Patterico's Pontifications

4/26/2006

Editor and Publisher Misses the Point on Hiltzik

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 5:58 pm



Editor and Publisher mentions the Hiltzik suspension in this clueless article. In keeping with Big Media’s consistent misunderstanding of the facts, the Editor and Publisher article completely fails to mention downplays the reason Hiltzik’s use of pseudonyms was so dishonest: because he used them to shill for himself (or, as we bloggers say, he used them as “sock puppets”). From the article:

This brings us to the case of Michael Hiltzik, the L. A. Times columnist who recently lost his “Golden State” blog after it became apparent that he had been posting comments on his own and other blogs under pseudonyms. The paper said in a editors’ note that Hiltzik’s blog had been suspended because he has violated The Times’s ethical guidelines, which “require editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public.”

In posting to his own blog under a fake name, Hiltzik was clearly abusing the trust the paper had placed in him, and the Times has a right to protect the reputation that its brand depends on. But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful. It just implies that Hiltzik isn’t confident enough in his own writing to let it speak for itself (surprising for a Pulitzer-winning journalist).

But even if he himself hadn’t written the fake comments, he could as easily have gotten a friend to write similar comments under a fake name, thus sidestepping the writer-dealing-with-the-public problem. Whose “crime” would it be then?

In posting to the other blogs — outside his L.A. Times home — under false names, Hiltzik’s “crime” is even less damning. Surely Hiltzik wasn’t the only person posting to these blogs under fake names. And in posting these false comments, was Hiltzik acting on behalf of the paper or simply acting as a citizen of the Internet whose right it is to engage in this kind of anonymous discourse?

I doubt that Hiltzik would be bound by the Times’ ethical guidelines for content in an online dating profile. Does his association with the paper automatically disallow him from fully participating in this not-totally-real aspect of the Internet? If so, then he’s likely a poorer blogger for it.

Sheesh. Bloggers do not require sock puppets to make their arguments. The author of this piece is obviously unaware of very flippant about the way Hiltzik used his pseudonyms as cheerleaders for his own arguments, and as attack dogs set upon his Internet enemies. Given his fundamental misunderstanding of Hiltzik’s transgression, I’m guessing that the author read about the controversy in the mainstream media, rather than on my blog (which he fails to link to).

L.A. Times editors must be thrilled at the way this is all being spun.

Isn’t Big Media great? Whenever you really know something about the facts of a particular story, that’s when they seem to screw it up worse than ever. And every person who experiences this thinks to himself: wow, it’s a good thing they don’t screw up other stories the way they screwed up this one.

UPDATE: I have corrected the post in response to a commenter, who notes that the piece actually does mention that Hiltzik “wr[ote] praise about [him]self in pseudonym-ed comments.” I had missed this even after reading the piece twice earlier, albeit rather quickly both times. What I had noticed was that the author seemed to think Hiltzik needed the ability to shill for himself:

Does his association with the paper automatically disallow him from fully participating in this not-totally-real aspect of the Internet? If so, then he’s likely a poorer blogger for it.

What in the world?? Hiltzik is a poorer blogger for the inability to use phony sock puppets as a chorus of cheerleaders and defenders?

This author is a bigger idiot than I’d thought. He knows what Hiltzik did, and still defends it as necessary and a blogger’s prerogative.

No wonder I misunderstood him the first time.

23 Responses to “Editor and Publisher Misses the Point on Hiltzik”

  1. …the Editor and Publisher article completely fails to mention the reason Hiltziks use of psuedonyms was so dishonest: because he used them to shill for himself….

    “But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful. It just implies that Hiltzik isnt confident enough in his own writing to let it speak for itself (surprising for a Pulitzer-winning journalist).”

    [You’re right. It’s so subtle I missed it, but it’s there. Why the author considers it common, or a necessary right for a blogger, I have no idea. Still, it’s there. When I get back to the real computer I’ll correct it. — Patterico @ 6:46 p.m. Pacific, from a Treo]

    Larry (1372e0)

  2. That was a very oblique mention, buried in the story, and didn’t even begin to address the ethical implications. People know about laugh-tracks.

    Bradley J. Fikes (e619fc)

  3. “obviously unaware”? Patterico, I now side with the people who said you went too easy on this guy. Or were you being really dry? Because I get confused when it gets drier than Death Valley.

    Dan Collins (61fe73)

  4. Isn’t Big Media great? Whenever you really know something about the facts of a particular story, that’s when they seem to screw it up worse than ever. And every person who experiences this thinks to himself: wow, it’s a good thing they don’t screw up other stories the way they screwed up this one.

    As an ex-reporter, I know that you are correct about the media’s ability wipe over the hostile facts. The professional journalists do this essentially to get things restored to the way that they want stories to appear.

    It does not happen with all media outlets. The good ones — though not perfect — police themselves.

    How the process works to cover things though is interesting.

    There is a lot of a priori thinking that starts in j-schools and continues on into professional work. Most media outlets strive to provide well-attributed, valid journalism — but only within their a priori mindsets.

    At the heart of all this a priori reside the editors or producers. (I have always thought it wonderful that in Britain the on-camera/mic folks are called “news readers” because that is what they are.)

    The memes that are pushed essentially sell papers. It is very important to keep the continuity of a meme going. Otherwise, the cred is shot.

    Like other businesses, it boils down to workplace pressure. The managers are forced to present a competent image. The laborers under them are pressured to keep the image/meme going. Nothing is worse for them in terms of finances than breaking the cycle of a meme — whether the meme is right or wrong.

    It’s like Detroit pushing to get a car on the market. This year’s model may have flaws, but it’s what we’re offering and we can’t afford to go back now.

    This is not to say that this is good journalism. It’s just the way the ball bounces.

    In a perfect world, better papers/other news outlets will present a valid picture and continue to update that picture as times goes on. Getting to that fork in the road where you have to break a meme *or* update the picture to keep it accurate, however, appears to be too tough for most to handle.

    This is why I believe that political blogs are so important. They have become the omsbudmen that break bad memes.

    And this is why what Hiltzik did was wrong. Not only did he want to keep his meme going but he was willing to use “extra” methods to cover his gaps.

    Tally ho!

    JJ (e77a84)

  5. Okay, I fixed the post. This author is even more clueless than I had originally thought.

    Patterico (156eed)

  6. I wonder if you aren’t jumping to conclusions here, Patterico. This author seems to share your (and my) view of sockpuppetry –that it isn’t a serious offense, and that the proper punishment is humiliation. He writes

    But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful. It just implies that Hiltzik isn’t confident enough in his own writing to let it speak for itself (surprising for a Pulitzer-winning journalist).

    That strikes me as a diplomatic way to say that Hiltzig made a fool of himself but didn’t commit a firing offense.

    The laugh track is a pretty darn good analogy –fake laughing intended to add some punch to lame jokes is like fake defenders intended to add some punch to lame arguments. Just because the laugh track is accepted practice doesn’t make it honest or non-lame.

    Doc Rampage (47be8d)

  7. I would never say someone is a poorer blogger for their inability to engage in dishonest sock-puppetry. That’s what made me conclude (on an admittedly overly hasty reading of the article) that the guy was simply talking about pseudonyms per se.

    Patterico (156eed)

  8. Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 11:45:20 PM EDT
    To: David Hirschman [dhirschman@editorandpublisher.com]
    CC: [letters@editorandpublisher.com]
    RE: E&P story “Online Identity–and Newspaper Ethics”

    Dear Mr. Hirschman,

    In today’s story covering LA Times writer Michael Hiltzik’s blogging woes, you were kind enough to provide readers with links to the LA Times’ Editors’ Note, as well as to the NY Times story on the matter.

    Readers would have benefitted from a link to the web-log that broke the story, http://patterico.com They might then notice that blogger Patrick Frey’s charge was not that Hiltzik used a pseudonym, a common practice. Rather, it was that he employed two pseudonyms to shill for himself, pretending to be two separate people in comments to his own and other blogs. That practice is neither common nor ethical.

    It is unfortunate that Editor and Publisher has joined the Times in misstating the central problem with the actions that Hiltzik is alleged to have performed.

    I hope that, after investigating further, you will consider amending your story to more accurately reflect the circumstances of this case.

    Sincerely, AMac [not signed pseudonymously in the actual email, FWIW]

    cc: comment #8 at this post.

    AMac (b6037f)

  9. AMac: I hope you saw my update and corrections.

    Patterico (156eed)

  10. I still think this guy missed the point, or at least its significance. I will be interested to hear his response to AMac, if any.

    Patterico (156eed)

  11. Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2006 12:41:06 AM EDT
    To: David Hirschman [dhirschman@editorandpublisher.com]
    CC: [letters@editorandpublisher.com]
    RE: Followup to “E&P story ‘Online Identity–and Newspaper Ethics'”

    Dear Mr. Hirshman,

    It was just pointed out that I misread a sentence in your column. You wrote,

    “But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful.”

    Your readers should be aware that this view is accepted by almost nobody in the blogging or newspapering communities. For example, academic John Lott got a world of grief from both erstwhile allies and longtime enemies when his use of pseudonym “Mary Rosh” to shill for his position and needle his adversaries became public knowledge. See this 2003 Washington Post article and its references for details of that case.

    I think that the best reporting practice would be to explain the central allegation to readers before dismissing it as frivolous. I hope you agree.

    Sincerely, AMac

    cc: posted as comment #11 at this post.

    AMac (b6037f)

  12. MSM lies. Not news. Olds. Still fun to watch. Like old grainy WW II movies of zeros or 109s with wings busting off and puffs of smoke coming out.

    Hiltzik and MSM…zoom, zoom, zoom. Not like Mazda but rather into the drink. Auf wiedersehen Herr Hiltzik.

    Fred Z (83acf5)

  13. I do hope that letter is posted. E&P seems to post a better variety of opinions than our friends at the LAT.

    The sitcom comparison didn’t work for me in that sitcoms are fiction. Why would I care if it’s a live studio audience or a sweetened track. News is not fiction… if the Times saw a reporter resorting to fake online dialogue, then fake comments are no better than fake sources. Check those news stories, and please get back to us.

    Vermont Neighbor (a9ae2c)

  14. Top Ten Excuses Michael Hiltzik Can Use For Using Pseudonyms

    The silence from the LAT camp on the status of Michael Hiltzik is deafening.

    But that hasn’t’ stopped Independent Sources from learning the top ten excuses Hiltzik is considering:
    1. “NoFAnOfCableCos” is a nickname not a ps…

    Independent Sources (dd41d6)

  15. Patterico,

    You can also send your reply to as a letter to Romenesko. He’d almost certainly run it, and perhaps give a big refer to it. And/or you could submit a piece to one of the journalism magazines such as AJR, CJR, or OJR, etc.

    Bradley J. Fikes (e619fc)

  16. The laugh track analogy would almost work, but only if the blogger in question were to openly admit to the practice of sock puppetry. Otherwise, it’s more like having a TV show proudly announce that it was recorded before a live studio audience, while failing to throw in the detail that no one in the audience laughed at the jokes, so we had to throw in the laugh track anyway.

    Xrlq (f52b4f)

  17. I think you are all missing the point of this article. The point is not at all to defend or dismiss Hiltzik. There isn’t any real misunderstanding and the author is no idiot.

    The point of the article is to propogate the idea that sock puppets are standard operating procedure on blogs. Any misguided readers who look online for info on the news should understand the prevelence of sock puppetry in the sit-commish world of blogs. It shows the fundamental lack of standards online.

    It’s all about defending the status of credentialed journalism and undermining the status of uncredentialed journalsim. Hiltzik is simply a convenient excuse to slam blogs.

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  18. And, of course they’d also like to IMPLY that the LAT worked out the sock puppetry due to the vigilance of it’s editors. I wouldn’t expect a link any time soon.

    nittypig (4c1c43)

  19. I love this part of the intro in the second pp: “A diligent reporter should have called the writers for original quotes (or at least contacted them to fact-check), but their protests to the newspaper are ultimately baseless.”,

    coupled with this later on: “This brings us to the case of Michael Hiltzik, the L. A. Times columnist who recently lost his “Golden State” blog after it became apparent that he had been posting comments on his own and other blogs under pseudonyms.”

    So Mr. A. I. B. Apparent Patterico, did David S. Hirschman bother to contact you before he suggested that Hiltzik was outed by nobody because his pseudonymous activites were so obvious to everyone?

    [I see you already guessed the answer. No. No, he didn’t. — A.I.B.A. aka Patterico]

    Ya gotta love these media folks. Their cluelessness of Internet etiquette is only rivaled by their cluelessness of media etiquette (apologies to Jarvis, et al.) This is a fine time for an Emily I. Post to expand the go-to guide book.

    Pinkies up, everyone!

    Dusty (af3a10)

  20. The E&P piece is just shameful. Not only for not giving you due credit, but also for that truly lame laughtrack analogy.

    I hear they’re deciding what to do with Hiltzik this week.

    Cathy Seipp (d8da01)

  21. […] Editor and Publisher has published two responses to their recent (and lame) article on Michael Hiltzik, which I told you about yesterday, in this post. You can read them here. The first, a set of two letters, is from our old friend AMac, and duplicates two comments that AMac left on this blog yesterday evening, here and here. AMac’s initial letter reads as follows: In [yesterday’s] column covering LA Times writer Michael Hiltzik’s blogging woes, you were kind enough to provide readers with links to the LA Times’ Editors’ Note, as well as to the NY Times story on the matter. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Letters in Editor and Publisher Responding to Their Recent Lame Article (421107)

  22. Young Hood Tries To Make His Blogging Bones

    It seems a certain WuzzaDem is trying to Patterico me. We all know it’s common Internet practice to use assumed names, and some people do indeed have multiple blogs. What does it matter if someone is ‘Florida Cracker’ here and…

    Florida Cracker (923fff)

  23. […] Michael Hiltzik, who just lost his LA Times "Golden State" column this weekend after it was found out that he was putting phony comments on his own LA.Times blog. […]

    Citizen of the Month » Plagiarism, Lies, and Total BS in Writing (3baa5b)


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