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Another Open Letter to Donnie Webb

Mr. Webb, reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard.
August 21, 2009
Greetings Mr. Webb,
It has been several months since I last wrote to you. Our last interaction was not a pleasant one and that was unfortunate for both parties, as I feel you are a congenial enough fellow, and I have a generally pleasant demeanor to everyone. I was obviously displeased when you released this article “calling me out” as it were. I then issued you this last correspondence, which I assume you were not excited to receive, and caused quite the discussion on my notebook as well. But that is the past, and I indeed will let bygones be just that. But that brings me to today’s unfortunate bit of business.

I want to state for the record that again you do excellent work for the Syracuse Post-Standard covering the Syracuse football beat. You have the access, do the diligent dirty work, and deservedly get “props” for your hard effort. But it is time for you to decide what exactly you plan to do this season in terms of your writing voice, and to a greater extent your professional title. You see, I recently read this football update you posted in the Orange Football category on Syracuse.com. In it, it contains a very clever editorial cartoon that artist Frank Cammuso illustrated with the premise that the fans were being deprived by DOCTOR Gross of some excellent football games in Syracuse’s home venue. The premise of your article was simply to say there were various opinions on the matter. You then went on to say “Me? I’m Switzerland. I see both sides. I’m looking forward to the weekend.” This caused me some trouble and confusion.

Your premise is again a valid one. As a reporter you have reported that many different people feel different ways about the story. A reporter’s primary, and really only, job is to report things that are, in theory, 100% undeniably true. In this case, that is so to a point. A reporter is not supposed to interject his own feelings, views, or opinions, but rather report the facts and allow the reader to draw any conclusions on their own they see fit. Once you do interject an opinion, you are not a reporter anymore, but a commentator or, in my case, a blogger. There is nothing wrong with choosing any of those paths, but a reporter is a position that comes with several responsibilities. By you stating at you have no opinion is pointing out that you have an opinion. An opinion that you have no opinion is still an opinion. As we all know, there have been many opportunities to criticize this athletic administration, or even Syracuse University as a whole, in the context of football, the subject to which you cover. Yet, like many beat writers, you have been, for lack of a better term, gun shy when it comes to pointing out obvious inconsistencies or shortcomings. This is, again, not to be confused with giving opinions, but rather presenting facts in a gentler way than the situation probably deserved, thus creating an impression to the reader that whatever has occurred is a better situation than is actually the case. I could understand why you would want to not interject your own opinion as it would make your job as a reporter difficult if in fact you ever decided to give a negative one. However, then you cannot have it both ways. You cannot state any opinions as a good reporter of the facts. In this case you have stated an opinion, despite the fact that there are vacant ideals behind it. That is something that good journalism cannot stand for. Additionally, it simply reads as extremely unprofessional. That is something that can damage any person’s credibility, no matter what industry they are in.

From the article I previously mentioned that started our first encounter we all know you are prone to bouts of opinion, and that again cannot happen when claiming to be a reporter. Day in and day out you write your opinion. If that is so, you must afford to be critical when the situation is warranted. As of right now the Orange Football section is full of mostly news shaded opinions. That is not news. That is opinion. Something that has its rightful place, but should not be in the space in which you have control as a reporter of sporting news.
Unfortunately, even the web address has the word blog in it. Again, that is fine if it is in fact simply a weblog of your reporting, but when you consistently interject your own opinion into your reporting then you lose the title of reporter and become something else entirely.

I point these facts out to you simply to keep you adhering to the highest standard of integrity. As a reporter you continue to produce good, informative work, but that is where it has to end. Or you can chose the other route, which you seem to favor lately, and that is one of a more free format, like you are conversing with your audience which you have done so quite often as of late. But you cannot have it both ways sir. Despite it being a blog format on Syracuse.com, you are still purporting to be wearing your reporter hat. Therefore you must restrain in giving opinion, even if that opinion is empty of any true substance. Of coruse, this kind of standard would not apply to Twitter, or any other social media that you may participate in both in a professional or personal setting. As it stands however, Syracuse.com purports itself to be the online version of the Syracuse Post-Standard, so the rules should obviously apply. I hope this letter has caused you no offense, but rather will serve as inspiration for your continued good work and success, in the proper manner and venue of course.

Best wishes,

Brian Harrison
Editor, Orange::44
Chronicling the daily disaster that is Syracuse University Athletics.

Editor’s Note: This is an open letter to Donnie Webb, football beat writer for the Syracuse Post-Standard. The context of this letter is two fold. One, to expose the creeping line of journalistic integrity that is drifting backwards and closer to a blog format among our leading newspaper reporters, and second, to simply write for the exercise of writing, something I enjoy and have missed as of late. An ancillary result is hopefully a more honest discussion of the blogger v. mainstream conflict and to cause a congenial discussion here on the pages of my site. Mr. Webb will hopefully read this and adjust his conduct, or his title, accordingly.

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7 Responses to “Another Open Letter to Donnie Webb”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    this is ridiculous. you're pissed dwebb called you out last year and now you're grasping for any excuse at all, no matter how absurd, to go after him.

    you really waste an hour of your life to write that up?  

  2. # Blogger Brian Harrison

    I just did, didn't I anonymous? Are you really saying that I can't aspire to put up a thought provoking article and have an intelligent debate about the media?

    And really, the last time was total water under the bridge.  

  3. # Anonymous Anonymous

    it'd be 'thought provoking' if there was any depth or value. instead, it's vacuous, asinine, and mind numbing (and reeks of an unjust attack on dwebb for last year's nonsense). look at yourself in the mirror brian, you're reaching here.

    with all the news going around surrounding paulus, players leaving, the meadowlands, etc. why not spend the time writing a 'thought provoking' article on that (considering the season is only 15 days away)?

    sure, you can say everyone is already covering that. well, why not come at it from a novel perspective we haven't seen before? that would certainly be 'thought provoking'.

    tends to be what the good bloggers do.  

  4. # Blogger Brian Harrison

    Anonymous,
    You're obviously either a Syracuse fan or a regular reader so you are at least farmiliar with what goes on here and you know what you're getting. The selection of Webb was no happy accident, nor did I claim it to be. But either way that doesn't mean he gets a free pass on blowing off the rules of journalism. I selected him to make the broader point that this is happening in media everywhere. To say that this letter is lacking "any depth or value" or is "assinine" is simply incorrect however.

    I addressed Paulus in my previous article, and when something new comes to light, or simply the first game occures, then I will have a new article addressing him.

    As for being a good blogger, well you are free to discontinue going to this site, but there are people that would disagree with you. Either way, welcome to the sidebar. And for a novel prespective, who else is doing stuff like this?  

  5. # Anonymous Bill

    I've been reading this blog for a while - before the original Donnie Webb issue. So I "get" what you do. I'm also well-read on the entire blogs v. mainstream media dynamic. But the premise of this open letter is rather absurd. I'm a Newhouse grad, and even I think you need to relax.  

  6. # Blogger Brian Harrison

    Thanks Bill. That was intelligent, reasonable, and well thought out. Amazing.  

  7. # Anonymous Bill

    Sorry I didn't feel the need to devote more than five minutes to this nonsense. Unfortunately, I still don't.  

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