wide Open".
As of November 2, 2007 the project has been cancelled in the midst of quite a bit of controversy. Here is how things played out. These four bloggers were hired by the paper to present their opinions as bloggers. One of the bloggers openly attacked a politician's policies and stated that he had contributed to the campaign of that politician's opponent. The politician who was attacked complained to a Plain Dealer reporter who relayed his concerns to the PD's editor. The editor asked the blogger to refrain from covering that candidate and when the blogger refused, he was fired. Subsequently, one other blogger quit the project in protest which led to its suspension.
According to the blogger who was let go, he (and the others) were hired as just that. Bloggers. Not reporters. The bloggers were being paid, which is where I think this gets a little gray and his contribution to the opponent's campaign just adds to the fire.
So let me turn this to you, my readers and get your input on the crossroads of blogging and journalism. Here are some important questions to ponder:
- Can a newspaper include blogger content and have editorial separation?
- Are bloggers and journalists separate anymore?
- If they are, are they bound by the same code of ethics?
- Does paying the bloggers create the conflict of interest?
- Do you think the Plain Dealer would have pulled an editorial piece under pressure from a politician?
- Can traditional newspapers survive against pressure from citizen journalism?
- What if no money had changed hands and the bloggers just contributed? Does that change things?
Let me hear what you think! Can we all just get along?