The Jim Romenesko Saga, Or How to Piss Off A Whole Lot of Journalists

“I think Poynter’s going to fire me,” writes the popular media blogger, “and try to ruin my reputation so none of their advertisers will go with me on the new site”

 

In a long explanation to journalists who have a daily habit of trusting him for the lowdown on their world, the blogger Jim Romenesko has laid out a dispute with the Poynter organization that led to an acrimonious departure.

He wrote on his new blog, JimRomenesko.com:

“I think Poynter’s going to fire me,” I said, “and try to ruin my reputation so none of their advertisers will go with me on the new site.”

That’s a pretty harsh assessment from an all-around nice guy and one of the earliest bloggers around. As newspapers have crumbled, Romenesko for 12 years now has aggregated news about layoffs, circulation drops, new investments, scandals, critisms, and media change both digital and print.

In aggregating rather than reporting, Romenesko sent traffic to other sites while becoming a water cooler location for a small but highly influential group of readers: other journalists.

But he became tired of the grind – who wouldn’t? – and announced in July he wanted to give it up. Problem was, Poynter didn’t want to give him up; Jim Romenesko had become an important brand.

In a lengthy blog on his new site, Romenesko describes the breakdown with Poynter, the non-profit journalism organization, and his editor Julie Moos.

Somewhat bizarrely, as Romenesko prepared to leave, Moos decided to investigate his mode of aggregating information – even though no one had complained about it.

That led not only to Romenesko’s accusation above – ruining his reputation – but to a veritable campaign of support from respected journalists from The New York Times’ David Carr to the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi.

And finally, Romenesko has come out with his own blow by blow of the matter: 

The story about my questionable attribution was posted on Poynter’s site at about 11:30 a.m. my time Thursday. I decided to deal with it by going on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and asking: “Have I ever summarized your posts? Was I fair, or did you feel I stole your words? Please let me know on Facebook.”

The response was overwhelmingly supportive. I sat in a Starbucks near my condo and tried to keep up with the tweets, Facebook posts, emails of support, and bloggers’ critiques of Julie’s post and what I had done. My MacBook was on the cafe table, and my iPad was on a chair next to me — the Twitter app opened so I could monitor the steady stream of mentions.

Mid-afternoon I made another request to be let out of my contract. Julie said she’d release me in the morning if I still felt like resigning.

This feels uncomfortably close to the bone. Why did Moos pursue the criticism over Romenesko’s aggregation on the eve of his departure? Romenesko suspects Poynter was looking to damage his reputation on the eve of his becoming a competitor for advertising.

What started as an amicable divorce turned into a strong-arming game that reflects poorly on Poynter. It has turned off legions of readers (including me) to the site we’ve checked daily for years. And it led to Romenesko’s early resignation, along with unnecessary bad publicity all the way around.

A word to Poynter: you folks could learn something from the way Romenesko aggregated. Since the new regime, we no longer see real traffic to TheWrap from your site, though our stories are picked up all the time. And it makes me personally sad to see this unseemly maneuvering. 

Meanwhile, those of us who are curious to see what Jim Romenesko will do in his new incarnation can follow him at JimRomenesko.com. I know I will.