Thursday, November 10th, 2011

The Intolerable Evolution of Poynter's "Romenesko+"

The "Romenesko" blog (launched in 1999!) was a one-man shop, under the corporate parentage of the Poynter Institute, until fairly recently. It was quite successfully run by its founder, Jim Romenesko, though you could tell every once in a while he'd go through periods of advanced boredom in covering media day-in and day-out. People (well, reporters and editors) mostly loved it; the headlines were, unusually, out-bound links. So it sent traffic. Romenesko's slight summaries were careful and sometimes sly. The "technology" of the site as such was pretty laughable, down to the ridiculous URL. He was super-fast, he was fair and he was, very subtly, often dryly funny. Then Poynter got whorey.

The headlines became permalinks to the site itself, so it stopped sending much traffic. The site became more "social" in orientation. The posts got longer. More Poynter-as-newspaper-sherpa crap crept in ("How will you handle graphic images or video of Gadhafi’s death?" Zzzz). Two years ago, Julie Moos, who's been with Poynter for ten years, got her latest promotion and is now the big boss of publishing at Poynter. I have no idea what she's like, possibly wonderful, but as a blogger and writer, she's ham-fisted, at best, to my ear. The changes at the blog have been awful to watch. Let's take a look at the new way things are done at Poynter's blog—semi-rebranded as "Romenesko+," which, let's just pretend that didn't happen.


This is what it used to be like.

The site has grown increasingly more intolerable. Romensko himself is set to retire permanently from the site (for more interesting ventures) very shortly. And today Julie Moos dropped the bombshell: "I now know that Jim Romenesko’s posts exhibit a pattern of incomplete attribution." Much handwringing follows; in some blog posts, "the words may appear to belong to Jim when they in fact belong to another." (Can they "may," really?) Romenesko offered to resign (ahead of schedule); she refused his resignation. (And he really should tell them to stuff it, but not if it hurts his retirement package in any way.) She concludes: "We are in uncharted territory, marked by uncertainty, which suggests caution. We will continue to evaluate this situation and to be as transparent as possible about what we learn and decide." (Great, prolong this.) And: "To our knowledge no writer or publication has ever told us their words were being co-opted," she writes. To my knowledge, no writer has ever, ever complained or even thought to complain about Romenesko, and I certainly have spent a strangely large amount of time talking about him over the last decade. (I have exchanged a few emails with him, barely, over the years.)

Romenesko's entire practice was about giving credit, in ways that virtually no other blog has been, a position that "Romenesko+" does not embrace as strongly. Poynter has worked systematically to erode a fairly noble, not particularly money-making thing as it works to boost "engagement" and whatever other (highly transitional!) web "best practices" are being touted at the heinous "online journalism" conferences that regularly go on. Charitable with links and naming bylines, and producing even more links when grubby reporters would come emailing with "but I posted that memo just now tooooo!", the intention underlying Romenesko's work has always been directing readers to reported material.

To be fair to Moos, though I don't particularly care, in her position I don't think she has any choice but to publish about this. It's the sort of media "process" stuff that is Poynter's bread and butter (along with initiatives like "Writing Better Headlines and SEO Essentials," an online class you can take in February!). Moos is also too coy. She learned of all this "thanks to the sharp eye of Erika Fry, an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review." What she meant was that Fry is working on a story about Romenesko and attribution, and so Moos went to publish first. I found that attribution a little incomplete.

27 Comments / Post A Comment

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Did you bury that lede a little? Nice.

jolie (#16)

To be fair to Moos, though I don't particularly care

Ahhhh yes, that's it. That's the good stuff.

Rollo (#3,202)


Rollo (#3,202)

Whoops, sorry, wrong beloved geezer besmirched on the verge of retirement. I'll tell my bros stop overturning St. Petersburg Times news vans. I mean Tampa Bay Times. Wait, they don't even have news vans. I just can't get this one right.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

If anything is original and amazing, there is an iron rule that says that as soon as you can afford to do so you must hire consultants to make it more just like every other product out there, and you must by all means get rid of the person responsible. Or so I am told. Is this rule only observed in publishing ventures, or is it general?

Babz (#19,764)

@Tulletilsynet It's everywhere. People are so ego driven that they can't simply serve a good thing and be satisfied with that. They have to "make their mark" on it, which generally means ignoring both what is loved (because they get no credit for it) and what could be tweaked to make it even better (because in something that's already good, that's, you know, challenging). Rather, they'll apply all the trendy crap they have ingested, "reconfigure" and institute "paradigm shifts" (shudder) until it's just like everything else. Case study? Banana Republic clothing stores, for one.

RonMwangaguhung (#3,697)

I prefer never to use the word "whorey." I prefer to think of it as "giving."

roboloki (#1,724)

*call me

koretzky@twitter (#175,935)

I've been lucky to have Romenesko pimp some of my journalism-ed programs, as well as document my weird firing as a college media adviser. I appreciated it, and I didn't give a crap about quote marks.

Choire, I have no clue who you are, but I nominate you to replace Romenesko upon his retirement. Stellar analysis/opinion. There's much to love about Poynter, but just as much is annoying as hell. Nice to see someone call it.

jolie (#16)

@koretzky@twitter It's pronounced 'Burt'

@koretzky@twitter After Jim leaves Poynter, The Awl will be a much more important site, so there's no reason for Choire to leave us for what formerly was a daily must read for most netizens interested in journalism.

cecilgb (#175,959)

It has been disturbing to see Poynter and the Times go the same direction as every other news organization in the world. I thought a non-profit like Poynter would be the last bastion of great journalism. But apparently it has been infiltrated by the same idiots that have ruined the newspaper industry.

I have had the incredible privilege of reading Romenesko for years. I just posted this link on my Facebook page with this:
I found this via a Jim Romenesko tweet. I hope that acknowledgement satisfies Moos and the haters. The greatest compliment in my mind is thinking "I wish I wrote that." Choire, I wish I wrote that.

I have also had the privilege of working with Koretzky and, as usual, he has a great idea. I second the nomination, Choire.

The best part of the stupid thing that stupid lady wrote, is that Romenesko's sentence would start, "The paper said," and then go on to say the things the paper said. She bolded them all as "not properly attributed."

Odm (#11,228)

@Rebecca Schoenkopf She says that she believes proper attribution requires quotation marks or blockquotes (See "How much weight does atrribution carry?"). That might be a stupid belief, but she does explain why such things are bolded.

One of the things she bolded WAS a block quote, preceded by "The paper reports:" with a colon and everything.

The worst part about Moos' post is the comments. There are idiots leaving comments stating that Jim Romenesko is a plagiarist. A PLAGIARIST?!

After Jim leaves, I think Poynter is going to be astonished to find itself back to the clueless several dozen readers who frequented their site before they smartened up and hired one of the original godfathers of blogging.

@Mark Gisleson@twitter If you link to the source in your plagiarism, you are the world's worst plagiarist.

benday (#176,069)

Who died and made Poynter an arbiter? Oh, Nelson Poynter, the founder of the respected St. Petersburg Times, did. In a well-meaning will, he foolishly funded this blowhard "media school" as the sole owner of the newspaper. The Poynter Institute, widely ridiculed among serious journalists, has been draining resources from the St. Pete Times for years, while maintaining the fiction that its ridiculous "faculty" are somehow arbiters of journalism practices and ethics. I wouldn't trust them to evaluate a police short.

joeclark (#651)

Is this perhaps the second-best piece Mr. SICHA has ever written?

roboloki (#1,724)


jfruh (#713)

@joeclark #1 is "My Baby? My Baby Seems So Smart But I'm Also Scared About My Baby," right?

Flaneur (#998)

Jim Romenesko is the man. I, too, have exchanged a few emails with him over the years, and I've never thought to question his ethics or his attribution. I'm immediately changing my bookmark from "Romenesko+" (which, yes, ew) to the placeholder for Jim's new site. So long, Poynter.

jodigoris (#240,826)

I am writing a research paper and collecting information on this topic. Your post is one of the better that I have read. Thank you for putting this information into one location.

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