By Jill Zimon
I’m a news junkie. While my bandwidth for online news consumption exceeds that for print, I still receive two daily newspapers, three if you count the four days of the week that The Plain Dealer is home-delivered. I also subscribe to one local weekly, one ethnic weekly and my household’s monthly magazine count stretches into the low double-digits.
I also blog. I am not a trained journalist, but I have had a successful freelance writing career for more than twelve years, and I have been blogging at Writes Like She Talks for nearly 10 years and with close to a million page views. Lately, I’ve been blogging about the quality of and decision-making happening on at the Northeast Ohio Media Group (aka NEOMG aka the company that operates cleveland.com and has multiple responsibilities related to The Plain Dealer).
After NEOMG’s Vice President of Content, Chris Quinn, decided to remove the video of a gubernatorial candidate interview that had previously been public — and to issue terse takedown orders to anyone who re-posted it. I wrote many posts expressing concern and outrage. Quinn’s action was flummoxing. Why would Quinn order the take down of the only video that showed Ohio Governor John Kasich in the company of his two November 2014 re-election challengers? (There had been no public debates between the candidates, so the video became a de facto substitute for any open forum). My commentaries about his action were picked up by many other journalists throughout the nation, who continued to raise questions about Quinn’s decision and became a topic of discussion — and more outrage — around the country’s journalism ecosystem: NYU Journalism Professor, Jay Rosen, longtime journalist and media blogger, Jim Romenesko and the Columbia Journalism Review to name just a few. [All the links are in this one post: http://writeslikeshetalks.com/
The most Quinn provided as an explanation was that using the video would jeopardize NEOMG’s relationship with Governor Kasich. But that came only when pressed in the presence of three journalism colleagues on a live radio program. And even then, his attitude was, as he said himself, that he did not have to be accountable to, well, people like me: “I don’t think the bloggers are the audience we are appealing to” he said in an interview on WCPN, and then called bloggers — like me — “shrill,” “partisan” and “humorless”. He insisted the incident was being blown out of proportion and that the decision did not compromise the integrity of the newspaper.
But I kept writing about why people should care so much about the removal of the video and, as the days passed, NEOMG’s failure to explain it. Honestly, I believe it is backwards that I, as a news consumer, should have to provide justifications for why a newsworthy piece of online content should not be removed. The mission of journalism has been and continues to be transparency, accountability and openness.
We want to trust and believe what we read and see coming to us from our news outlets. Just as no one wakes up asking to be poor, no one wakes up hoping that their news provider will fail to be transparent or less than editorially honest.
Most striking, however, is that Northeast Ohio is being damaged uniquely by NEOMG’s behavior with this incident because of its timing and its subject matter. Northeast Ohio is a community striving hard and making strides. So when our experience with the region’s legacy news outlet is one of obfuscation , the failure to provide a public explanation goes beyond a kick in the collective gut. Absent any public explanations, its behavior lends itself to be interpreted as disregard towards the community, jeopardizing the community’s efforts toward high expectations, high standards and high achievement. Ultimately, it would seem, they do not care that we care.
When I first started writing online nearly ten years ago, what we then called mainstream media, or the MSM, blamed the erosion of trust in the news industry on people like me — bloggers. The question now, however, is not whether bloggers are trustworthy. The question now must be: how does the Northeast Ohio Media Group re-earn our trust?