Is this crazy? The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware’s Gannett-owned major newspaper, offered blogger Kristopher Brooks a reporter job. He blogged about it. And the paper withdrew the offer—before Brooks even started work.
The termination came just one day after Jim Romensko, whose blog is must-reading in the journalism world, posted a story about it.
As both a business ethics expert and as a journalist/blogger who has been writing news and features for more than 40 years, I heard the story and looked at the press release (linked above). It was a bit over the top and certainly at odds with the mainstream journalism pretense of objectivity.
But cause to withdraw the offer? Not even close. One presumes that they knew going in they were getting an outspoken, opinionated *blogger* who would be quite likely to do something like that. They didn’t hire a straightlaced just-the-facts reporter. So unless they told him upfront, don’t blog about this or run it by us before you post, from a business ethics viewpoint, they crossed the line by withdrawing the offer.
From the view of the suits who run the paper, I totally understand why they wouldn’t want a perceived “loose cannon” or someone with that big an ego running around and injecting himself into the stories he writes. For every Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe who injects himself into the narrative, thousands of mainstream reporters toil in near-anonymity, writing pieces that only a seasoned analyst would be able to recognize as theirs—that’s what journalists are trained to do.
But if that’s what the paper was looking for, the editorial team that hired him should have run both sides of Brooks—the anonymous mainstream reporter and the flamboyant blogger—by the suits before making the offer. Once the offer was made, it should have been honored, barring a much more outrageous violation of journalistic norms (like being discovered making up sources).
Also—I say this without any knowledge of the paper’s diversity and hiring practices, just wondering out loud—I do wonder if a white reporter would have received the same treatment.
The stated justification (I’d call it an excuse) was that Brooks used the paper’s logo and quoted his offer letter without permission. If you believe that, I’ve got a nice antique bridge to sell you across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. All they would have had to do was call him and ask him to take down the logo and not quote the offer. The first would take about 20 seconds, the second, a few minutes of changing quotes into paraphrases.
Wearing my journalist hat, I went and had a look at the rest of Brooks’s blog. Not surprisingly, he frequently lifts logos and other materials, as he comments on them—so the paper does not have any plausible excuse about not knowing he would use the logo. This is very common occurrence in the blogosphere; many bloggers comment on other news stories, and using a graphic element from the original story happens constantly. As a blogger (‘scuse me while I switch hats), I’m commenting on a story right now. It’s not my style to borrow the masthead where the story appeared, but really, is there a qualitative difference? In the blogosphere, use of a logo does not imply endorsement by the owner of the logo, so what’s the big deal?
Brooks also blogs frequently on the stories he covers as a journalist, and his role in them. Gannett cannot use the excuse of ignorance. Any competent hiring committee would have looked at the blog during the evaluation process.
Want more on blogs vs. traditional journalism? In my eighth book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet, I discuss business ethics, out-of-the-box public relations, blogs, and the new journalism climate ion some detail.