Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Wash Post' Ombud Hits Handling of Blog Column

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Wash Post' Ombud Hits Handling of Blog Column

Article excerpt

It's an issue rising to the surface more and more as newspapers nearly everywhere jump on the blog bandwagon: How do you keep freewheeling and very opinionated bloggers from stirring controversy for their home newspapers?

The question rose to national attention last week when William Arkin, a national security expert and longtime Early Warning online columnist for The Washington Post's site, offended many in the military, and some outside the military, by referring to our "mercenary -- oops sorry, volunteer -- force." Arkin's larger point was that the troops who complain about Americans back home turning against the war should not portray this as a failure to support them.

This led to angry letters, over 1500 postings in the comments section at the Post's site, numerous Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News attacks, a followup column and apology, more comments, and then (E&P confirmed) Arkin being instructed by his editor to drop the subject and move on.

Along the way, critics took dead aim at the Post itself, even though Arkin's columns do not appear in the print edition.

Now, today, Deborah Howell, the Post's ombudsman, weighs in by criticizing the lack of editing on the original piece, and highlighting the from-my-head-to-the-Web-page nature of blogging, even at many newspaper sites.

A few excerpts from Howell's column follows. The entire piece can be found at www.washingtonpost.com.*

Did one online column irreparably damage Post national security journalism? No. But it does show that an online column rubs off on the newspaper. Opinions on Arkin vary among Post reporters who write about the military and national security. Some respect him; others think he harms The Post's reputation....

Bloggers thrive on their opinions. Many newspaper journalists, often attacked by bloggers, think they are the "real" journalists, working in a parallel and better journalistic universe. …

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