Media Monday: And then there were two. And a half
I misspelled Amanda Hess' surname, on second reference. This is too ironic.
In the fall of 2010, when TBD was operating at full strength with a staff of about two dozen reporters and editors, Amanda Hess published this correction on her eponymous blog: "This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men." Hess was, if I recall correctly, mortified by her mistake. Her editors, less so — the post went viral, and it remains the second-most-viewed article in TBD's brief history.
Jeff Sonderman, then a senior community host at TBD, said the correction demonstrated TBD's "commitment to accuracy."
Knowing it would bring some mild embarrassment and also awaken the Internet trolls, Hess could have chalked up the missing 'n' as a typo, quietly changed it and moved on. But Hess wrote the correction anyway.
Well, despite that commitment to accuracy, we were not always very accurate. With a large staff that, in most cases, posted stories directly to the Web, TBD made its share of mistakes — and the Post's Dan Steinberg made sure to point them out, with great wit, on Twitter. No doubt he represented many journalists, at the Post and elsewhere, who were sick of hearing TBD beat the bongo drums of accuracy and transparency.
Steve Buttry, TBD's director of community engagement (and de facto chief of transparency), defended TBD's response to the correction, writing that "transparency can come across at times as self-absorbed and boasting," but adding, "We're OK with that." More accurately, some of us were OK with that, and some of us weren't. I worried that we were being a tad too self-congratulatory, and I wasn't alone.
Over time, even Buttry pulled back. "I had written some about transparency, and had practiced transparency for the first several months of my TBD experience. But I had eventually gone nearly silent about TBD matters," he wrote in September 2011, months after leaving TBD, in a blog post titled, "Another TBD lesson: Transparency is the best approach in good times and bad."
I won’t go into detail about what happened or why, but the approach to transparency changed this year, as TBD changed directions and cut staff. Though I didn’t like it, I pretty much shut up, except for one post linking to media coverage about what was happening and a series of posts praising staff members as they left. It was one of the most unpleasant stretches of my career.
Transparency helped TBD in its brief glory days and lack of transparency has hurt TBD since.
I'm not sure how essential transparency was during our "glory days," but I agree that our lack of it since then has not helped matters.
With that in mind, let's look at the current state of TBD. Last week, the news broke that arts editor Andrew Beaujon will be "the new Romenesko" — that is, he's filling the vacant media critic position at Poynter — and that the Examiner has hired reporter Jenny Rogers for the Yeas & Nays position left open after Katy Adams left.
The size of TBD's is staff is no secret. With the imminent departures of Beaujon and Rogers, who's left at TBD? On our editorial staff, exactly 2.5 journalists: the news editor who's writing this column, transit reporter John Hendel, and special projects reporter Rebecca Armendariz, who splits her photo-editing duties between TBD and WJLA.
Don't expect that number to go up anytime soon. I'm probably not at liberty to say whether Allbritton Communications intends to fill these newly vacated positions, but hey, you're a resourceful person. Go browse the jobs listings on mediabistro.com and journalismjobs.com. What do you see?
After the jump: WTOP's Mark Plotkin sounds very calm about his firing, which reportedly resulted from his being anything but calm in the office.
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