I’m going to miss Romenesko’s early rising and relentless pace

I don’t think I ever leaked a newsroom memo to Jim Romenesko, but I kinda wish I had, and I’m thankful to everyone who did. No one brought more transparency to the news biz than Romenesko, who shined his blog’s spotlight into the dark corners of an industry with little fondness for our own medicine.

Jim has decided to retire from journalism’s best must-read news-about-news blog, but perhaps it’s better to describe his future as a semi-retirement.

“I’m going to continue to tweet and put up posts, but at a leisurely pace,” Romenesko said by email Monday after I wrote to wish him well. “I’m enjoying traveling, sleeping in, reading the news and watching Colbert/Wilmore before opening the laptop in the morning. When I see something that interests me — the Post-Gazette Jenner column controversy, for example — I’ll pursue it. I’m not going to unplug my devices!”

It appears he’ll still follow the news biz and share links to interesting stuff, maybe more on social media than on the blog. But don’t look for his exhaustive report of interesting stuff every morning, not if he’s sleeping in.

Romenesko invariably told just part of the story, but that was the point. Romenesko seldom wrote a long story about anything. But if someone else wrote a good story about something of interest to journalists, Jim made sure the rest of us in the news business knew about it.

His longest posts often were brief introductions to a newsroom memo or a news-company memo.

The irony of it was always amusing: Editors who exhorted their staffs to develop sources who would leak them juicy inside information did a slow burn (or a private chuckle) when their own staffs invariably leaked to Romenesko.

When I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, I never wrote a note to the staff without considering how it would look in Romenesko. I don’t recall that a single memo from that job made Romenesko. I’m not sure whether that means my staff didn’t leak them or whether I made them sufficiently boring that Jim didn’t care.

The only memo from me that I can find or recall that made Romenesko was about plagiarism training I led for Digital First Media. I can live with that. I emailed or tweeted Jim a link to the quiz we used in the training and he added it to the post about the memo.

I first started following Romenesko’s Media Gossip blog shortly after he launched in 1999 (I think I heard of it from a Des Moines Register colleague). Jim’s been a blogger so long we didn’t even call it that (the New York Times story linked above called it an “online digest;” a 2003 Poynter FAQ called it a column).

Romenesko was without question a blogger, though, one of the first and best. And he was a curator before we started applying that term to journalism either. From the first, he did a great job of finding interesting stories, commentaries, screwups, tweets (well, the tweets didn’t exactly show up from the first) and controversies in journalism and gave them a bigger audience by highlighting their essential points and linking to those who were providing more detailed coverage.

Most of Romenesko’s reporting was in finding the stories that others were reporting or receiving and vetting those internal memos. But he also fleshed out many of his pieces with a call or email to a central character. It’s not uncommon to find a crowdsourcing invitation in a Romenesko piece, too (I bet that’s another practice he was using before journalism named it): inviting people who know more about the story, or the answer to a particular question, to contact him.

Romenesko joined Poynter in ’99 and eventually earned a bigger salary than the Institute’s president (according to journalists who checked the non-profit’s IRS 990 form; I don’t recall whether I ever checked, but it was a widely accepted and remarked fact in journalism).

In my ethics workshops, I would sometimes warn journalists that our industry had moved from handling plagiarism cases quietly to confessing and investigating them publicly, with an inevitable moment in the Romenesko spotlight. I called his blog the “sex-offender registry for journalism ethics.”

It was odd to see the ethics spotlight shift to Romenesko himself in 2011, accelerating his breakup with Poynter. He had already announced a plan to launch his own website and cut back his Poynter affiliation to part-time. But a silly, overblown controversy arose when the Columbia Journalism Review asked Poynter about some posts where he cited sources and linked to them, but used some exact wording from the sources without quoting them. Romenesko resigned from Poynter and had his own uncomfortable turn in journalism’s spotlight.

I faulted Poynter (where I had and have lots of friends) for treating a punctuation issue as a matter of plagiarism.

Though we’ve exchanged a few emails, including yesterday, Romenesko and I have never met. He thanked me in an email for my support in 2011 and I responded with thanks to him for serving journalism and Poynter “with honor, hustle and insight.”

I’m glad he’ll continue contributing to journalism’s conversations and I hope people keep sending him those internal memos that deserve a public airing. I apologize for any inappropriate use of past tense that would fit in a post about a full retirement or in an obituary. I’m glad we can use present tense about his blog and his role in journalism.

But for a guy whose early rising and relentless pace informed and intrigued journalists for some 16 years, I think it’s noteworthy when he decides to sleep in and slow down.

I made Romenesko’s blog many times. I’ve been able to find these examples, which not only feed my ego but illustrate the variety of his work (all the links below are to Romenesko, not my blog or to other posts he was citing; you can find them by clicking from the Romenesko posts):

Romenesko’s spotlight

A handful of times, I was the subject of a Romenesko item (and I should say, a Romenesko link invariably gave a nice boost to my blog traffic):

My 2010 recognition by Editor & Publisher at Editor of the Year.

My 2011 disagreement with Gene Weingarten about branding by journalists.

Joining the Manship School last year.

Romenesko highlighted a 2012 “college press debate,” conflicting pieces by Dan Reimold and me about the importance of student media taking a digital-first approach.

My 2012 post on where TBD staffers landed two years after launch got its own Romenesko item.

My 2012 letter to newsroom curmudgeons and my post about reaction to the letter both merited separate Romenesko posts.

Mentions in Romenesko items

Other times, a blog post about something else included a link to something I’d written:

I was one of those tweeting from the American Society of News Editors convention in 2013.

One of my tweets made a post about Warren Buffett’s ownership of the Omaha World-Herald.

My 2011 criticism of ASNE social media guidelines made a Romenesko post on the guidelines.

A Romenesko post on Boston Globe (now Washington Post) Editor Marty Baron joining Twitter gave me a mention.

A post of mine merited a related link in a Romenesko post on paywalls.

Roundup mentions

Occasionally I’ve made Romenesko’s morning or evening roundups:

My post on identifying murder victims before their identities have been announced publicly.

Calling on Executive Editor Dean Baquet to get mad about unnamed sources at the New York Times.

Baquet’s guest post on my blog, responding to my criticism about his use of Twitter.

My criticism of the revised SPC Code of Ethics.

A mention of my post about the bogus contention that I once lost my newsroom.

A guest post on fact-checking by Jeff Edelstein.

My post that journalism isn’t narcissism but it’s also not machinery.

My post about journalism improving, not declining.

Being tired of the paywall debate and Ryan Chittum likening me to a World War II dead-ender on paywalls.

My post on a different way to view Twitter’s user base.

Filed under: Journalist profiles Tagged: Jim Romenesko, Poynter


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