Truly understanding censorship

Sheila points to a nicely written how-to on newspapers having weblogs. This was spurred, in no small part, from the tempest in a teapost about Dan Weintraub and the Sacramento Bee’s new policy about editorial review of his weblog.

Many of the Blogging world’s illuminati became incensed by this action. Micky Klaus writes in a meandering, confused rant:

Unlike a mistake in a print column (or for that matter, a mistake on radio) a mistake in a “24-7 blog” can be easily and quite effectively corrected in the same place it was made. For this reason, the cost of a blog error is less than the cost of a print error. That means when you are balancing a) the cost of errors versus b) the cost of more procedures and “standards,” you come out in a different place for blogs than you do for print.

The cost of an error isn’t the amount of time to edit it, but the amount of damage the ‘error’, backed by a major publication, can do when read by thousands before correction.

Glenn Reynolds writes:

Unthinking political correctness, corporate-mandated dullness, and complete cluelessness, all in one event. If you want to know, in a nutshell, why Old Media is in trouble, this is it.

Taking a look at Weintraub’s statement that caused the uproar:

If [the California Lt. Governor’s] name had been Charles Bustmont rather than Cruz Bustamante, he would have finished his legislative career as an anonymous back-bencher. Thus there is reason to wonder how he would handle ethnic issues as governor.

And while people can debate forever whether MEChA and its more virulent cousins do or do not advocate ethnic separatism, it’s indisputably true that the Legislature’s Latino Caucus advocates policies that are destructive to their own people and to greater California, in the name of ethnic unity.

Making sweeping statements such as ‘…it’s indisputably true that the Legislature’s Latino Caucus advocates policies that are destructive to their own people and to greater California…” is something I would expect to read from a weblogger who is throwing opinions around without due consideration of the impact of the words. Perhaps that’s what Klaus and Reynolds want – more rants, less news and thoughtful commentary.

Doc Searls points to most of the articles on this issue, and seems to agree with Roger Smith:

In the future, in order to demonstrate their integrity, true blogs may have to be completely independent of major media. And maybe that’s for the best. At least that way we will be able to scrutinize the bloggers intentions without having to see through a haze of editing or, worse, the agendas (hidden and not) of media corporations.

I share Sheila’s take:

Weintraub’s comments about Bustamante are the sort of words you might hear in a bar. If Weintraub wants to pop off with unsubstantiated personal slams like that, add a comments capacity to his blog and give his readers equal opportunity to publicly challenge him.

Weintraub’s weblog is not a personal weblog hosted on Blogspot. It’s hosted and paid for by the Sacramento Bee, which has an existing editorial policy for opinions expressed by employees of the newspaper. The only crime the Bee committed is that it’s following through on what webloggers have been asking for – treating Weintraub’s weblog like it was a ‘real’ journalist’s effort.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say weblogs are journalism,and should be treated as ‘real’ publications. and then deny the sometimes stringent requirements of newspapers and other publications. An error in a weblog can embarrass a weblogger; an error in a newspaper can get the paper sued, or unfairly and adversely impact on the events being reported.

It is a given, and known fact, that people who work for a newspaper or other publication are bound by the editorial process for same. Sometimes this results in the suppression of news, but many times, this prevents offhand remarks and ill-thought comments from hitting the streets and causing damage that a retraction just won’t heal. Even a digital retraction.

Of course, the uproar on this event has died since Weintraub himself doesn’t see himself the victim of censorship, or being muzzled.

Perhaps folks upset by Weintraub going through the editorial process need a reminder of what censorship really likes like:

  • This week is the ALA’s Banned Books Week. Books on the list include any of the Harry Potter novels, The Chocolate War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Native Son, To Kill a Mockingbird, and far too many others.
  • Amnesty International lists several authors imprisoned in their countries for speaking their mind, including Zouheir Yahiaoui who was arrested for for expressing his opinions online.
  • Al Jazeera has been banned from access to official sources of news in Iraq for supposedly sedicious reporting.
  • The directors of Zimbabwe’s four private newspapers have been charged with “illegally publishing” their newspapers. (Thanks to Frizzy Logic)
  • Reporters without Borders can also give you an eyeful, including the Defense Department’s clearance of all culpability for the death’s of journalists in Iraq by US soldiers
  • The Patriot Act

If Weintraub wants to start a personal weblog on Blogspot and carefully disassociate what he writes there from his newspaper, I’d be more supportive of him not ‘being censored’. However, the price a writer pays for a steady income from a publication is that the publication usually has some say in what’s written. It’s not just the writer who is credited, or discredited, when they spout off.


Amazing what you can find online

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Dave Winer mentions a contribution he made to Boston’s NPR affiliate, WBUR. He’s curious, though, about the salaries of the folks, such as the general Manager Jane Christo’s pay:

How do I call in and ask questions on the air? How much salary does Ms Christo draw? How many execs are there at WBUR and what are their salaries? And how about the talent, how much of my money do they get? I suspect that public radio in the US is like most other industries, execs control the money, and get most of it, and don’t do very much for it.

A quick google search on “wbur” and “salaries” brings up a reference to Dave’s friend, Christopher Lydon, as luck would have it. It seems that when Lydon worked at the station, he was the highest paid talent, at 230,000. And he wanted more:

I like ‘’The Connection,’’ but I was stunned by the size of Lydon’s salary and the fact that he and his producer still weren’t satisfied; they wanted an ownership stake in the show. When Lydon and his cohorts at WBUR ask listeners like me to support the news, I knew salaries were an integral part of the news, but I had no idea they were such a large part.

The article also makes a good point about how we view charities differently from other types of business:

Kate Berseth, who has done fund-raising and fund-raising consulting for more than 10 years, said donors tend to overreact to high salaries. All too often, she said, donors harbor the incorrect assumption that ‘’do-gooder charitable work’’ isn’t worth as much as for-profit work.

Lots of online links about WBUR and salaries, and Lydon no longer being at WBUR. Rather than Dave calling the station and demanding that the station discuss what Jane Christo makes online, perhaps he should ask his friend, Lydon, what she was making when she fired him?