ETHICS: Cleveland editor draws line at blogger contributing to congressman's opponent

(This story was updated at 11:28 p.m. EDT with material as indicated at the bottom; and again at 2:58 p.m. on Oct. 31 with additional comments from Susan Goldberg)

One of four free-lance bloggers paid by the Cleveland Plain Dealer to provide political commentary was fired after the paper's editor learned the blogger was a $100 contributor to an opponent of a congressman the blogger routinely criticized.

The blogger says his political leanings are obvious from his postings, that he considered regularly disclosing his contribution, but balked at agreeing to cease writing about the congressman. The Ohio daily paper's editor says if she had known he was a political contributor beforehand, she would not have let him be hired.

In August, the Plain Dealer retained four Ohio political bloggers to contribute to a daily political group blog called "Wide Open," located at (the paper's website). The project involved two bloggers with liberal leanings and two with conservative leanings.

Blgger Jeff Coryell ( said in an emailed statement sent to the Media Giraffe Project on Oct. 30 that he was terminated after U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, D-Ohio, a Republican, complained to the newspaper about his support of two of LaTourette's opponents.

He said the paper asked him to refrain from writing about LaTourette, and he refused.

"As a political blogger, I am a partisan," Coryell wrote in his emailed statement to the Media Giraffe Project. "My political orientation as a progressive Democrat is an integral part of what I do and is completely transparent to my readers. This is a crucial component of being a political blogger/activist, and sets us apart from journalists in the classic sense. It was understood among the four participants in "Wide Open" that we are political partisans and that we would engage in political debate from our respective political points of view."

Coryell went on to say that the Plain Dealer had "bowed to pressure from an elected official" in a manner which "strikes a heavy blow at freedom of expression."

Susan Goldberg, the Plain Dealer's editor, said the paper's decision was not motivated by LaTourette's complaint.

"We didn't bow to any political pressure," she said in an email to the Media Giraffe Project when asked to comment on Coryell's email. "Had we known that he had contributed to the opponent of a person he was writing about, we wouldn't have hired him in the first place. Once we learned of the issue, we asked him not to write about the congressman he opposed. When he refused, we decided that we couldn't pay him any longer to blog for us."

Goldberg says the standard she applied is the paper's own and "not imposed on us by any outsiders." As to the general issue of newspapers sorting out how to handling blogging ethical issues, she observed: "We, and everyone else, continue to wade into this, learning new things every step of the way."

Coryell, in a brief phone interview, said he realized the paper's decision was an example of the evolving relationship between bloggers and journalistic ethics.

Coryell's personal bog is at: The Cleveland Heights resident describes himself as a former private and government attorney who is now an artist and art teacher.

Material added 11:28 p.m. EDT:

In a subsequent email, Coryell says he never wrote about LaTourette on the Plain Dealer blog, and had not cited LaTourette on his own blog after starting the Plain Dealer work. He said at least two other bloggers involved in Wide Open have contributed to political candidates.


Material added 2:58 p.m. EDT, Oct. 31:

Susan Goldberg adds in a followup email:

"This is really pretty simple: All we asked Jeff was that he agree not to
write about the LaTourette race (that is, not write about either
candidate) on our blog. He refused. Whether he did or didn't write isn't
the point * we needed reassurance that someone we pay would not use our platform to lobby for a candidate he financially supported.

"As for the others, we are checking. One of our bloggers, Dave Stacy,
has a common name and the person who shows up on records as contributing to campaigns is not him. We are talking with the others.

"Again, let me emphasize this: The issue here isn't blogging. People can
blog about whomever  they want, and we'd encourage them to do so. That's what the blog is for. The issue is our financial tie to these four
bloggers. To allow someone we pay to use our site to, potentially, lobby
for a candidate they financially support would put us in a place where
we can't go."


Coryell: cell 216-337-3780; land 216-321-9183