Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ETHICS: Cleveland editor draws line at blogger contributing to congressman's opponent

One of four free-lance bloggers paid by the Cleveland Plain Dealer to provide political commentary was fired after the paper's editor learned the blogger was a $100 contributor to an opponent of a congressman the blogger routinely criticized.

The blogger says his political leanings are obvious from his postings, that he considered regularly disclosing his contribution, but balked at agreeing to cease writing about the congressman. The paper's editor says if she had know he was a political contributor beforehand, she would not have let him be hired.

In August, the Cleveland Plain Dealer retained four Ohio political bloggers to contribute to a daily political group blog called "Wide Open," located at http://blog.cleveland.com/wideopen . The project involved two bloggers with liberal leanings and two with conservative leanings.

Blgger Jeff Coryell (jeffcoryell@gmail.com) said in an emailed statement sent to the Media Giraffe Project on Oct. 30 that he was terminated after U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, D-Ohio, a Republican, complained to the newspaper about his support of two of LaTourette's opponents.

He said the paper asked him to refrain from writing about LaTourette, and he refused.

"As a political blogger, I am a partisan," Coryell wrote in his emailed statement to the Media Giraffe Project. "My political orientation as aprogressive Democrat is an integral part of what I do and is completelytransparent to my readers. This is a crucial component of being a politicalblogger/activist, and sets us apart from journalists in the classic sense.It was understood among the four participants in "Wide Open" that we arepolitical partisans and that we would engage in political debate from our respective political points of view."

Coryell went on to say that the Plain Dealer had "bowed to pressure from an elected official" in a manner which "strikes a heavy blow at freedom of expression."

Susan Goldberg, the Plain Dealer's editor, said the paper's decision was not motivated by LaTourette's complaint.

"We didn't bow to any political pressure," she said in an email to the Media Giraffe Project when asked to comment on Coryell's email. "Had we known that he had contributed to the opponent of a person he was writing about, we wouldn't have hired him in the first place. Once we learned of the issue, we asked him not to write about the congressman he opposed. When he refused, we decided that we couldn't pay him any longer to blog for us."

Goldberg says the standard she applied is the paper's own and "not imposed on us by any outsiders." As to the general issue of newspapers sorting out how to handling blogging, she observed: "We, and everyone else, continue to wade into this, learning new things every step of the way."

Coryell, in a brief phone interview, said he realized the paper's decision was an example of the evolving relationship between bloggers and journalistic ethics.

Coryell's personal bog is at:

http://www.ohiodailyblog.com. The Cleveland Heights resident describes himself as a former private and government attorney who is now an artist and art teacher.

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Coryell: cell 216-337-3780; land 216-321-9183
SUSAN GOLDBERG (SGOLDBER@plaind.com)


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