Letters from the Editor Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan files his thoughts and observations about what

goes on in the newsroom, in Cincinnati and in the new media world.

Saturday, April 08, 2006
It appears Grandma in Iraq’s deployment is ending, so her blog will as well. Yes, we fumbled in not invasively disclaiming her role as a public relations officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and we fixed that when it was pointed out. No, she wasn’t paid by us for her blog, which provided readers an inside look at her experiences over there. And she claims no superiors approved the work done on her time. No, there’s no cover-up in the questions about whom and how her blog originated. I’m not inclined to point fingers at the past. Whatever was done, by whomever, was wellintentioned. It just wasn't thought through completely and I wasn't paying enough attention to the blog world. The bottom line is that since last summer we have reorganized responsibilities for Cincinnati.com and I am responsible for content on the site, along with Chris Graves, our online editor. I've been making news decisions -- and taking shots for them -- for 30 years now. It's OK. And yes, I suspect the debate will continue about whether Cincinnati.com should have hosted her blog. If you care to continue to debate please make me the target of your venom, not Grandma – or that public relations officer if you’d prefer to address her as such. How about let’s look at our dabbling in citizen journalism from a broader perspective? We’re discussing the concept a lot these days. While The Enquirer has done some work with interactive voices online, most of our readers who care to share their views are limited to traditional platforms – letters to the editor, story suggestions, and news releases. But as we look to the future, we’re exploring new territory. One venture is called “Get Published,” which has become one of the most successful parts of our NKY.com site. The question came up recently about whether we should commingle reader submissions, including photos, with our traditional reports.

Here are some thoughts I sent in an e-mail to the online team:

--I happen to be reading a great book about the issue: "blog!," by David Kline and Dan Burstein. Here are some of my thoughts, based on their well-crafted analysis: A.J. Leibling, a great 20th century journalist, once said: "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." No more. Who certified us as the Guardians of Civic Literacy? We “Journalists” need to adapt to change -- call it the information age, the knowledge society, whatever. The times' they are a changing. Kline and Burstein point out that the paternalistic press is only a recent phenomenon that may have outlived its short life in historical terms. We'd best be catching up. My gosh, Journalists, consider the past: Ice Age painters, Talumidic scholars, revolutionary pamphleteers (anyone remember Tom Paine?) illustrated the power of what we now call (paternistically) "citizen journalism." Consider the future: Author James Suroweicki refers to the "wisdom of crowds." Business Week reports on a theme called "mass collaboration" and "the power of us." Cincinnati.com is a portal to all of that. It is not about traditional Journalism, nor The Enquirer, which is 165 years old now. It is about the future. Get published -- citizen journalism -- may unsettle our comfort level. I say we need to get over it.

--Those are some questions I posed to the staff. There are a lot of diverse opinions, as you can imagine. What do you think? posted by Tom Callinan @ 4:14 PM 11 comments 11 Comments:

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous said... Mr. Callinan, Thank you for your second post. Your invitation to set up another blog reflecting a critical outlook on the war is appreciated. But this isn't just about citizen journalism, it's about the Enquirer itself. You have one staff opinion columnist, Peter Bronson, who makes no secret of his allegiance to the hard right wing of the GOP. Why doesn't the Enquirer have another on-staff opinion columnist writing about local and national politics from another perspective? It's unsatisfactory to run the occasional liberal wire service columnist writing about national politics. Cincinnatians depend on the Enquirer for reporting and commentary on local issues. Even Mr. Bronson's most ardent supporters would agree that he is a partisan and that other points of view are not being aired. Add to this recent published criticisms by county commissioner Todd Portune that he is being shut out of coverage by your paper on important local issues makes it difficult not to draw the conclusion that your bias is showing. Back to Grandma, it's nice that you're willing to take the heat for criticism about her blog. But you referred to people's requests to know who hired her as "pointing the finger." If there's nothing to hide, why are you protecting an employee from this disclosure? Enquirer readers have a right to know if the paper is working in tandem with the GOP or the Army because that would be a very serious matter indeed. If that is the case, then the Enquirer will have a real crisis of credibility. Your online response to these concerns would be welcome.

At 5:37 PM, The Dean of Cincinnati said... I second everything in the comment above. Why avoid "the past"? You are a journalist. You record events for the sake of having a record of the past -- at least in part. That was why Orwell's 1984 was so alarming -- they were actually changing the newspapers to change history. In any event, your disregard of the past is rather noteworthy, and disingenuous. I also think it strange that you are trying to capitalize on "citizen journalists."

No self-respecting "citizen journalist" should cow-tow to your media empire. Or should I believe that the anti-war folks with images of dead Iraqi babies will get as much access as Grandma? Are you talking access to citizens with no filter, no editorial oversight? I can't believe you'd risk it. In any event, as you are fully aware, what you give blog space on Cincinnati.com does not make-up for what you put in print. Sure, maybe you'll give Portune a blog post. But when you print manipulative statements about him -- that is really something indeed.

At 8:18 PM, Anonymous said... Is there a blog in Cincinnati that the Dean hasn't spoiled with his paranoid rants?

At 8:45 PM, Anonymous said... The Dean of Cincinnati is providing a forum for important stories that the Enquirer doesn't cover. And it's good enough for a number of top politicians in Cincinnati who are being shut out by the Enquirer's Republican political bias. Anyway, whether you like it or not, everyone is reading The Beacon.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous said... Mr. Callinan: The Cincinnati Beacon just posted another of Commissioner Portune's reports. It contains a shocking description of behind the scenes intervention by billionaire Carl Lindner manipulating Phil Heimlich and the arrangement for the proposed new county jail. Commissioner Portune also describes Phil Heimlich being caught dead to rights lying to FOP president Kathy Harrell. Lindner, a private unelected citizen with limitless money, appears to be determining county decisions and controlling the president of the county commission like a hand puppet. Why isn't your newspaper reporting this story? But how could you? Commissioner Portune has written that your county reporter Kimball Perry won't even call him. Cincinnati has traditionally been a comfortable place for the fat cats to do

backroom business. The Enquirer has all too often facilitated this by failing to report the news. I'm glad you think citizen journalism is a good idea. But when are you professional journalists going to start doing your job?

At 11:28 PM, Anonymous said... One also wonders about Mr. Bronson's relationship with the board of Citizens For Community Values (CCV), Phil Burress' hard right-wing noisemaking machine. No conflict of interest there, nooooo.

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous said... The CCV is a thinly-concealed PAC. As has been widely reported, its primary funder is Carl Linder. From a 3-30-06 Columbus Dispatch profile of Phil Burress: About 400 people paid $50 apiece to attend the group’s annual banquet Tuesday on the Xavier University campus. All the proceeds will go to the organization because the cost was picked up by well-heeled backers, including Carl H. Lindner, a Cincinnati financier and longtime GOP contributor. Commission president Phil Heimlich has been heavily financed by Lindner and by Burress, who in 2002 Commission president Phil Heimlich has been heavily financed by Lindner and by Burress, who in 2002 paid Heimlich $55,000 for "consulting." Did he watch dirty movies and find them distasteful? Or was this just a sneaky soft money channel? To my knowledge, no reporter has asked Heimlich or Burress to explain what Heimlich did to earn such a substantial packet. Perhaps an Enquirer reporter will take advantage of this election season to ask the two Phils.

At 10:52 PM, Anonymous said... wow, people have lots to argue about. I would pay for this: Your reporters can rate the citizen journalism so I only see the highly rated stories based on my demographic. Also make the ads targeted to me. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6909078385965257294&q=Seth

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous said... I will show you a good example of collaborative online journalism, from which you could learn a great deal. A tip to TPMMuckraker.com by a concerned reader of the Grandma in Iraq blog brought it to the attention of more people, including your media peers via Editor & Publisher, and the Enquirer couldn't stand the scrutiny. http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/000256.php Yes, the world is changing, and you can't get away with your biased and selective coverage any longer, Mr. Callinan. The Cincy blogs will cover the real news, even if you don't. The eyeballs will migrate to them, raising their online ad revenues and lowering yours. If someone starts a free daily along the lines of what they have in other cities, the Enquirer will be in serious trouble indeed. Perhaps Scripps will do so with the Cincy Post. Good luck trying! It will be fun to watch.

At 11:47 PM, Anonymous said... The "Grandma in Iraq" debacle just made it into Howard Kurtz's media watchdog column in the Washington Post: Mystery Blogger The Cincinnati Enquirer's "Grandma in Iraq" blog is literally true in that Suzanne Fournier is a grandmother. But she is also a spokeswoman for the U.S. military. Which may explain why the blog is relentlessly upbeat about what a great job American soldiers are doing. Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan told Editor & Publisher that he had to change the description of Fournier: "She never hid the fact that she worked for them. But we did not put a disclaimer at the top, we had overlooked that. We have now corrected it." Fournier wrote on the blog that she never tried to hide her affiliation but "wanted to share my experiences because I am in a unique position of being able to travel to nine of the southern provinces with my job as a communicator."

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous said...

Editor & Publisher just ran a third lengthy article about the Enquirer, Tom Callinan, and the "Grandma in Iraq" mess. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Beacon has new information about Suzanne Fournier's background as longtime press officer for the Army's Chemical and Biological Weapons Program and as an Enquirer source for a number of articles dating back to at least 1999.

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