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CBS News counters bloggers with 'Nonbudsman'

(Posted August 30, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

After a controversial run-in with bloggers last year that helped sink "60 Minutes Wednesday," CBS has hired a "nonbudsman" to write a blog that will go behind the scenes at the news division.

Former "Hotline" editor Vaughn Ververs will report his findings on "Public Eye," which debuts next month on

Ververs will be a kind of media reporter, mostly focused on CBS News, reporting and writing about how the news is gathered, produced and placed. In addition to providing Journalism 101, "Public Eye" also could offer extended versions of segments that appeared on CBS, interviews with correspondents and producers and maybe even the daily story meeting for the "CBS Evening News."

"This is a way to open up the process ," Ververs said.

Although he's a CBS employee, Ververs doesn't answer to CBS News president Andrew Heyward. His boss is CBS Digital Media head Larry Kramer, who has a long career in journalism. Ververs has no power to change policy or the direction of stories.

"I'm not here to set the rules," Ververs said. "I'm not even here to voice my opinion. That's not my job."

Heyward, who coined the term "nonbudsman," makes it clear that he's not looking for someone to just pat CBS News on the back.

"It's going to be an honest, fair, unvarnished look at what we do, and that means that it's an experiment," Heyward said. "It's a risk. Not everybody approves of what we do. But I'm banking on the fact that people will also see how much effort we make about being fair and being ethical."

In an interview last week at's headquarters, Ververs acknowledged that it's up to him to show right off the bat that he's neither a network apologist nor a media critic. He's not going to softball anyone, and if CBS News deserves the heat, it's going to get it -- but the network or correspondents aren't obligated to talk to him, either.

But Ververs pointed to the enthusiastic support given by Kramer and Heyward to provide as much transparency as popular in the often-insular world of broadcast news. In the wake of the discredited "60 Minutes Wednesday" report about President Bush's service in the National Guard, CBS News was criticized for not being immediately forthcoming after questions about the reporting emerged.

Kramer thinks that in the case of last year's "Memogate" involving Dan Rather and "60 Minutes Wednesday," something like "Public Eye" would have been useful.

"It would help a news organization deal with controversy because it brings it out into the open," Kramer said. "If you believe as I do that we're an honest, hard-working news organization, all you need to do is have the ability to explain how you do what you do and they'll understand."

Kramer said the more quickly that's done when there are questions, the better. He thinks Ververs, a veteran political journalist and media critic, is perfectly suited for the job.

"He's a combination of a good reporter and the host of a talk show," Kramer said. "The concept is for him to really moderate a debate. . . . That requires asking the right questions and being persistent."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Source: Yahoo! News

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