In all fairness, media blogger wasn’t always fair
From his apartment in Evanston, Jim Romenesko singlehandedly changed the way the journalism business is covered in America. The blog he started in 1999 — providing links to newsroom gossip, confidential memos and official announcements — became an influential, indispensable online briefing for media-obsessed readers everywhere.
So the announcement last week that Romenesko, 57, planned to “semi-retire” at the end of the year to work on other projects elicited an outpouring of appreciation for the site and the man. “Wow on the Romenesko news,” one fan tweeted. “I can’t imagine a world without him guiding me through the day’s big media news.”
One reason Romenesko cited for the move was a desire to return to his roots as a reporter by starting a new web site. He began as a police reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and later held jobs with Milwaukee magazine and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After launching his media gossip blog and selling it to the nonprofit Poynter Institute, he became known less as a reporter and more as an impartial gatekeeper — an aggregator of others’ stories. With rare exception over the last dozen years, he avoided injecting his own point of view whenever he linked to the work of reporters, columnists and critics.
I was one of those exceptions.
In September 2003, I wrote a column for the Chicago Sun-Times headlined: When it comes to media, we’re city of big conflicts. In it, I recounted seven instances of local television and radio personalities who had crossed the line with what I considered to be “clear-cut ethical lapses.” They ranged from a TV sportscaster who changed into a team’s logo shirt before reporting from the sidelines of a game to a radio financial editor who received money from a bank for his commercial endorsement.
Ordinarily, it would have been just the type of column Romenesko would highlight on his blog without comment. But for some reason, he turned it around and used it to attack me.
Under the headline Hollinger critic plays ethics cop, but ignores some offenders, Romenesko scolded me for criticizing broadcast executives but failing to mention the “terrible ethics record” of the Sun-Times’ parent company, Hollinger International (then owned by Conrad Black). Romenesko also took me to task for not mentioning that Steve Neal, the late Sun-Times political editor, had appeared in a restaurant ad.
In branding me a hypocrite, Romenesko ignored that my job at that time did not include covering newspapers or any media other than television and radio. Even if I’d wanted to report on the Sun-Times or its print competitors, it wasn’t in my purview to do so.
I explained that in an email to Romenensko, who responded that he found the timing of my column “very strange,” since an editor for one of Hollinger’s suburban Pioneer Press papers had recently resigned over an ethical issue involving a restaurant review. “I respect your work and ethics, but if any one else wrote the column, I’d figure it was ordered from above to distract from the [Pioneer Press] review flap,” Romenesko replied. I assured him that the timing of my column had nothing at all to do with the suburban newspaper controversy. Nevertheless, he let the item stand.
It was the last time we ever communicated.
Unfortunate as that episode was, the support I received that day was heartening. Among those who sent unsolicited, strongly worded messages to Romenesko were my esteemed Sun-Times colleague, Roger Ebert, and my future Time Out Chicago boss, Frank Sennett. I’ll never forget their selflessness and that of others who reached out on my behalf.
For the record, I still read Romenesko faithfully — as everyone in the business does — and I still feel a sense of validation when he occasionally links to one of my posts (although he usually doesn’t credit me by name). But now that he’s cutting back and Poynter has added three new regular contributors to his blog, it doesn’t seem quite the same anymore.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to miss you already, Jim.