The quotation from A.J. Liebling is one of the most famous in all of journalism: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." The interesting thing about the digital age, of course, is that millions and millions of people now own online printing presses and they are not afraid to use them. According to Editor & Publisher, this has created some fascinating new tensions in newsrooms. This is especially true among reporters who are driven to express their innermost feelings and convictions about the straight news stories that they cover for their newspapers.
Or they can even betray the secrets of their newsrooms. Thus saith E&P:
Personal employee blogs, it seems, are land mines for media employers. The nature of the Internet is why. A simple family blog written by a reporter might contain a reference to trouble at work, or discontent with a boss. It's so easy for such an item -- meant for a tiny group but accessible by the entire Web world -- to take on a life of its own and spread to a huge audience, embarrassing not only the employer but also the employee. The media operates in a Google-driven, Romenesko world now.
And then there are the blogs written by employees of the newspaper for the newspaper itself. There are times when they offer unique insights into the dynamics of news and opinion. For example, what happens when someone, in effect, breaks a story in a blog that the newsroom then declines to cover? What happens when a reporter writing in a blog manages to punch a hole in a story published in the newspaper that is published on dead tree pulp? Which is the official information? Which represents the newspaper?
One of the most interesting blogs operating right now is at the Dallas Morning News, where the members of the editorial board offer feisty commentary that is never seen in the newspaper. It is especially interesting to watch this circle of journalists wrestle with cultural and religious issues. The board insists that it is "moderate" to "conservative." But on moral issues it is almost uniformly liberal or libertarian. It is fiercely opposed to ancient, orthodox forms of faith and morality.
This is fine, if that is what the Dallas Morning News wishes to offer its readers. But it is interesting to note that Dallas is easily one of the most culturally conservative newpaper markets in America, the new evangelical capital of America. Thus, its bloggers are very anxious not to accept labels that might turn off armies of Texans who read newspapers. The bloggers tend to fly in stealth mode.
But blogs will be blogs.
At the moment, editorial writer and columnist Rod Dreher (a traditional Catholic and friend of this blog) is trying to provoke his colleagues to respond to new developments in the highly divisive issue of gay marriage. Is there any path forward now for the editorial board, other than endorsing a court-created right to gay marriage or endorsing a constitutional amendment to define marriage? Is any compromise possible?
One response to Dreher by editorial writer John Chamless was stunning in its candor:
Where you and I have a fundamental difference is that I don't think this is an important issue. It's a hot issue because some people have very strong feelings about it, both pro and con. Still, while it is important to the people involved, it isn't important to society as a whole. Whether we have gay marriage or not, that won't have a noticeable impact on most people's lives. Just to grab a random example, the globalization-free trade issue is much more important. Get a list of the most important issues from just about anybody, and gay marriage is going to be way down the list.
The obvious question: Does this man live in Dallas?
I wonder: If the newspaper did a poll, what percentage of people in North Texas would agree that changing the definition of "marriage" is an insignificant issue? I wonder, what percentage of Democrats in Texas would even make such a statement?
And, to state the question another way, what percentage of people who used to subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, but no longer do, would agree with this statement?
Blogs. You gotta love 'em.