Monday, February 12th, 2007
The Wpost’s ombudwoman squirms. Readers are confused because they think blogs are part of the “real” Post. But blogs aren’t official because they aren’t edited. Except when they are edited, but not by someone senior enough. Got it?
Did one online column irreparably damage Post national security journalism? No. But it does show that an online column rubs off on the newspaper. Opinions on Arkin vary among Post reporters who write about the military and national security. Some respect him; others think he harms The Post’s reputation.
Arkin is no rookie. A national security and human rights fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, he has written books, spoken at the armed services’ war colleges, and been a consultant to the Air Force and human rights and environmental groups. He is a military analyst for NBC-TV and has broken national stories.
“What makes me successful is that . . . I write a blog, and a blog is a highly personal venture,” he said. “If I try to do it without a voice and without my sarcasm and without my digs and without my crazy lens, then no one would read it.”
Bloggers thrive on their opinions. Many newspaper journalists, often attacked by bloggers, think they are the “real” journalists, working in a parallel and better journalistic universe.
I’m sure journalists at washingtonpost.com see their work as the journalism of the future, while we of the dead-tree format can be seen as the past. Arkin said that “newspaper reporters would try to wipe me off the bottom of their shoes . . . if they acknowledge [bloggers’] existence.”
Arkin apologized. He said he was “dead wrong” to use the word “mercenary,” that it “is an insult and pejorative, and it does not accurately describe the condition of the American soldier today. I sincerely apologize to anyone in the military who took my words literally.”
Readers usually take things literally. And an editor should have told him to take out the word. That’s what editors are for: They keep opinion writers from making fools of themselves.
Arkin is unrepentant about two things: He works for The Post. Period. And he said he is “probably one of the best-known and respected anti-military military bloggers.”
An editor read his column before it was posted but didn’t see the problem. Jim Brady, washingtonpost.com’s executive editor, said that had he seen it, he would have asked for changes. Arkin said he would have made them.
What’s the difference between opinion writing for the newspaper and for washingtonpost.com? The writing can be similar, but the editing is more intense at the newspaper. More experienced eyes see a story or a column before it goes into the paper; The Post has several levels of rigorous editing. There is “less of an editing process” for blogs at the more immediacy-oriented Web site, Brady said.