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Reporter fed up with Yahoo

John Cook is leaving Yahoo.

Here's why you should care.

Cook is a former Chicago Tribune reporter who specializes in digging up documents. He decamped for Gawker, and had some success marrying his investigative approach to Gawker's gossipy style. After Freddie Mac's acting chief financial officer committed suicide, for instance, Cook obtained evidence that investigators were looking into whether agency officials had concealed or misrepresented information related to the banking bailout. (The probe apparently went nowhere.)

In April, as Yahoo was hiring a number of mainstream journalists for its newsy Upshot blog, Cook signed on. But the relationship went sour.

Jeff Bercovici at Daily Finance, a friend of Cook, reports that he was turned off by Yahoo's cautious culture:

"In one instance, Cook was forced to bowdlerize a quotation from New York Times reporter James Risen; he was told that referring to masturbation, even euphemistically, was unacceptable. On similar grounds, he was prohibited from writing about the conservative website Free Republic hosting child pornography. Most glaringly, he was told that a proposed story on the Obama Administration raising the salary of White House staffers by 9% lacked the necessary balance; it was killed."

Cook told him: "I really valued being able to write what I think without somebody worrying about whether it will upset somebody, or meets the sort of balancing test that newspapers apply to themselves."

Andrew Golis, who runs The Upshot, wrote on his blog Wednesday. "John's a brilliant reporter, but he decided that he prefers the license Gawker gave him to add his opinions into his reporting to the scale and credibility Yahoo! News could offer."

Cook is heading back to Gawker. The question for Yahoo, AOL and other portals edging their way into the content business is whether other journalists will see them as a liberating leap from the MSM--or large corporations with overzealous editing.

Update: Kristinn Taylor, a spokesman for Free Republic, says the links to what was billed as naked pictures of preteens were posted by a user under the site's free registration policy. He says Free Republic took down the page after learning about it. The porn links were reported last spring by Salon.

By Howard Kurtz  | September 22, 2010; 10:12 PM ET
Categories:  Blogs, Latest stories  | Tags:  Gawker, Yahoo  
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