Booted for blogging, ex-Washington Post staffer reacts

The Drunk Blogger? Not really. More appropriately, a professional newsman on staff at one of the most reputable rags in the field. But Michael Tunison’s secret writing life with the witty—if not a bit profane—NFL blog, Kissing Suzy Kolber, got him booted from his MSM gig.

Last month Tunsion—aka Christmas Ape—came out of Internet anonymity with a KSK entry documenting his inebriation one ancient evening at (gasp) a sports bar. Turns out that was the Washington Post’s cue to fire him, within 48 hours of the post, for “discrediting the publication.”

The Web backlash to WaPo’s knee-jerk reaction was immediate and expected. For HR malpractice. For stodgy new-media ignorance. For axing a potential traffic cow.

But don’t quit your day job, Mike. KSK is of course booming on the heels of the incident, and Tunison is content, sort of, to be uncaged in that space.

We caught up with him over e-mail for a closer look at the whole mess.

OJR: Is there anything defensible about this? Or does a part of you think WaPo did what it had to do?

MT: I think The Post has a right to uphold and enforce whatever stodgy standards of conduct that it deems appropriate. I don’t they would have acted as extremely or as quickly as they did if it wasn’t first picked up by a journalism blog. In that case, the editors probably felt pressure from within the journalism community to cleanse whatever damage they thought I was doing to the Post brand.

OJR: Sounds like it was technically over your post about being drunk at a bar, but that seems a little far-fetched. There’s got to be more to it than that. They say you “discredited” the publication. But what was actually said to you. Anything verbal, or did it all come in memos?

MT: Far-fetched though it may seem, that’s what they said. The day after I put up the outing post, I got a call from the top editor of the Metro section, who was already making clear I was in deep shit and was probably going to be fired. He essentially wanted my reasons for doing so to run by personnel. The next day, I was called back into his office where he laid out the terms of my dismissal. He said the drunk picture coupled with the language while linking to my Post stories violated the paper’s standards.

OJR: Seems to me they would have been a bit better off to give you a slap on the wrist and leverage you for site traffic. Are you at all surprised they couldn’t see it that way?

MT: I figured the penalty would be less severe and there would be more room for discussion. I’m not surprised at all that they couldn’t find something for me to do with The Post’s Web operation. There’s a stunning lack of vision at The Washington Post when it comes to Web-exclusive content. Not to mention that the disconnect between The Post and its website is astounding. The Washington CityPaper did a great piece on that a few months ago. Look at Dan Steinberg’s D.C. Sports Bog. It’s probably the best executed sports blog by a mainstream publication and it’s barely promoted at all by the organization. Sure, one post makes it to page 2 of sports section in the print paper, but log onto The Post’s site and you’d never know it existed. You have to really dig through that unwieldy thing to find it.

OJR: Surely you had to be expecting a knee-jerk reaction of some sort. To what extent did you think it would be feasible for your two writing lives to coexist?

MT: I thought so. As I’ve said on the site, there was no overlap at all between what I did for the paper and the writing at KSK. I also made pains on the revealing post to not actually write out my name and the publication. You could only find those things by visiting The Post and clicking through the links. A Google search of my name or The Washington Post wouldn’t have brought it up, so no one would have discovered it except readers of Kissing Suzy Kolber. Now, readers of KSK and WaPo readers aren’t mutually exclusive, but you can be damn sure KSK readers didn’t think my employment there hurt the paper in any way.

OJR: It sucks to lose the 9 to 5, but how bitter are you, really, considering you come off as the good guy in all this?

MT: I’m a little bitter because I was never really given an opportunity to excel at The Post and as soon as I develop something for myself that garners some success, they find out about it and can me. When I’m doing uninteresting work, I’m going to need a creative outlet on the side.

OJR: How, if at all, are you pursuing other newspaper jobs? Or are you done with MSM? If so, why?

MT: I’m not going after any newspaper jobs at the moment. Partly because I don’t want to but also because they wouldn’t hire me even if I did. Just this past week, the guy who runs The Sporting News’ blog, The Sporting Blog, wanted to bring me on to do some work with them and he was shot down by higher-ups. The reason: because I’m too “controversial” after this firing. I’m sure I’m blackballed from a number of places, probably forever. It’s a little pathetic, really. The mainstream journalism community is so insular and at the same time so terrified. The situation is just going to get worse for them until they reevaluate more than just staff sizes. I have other aspirations, but I’m happy with blogging for now. I make about as much as I did at The Post, which wasn’t much, with writing for a few blogs. I can be happy with that for a bit.

OJR: How has your role on KSK changed through all this? Obviously you have more time to put toward it, but do you feel at all uncaged or liberated in terms of your content?

MT: KSK has never really been a place where I’ve felt limited in terms of what I can say, so the firing doesn’t change much. I have more time and am writing a little more, but it’s still the off-season and there’s only so much to write about. Before coming forward, I had to be more guarded with personal information, which I don’t anymore.

OJR: This is the best PR imaginable for KSK. How has site traffic looked since the coming-out party? Are you guys looking to expand the site out of this?

MT: There was a big initial burst of traffic right after the outing. We had 108,000 unique visitors the day after I got fired. We average around 22,000 or so per day. It’s still been a little higher since than it was before the incident. We probably gained a few readers, but most of the other people were there because it was in the news. As far as expanding, the firing coincided with moving the site to a new address after reaching a contract with a nascent blog network. There are big plans for that network. As far as KSK, there are things we’re planning on adding here and there, like a liveblog of a game every week during the season. Other than that, we’re just keeping with what’s worked for us.

Just in time for election season, virtual debates at

U.S. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agree 85 percent on 108 issues. Sen. John McCain and his Republican Party: 61 percent on 31 issues. Obama-McCain? See for yourself. is a new wiki opinion forum that allows users to hold public figures, organizations and themselves up to one another like baseball cards and compare the stats—their stands on various issues—listed on the back.

Here’s how it works: A staffer or reader poses an issue. Then, once approved, anyone is invited to weigh in on that issue and submit a yes-or-no stance. Individuals can then compare themselves to their friends, other users or even public figures, who also submit their opinions.

Well, not exactly. A public figure’s reported stance on any issue is only as accurate as users’ ability to dig up and present the evidence thereof. For example, Barack Obama did not actually log on to to offer his stance on gay marriage. Rather, user brianr posted the evidence plucked from the senator’s website and voting history. Users and staff verified it, and others are now invited to “take a stand” of their own on the issue… or even compare Obama to, oh, some other politician and see where they stack up on all debates.

It can be an increasingly fuzzy line between fact and spin out there. That’s where this (almost-)straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth opinion aggregator comes in. Unclear about what Clinton really thinks about dropping out after Pennsylvania? The evidence is there, in her words. Wondering where McCain might fall on an untapped issue? Create a new debate and wait for a junkie to dig up the evidence. Not what Dan Abrams says McCain’s stance is. What McCain says McCain’s stance is.

Of course, it’s not all election speak at, where recent opinions range from home-field advantage in the World Series to the circulation of the U.S. penny. But until November, the site does make for a handy political cheat sheet for our esteemed candidates. OJR traded e-mails with president and founder Nick Oliva to find out more about the logic behind an opinion wiki and how it might help voters decide whom they really support.

OJR: Why What void are you filling on the Web?

Nick Oliva: has a unique model whereby users post the opinions of public figures and organizations (and other users verify these) on the same issues on which members take stands. This makes the only comprehensive source on the Web for finding the user-verified opinions of anyone on any issue and for comparing people to each other based on their opinions.

Additionally, issues on are translatable, meaning that the opinions are readable, searchable, and comparable in any language into which they have been translated. The implication of this is that a Spanish-speaking user can see in Spanish where he agrees and disagrees with the candidates for an election in Japan.

OJR: All submitted issues are reviewed for accuracy by staff and users alike. Can you talk about that process? How has it worked out so far, and what sort of issues have you had to turn away?

NO: Members propose issues that interest them in any topic – politics, health, sports, etc. Members and editors comment and debate how well a proposed issue meets our guidelines – and suggest revisions to the wording. Among these guidelines are that the issue be relevant, that the wording be free from bias, and that the wording is “open” enough to find on the Web the opinions of public figures and organizations. At the end of this collaborative process, issues that have not been rejected are framed much as they would be by a meticulous polling organization. An editor then approves the issue and that’s when people can take a stand on it or post public figure opinions.

The best issues are those where there is enough interest that people of different backgrounds and views collaborate in the approval process. The community should decide what is interesting, so we try not to reject issues that represent a legitimate controversy or difference of opinions. The issues that get rejected are usually those that are inherently biased.

OJR: What sort of things are you doing to drive traffic to the site. And, once they’re there, why should they register?

NO: One of the things that drives traffic to the site is when members invite their friends to register and take stands so they can find where they agree and disagree. It’s remarkable how surprising it is to discover some of the opinions of your friends – particular those on which you disagree.

What most drives new traffic is the public figure opinions. When you search the Web, for example, for opinions or comparisons, whereIstand is often among the top results. For example, the following search terms on Google return opinions and comparisons:

mccain politics

obama outsourcing

angelina jolie writers guild

jordan athletes overpaid

compare barack and hillary

All content is free on whereIstand and registration is optional. If you have taken stands on a lot of issues, and bookmarked the issues and people that interest you, you should register so you can sign back in and access these. A big reason to register is so that others can see your stands and compare themselves to you. Some of the functionality, like proposing issues and commenting on people’s opinions, is limited to registered users.

OJR: Aside from bloggers seeking a syndication platform, who else would bookmark this site? People who really like to argue?

NO: does provide a platform for bloggers to promote themselves through their opinions, but it’s really much more than that. For example, when the community jumps on a news item, frames it into issues, and starts posting opinions, you can quickly see the lay of the land just based on who is taking which stand. Since public figures are tagged with rich information about their affiliations, you can also see where groups of people stand on an issue. Sports fans may be equally divided on whether Barry Bonds should get into the Hall of Fame, but where do “sports journalists”, for example, stand on the issue? To find that out either somebody needs to do a lot of research, or you need to go to

For people that are more interested in the opinions of their friends than of public figures, provides a forum to argue, but also to interact, engage, etc. Some people find it more interesting to read and comment on a friend’s recent opinions than to see and comment on the pictures from a friend’s recent barbecue.

OJR: I like the way the site aggregates public figures and invites users to compare their own views. Seems like a good way to package the presidential candidates’ positions into something relatively digestible. How do you see that feature playing out as campaign season heats up?

NO: Many people that are following the candidates closely still find it difficult to identify just on what issues particular candidates disagree. Sometimes this is because candidates change or clarify their previous positions – changes keeps up with. In particular, as the campaign season heats up, makes things more interesting, for example, by letting people see how the candidates for state elections compare to them and to each other.

Again, what’s most unique is that you can compare any two people and quickly find where they agree and disagree. So, for example, when the campaigns begin to float names as candidates for Vice President, you can very quickly see whether they are a good fit and where they may clash.

OJR: Finally, regarding the tech behind the site’s comparison feature, how are you determining compatible positions? What variables you are looking at?

NO: doesn’t try to measure “compatibility” per se, but rather points out where there are differences of opinion. The comparison highlights whether two people tend to agree or disagree on the issues on which they have taken a stand. What’s most interesting is when you read the actual statements made that support those opinions. In that sense, is like an opinion index where you go to find the answer and then click through to read the original source.

Sue Cross on the news industry's bleak state, bright future

It probably brews most of the news news you read on the Web, but do you really think Associated Press when you think of online journalism?

Maybe, maybe not. But in the digital flood of grassroots journalism, traditional-media outlets, including the AP, face an immense challenge in keeping their work afloat online. Sue Cross took on the task a few years ago at the AP.

Where many of her newspaper contemporaries see gloom and doom for the industry, Cross hones in on encouraging opportunities for news organizations to work with the Internet, not fall victim to it. As senior vice president of Global New Media at AP since 2005, she has guided business strategy for newspaper websites, helped launch AP’s Online Video Network and redeveloped the company’s hosted online news.

She was at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication Monday to talk about the industry’s professional and educational future.

An optimist/realist, Cross sees promise for the future, but is careful not to look beyond the next five years. She set herself up with a Rupert Murdoch quote from a recent speech at Georgetown University.

“‘We have one certainty: we can never be sure where the industry will end up. … Technology is going to destroy all the old ways and old assumptions of doing business, most especially in the media.’”

“If Rupert isn’t sure,” said Cross, “none of us are sure.”

Not to call short-sightedness a handicap.

“Uncertainty is not all bad. It generates excitement. It generates innovation. The truth is, that makes it a very exciting time to be a journalist, and I really feel fortunate to be in journalism at this point in time. It’s sometimes scary, but it is never uninteresting.”

Cross cited The Washington Post, The Tyee and Hip Hop Caucus as examples of journalism’s proven appeal creativity, social media and aggregation. Ink and paper may be dying, she said, but the newspaper is not. At least not in the short-term.

“It’s allowing people to personalize the Post,” said Cross as she demonstrated the newspaper’s new Facebook widget. “It’s a light, just kind of fun application. At the same time, the Post isn’t giving up for a minute being an authoritative force of political coverage. The Post puts incredible resources and incredible dedication into very expensive, very insightful reporting…So I think this idea of in-depth reporting and text reporting, as we’ve seen from the Post, it may take different shapes, it may be mixed up, but it’s not going to go away. Still a very important piece of the future.

“You’ll see a fair amount of blogs saying people don’t care about news anymore. Young people don’t care about news. First of all, common sense says it’s nonsense. And the research also tends to say it’s nonsense. On the contrary, I would argue we’re in really the biggest media explosion in history. You can’t get in a cab without seeing a window with news on it. You cannot get in an elevator without seeing a news ticker. You can’t open your cell phone, you can’t go to your e-mail without seeing news headlines. That represents a voracious appetite. Those would not be there unless people wanted them. So I see the interest in news surging, and that’s a very good thing.”

Citizen journalism: Credibility is cool

“It’s tremendous. It’s here to stay. It’s important. It engages people. It pulls in information and comments we wouldn’t otherwise have. But it’s too often cast as when you abandon traditional journalism, citizen journalism will be the model of the future. That’s really not what’s happening. It’s not A or B, it’s kind of A plus B, and it’s going to that.

“And now you’re seeing many of these sites come back and seek professional content. YouTube is licensing professional video because it draws an audience and there’s an appetite for it. Google and Yahoo are making great efforts to bring in credible news content along with all the rest of the content they offer. And so you again are seeing people coming back to credible news sources.”

Activist & POV Journalism

“I don’t think objective journalism is going to go away… But along with it, there is a huge increase in grassroots journalism. Activist sites are doing a form of journalism that the public considers journalism, and which gets news to the public. And I think they can exist alongside good, objective journalism, and I think they’re here to stay.”

As an example, Cross pulled up Hip Hop Caucus, a New Orleans restoration site that features some original blogging but mainly aggregates relevant stories from around the Web.

“They are not doing original journalism much that I can tell right now, but it is journalism to their audience in that this is where their audience goes for collections of stories that particularly interest them. And it’s really taking news to people where they’d find it.

“I think that it’s not surprising as we see this proliferation that you are seeing these kind of strong point-of-view, activist, non-objective journalism sources increase. I think there are clear dangers. I’m not sure people distinguish they have a point of view to the reader. But I also think there are very positive aspects of them in reaching audiences that otherwise wouldn’t be consuming news. They do encourage involvement in civic issues. And they produce rich journalism, in many cases, that otherwise wouldn’t get done by larger publications. And I do think this is a trend you’ll see continue.”

That said…

Not to blindly sugar-coat the struggling state of the news. The latest Pew report—oft-cited by Cross Monday—gives us more of the same: Almost 1,500 newspaper jobs cut last year. An expanding list of media buyouts that’s expected to grow in 2008. And, in a new twist, online news is struggling alongside its traditional counterparts.

Notoriously lofty profit expectations are in part to blame, but Cross says the larger issue is that news organizations still have not figured out how to adjust as their business models move toward uncharted territory.

“Right now, this whole discussion over the business model and what’s going to support good reporting, it’s not working for new media either. There’s not a great financial base. That’s why you see so much more opinion than reporting in blogs and citizen journalism and so forth. The Pew study said, ‘the journalism of the future increasingly appears to be a hybrid that takes advantage of the technology rather than fights it. But the questions of who will pay and how they will do it seem more pressing than ever.’ The fact is that the financial bind is affecting bloggers as well as the local broadcaster.

“What is the issue? It’s deeper than Wall Street; it’s deeper than the mechanics. It is a fundamental uncoupling of advertising and content. The two have gone together, and one supported the other. And now you’re seeing that really broken apart.

“There always was an assumed audience around journalism. So if you had investigative reporting and comics on the back, it kind of sold as a bundle. For the most part media have been able to sort of sell the bundle of their audience and say, ‘here’s the whole audience, buy this. It’s kind of the whole enchilada. And now, advertisers are saying, ‘no. I don’t want to be next to anything bad like a plane crash or Iraq, I just want to be next to this story about bottled water, and I only want to pay you if somebody clicks through on it.’ It’s very micro, and that’s sort of disrupted the whole model.

“The second thing that’s fundamental with the Internet is just supply and demand. People are now gaming and going online in all these different ways. News is a relatively small part of what they do online and what you can sell advertising against. So news is getting a fairly small piece of that advertising pie. Again, quoting Pew: ‘As a category, news websites appear to falling behind financially. They are not growing in ad revenue as quickly as other Internet destinations.’”

In-depth reporting: A hole in the bucket

“There’s no shortage of opinion, criticism, dialogue, engagement in the new media. You can go read about news issues in more sources than ever before… but what is being lost are some crucial things. One is in investigative and watchdog journalism. This is an aspect that really can’t easily be replaced by citizen journalism. Investigative journalism is hard, it is often dangerous, it is expensive. It’s generally not the biggest audience draw, so it’s not attractive to advertisers. That makes it hard to make it self-supporting. And it puts the journalist up against very powerful sources. So how many freelancers are going to have the wherewithal to have libel insurance, to stand up when they are threatened by either government or commercial means. It’s a serious type of journalism that kind of needs an institution behind it to really make it work.

“The second area that I think is being lost is consistent day-in, day-out institutional coverage. City government. County government. State government…There’s some added public access through blogs and cable channels you can go watch a whole city council meeting. But the reality is, if you look at the time pressures people are under, that role of the journalists to go do that for them and boil it down is still very important. And that coverage also is expensive in terms of time and reporting resources, and it has been cut back. You’re seeing beats combined, you’re seeing less coverage of that level of institution. Along with that is beat coverage. Real expertise. People who cover the same topic for years and develop knowledge and depth and contacts and sources. You are seeing beats combined as newsroom resources are cut down. You also are seeing people are going in with less expertise. Seasoned beat reporters are, in many cases, leaving the industry.”

Video healed the newspaper scar?

Cross sees some encouraging trends in visual journalism. Where it used to simply illustrate the written word, video and photos are now a primary storytelling device. In addition to its financial potential, visual journalism could help keep longer-form, in-depth reporting alive on the Web.

“I think journalists haven’t really come to grips with the rise of video. As we talk about the decline in in-depth reporting and so forth, what you don’t seem to see covered is there is a current increase in documentaries. If you think about it, a great many documentaries are long-form journalism, they’re just in video form. I think you’re going to see tremendous added growth in this area, whether it’s short video clips on a cell phone or full documentary journalism.

“You also are seeing people spend more and more time on sites, and that has some pretty important economic ramifications. The more time they spend on sites watching video, that might help the economics of gathering the content.”

What’s it all mean for journalism education?

“I think there is a role of the universities in bridging the next few years. I don’t think that this is going to get sorted out. I think we could lose many of the best journalists in print media and in broadcast media. And what I fear that creates in the newsrooms is a kind of generation gap in skills. Traditionally, you come out of J-school, you learn a little bit, you go work in a newsroom, and you really learn the profession from your colleagues; from seasoned reporters, from seasoned editors. Right now you have a situation where many of the best, the most seasoned, the people with real expertise are taking buyouts or their jobs are being eliminated. One way or another, they’re leaving the profession. That leaves me enormously worried about what happens in the next 10 years. And I think journalism schools have a couple roles to play in this. While the business models are being worked out, it’s carrying forward these skills.

“Universities also have a role as incubators of what’s going to come. You have a student population that is at the forefront; tons of new ideas fresh ideas; the ability to bridge public institutions; some private, experimental stuff. You can pull together groups of people and talent in a way and be the place that is an incubator of new ideas and trying to figure out where to go, and I would hope to see universities take that role in journalism.

“What do you do with a curriculum in a time of change like this? I think journalism education has something of the same dilemma that the industry does in that we still think of ourselves in these channels. We think of ourselves as newspaper people or broadcast people or new media people. And those distinctions are really going away. So what do you do with it? I think it will be a real challenge for journalism schools to figure out how to do it just in a practical sense when things are changing this rapidly.”