(I suppose it is her job and all…)
First, Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell said in her Sunday column that, if Dana Milbank wants to trot around wearing funny hats, he ought to call himself an opinion columnist. Now, on Howell’s “omblog” (posted on the Post’s internal bulletin board), she says that even opinion columnists shouldn’t wear funny hats.
Boy, journalism is fun, isn’t it?
I’m generally old-fashioned here. I don’t think reporters ought to put on costumes and go on comedy shows. Even if you’re an opinion columnist,I’d forgo the funny hats. While I think we’re moving toward more personality-driven journalism with chats and blogs, I still think we have to uphold the dignity of good journalism…
I think it would be a good idea for the Post to offer some training for those who frequently appear, especially with the advent of the new Post radio station. Here is the commonsense advice that I’ve offered to reporters working for me who go on television or radio or live chats.
* Don’t say anything live you wouldn’t write in the paper. Don’t speculate without a sound basis in fact.
*Don’t try to be ironic or sarcastic; it’s always misinterpreted. Humor only works if it’s light and at no one’s expense but yourself.
*A relaxed, human manner is good for chats, but watch you don’t come off as unprofessional.
*You’re a serious reporter for a top-notch outfit. Act like it.
Do I sound like your stern maiden aunt or what?
Hmmm…”Don’t say anything live you wouldn’t write in the paper”? “You’re a serious reporter for a top-notch outfit. Act like it”? How, then, would Ms. Howell explain this: When she found herself coming under pressure from MediaMatters (for a mistake she later confessed to), she responded by declaring “The omb lesson is that I replied to mediamatters.org last week that I thought I had been misrepresented. That’s just brought another attack. From now on, I don’t reply.”
Really, which is worse: A reporter wearing a funny hat? Or an ombudsman choosing to ignore her critics?