September 27, 2009

"What makes these tweets significant is that they were written by Raju Narisetti, one of The Post’s top editors."

DSC04400

Shut up, little Twitter bird!
As one of two managing editors, he’s responsible for The Post's features content and oversees its Web site. But he also sits in on news meetings and occasionally gets involved in “hard” news.

Narisetti said today he now realizes that his tweets, although intended for a private audience of about 90 friends and associates, were unwise.

They were “personal” observations, he said. “But I also realize that... seeing that the managing editor of The Post is weighing in on this, it’s a clear perception problem.”

He has closed his Twitter account.
What were Narasetti's tewible tweets? Stuff like:
“We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not... But we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”
“Sen Byrd (91) in hospital after he falls from ‘standing up too quickly.” How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail.”
He hopped on some sensitive toes. Or he expressed himself — gasp! — personally — in a medium that is all about the personal touch. But he wielded the corporate media label, and his being opinionated undercuts his corporate media function.
In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers.
Could be seen? Well, duh! His ability to ignore that (and the Post's continuing ability to toy with the possibility that he didn't express an opinion) could be construed as believing that we readers are naive and dumb.
Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition.
Ha ha. So you were hoping to fly under the radar, but you've started to worry that we're on to you? And so, you need to take precautions. But of course, you not only have opinions, you want to take advantage of the promotion that can be wrung out of Twitter and other new media that threatens to get out in front of you. What a dilemma!
Narisetti’s decision to stop posting coincides with today’s release of new Post newsroom guidelines for using Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks.
Oh, no! The party's over! The web, for all it's wild, casual fun must be taken seriously. But I wanna run wild and free over here and still command all the authority of my profession!

The truth is, there is a price to be paid for speaking freely. You get things and you give things up. You need to think about what you want, make decisions, and deal with the consequences. I know: I — a law professor — have been doing that for years.

When Narisetti heard about the coming WaPo crackdown, he tweeted:
“For flagbearers of free speech, some newsroom execs have the weirdest double standards when it comes to censoring personal views.”
Ah, but now Narisetti has folded his wings and supports the new guidelines. Here, read them:
When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.
And I thought that even in the newspaper, items labeled "opinion" or "analysis" or whatever could range well beyond pure fact and objectivity and could get creative with language and tone. How does tweeting under an individual name break these journalistic principles?

I'm guessing that the real problem is not that we learn that the editors are real people with their own ideas and that they are not neutral to the bone. I think it's that the transparent revelation of personal opinion would allow us to see that the editors all or almost all slant in the same political direction, and that's something the newspaper would like to hide. If gulling us into thinking the paper is written by neutral editors is a journalistic principle, it's not one I care about.

The guidelines continue:
What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.
That's true — so don't confess to crimes and misdemeanors — but does it refer to the expression of political opinions?
Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.
That could be perceived... But, good lord, any criticism of the President is, these days, perceived as racial bias.

And shouldn't there be a comma after "political"? Maybe not, these days....

And God forbid you should show any religious bias. That means that every journalist who wants to keep his job will have to shut up about the fact that he actually believes his religion is the true one or that he thinks religion is a big lie.

Let's all be decorous little nobodies here in this newspaper we're afraid no one's going to want to read anymore.

45 comments:

rhhardin said...

that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.

Credulity, I would have said, about their audience.

Except you are not their audience. They know what they are doing.

The tweets interfere with the narrative that the remaining audience craves.

Do not confuse the remaining audience with anything but the corporate line lest they stop reading.

Pogo said...

It's funny and a little sweet that Narisetti thinks that this exposed journaliastic bias at WaPo, like no one had noticed it before, or that it wasn't really there.

One of the last vices to stay in the closet is liberal bias in the MSM, but this doesn't fool anyone, except the ones who wish to be fooled.

David said...

"Let's all be decorous little nobodies here in this newspaper we're afraid no one's going to want to read anymore."

Yeah. And let's not let anyone see the innards of this sausage factory. Might ruin their appetite.

wv=prous: Remembrance of Things Typo.

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllenS said...

After reading Clark Hoyt's NYT article, and then this, they can't go out of business fast enough for me.

Jason said...

The WaPo has always been very strict about developing and enforcing policies to avoid the appearance of bias or conflict of interest.

A WaPo reporter can't even let a potential source pick up a lunch tab, nor can they donate to a campaign or register for one party or another.

I signed a similar policy when I came on as a Time, Inc. reporter in 2000. The WaPo was even stricter, but these are par for the course in newsrooms. People are just trying to figure out how to apply it to personal web sites, etc.

I see this as simply a continuation of the WaPo's existing policies. I think they are good ones.

rhhardin said...

Journalist has the same root as diurnal; one who writes daily on the day.

Sort of blog like.

rhhardin said...

Coleridge said that conflict of interest is the pulley on which good character is hoist into public view.

MadisonMan said...

God forbid you should show any religious bias.

I just wanted to see that sentence twice, as it is sweetly ironic.

class-factotum said...

“For flagbearers of free speech, some newsroom execs have the weirdest double standards when it comes to censoring personal views."

Sheesh. Does this guy not get the First Amendment?

traditionalguy said...

Are these the same High Priests of the Temple of Obective News that collected fees to sell access to Obama's Gang to the Insiders of Slush Fund for Environmental Loot? Something that FOX news could never cash in on because FOX tells too much truth about the Obama Gang's impersonation of a Presidential Administration. The Post had better lay low, way under the radar, and pose as innocent reporters of objective facts, or else they will be smeared one day soon along with the GREAT OBAMA as fifth columnists. They need to preserve their appearance of strict, bet hedging, neutrality. If there is ever another election, they need the cover.

lucid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

This post was a pleasure to read for your perfect language usage, Professor. Holding up one's foot may also elevate writing skill.

Maguro said...

The idea that "news" and "opinion" can be firewalled is a uniquely American journalistic absurdity. The Post should come clean and embrace it's center-left viewpoint. No one outside that newsroom doubts for a second that it exists, so why go to all the trouble of maintaining the pretense of "neutrality" with all these stupid little rules? It's a waste of everyone's time.

ricpic said...

Those who live the bias - case in point: Jason's touchingly naive comment - see no bias.

lucid said...

Ann Althouse wrote that:

I'm guessing that the real problem is not that we learn that the editors are real people with their own ideas and that they are not neutral to the bone. I think it's that the transparent revelation of personal opinion would allow us to see that the editors all or almost all slant in the same political direction, and that's something the newspaper would like to hide. If gulling us into thinking the paper is written by neutral editors is a journalistic principle, it's not one I care about.


Exactly Ann (and fabulous post overall, including especially your reflections on speaking freely).

See this piece by Clark Hoyt in which he takes the Times to task for not covering ACORN and Van Jones. But he still implies and structures his article to suggest that the Times is really objective most of the time. But they are so in the tank, they can't even see over the top to know what is happening if it doesn't suit their political preferences.

The web and other information technology is exposing the pretentions and misconduct of the old media in the same way that ubuiquitous video cameras changed what the police could get away with.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/opinion/27pubed.html

Paul Zrimsek said...

The management had better pray that the geeks keep coming up with new expressive technologies. If the supply of outside locations to hunt for bias ever runs out, they may be forced by lack of alternatives to look in the paper-- and then the jig will be up.

Pogo said...

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

lucid said...

Jason--

Did you miss the story about the Post charging a big fee to politicians, lobbyists, and corporations to gain direct access to reporters and editors at social events at the editor's home.

I'm afraid the cute little rules on not getting lunch paid for are overwhelmed by the other advantages the paper and journalists derive from cozy relationships with favored sources.

AJ Lynch said...

When Mark Steyn is about to comment about the WAPO, he loves to preface his comment with "the WAPO which loses $1.10 on each print copy it sells". Heh.

There will be a tipping point in the MSM soon where discussing the state of the newspaper business will be like talking about the
state of the typewriter business.

bagoh20 said...

Politics is simply a battle between armies of pretenses big and small.

It's nice to know only the reporting will be biased from now on. That twitter bias was bothering me big time.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If the WaPo would let its reporters get the partisan enthusiasm out of their system by donating cash to their favorite Democrats, they might be less prone to making in-kind donations through their stories.

PatCA said...

"When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment."


HAHA! There is no leftist behind the curtain!

I would like to tell the WaPo that the "impartiality" train has long left the station.

miller said...

Shorter WaPo: "We're biased, but we pretend to be objective. Now shut up and Praise Dear Leader along with us."

(Well, I added that last part.)

The newspaper is a black and white business. What's true is true and what's false is false. Unfortunately, their standards of true and false isn't truly true.

I don't mind that this Narisetti has opinions - heck, even I have them.

What I mind is the pretense that he and his ilk somehow reach a pure objective state in their news reporting/slanting.

A newspaper that proposes to charge for access isn't objective, and pretending to be outraged misses the point that it's so thoroughly corrupt that people who work there could think that type of activity is part of their pure, objective mission to tell the truth.

And finally:
a) Too many "that's" in the last sentence; however,
b) I didn't misuse "it's" to mean 'its.'"

tjl said...

Much ado about nothing. Compared to the NYT the WaPo is centrist.
But why not just put an end to the charade and own up? In the 19th century newspapers were totally open about their party affiliation. Nobody had to read between the lines to detect the bias. Of course in those days there were papers to match any political preference. That's no longer the case since journalism became a monoculture.

miller said...

And here's the funny thing: no thinking adult really believes newspapers are neutral OR that their political affiliation and heart are hard to discover.

Some adults foolishly appeal to the newspapers presumed "neutrality" when they write letters protesting the slant of a story, but really, the newspapers have no reason not to slant the stories the way they want, because they are not punished for it and it advances their core beliefs in a cost-free way.

Witness the newspapers (well, the media) and their push to drive for unitary health care. Witness the many sad tales of people without health care, and how their problems would be solved if they just had government-provided health care.

Nothing about how the costs will explode. (People who have freer access to health care increase their use of it, driving up costs. The more money you pump into the system the more the price will rise to meet the pool of cash. You think health care is expensive now? Wait till it's free.) Nothing about how we will have gone into insane deficits and will have multiple tens of trillions of dollars of debt owed to China. Nothing about how perhaps we all can't just have the moon even though we all wish we did.

To bring up these fine points is to be racist, because universal health care is the president's issue, and to oppose him is to be racist. I understand the hymnbook, but I just don't like the song.

Florida said...

"After reading Clark Hoyt's NYT article, and then this, they can't go out of business fast enough for me."

You don't have to be passive in your hopes. You can be proactive ... and help to bring about the downfall of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Here's some background:

Newspapers have long ago realized that their dead-tree operations are not long for the world. The process of handing out news once a day written on paper and thrown by 13-year-old boys into a puddle on your lawn isn't interesting to advertisers.

So, they're moving to the web.

There are two main browsers you can use to surf the internet - Internet Explorer or Firefox.

Firefox has a neat feature. It's called "Ad Block Plus." It allows you to turn off the ads that a website such as the New York Times or the Washington Post might be charging their suckers - er, advertisers - for. In a way, it lets you vote with your eyeballs.

For example: If you support the news organization, you can of course leave the ads turned on. If you like it when Althouse rakes the NY Times over the coals ... you can reward her by allowing her advertisers' message to reach you. On the other hand, if you disagree with the New York Times liberal bias, you can help to economically devastate the companies that collude with them (their advertisers).

So, get Firefox. And turn off The New York Times' ads. It's the best way to help push them into bankruptcy.

Lem said...

The post, as an employer, does have the right to impose all kinds of legal restrictions on their employees.. are they not? I know mine does.. although we are not in the "free speech - right to know" business... so forget what i just said ;)

No.. My guess is the post is trying to get ahead of something that could hurt them - really hurt them, down the road... and also the fact that Tweeter is an unmitigated, unquantifiable competitor. (nobody knows what Tweet is lading towards).. what the hell is a Post employee giving freebies to the competition?

wv fectivea (a lotion add)

Lem said...

leading towards..

Big Mike said...

Very thoughtful post, Professor. And a very good catch on the missing comma between "political" and "racial."

Big Mike said...

@Florida, thanks. I always use Firefox but I never knew about that feature.

Darcy said...

A very satisfying read. And you, an Obama voter. ;-)

I'd love to make the entire WAPO staff sit and listen to me read aloud every delicious word of this to them. Thank you.

rhhardin said...

I don't mind NYT ads. Let them make the money they make.

bagoh20 said...

It seems the hardest thing to find is an unbiased source. I don't think this is new, but rather the nature of sources; they're all humans.

Perhaps we will develop a software that can scan the Internet, strip out the facts and present them. If it was really good, it could make analysis of those stories based on similar histories and project outcomes. Of course the old garbage in /out thing is a problem work prevail I suppose.

As I grow older and wiser, my primary discovery is that I know nothing for certain and neither does anyone else. I just see varying degrees of ability to demonstrate our ignorance. Some beautiful or sublime and some more direct.

I even see plenty of bias in the "fact checker" sources. Is impartiality impossible, or is it just that nobody is really trying very hard?

Ralph L said...

In the 19th century newspapers were totally open about their party affiliation
Jackson had his pet editor living in the White House.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Those tweets actually sounded interesting and I might have wanted to purchase a newspaper filled with such insights, even if I didn't agree with them.

Maybe this is why some parts of old media are in trouble, they have no idea how to make things interesting. More than that, they actively remove and apologize for anything that's interesting. I bet if any of the people who work for them said three clever things in a row their careers would be over.

Big Mike said...

Is impartiality impossible, or is it just that nobody is really trying very hard?

Both.

Jason (the commenter) said...

tjl: But why not just put an end to the charade and own up? In the 19th century newspapers were totally open about their party affiliation. Nobody had to read between the lines to detect the bias.

In the 19th century journalists were also thought of as some of the lowest people on the face of the earth, only to be put up with because they were trying to earn a living.

I think the unbiased approach is an attempt to respond to Victorian criticism. Journalists are desperate to be taken seriously and be considered professional. They have no idea why anyone would want what they write otherwise. It's still 1950 for a lot of these people.

miller said...

When blogs provide for free what newspapers provide at cost - interesting discussions and multiple points of view - then newspapers have to ask:

a) What are we in the business for? What is our purpose?
b) How can we compete using our for-profit business plan when much of what we provide is distributed by others for free?

I don't need to read WaPo or the NYT to get interesting viewpoints or discussions; in fact, I am not likely to get them at the NYT at all because their opinions and letters are uniformly and drably left-wing. I can read the blogs in my bloglist and view a variety of interesting discussions, and I can get somewhat unfiltered news from the AP feeds.

What, exactly, does the newspaper provide except stale information?

I get the local big-city paper because some of the stuff is just better in a larger size, but if I can get the same info on my HD TV using my browser and computer hooked up to the TV, why fuss with a paper?

The WaPo might be realizing (per someone who posted earlier but I can't find it) that Tweets are directly competing with its for-profit business. And step one is to stop tweeting; step two is to find a way to do the same but for profit.

A lot of these failing businesses need to be shaken from their torpor. A newspaper is a business and a business that doesn't respond to the complex world and customer needs will simply fail.

There is no need to protect newspapers qua newspapers, because the need for news and information will be filled, but it might not be through the traditional printed media.

Too bad, but buggy whip makers were probably trying to get Congress to protect them, too.

c3 said...

And I thought only teens were that naive about the net!


You mean other people can see this?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

bagoh20 said...

As I grow older and wiser, my primary discovery is that I know nothing for certain and neither does anyone else. I just see varying degrees of ability to demonstrate our ignorance. Some beautiful or sublime and some more direct.


Exactly my thinking when I picked my pseudonym. ( Combined with the fact that I'm a generally happy kind of guy. )

Jason said...

Ricpic,

I'm touchingly naive about media bias?

Dang, not to play the obnoxious "do you know who I am" card, but if you look around, I've written a word or two excoriating the media for bias.

And when I say "a word or two," I really mean tens of thousands of words.

Look around a bit. And don't be so quick to jump to conclusions about people.

Mark V Wilson said...

It is really weird and jarring to me to see public expressions of someone's political and religious views grouped together with expressions of racial or sexist biases. Also, for a news organization in today's world to require its employees to hide their political and religious views seems to invite corruption.

Paul Zrimsek said...

In the 19th century journalists were also thought of as some of the lowest people on the face of the earth, only to be put up with because they were trying to earn a living.

Well....?

J said...

Narisetti linked to a slide show featuring pictures like this:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/21/the-funniest-protest-sign_n_292342.html?slidenumber=3#slide_image

Nope, not biased at all, nothing to see here. Move along, peasants.