Jim Romenesko may be the most powerful name in the media that you've never heard of. Although his website bears his name, Romenesko has made his name quietly assembling an indispensable collection of every reportorial transgression, every format change, every buy-out, every compelling or questionable or errant media moment - all of them boldfaced and linked to. Jim joins Brooke to explain how he cooks up his delicious dish for a hungry audience of media obsessives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When I turn on my computer, the first thing I see is Romenesko. It's my home page. Romenesko probably doesn't mean much to you, unless you work in the media biz. But if you do, it may be your home page too. Jim Romenesko claims he had no particular interest in changing the balance of power in the media world when he launched his site seven years ago. Then it was just a bulletin board of random, if lovingly selected, stories about the media. And that's still the main ingredient. But in much the same way CNN came of age during the first Gulf War, Romenesko became an essential stop during the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times. Romenesko attracted hits like ants at a picnic as official statements, leaks and speculation found their way onto his site, delicious dish for a hungry audience of media-obsessives. And not just dish, because as the site has grown, every reportorial transgression, every format change, every buy-out, every compelling or questionable event or errant quote is boldfaced and linked to. Jim Romenesko, welcome to the show. Please don't hurt me.
JIM ROMENESKO: No, no. I won't. [BROOKE LAUGHING] I won't. I promise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What feedback have you gotten from newsroom staff about how the potential for winding up on your site has changed their work environment?
JIM ROMENESKO: I have heard from reporters who say that their editors refuse to put out e-mail memos because they know they'll land on my page. I'm told - and I haven't confirmed this - that USA Today does not put out electronic memos for that reason. [LAUGHS] When I first started the site, editors were critical of me for posting letters and for posting their memos and now they [CHUCKLES] write letters specifically for my site so that they're read by the larger journalism community.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How many hits do you get on a good day?
JIM ROMENESKO: Oh, 50,000 to 100,000, sometimes more if there's a big controversy and that the people are looking for stories about that controversy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steve Lovelady, who's the managing editor of CJR Daily, I read in an article in the Boston Phoenix, sums up your website by saying: "Romenesko has made of all print journalism from the East Nowhere Daily Trumpet to the New York Times a small village." So those 50 to 100,000 people who read you every day are all working roughly in the same office.
JIM ROMENESKO: I know people are reading it, but from my seat at Starbucks, I - [BOTH AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
JIM ROMENESKO: - I guess I really don't know how people are reacting on the other end.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Media critic Jack Shafer once wrote in Slate, "Jim Romenesko's site is irreplaceable because it gives honest reporters public leverage over their corrupt colleagues, their timid editors, their bullying publishers." Let's go back to the Jayson Blair period. How did you decide to cover that?
JIM ROMENESKO: I covered all of the major stories in all of the big papers. As time went on, I was getting a lot of links from what I would call minor players. And I was getting the sense that people were starting to write columns just to have them linked on my site. And I just had a feeling that people were starting to use me to slap Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd two, three, four, five, twenty-five times. And I pulled back, but it was clear that there was going to be a big shake-up at the New York Times.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you safeguard yourself against being manipulated by those funneling you insider information?
JIM ROMENESKO: I'm very careful. There was only one time when I really was suspicious of a letter that was sent to me, and that was from a former Fox News employee who told me about memos that were sent out every morning that were supposedly going to shape the news on Fox News that morning. I called just to confirm that he was authentic, got his background, made sure he worked at Fox News.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And then you printed the letter, 'cause I saw it. [OVERTALK]
JIM ROMENESKO: Yeah, yeah. I -
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
JIM ROMENESKO: - printed the letter and - and it did cause a, a firestorm of [LAUGHS] controversy. But I haven't been, knock on wood, hoodwinked yet.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Does it ever make your head spin? You seem like such a mild-mannered guy, Jim. But really, you can make or break a journalist.
JIM ROMENESKO: There are some cases where a reporter has done something, been accused maybe of minor plagiarism, an offense that maybe 10 years ago wouldn't be noticed or maybe the person would have been scolded and told to go back to their desk. Sometimes I post those stories, and I wonder if that person should be shamed in front of a national audience. The thinking early on is if you shame somebody in print like that, maybe it won't happen again. [LAUGHS] But it keeps happening.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's almost a cliché, that transparency is supposed to make journalism better, even if it does show all the warts.
JIM ROMENESKO: Yeah. Yeah. And - and - [OVERTALK]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You're not buying that.
JIM ROMENESKO: No.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And yet you're the biggest agent of transparency out there, which I find rather ironic.
JIM ROMENESKO: Somebody - about a week ago, a non-journalism website, told his readers to go to my website to see how the sausage is made and how ugly it is and it can be. [LAUGHTER]
JIM ROMENESKO: And I guess I kind of did a double-take on that. I mean, I don't think that I started this so that people could watch bad sausage being made.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim thank you so much for talking to us.
JIM ROMENESKO: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim Romenesko is the webmaster of the Romenesko website, available at www.poynter.org. The great and powerful Romenesko spoke to us from the Evanston Public Library, where he often works. And sometimes he works at Starbucks because it's got wireless. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo, and edited - by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Katie Holt and Kevin Schlottmann. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcast at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media, from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. (MUSIC TAG) *** (FUNDING CREDITS)