Tuesday, September 23, 2003

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The Sacramento Bee responds

At least one reader responded to my suggestion [You mean my suggestion--ed. It's all good] on how to respond to the Sacramento Bee's ombudsman Tony Marcano's distaste for letting Daniel Weintraub's blog go unedited -- they e-mailed Marcano.

To which the ombudsman replied:

My policy is to ignore readers who feel it necessary to resort to insults. There will be no further responses from this office to your e-mails.

I'm not going to reprint the reader's entire e-mail to the ombudsman, but the only thing in it that was remotely close to insulting was the final question: "When did the the Bee turn so gutless?"

Now I'll admit that I probably wouldn't have phrased it that harshly, but given that the ombudsman's job is to hear complaints, doesn't this response suggest someone too thin-skinned for the job?

Undeterred, our trusty reader pressed forward in his search for a response. He finally succeeded in getting a real reply from David Holwerk, who is Weintraub's editor. Here's his reply:

As the guy who edits Dan Weintraub's column and his blog items, I have to say I disagree with your contention that it is "crystal clear to all readers that Weintraub speaks for himself in his blog." My experience is that many readers regard the blog and all of our on-line content as an extension of The Bee.

My aim as Dan's editor is not to change his opinions or alter his viewpoints, but to make sure that his blog items are clearly written and adequately explained and do not engender reactions he does not intend. That is what editors do. If they do that well, they can actually make writers more effective. That's what I and other editors at The Bee try to do every day. You can judge for yourself to what degree we succeed.

This is a pretty decent response in my book. Good editors deal with good writers by improving the form of the writing so that the content is clear. I'm not a regular reader of Weintraub's blog, so only time will tell if this is what actually happens. As a statement of what an editor does, however, Holwerk's reply sounds like a promising start.

Of course, Mickey Kaus has his own thoughts on the matter:

Weintraub is a Bee editorial-page employee, not a news employee. Apparently the news side of the Bee has never liked his blog, for some obvious reasons--e.g. he's been beating the pants off them. His provocative anti-Bustamante comments were enough to trigger a newsroom-led bureaucratic Thermidor. (It was as if he was criticizing affirmative action!) Executive editor Rick Rodriguez says "folks on the staff brought" the issue to him after Weintraub's posting. They "wanted to know if it was edited," he says, though he adds he suspects they mainly wanted to "yell at some editors" about it. Rodriguez volunteers the ethnic makeup of the angry newsroom "folks": "Some were Latino, some Anglo, some black." The result was a review of Weintraub's status. "Our policy at the Bee is that everything's edited," Rodriguez declares.

Hmmmm.... given that the Bee's editorial staff also has created their own group blog, this may be a case of newsroom subcultures clashing.

Definitely click on the Kaus link, by the way. It's a long and information-rich post.

posted by Dan on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM


That's odd. My letter was pretty harsh, too, but all it generated was a canned reply, "I'm forwarding your comments to the "Your Views" section of the paper. Thank you for your response."

posted by: Xrlq on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

I also wrote, and received this reply from an Admin. Assistant:
"Thanks for the e-mail.  Tony's upcoming Sunday column will be discussing the same subject.  The ombudsman's office has heard from many of Dan's fans. "
Apparently, more to come.

posted by: John on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

I got that response too-
"I'm forwarding your comments to the "Your Views" section of the paper. Thank you for your response."

posted by: Techno on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

My response was surprisingly more personal. But nonsensical.

posted by: Michael Williams on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

My letter also got the canned response. Does anybody know where the "Your Views" section of the Bee is located? Is that an alias for "Letters to the Editor"? Is it online? I couldn't find it on their web site.

posted by: Daniel Wiener on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

While I don’t like or approve the Bee’s position on the Weintraub issue I really can’t deny them the right to act as they have.

A good paper’s editorial forum welcomes and embraces all opinion. It presents it’s own and bolsters through elucidation those that align with its opines. Equally it shows the error of opinion it disagrees with through response and counters published on the same pages as that contrary opinion.

The policy of equal, free speech on the editorial pages is one Americans have come to expect in a paper. However there is no requirement for a paper’s publishers to publish opinion it does not support. Editing or excluding opinion on a paper’s editorial pages is very different from applying the same editorial license in news reporting, for which, should it occur on the journalistic side of the house, said editor(s) should be mercilessly bitch-slapped ‘till they cry for pity and are summarily booted out the door.

With Weintraub I believe the Bee is within its rights. If Weintraub has strong editorial opinions that run contrary to those of his paper’s he should start his own blog and state them there, where they are beyond Bee censure. And if the Bee should ever give him even the slightest flack for anything Weintraub writes on his own blog see the comment above on the opportune use of the bitch-slap, which in these circumstances I would be glad to assist Weintraub in delivering.

posted by: Jon on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

I got the canned ("your views") response. Judging from the sample of letters I've seen here and elsewhere, they are getting an earful from some very articulate readers. Can't wait to see how they respond.

It would be delightful to see traffic figures, including the new group blog.

posted by: Dave in LA on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

I got the canned response too. Since I ended my letter with "If I were Weintraub, I tell the editors to go bleep [yes, I used bleep and not the more colorful term] themselves," I'm surprised I didn't get the "we're insulted, don't write again" answer. Ah well, I guess I have things to learn about being provocative.

Weintraub could answer one of their supposed concerns by taking his blog to its own domain, severing any seeming ties to the Bee, but I don't suppose he'll go that far.

posted by: jjorsett on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

Oh, come on, Dan - print the entire email! This is the blogosphere - let us judge for our selves. Post, RTWT, fisk, bleg, engage in a comments-section flamewar - it's the blog way!

posted by: George on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

So why doesn't Weintraub move the blog away from the Bee web site and dissociate the blog from his Newspaper work?

The fact is, the Weintraub is well known because of its association with the Sac Bee web page, and draws Sac Bee readers. Therefore he either must give up this free customer base or submit to editorial review by the Sac Bee editors who provide this free customer base.

posted by: Matt Young on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

Jon - you're missing the point here. No one questions whether or not the Bee has a right to do what they did. Of course they do. They also have the right to devote all future articles to an in-depth perspective on Cruz Bustamante's navel. That doesn't mean that doing so would be a good idea, however, and it certainly doesn't mean they shouldn't expect a firestorm of criticism from the Blogosphere if they did.

Matt: Short of quitting the Bee altogether, I seriously doubt that Weintraub has the option of run a non-Bee blog on his own. Otherwise, he'd do it, as would editors and writers from every other major (or, in the Bee's case, minor) paper.

posted by: Xrlq on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

Dan, I think you mean the Bee's "editorial page" staff has started a group blog. The culture clash, if it exists, is with the news side. (I think and have blogged that the clash does exist, and is what's really going on here.) Meanwhile, this isn't getting as much attention as it deserves: Weintraub says it's much ado about nothing.

posted by: Kevin Roderick on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

Xrlq - I think we’re on the same page re: the Bee’s new editorial policy. I never said that I agree with the Bee’s stance or that one should not criticize the Bee for its position.

Let the firestorm reign, replete with burny-sticky bits that hurt and smell bad. I know I sent them my opinion of their new editorial policy – that it runs completely counter to the spirit and intent of an editorial page to foster discussion and argument on issues touching society at large. I even included a rather direct and suggestive summary statement.

Whether I support the Bees new editorial policies or not, the Bee has a right to enforce those policies as it deems best. As members of the public we have an equal right to respond with praise and criticism to those policies. Two effective methods to express criticism of the Bee are financial and civil pressure. #1 is out as I don’t live in Sacramento. I added voice to #2. I don’t see that criticizing the Bee’s policies while supporting their right to set those policies is contradictory.

posted by: Jon on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

I Live in the small town of Weaverville, located in Trinity County, in the Alps. It appears that every time it rains, snows, wind blows etc. the Sac Bee is not delivered to the newsstands. Are you guys fair weather creatures, afraid of Buckhorn Pass. We get the Record Searchlight without fail, whats going on? I really enjoy the Bee and all its contents, but then again only in fair weather. Any comments?

posted by: Dick Biss on 09.23.03 at 09:44 PM [permalink]

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