Friday, November 11, 2011

Romenesko didn't do anything wrong

Twelve years ago, the Poynter Institute hired Jim Romenesko to aggregate interesting and important stories about the world of journalism. Yesterday, he was pressured into premature retirement for leaving out a few quotation marks while doing it.

What the hell was Poynter thinking? The priggish and self-righteous individuals who hustled Romenesko out the door for this flimsy technical infraction owe him a major apology.

Romenesko pioneered a legitimate new journalistic format – and became a daily reading requirement in the process – by aggregating links to articles across the web that would, and should, be of interest to journalists and those of us who care about how our news is produced.

After arising every morning at an ungodly hour at his home in suburban Chicago, Romenesko culled key articles from the web and then published them in a terse, reader-friendly format that included a headline, prominent links to the original story and a few lines describing the article and why it was important.

Evidently weary of all those early wake-ups, Romenesko planned to retire by year’s end from the blog he created and sold to Poynter a dozen years ago. Instead, he resigned under pressure late yesterday for the goofiest reason you could imagine.

The kerfuffle that led to Romenesko’s abrupt departure from his eponymous blog was triggered by an inquiry from the Columbia Journalism Review that accused Romenesko of failing to put quotation marks around some passages from articles that he abstracted on his blog.

While it indeed would be an ethical and a journalistic breech for a writer to lift sentences and paragraphs from another article and pass them off as his own, Romenesko did no such thing. The whole point of his blog was to aggregate articles from other sources. The format of his blog left no question that he was abstracting the work of others and prominent links to the source of every item left no doubt as to their origin.

Even in the absence of quotation marks, no reasonable person – repeat, no reasonable person – could possibly conclude that he was doing anything other than what he did.

And he did it very well. At a time when the economic foundations and practice of journalism are being rocked by new technologies and disruptive publishing models, Jim Romenesko has been the cop on the beat, reporting the news and trying to keep us all honest.

He did an outstanding job. And he deserved a far better send-off than this.


Blogger The Writers Fancy said...

I completely agree.

8:39 AM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Interesting. This is the same organization that has a very cozy relationship with ESPN over things like journalistic integrity and the like.

However, unlike the furor over NPR's firing of Juan Williams, I'm sure that there'll be no real furor over this highly unjustifiable firing.

8:54 AM  
Blogger T.R. Hanrahan said...

Here was my take:

12:17 PM  
Blogger Donna Trussell said...

I consider the link itself to be the quotation mark of our time. Language changes every year, and so does grammar and punctuation, as they adapt to new technologies.

5:47 PM  
Blogger DANIELBLOOM said...

This news just reached me in Taiwan, thanks Alan for the post. How how sad that he gets sent off that way. Jim was the real McCoy, the real McNesko, one of my heroes in the USA journo world. "Have you ever been Romenesko'd?" is new slang that hit the Internet when Jim mentioned this or that reporter on his wonderful times ten site. He should NOT have been retired that way. What a shame!

6:04 PM  
Blogger Kansan said...

Seems like definitely poor management. There certainly were other ways to deal with the perceived problem.

6:29 PM  
Blogger MJP said...

Spot on, Alan. I suppose Poynter thought it was taking some sort of high road. Too bad it took them off the cliff of common sense.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

This just reached me in India, and I never saw the original post. Carelessness with quotes starts folks down a slippery slope, but I agree that Jim's format makes the intent obvious and the qmarks implicit. Can't help but think there were other reasons and grudges to settle perhaps playing a role in this.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Mike Phillips said...

Right on, Alan. And do I catch a whiff of jealousy in Poynter's starchy comments? Was Romenesko's popularity too much for the superior intellects at Poynter and CJR to take?

6:54 AM  
Blogger Erstwhile Editor said...

I agree. I was shocked by the announcement of his "retirement." There is a huge difference between academic writing and blogging. Perhaps in an undergraduate term paper the omission of a quotation mark would be a penalized, but not in a blog that contains the link to the original article. Poynter chose self-righteousness over common sense.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim's ouster is outrageous. After a dozen years of aggregation, who could possibly believe the absence of qmarks is an intent to deceive?

Romenesko's Media News changed how I teach. In fact, I designed a course whose principal text was reading Romenesko daily.

As Alan wrote, Jim didn't do a damn thing wrong. But Poynter did.

Sleep late, Jim. You've earned it.

11:36 AM  
Blogger professordoctor said...

His intent was clear. The effect of his "omissions" was zero. I say: So what? My students say: Duh!

11:12 AM  
Blogger Mike Hoyt said...

I agree about Jim Romenesko and his great value. As for what happened here, you are missing a lot of context, supplied in this piece, currently leading

5:50 AM  
Blogger Oliver Wiest said...

You said it as plainly, and correctly, as anyone I've read on this.
Miss Thistlebottom, in a slightly altered context, lives on in St. Petersburg.

3:14 PM  

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