October 31, 2007

The Jeff Coryell-PD-Wide Open Thing

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,Wide Open — Tom @ 3:48 pm

It’s interesting how this is turning out, because it’s running against the “accepted” stereotype. That would be the one about how conservatives are rugged “on your own” individualists and liberals are team players.

The three of us (Jill, Dave, and I) learned of Jeff Coryell’s involuntary termination in an e-mail from the PD Online’s Jean Dubail yesterday at about 4:40. I’m not the best mind reader (doh-obvious at this point), but what I thought I saw was evidence of a strong disagreement, not clear antagonism. Sure, this was only one side of the story, but I saw nothing to indicate that Jeff was in anything but an “agree to disagree” mode.

I had to leave at 5:00, fully intending to send Jeff an I’ll-miss-your-work, good-luck e-mail at about 9:30 when I returned.

Obviously, all hell broke loose in the interim.

It took a while after digesting (and feeling) the outrage to get to what I think the real questions should be, which is why I tend not to do knee-jerk posts.

Why didn’t Jeff tell us what he planned to do first? Or (better) even ask us if he should do it? Or if there wasn’t something we could do to renegotiate the ground rules? Or to collectively quit if we came to the conclusion that the situation couldn’t be solved? If he didn’t trust the two righties, why not at least run these questions by Jill? (since his Ohio Daily Blog post went up less than an hour after the Dubail e-mail, I’m assuming he didn’t contact her — if I’m wrong, Jill will surely set me straight :–>)

People demanding that “we” resign in solidarity are asking us to react in support of a person, who I thought was part of a team, who instead decided to start throwing verbal bombs not just at the decision to terminate him, but at Wide Open’s entire operation and concept.

Jeff should know that this is (with each passing hour, looking more like “was”) about bigger things. It’s about whether a traditional news operation can co-exist with the blogosphere. (Semi-related — Interestingly, though I was clearly getting under the newsroom’s skin with the Imam Alzaree story, not once was I ever cautioned to lighten up.) It’s about whether two righties and lefties can co-exist on the same blog at a relatively civil level of discourse, even in the presence of less-than-civil commenters. I can tell you that these past six-plus weeks have been tense, often very intense, but that the four of us were making progress towards informal “ground rules” and boundaries that we were getting more comfortable with. Everybody was bending and accommodating to an extent. I don’t think it was happening as fast as any of the four of would have liked, but it was happening.

Ultimately, this is about the evolution of the news gathering, reporting and analysis process. We were part of that; now it seems likely that we won’t be. Don’t get me wrong — the PD gets a large share of the blame for why we are where we are, especially its clumsy handling of Buffoon of the Month Congressman LaTourette, but I have a hard time believing that something couldn’t have been worked out.

It’s more than a little likely that all of us would have backed Jeff totally in light of his treatment, had we heard his side before the rest of the world. But we’ll never know; he never gave us the chance. I for one don’t appreciate that, and I believe I have every right not to appreciate that.

I also don’t appreciate the idea that Jeff either didn’t understand what the ultimate outcome of his in-effect call-to-arms would be (doubtful), or that he appeared not to care about the possibility that three people he called “friends” might involuntarily lose their gigs too. You’re not an island, pal.

Now anyone considering an MSM-blog coop effort has to know that any one member can, and that some will, ruin it for the rest of his or her team when things get too difficult. Again, the PD owns a lot of the blame, probably even the majority of it, but this is not a good precedent.

I do wish Jeff all the best in his future endeavors, and have e-mailed him to that effect.

______________________________________________

UPDATE: Here’s one the leftosphere will probably consider a whitewash, the rightosphere might take as vindication, and objectivesphere should sit up and notice. Ex-PDer Bill Sloat of the Daily Bellwether, who would be expected to have sources out the wazoo on this, has given them some exercise

Although the congressman has widely been portrayed as the heavy, sources The Daily Bellwether spoke to all agreed that LaTourette did not ask for a firing, played no role in the sacking of Coryell, did not express anger, nor put pressure on the newspaper or threaten it in any way. The sources do agree that LaTourette spoke to The Plain Dealer’s editorial page editor, Brent Larkin, briefly earlier this month about Coryell’s work appearing on the newspaper’s Web site. Coryell’s name reportedly came up when Federal Election Commission campaign finance records were made public, and LaTourette mentioned to Larkin that Coryell had given money to the congressman’s Democratic opponent, former Ohio Court of Appeals Judge William O’Neill. LaTourette is supposed to have said something like “what’s up with that” during a brief chat, but did not suggest or demand that Coryell be fired, the sources say.

Jeff’s original contention:

I was fired because LaTourette complained. It would not have happened if LaTourette did not exert pressure.

Jeff’s reax to Sloat’s post:

I do not believe it for a minute. I was on the ultimate receiving end of the pressure and heard much about it in the weeks before my firing.

My take — Both Jeff’s and LaTourette’s contentions can exist in the same universe:

  • LaTourette “complains”/”mentions.”
  • Larkin gets his undies in a bunch at perceived displeasure.
  • Inside a lumbering bureaucracy, “displeasure” turns into “pressure” (hey, they almost rhyme).
  • Eventually, the paper decides to be “super-safe,” and lets Coryell go.
  • More like super-dumb. It walks, talks and looks like pressure to Jeff, because by that time it is, while LaTourette wonders what the big deal was.

This is why congresspersons have to watch their every word and gesture. LaTourette’s buffoonery in the episode is fully intact.

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks for the good wishes, Tom.

    Yes, having read what you wrote here, I’m thinking it may have been a good thing if I had tried to convene some sort of all-blogger conversation after Jean made his request. I guess I didn’t rise to the occasion. In my defense, it all happened very fast.

    We knew for weeks that Rep. LaTourette was complaining to the Plain Dealer about my participation, but there were only a few hours between Jean Dubail calling me to ask for the first time if I would agree never to mention LaTourette on Wide Open, and him telling me in a later call that I was fired. I told him in one of those conversations that if I was let go I was going to consider my agreement not to mention the stuff with LaTourette at an end, and in fact I planned to tell the world immediately. He said that he understood. After the last call I set right to work.

    In my opinion, the PD yielding to LaTourette’s pressure, and insisting that a blogger (as opposed to a reporter) can’t write about anyone involved in a race where the blogger has made a donation, ripped the heart out of Wide Open. I imagine you may feel differently, but for me the whole thing was ruined right there.

    This was a great experiment, and if Wide Open doesn’t continue for you guys I’m confident that there will be other such opportunities. I wish you the best in your endeavors as well.

    Comment by Jeff Coryell — October 31, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

  2. Jeff, all of that is very useful, and would have come in handy yesterday evening (though it would have been late evening in my case). The context you recited is important, and puts me more on your side in terms of disagreeing with the PD’s handling and ultimate decision.

    It makes it seem more likely that the three of us would have backed you if we had all convened, and that the statement to the PD as to how they were blowing it would have been been stronger. What might have happened from there, we’ll never know.

    Comment by TBlumer — October 31, 2007 @ 5:07 pm

  3. [...] BizzyBlog: The Jeff Coryell-PD-Wide Open Thing [...]

    Pingback by Plunderbund - » PeeDee’s “Wide Shut” Blog Firing Fiasco Roundup - Day 2 — October 31, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

  4. [...] If you want my perspective on yesterday’s and last evening’s events, go here. [...]

    Pingback by BizzyBlog » My $.02 — October 31, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  5. While I don’t begrudge you the want to hear from Jeff privately first, this seems a bit of a cop out to me. You can easily back him after the fact and take what you know then and come out and do what I would consider the only real thing to do – resign yourself in protest of a situation when your “drive-by media” clearly caved to political pressure in order to substantively change the criticism of an elected official.

    You didn’t. That is on you. Be consistent in your holding media accountable.

    Comment by Eric — October 31, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  6. #5, see #2. Peace out.

    Comment by TBlumer — October 31, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

  7. I personally think that it would have made no difference whether or not political contributions were made. They just would have found some other reason to justify the decision. The plain fact of the matter is that major media outlets are hamstrung by political entanglements. Unless, of course, one wants to go work at Fox, in which case that becomes an asset, just as long as the ‘right’ foot is always forward.

    Comment by BizzBuzz — October 31, 2007 @ 8:07 pm

  8. #7, tell that to George SnuggleUpWithUs at ABC.

    Comment by TBlumer — October 31, 2007 @ 8:39 pm

  9. I still don’t believe that $100 donation and LaTourette was the real reason – just the excuse.

    Jeff and Jill are fine for their gullible and uncritical audiences, but WO needed substance from the left to stand up to the superior quality of Tom and the high quality of Dave, and they just weren’t getting it.

    The PD is a brand, and they can’t afford to be associated with low quality, especially from someone that donates money against corporate rules. So BOOM…diversionary controversy so everyone saves face: PD looks beyond reproach, Jeff predictably and adolescently overreacts and becomes a “hero” to his side, and Jill reliably follows the popular and emotional decision to quit in a hissy for no apparent reason, leaving Tom and Dave as the adults and pros that they are. At which point the PD is indifferent between killing the project or re-engineer WO to something better.

    My guess is that my scenario or Bizzy’s is closer to the real truth.

    Comment by Joe C. — November 1, 2007 @ 5:57 am

  10. #9, thanks for your thoughts.

    Given the situation, I should remind readers that “Allowing a comment to be posted does not constitute agreement with it, or endorsement of it.”

    Comment by TBlumer — November 1, 2007 @ 6:19 am

  11. Tom – you know, if you really want readers to understand what that reminder to readers means, you could actually express in words in the comment thread how it is that you disagree or explain why you might not endorse a comment, for example? :)

    Comment by Jill — November 1, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  12. #11, Jill, that comment made a lot more sense at 6AM than it does now.

    How about, “I am signalling my disagreement with most of the contents of the comment, particularly the personal evaluations of the WO participants, while avoiding getting into an irreconcilable shouting match with the commenter?”

    Actually, that would have been better the first time around. All four of us are very good bloggers who produce very good work.

    Seriously, thanks for the nudge.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 1, 2007 @ 11:37 am

  13. :) I only nudged you because I feel like I know, a little bit at least, where you can be nudged.

    Unless, of course! It was all a LIE! And a CONSPIRACY! (joke joke joke)

    Anyway – thanks – you like the honor thing and so do I. Best to be consistent with it.

    Comment by Jill — November 1, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  14. Hi Tom –

    All the comments are interesting, but I have a question for you. Are you hanging in on Wide Open? Or is it over? Your picture is stil there, along with Dave’s photo, which leads me to assume you are continuing to be MSM bloggers, a bit of an irony considering your views of the press as a liberal hotbed. Some kidding there.

    But, are you guys in or out? The whole world is watching. If you plan to stay, an explanation would be fun to read, (remarkably) fun to read. And if you plan to go, that would be hot news, stop the presses news….oops, fire up the keyboards news. Just fill us all in, please. That will give everybody something new to stew over etc.

    I do feel bad that both Jeff and Jill went up the hill and then bailed. Jeff is a sharp observer and activist, and Jill is a sage — and I think had a lot more to do with putting the whole thing together than most people know.

    Comment by Bill Sloat — November 1, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

  15. Bill, with all due respect —

    What about “barring divine intervention” (in the $.02 post) don’t you understand?

    You of all people should know that the PD doesn’t move at light speed.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 1, 2007 @ 10:55 pm

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