Scandals of epic and not-so-epic proportions have fascinated the news business over the past couple of weeks.
The BIG ONE, of course rages on at Penn State, where an apparent leadership and moral vacuum has left the reputation of perhaps the most revered college football coach in the history of the game in tatters. Of course all the facts are not in yet, but if Joe Paterno did pass the buck and basically ignore the case of a one-time subordinate coach raping a child in the Penn State showers, well, that’s way beyond disgraceful. But apparently not illegal.
Then there’s the case of the presidential candidate, Herman Cain, whose past has come back to haunt him in the form of women who have stepped forward to accuse him of various forms of sexual harassment. His wife is standing by his side, suggesting that if there is one iota of truth to the allegations, the man must have a split personality.
That one is like déjà vu all over again. Anyone remember the famous 1992 interview that CBS’ 60 Minutes did with a certain presidential candidate denying allegations that he’d harassed a lady or two in his time? With his wife (now Madam Secretary) standing right beside him cheering him on? So who knows, if he can actually remember on stage why he wants to be president between now and next November, Mr. Cain just might grab the brass ring.
And then there’s L’Affaire Romenesko, the man who chronicled the highs and lows (and the in-betweens) of the news business for the Poynter Institute for about a dozen years. A man who has no love, or use for . . . quotation marks. Correct spellings of the institutions and authors whose stories he aggregated? Definitely. Links to said stories? When available. But quotes around verbatim passages in his rewrites of the stories he aggregated? Screw it.
Romenesko resigned—probably in disgust—after being called on the carpet in public by his boss, Julie Moos, for violating Poynter’s strict rules about applying quotation marks to every piece of verbatim copy lifted from aggregated stories.
Rules so strict in fact that no one at Poynter picked up on Romensko’s transgressions until an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review detected the missing punctuation.
Is it me or is the public flogging that Romenesko received at the hands of the Poynter Institute WAY out proportion to his sin of omission? Granted, he violated the policy of the organization that was writing his paycheck. Never a smart thing to do. Still, it seems to me a “get with the program” warning would have been more appropriate, especially in light of that fact that Romenesko was attributing in ways that are standard for most digital aggregation sites--just not in the precise way the Poynter policy calls for.
Maybe Poynter was just plain embarrassed by the fact that it was another institution—the CJR no less—that uncovered the violations that led to the overreaction.
Maybe not. Apparently the facts in this case aren’t all in either. In an item on its The Kicker blog, posted Nov. 10, CJR said it would have more to say on the subject, “in the very near future.” Who knows, maybe they’ll come up with a missing link.