And what, exactly, is transparency? It has several aspects, but most simply it is this: the journalists who make the important editorial decisions at CBS News and CBSNews.com will now be asked to explain and answer questions about those decisions in a public forum.
Public Eye will be run by a team of independent and experienced journalists. They will take questions, criticisms and observations from our vast and articulate audience to the people of CBS News and try to come back with some answers, explanations and analyses. The Public Eye team will also report on CBS News, working sources, talking to the reporters, producers and executives who make the news, not just to the press office.
Public Eye is an opportunity for our audience to hold CBS News more publicly accountable. It is also an opportunity for CBS News to be more open about how and why it makes editorial decisions that affect what millions of people see, hear and read each news day. So Public Eye will be a forum for debate, a conversation about the news between the people who produce it and the people who consume it. We hope the debate will not be a series of pompous discourses on Serious Journalism.
Public Eye is not primarily a forum for the personal opinions of the folks who write Public Eye — so perhaps it is not a classic blog in that sense. Like all human beings, the Eyeballers have opinions and will express them from time to time. They will try to be clear about their personal perspectives and values. The emphasis, however, is dialogue and reporting.
Breaking out of the traditional "ombudsman" role, Public Eye will also try to explain and describe how news is reported and produced at CBS -- a mystery to most viewers. We hope this will be both entertaining and edifying.
The Public Eye will wander outside of CBS as well. When stories about journalists and journalism are in the news, Public Eye will write and report about them.
The most common technique of Public Eye will be a simple one: to gather questions, complaints and arguments about CBS News coverage and take those to the producers, correspondents and executives involved. We hope the journalists at CBS News will be open, accessible, honest and enthusiastic; we expect this will be the case most of the time, but occasionally there will be legal, business, ethical or personal reasons why that won't be possible. But Public Eye will always set its own agenda, regardless of access, and will treat CBS News personnel as it would treat any news sources or news makers. At its best, Public Eye will moderate an articulate and civil dialogue between the people of CBS News and the public — be it viewers, bloggers, professional press critics, scholars or the subjects of stories on CBS.
What we are trying at Public Eye is similar to what many American newspapers do with columnists or editors they call ombudsmen, public advocates, readers' advocates or public editors. But Public Eye will do some things differently and, we hope, innovatively.
First, Public Eye, led by its editor, Vaughn Ververs, will not be The Judge of Virtue at CBS News and will not issue Edicts and Pronouncements about what is acceptable or praiseworthy journalism and what is not. While Public Eye will necessarily have to express judgments and subjective valuations, judging — personal editorializing — is not the goal; dialogue and explanation are. Second, Public Eye will be published most every day and updated throughout the day; that's why it is a Web log and not a column. Third, as we said earlier, Public Eye will not just scrutinize CBS News, it will try to lift the curtain and show how the news is made — through video stories, regular news stories and even by taking our community into CBS News meetings, control rooms and edit booths. Fourth, Public Eye will be very open to publishing other voices.
We want Public Eye to be entertaining and interesting to our audience, not just for professional journalists.
Our techniques will be eclectic, as befits the Internet. We'll have conversations with CBS News journalists and executives in several ways. Sometimes we'll do it in front of a camera and run the interviews on Public Eye; sometimes they'll be interviews conducted through e-mail; sometimes they'll look like traditional news stories. We'll scour the Web, the blogosphere and our own inboxes to find the controversies and questions that are on people's minds. We'll write about issues facing other news organizations and journalists in other countries. We'll show you cool things that might not make air. We'll get into some history — of CBS News and broadcast journalism — as well. We'll talk about the stories that don't get covered. We'll point you to other valuable sites and resources and try to be reliable and thoughtful guides.
Public Eye is not an experiment in that CBS is committed to this project and to its longevity. But it is certainly is work in progress. We won't be shy about asking for your input. We aren't worried that some features of Public Eye will inevitably be dismal flops; some will be and we'll scrap with dispatch. We will try to be open about what we're doing, changes we make, the rules for dialogue with us and problems we encounter.
Some housekeeping: Public Eye is a team effort and you can find out everything you always wanted to know about the Eyeballers here. The Public Eye team does not actually work for CBS News, but for another corporate division called CBS Digital Media, which operates CBS's Web sites. So the Public Eye team cannot be fired by anyone at CBS News and its paychecks come from somewhere else. We think this gives Public Eye more independence than any other in-house watchdog in American journalism today.
Public Eye is a Web log or blog because this the best format for what we're trying to do — create an easy way to view multiple entries in a day, have accessible public comment areas and easy access to other relevant stories, sites, documents, Web video and resources. Unlike like many blogs, this one will be edited (gasp!) — not censored, but edited — for style, clarity and to make sure any factual reporting conforms to CBS News Standards and Practices. However, the writers on Public Eye will be encouraged to write in a casual, conversational style and they will be making judgments and comments that might be considered editorializing if they appeared in a hard news story or section.
No major broadcast or cable network has ever tried anything like Public Eye. We are learning as we go. We're asking our audience to be unabashed and prolific in participating, honest but generous when we blunder and not too reticent if we happen to do something well upon occasion.