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Cutting Through The Blog, Part One

Thanks to BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis, the reaction to Public Eye within the blogosphere has begun to trickle in. In his pre-launch profile of our endeavor, Jarvis expressed some concerns and questions of his own and asked fellow bloggers to weigh in with their advice or opinions. And weigh in they did.

The most popular subject by far concerned "objectivity" and "opinion." When meeting with Jarvis, and in a variety of other interviews, I have sought to differentiate PE from the more traditional role of an ombudsman.

(CBS/AP)
The reason: We envision a more robust, dynamic and conversational dialogue — less "big J" journalism theory and more practical realism. In trying to emphasize that difference, I told Jarvis that this blog won't be "opinionated." Here is part of his response:
"Try this on for size: I think there's no such thing as an objective blogger. Or you're probably not blogging. You're probably not talking with people, eye to eye. We're about to kill the myth that journalists can be thoroughly objective; let's not start trying to accrete that artificial ethic to blogs."

And readers were quick to amplify those feelings. Reader Jeff Hess wrote:
"There has never been such a thing as objectivity. The best any writer can do is to be very clear and upfront about their biases. We're all subjective. Let me know what your particular slant is and I'll work out the rest."

Tish G followed with:
"If CBS needs a blogger to present objective information, their Web site isn't doing what it's supposed to do. They need to get on the backs of their Web people, not hire a blogger."

And from Deborah White:
"Exactly what is 'objectivity?' Not trying to delve into a vast estoric [sic] area. but ... If it means 'just the facts, ma'am,' what would that convey? To properly comprehend the facts, one needs context and point of view, I would think."

There were many more similar comments, but you get the idea of where this conversation is heading. So, let's make this as clear as we can. By "opinionated," we mean that our observations will not primarily consist of our personal reactions to the exclusion of available information. We're not here to tell you only what we believe to be true, but to help marshal more facts, context and intangibles in order to provide everyone with more perspective to make their own judgments. We'll also publish other voices, some critical, and try to get responses to them from those at CBS. That may be enabling or moderating but it's different than opinionating or editorializing.

That is certainly not to say our "opinions" won't be evident in many forms: In what we choose to cover (or not cover); in the tone of our conversations; in what we respond to and, yes, sometimes in what we say our opinions are. Objectivity and opinion are not necessarily incompatible. It is possible to have an opinion on a subject while presenting arguments for different sides of the debate.

In some ways, this debate is sophomoric. We are neither arguing that pure journalistic objectivity exists nor that we are purely objective. The emphasis here is not to express our personal views. If that makes this less a "blog" than some would expect, then so be it. It is worth remembering that this conversation was started based on what Jeff Jarvis and his readers considered important, not necessarily what we considered important. It is exactly this sort of dialogue we will seek to facilitate.

As a group purporting to provide a level of transparency at CBS News, our biases (such as they are) are a legitimate topic of discussion. To that end, the biographies posted here, especially the long version of my own, are intended to demonstrate what some of those biases might be. As with most things, anyone is free to make assumptions based on the information available but we urge caution in doing so. You know what happens when you assume ...

We understand the skepticism and pledge to continue attempts to explain our approach. And we fully acknowledge it is the audience who will determine the value of it. We will establish our credibility only over time and only by being honest, accurate and fair. All we ask for is your patience and feedback. We're pretty sure we'll get plenty of the later, and are more than happy to continue this discussion as we move forward.

Moving on ...

Another point of contention concerns our independence. Responding to a line in Jarvis' report about the separation that exists between PE and the news division, Sheila Lennon commented:

"This says he's not a member of the news division. He's working for corporate, which limits his credibility in the CBS newsroom."

First off, here is how this is structured. CBS is a part of Viacom (although plans are in place for the two to split into separate entities in the near future). All CBS online properties — CBS.com, CBSNews.com, CBSSportsline.com and UPN.com — fall under a new division apart from CBS News called CBS Digital Media. Thus, the president of Digital Media, Larry Kramer, is our boss, not CBS News President Andrew Heyward.

In a sense, we all work for "corporate," but as CBSNews.com was, until recently, directly connected to the news division, performs the same functions of gathering and reporting news and shares many resources, my direct bosses are far closer to "news" than "corporate." The separation is not unimportant, however, as it provides PE with a measure of independence. In other words, no one in the news division has the authority to fire us.

Jarvis, and some readers, also made much of the fact that I showed up for our talk accompanied by a "flak" from the CBS News PR office. I confess that the arrangement was slightly awkward for me as well in the sense that it hurt efforts to demonstrate independence from the news division.

The reality of the situation, however, is that the new and evolving Digital Media division has no public relations capacity at this time and, as we are eager to draw attention to our efforts and mission here, the news PR department was best situated to facilitate that for us. And it is important to understand that, at no time, did CBS News public relations censor my comments in any way.

Finally, one astute BuzzMachine reader, Jenny D, wrote:

"Yawn. Another blog on the news 'process.' Think of Calame on downers.

But ... if the blog told what stories didn't make air, and why. If it told what pieces got chopped out and why. If he answered questions ala Okrent, and mixed it up both with viewers and reporters/editors/producers, then we might have something.

I fear it will be a state-sanctioned blog, coming out of one of those Kremlinesque headquarters of the slowly dying MSM."


Well Jenny, we are going to tell you what stories didn't make air (and hopefully why). We'll try and let you know what pieces got chopped out and why. And we'll mix it up a little with both viewers and reporters/editors/producers. And we'll do much, much more. Hopefully, we will have something.