In “Blog Rage“, Jim Brady, editor of the Washington Post’s online operations, asks, “How did it feel to be mugged by the blogosphere?” Not good, he reports.
The piece strikes me as unnecessarily defensive. It makes the mistake of focusing on the relatively few “muggers” instead of the larger reasons why so many people were so upset with the Post and, in particular, its ombudsman, Deborah Howell.
People were angry — some in hateful and outrageous ways, no question — because of a flat-wrong assertion in her column about a matter that inflames people — the political donations of the Republican Party’s sleazy friend, Jack Abramoff — followed by Howell’s initial refusal to forthrightly admit that her error was egregious. She did correct it later, but in a way that was at best grudging, in my view.
Brady points out, correctly, that the Abramoff scandal’s unveiling is due in large part to the Post’s own reporting: brilliant and dogged tracking of this sleazy activity that should make the paper proud. But he doesn’t acknowledge that the Post’s online arm enabled the hate-fest by not making its comment system more robust and less prone to gaming. (He knows about the problem, having told me so in a recent email.) Brady somewhat undermines his complaints with this omission.
Traditional news organizations are learning how to deal with the kind of harsh feedback that bloggers get every day. A thicker skin helps, but better is a willingness to truly listen.
I think the Post is doing better online than all but a handful of other newspapers. It can do better yet.