Blogging and journalism: Incompatible?

Ginger points to this story about a Houston Chronicle reporter who ran a blog on the side under a pseudonym. He was eventually outed and ordered to shut his site down by the Chron‘s new managing editor, Jeff Cohen.

For more than a year, Steve Olafson, the Houston Chronicle’s Brazoria County reporter, kept an online diary criticizing elected officials and commenting on local politics.


“When we learned about the Web site and Steve’s involvement with it, we asked him to take it down,” said Jeff Cohen, the Chronicle’s executive vice president and editor.

Contacted at his Lake Jackson home Wednesday, Olafson declined comment.

Opinions vary among local officials about whether Olafson did anything wrong. But journalism ethics analysts said the Web site posed a clear conflict that could hurt Olafson’s credibility.

Cohen would not comment on whether Olafson’s involvement in the Web site violated the Chronicle’s code of ethics or whether any action would be taken against Olafson.

“I can’t talk to you about how we handle violations of policy because we would not discuss that externally,” Cohen said.

Olafson continues in his capacity as a Chronicle reporter, Cohen said.

I’m with Ginger on this. I’d have loved to have known about this site before it went bye-bye, even though I live nowhere near Brazoria County. Frankly, I’d love to see any number of writers at the Chron and the weekly Houston Press get blogs, whether officially sponsored by their corporate lords and masters or not. I plan on writing a note to Jeff Cohen and telling him exactly that.

And I don’t buy the so-called ethical issues, either. Olafson is still a private citizen and entitled to express his opinions. He wasn’t making any money off the blog, nor was he likely to influence anyone or anything more than he could as a Real Journalist. Where’s the conflict?

I’m in favor of all legitimate sources of information about my city. I’m sorry that Steve Olafson’s is now extinct.

UPDATE: I should have known that someone would have covered this ground already. Matt Welch did so in 1999. Check it out.

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