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Would Dan Rather Be Blogging?

Last Wednesday, Dave Winer wrote a post on his "Scripting News Annex" blog about a conversation he had with Dan Rather at the National Association of Broadcasters convention. Winer wrote that when he asked Rather about becoming a blogger, Rather said that "his employer discourages it." He also wrote that Rather said that "he may leave CBS, and if he does, may start blogging."

In November, we posted CBS News' rules concerning personal blogging. They remain as follows:

In this time of the exponential growth of blogs, there are CBS News employees who are creating and maintaining personal blogs. Before any such blog is created, the [Senior Vice President] of Standards must be informed and must approve the blog. For those of you who are already in the blogosphere, you must contact the SVP of Standards. There can be no messages or information posted on these blogs that is potentially damaging to CBS News if made public.
In an email, Linda Mason, CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects, told me that no one had contacted her to discuss the possibility of Rather blogging. She also wrote that "we neither encourage nor discourage" the practice.

Rather, for his part, declined to comment for this post.

Mike Sims, Director of News and Operations, said he was not approached concerning Rather blogging for the Web site. Sims told me that "we've done blogging and we continue to do so when it adds to the story." He pointed out that the Web site has carried blogs during events like political campaigns and conventions, and presently is running a blog written by Sharyn Alfonsi as part of the "Eye on the Road" series. He also noted that many correspondents use Public Eye as an outlet for blog posts – a David Martin dispatch, for example, was posted this morning.

There is not, however, "any overarching blog policy," Sims said. He notes that the site has long run features like the "reporter's notebook" that are similar to blogs, though not named as such. Alfonsi's "blog," I think, might also be labeled as a daily journal or diary.

As someone who operates a (rarely updated) personal blog, I have some personal experience with this issue. I contacted Mason in November to inform her of my blog, which I started before coming to CBS. We agreed that I would place a disclaimer at the top of the page. It reads: "This is a personal website and does not reflect the views of CBS News." There has been no further discussion of the matter. I know of one other person who runs a personal blog at CBS News, Senior Designer James Morris, who founded a music Web site called moistworks. He says he has never discussed CBS News or his job on the site, and that it has never been a problem.

As Sims notes, "a company is going to be concerned about employees who are blogging about the company," regardless of whether or not it is a media organization. And indeed, people have been fired for doing so, even when they thought they were blogging anonymously. But media organizations, fearful of perpetuating the idea that they are politically biased and concerned with maintaining a perception of accuracy and honesty, have extra reason to be vigilant. If a correspondent expresses extreme political positions on his or her personal blog, or offers an inaccurate or libelous account of an event, it will almost certainly become an issue for the media outlet. Even seemingly innocuous posts have the potential to create a problem for both the employee and his employer.

There is, of course, a difference between a blog that is personal and one that is explicitly affiliated with an organization. Public Eye is a blog, and it is thus subject to CBS News standards. We will edit posts that come in from people at CBS News for style, content or accuracy, though we do so rarely and with the full knowledge of the author of the post.

As for Rather, Sims says he does not know how he would respond to the prospect of a Rather-authored blog on, since the issue has not come up. Public Eye is certainly open to the prospect of Rather posting here, just as it is open to posts from all CBS News employees. He is a central figure in the story of CBS News, and is in a position to offer insights that few others could.

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