Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"Off With His Head!": PA Reporter Axed Over Forum Flack

One Strike and you're out: The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (out of Lancaster, PA) recently axed 33-year old court reporter Justin Quinn for shooting his mouth off (anonymously) on the IJ's website Forums.

Quinn would not confirm the posts, some of which were critical of the paper, nor the name under which the posts were made.

Editor Ray Shaw confirmed Quinn had been handed his head, but refused to say exactly why.

hmmm....he said, he said and nobody's really saying anything.

What Quinn said, though, seems to be the expression of a boatload of frustration *any* reporter might have in these these times when even huge media empires are courting "user-generated content" and elevating the personal over the professional:

(Quinn) said he began posting to "set the record straight" about topics he covered but eventually began offering his opinions as well. News stories printed in Lancaster's three newspapers are often the topic of Talkback discussions.

"It is extremely hard to sit idly by when people are misstating facts," Quinn said. "They obviously have not read the article. It's just hard to sit there and take it."

Quinn's most definitely caught between the rock of old-style journalism ethics (which prohibits reporters from expressing opinions)and the hard place of a changing new media landscape that appears, on the surface, to be more supportive of reportage than reporting. Yet as I said in conversation today to Bill Densmore, longtime journalist and director of the Media Giraffe Project, reporters are going to feel frustrated and are going to want to interact--and newspapers are going to have to let them develop a level of transparency *and* let them interact. If newspapers are going to move forward, and if they're going to earn back the trust they have lost, they simply can't post blogs without comments, allow trolls to beat each other up on their forums and think that this is interaction. Newspapers are going to have to learn the right ways to interact with the public. They can't expect reporters to simply ignore the sea-changes that are swirling around them--that's like asking reporters to ignore a scoop.

Reporters need to learn how to interact--they need to learn about transparency and the subtle turns of internet interaction. As a veteran of online interaction (since 1998),it ain't as easy as it seems....and hiding behind anonymity won't help a reporter "set the record straight" nor help him/her interact with the public.

It is most unfortunate that Quinn was fired though--and his firing was probably the result of being a young gun with no clout as much as his actions consituted a violation of journalistic ethics. Michael Hiltzik, whose internet stupidity was far more egregious, lost his column and blog but got reassigned. Demotion, not dismissal. Guess whether or not your career gets destroyed has more to do with the clout you have than it does with the mouth you shoot off.

Update Longtime journo Steve Yelvington agrees:
Journalism today is a conversation, not a lecture. The newspaper's reporters should be posting on the forums ... but under their real names, not pseudonyms. And they should be getting positive coaching from their editor about how constructively engage with the community.

Update: Editor and Publisher has a better link to the story

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