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Kevin Sites and the Blogging Controversy

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About a month ago my friend Kevin Sites received a sudden and urgent phone call. It was from his boss at CNN. “Head to the airport; you’re going to Kuwait.”

Kevin is a daring guy who has coined a term for what he does: “sojo.” This solo-journalist arms himself with a backpack filled with a laptop, satellite phone, mini-satellite dish, sleeping bag and rations of tuna fish and power bars, all in search of the truth on the front lines of war.

As he made his way to the anticipated northern front in Iraq, Kevin started sending compelling first person emails from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Thinking this was prime blogging material I forwarded one of his emails on to my friend and BoingBoing blogger extraordinare Xeni Jardin. She and I both pleaded with him to fire up a blog and while at first he was unfamiliar with the technology he checked with his boss at CNN and eventually gave us the green-light to set up the backend for him. Within 36 hours he was publishing his blog and word spread like wildfire. Kevin’s site stats bear this out. After a few days over 8000 different sites linked to his blog. In two weeks his site would receive over 3.5 million hits from over a 250,000 unique visitors.

Unfortunately, CNN dot com was not amused and ordered him to stop. [Susan Mernit wrote an article covering this turn of events for USC’s Online Journalism Review.]

One has to wonder why CNN would gag one of its reporters as visitors to the site talk passionately about Kevin and his reporting on CNN. Some have suggest that it is a contractual issue but if this were the case CNN could easily bring his blog inhouse (and I have to wonder if such a lawyerly position would also lay claim to the emails and phone calls to his girlfriend in California).

As Kevin risks his life he is sending quick notes to fans back home. The site is creating a loyal following of viewers and presumably higher ratings for CNN. But unlike competitors at MSNBC, BBC and Fox News it seems the Internet division of CNN has a policy and clear prejudice against blogs.

It is ironic and sad, I think, since Gulf War I made CNN because of its embrace of cutting edge technology. But this this time around the Grande Dame of global reporting is looking down upon bloggers. As I type this entry Bill Schneider just reported on air of the spike in blog traffic but, with a sniff, that readers should not trust the news placed on blogs.

This is confusing because CNN’s new slogan is “news you can trust” but apparently not while Kevin reports in a blog format. And so his in-depth coverage of life as a sojo has been silenced by the very news gathering agency that trusted him to report on the truth from the front lines of war.

It’s frustrating but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, AOL Time Warner also has a plethora of bewildered record label executives who don’t get the power of the Internet either.

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About JP

  • san

    I’ve been wondering about the Kevin Sites debacle. Is it not common for journalists on assignment to pen magazine articles and books based on their experiences while in the employ of another outlet? CNN’s motivation to terminate Sites’s blog confounds me: If it were contractual, I’d expect these contracts to be somewhat standard; and we would not see the many memoirs, essays, and other works published by journalists on assignment.

    “Bill Schneider just reported on air of the spike in blog traffic but, with a sniff, that readers should beware of the news placed on blogs.”

    I could say the same about the major and minor newspapers and broadcast networks. Perhaps our degree of skepticism applied to weblogs should be greater, but blind faith in any single news source is a thoroughly isolated path.