May 17, 2012

Elizabeth Flock, who resigned from The Washington Post in April after a misattributed blog post drew a gnarly editor’s note, has a new gig. She’ll be lead writer on U.S. News & World Report’s Washington Whispers blog, which was written by Paul Bedard before he decamped for The Washington Examiner.

Reached by phone, Flock mostly referred me to her tweet announcing her new job. She said the social issues piece would mean writing about race, gender and immigration.

Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton weighed in on Flock’s departure in April, saying the paper had failed her. He wrote that he had spoken to other bloggers there.

They said that they felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing. Guidelines for aggregating stories are almost nonexistent, they said. And they believe that, even if they do a good job, there is no path forward. Will they one day graduate to a beat, covering a crime scene, a city council or a school board? They didn’t know. So some left; others are thinking of quitting.

Raju Narisetti, who was involved in hiring her when he was the Post’s managing editor for online, told Poynter’s Craig Silverman he would have fired Flock had he still been at the paper; Erik Wemple, a media columnist there, told Silverman “the work of a blogger looks a lot easier to someone who’s never done it than it is to execute.”

Trevor Butterworth, writing in The Awl, said it wasn’t correct to compare Flock’s prodigious workload at The Post (where she churned out an average of six posts per day) to flipping burgers:

In McAggregate, you are never going to flip the exact same burger twice. This means the probability that you’re going to unknowingly report something false or miss a crucial ingredient is much, much higher than McDonald’s is likely to serve an undercooked burger. Even a 1 percent error rate is going to mean one in every hundred aggregated stories is going to have a mistake. If Flock were to post 25 blog items a week, well within her range, she would, likely, finish the year with 13 errors. This is a game in which the participants are going to fail, sooner or later.

Maybe because I’ve got a job that involves a lot of aggregating, I’ve never been comfortable with the flak Flock has drawn. Flock’s goof was clearly a mistake: No one in his right mind would have thought she was reporting from Mars.

Correction: Flock emails to say she will not write the blog by herself; I’ve fixed the sentence to reflect that. Also she told me she’d be writing about “race, gender and immigration,” not “sex, gender and immigration.” This post has also been edited to remove a half-baked parallel.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
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