Bloggers Booming at Washington Post—Will One Destroy the Paper?
Within the Washington Post, 2006 is becoming the Year of the Blog.
At the dawn of this new journalistic age, writers are flinging words up on the Post’s Web site unexpurgated and largely unedited.
“A lot of the stuff I put out raw,” says columnist and humorist Joel Achenbach, the Post’s primordial Web blogger. “I keep thinking today is the day I will write something that destroys the Washington Post as a newspaper.”
On Monday, Maryland reporters launched Maryland Moment, on politics and policies in the Bay State. Terry Neal, who stopped writing his political column on Washingtonpost.com to become a Maryland editor, says he will soon start his own blog.
In the first week of 2006, Metro columnist Marc Fisher introduced Raw Fisher.
“It’s a way to increase my connection to readers,” Fisher says. It’s also his reaction to the Post’s decision to “diminish” his thrice-weekly column by moving it from its regular place on the left-hand rail of Metro’s front page and letting it float around the Metro pages.
In October Chris Cillizza became the first Post staffer to do an official blog. His political blog, The Fix, goes up daily on Washingtonpost.com, and he also gets bylines in the print edition.
Richmond bureau chief Mike Shear started a Virginia political blog last year.
Does anyone edit this stuff? Len Downie and Phil Bennett, the two top editors at the Post, declined to comment.
“Yes,” says Washingtonpost.com editor Jim Brady, “they are edited. Depending on the urgency of the post, some are edited before, and others are edited live. But we do put eyes on the posts.”
But writers say they are flying blind.
“Most of the items I post early in the morning or late at night, directly on the blog,” says Marc Fisher. “I can consult with an editor on the Web site.”
Fisher says the level of editing is left up to each writer.
Achenbach, who has been blogging since last January’s debut of Achenblog, says he can report to two editors: Sydney Trent, his magazine editor, or Hal Straus, who handles his prose for Washingtonpost.com. But most of the time he doesn’t.
“It puts a lot of responsibility on the writer of the blog,” he says. “You have to determine what needs to be reviewed by an editor.”
There are no rules for blogs. No Associated Press Stylebook applies. Some newspapers do not permit reporters to have blogs; some encourage staffers to write for their Internet sites; most are struggling to keep up with the way words are flying around the World Wide Web.
If there are no hard-and-fast rules for bloggers, the Post also has no rules for people who post responses to bloggers. Responses go up live, without editing, says editor Jim Brady. A software filter blocks profanity.
“People post anything they want, all the time,” Achenbach says. “We expect some standards. No dropping the F-bomb on people. No hate speech. Don’t be racist. No personal attacks. For the most part people abide, and we can zap it if there’s a problem.
“To a remarkable degree we don’t have problems,” he says. “People who hang around the blog tend to be smart and aware.”
So aware that Achenbach relies on them for basic copyediting.
“I’ll post something; two minutes later someone will tell me there’s a typo in the second graph.”
Is it time for Post editors to catch up to their bloggers?
Says Achenbach: “Everyone is in love with the inherent unfettered quality of blogging. Editing can be good for blogs. I don’t think editors are bad. They can help on the conceptual side and on the writing side.”
Marc Fisher wants to encourage his online readers to become reporters. He intends to post “raw bits” of a story and ask readers to keep reporting and write a story, which he will post on his blog.
“Why not try it?” he says.