Monday, July 25, 2016

I mean, you can't have a newspaper going around making people feel they're *wrong* about stuff

Drawing by Jen Sorensen, 2013, via The Political Carnival.
A reader calls my attention to the replacement of the great Margaret Sullivan as Public Editor of the Times, Liz Spayd (I'm sorry, that really looks like a fictional name), who is worried that news and opinion writing at the Times may not be really good for the paper's marketing. Did I even type that?

I HAVE been here less than a month, but already I’ve discovered something that surely must be bad for business if your business is running The New York Times. It comes via the inbox to the public editor, from people like Gary Taustine of Manhattan, who writes: “The NY Times is alienating its independent and open-minded readers, and in doing so, limiting the reach of their message and its possible influence.” [Or] James, an Arizona reader: “You’ve lost a subscriber because of your relentless bias against Trump — and I’m not even a Republican.”
If your coverage of Donald Trump impresses James, who is not even a Republican, as relentlessly biased against the candidate, that can't be good for business.

I went around asking several journalists in the newsroom about these claims that The Times sways to the left. Mostly I was met with a roll of the eyes. All sides hate us, they said. We’re tough on everyone. That’s nothing new here.
That response may be tempting, but unless the strategy is to become The New Republic gone daily, this perception by many readers strikes me as poison. A paper whose journalism appeals to only half the country has a dangerously severed public mission. And a news organization trying to survive off revenue from readers shouldn’t erase American conservatives from its list of prospects.
Seriously. The Times wants to make money, so it had better not become a wild-eyed revolutionary rag like the New Republic, the favored reading of pockmarked, trembling communists and anarcho-syndicalists in their grimy coffeehouses all around the world.

And this claim that it's not biased at all won't wash if there are customers who don't agree. The customer is always right!

I'm looking for an online statement from the Times on what the function of a Public Editor is, but I'm not finding one. Surely there used to be a statement somewhere on the site! Wikipedia says,
The job of the public editor is to supervise the implementation of proper journalism ethics at a newspaper, and to identify and examine critical errors or omissions, and to act as a liaison to the public.
And the codes of journalistic ethics, they tell us, while differing from one definition to the other,
share common elements including the principles of—truthfulnessaccuracyobjectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability—as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.
Not a word there about how issues of profitability trump (heh-heh) the editors' judgment as to what is truthful, accurate, objective, impartial, and fair.

The home page is a good place to start. Anchoring its top right corner is the Opinion section, which promotes the columns and editorials of its mostly liberal writers. “Readers know the difference between opinion and news,” you’ll often hear. I’m not so sure all do, especially when the website makes neighbors of the two and social platforms make them nearly impossible to tease apart.
(Is it worth pointing out that all the conservative opinionists at the Times, like the majority of their brethren in less august publications, think that Trump is an incarnate devil and spend a good deal of time trying to convince readers that he is a liberal? Does James, who is not even a Republican, see that as part of the problem?)

Are you suggesting the op-eds need some kind of trigger warning? (Readers should be advised that some of the language in the Tom Friedman column may represent a personal view which could cause them some discomfort.)

There are too many Hillary banner ads on the website, says Spayd (it's the Times's fault that the Trump campaign doesn't believe in newspaper ads or can't afford them?)

There aren't enough conservative comments in the comment sections, she says, although they try to fake it to make it looks as though there are more:

Bassey Etim, who oversees the comments forum, makes a point of salting conservative voices into the week’s list of top commenters. “It just makes the conversation more dynamic and interesting,” he says.
Here's another bit:

Imagine what would be missed by journalists who felt no pressing need to see the world through others’ eyes. Imagine the stories they might miss, like the groundswell of isolation that propelled a candidate like Donald Trump to his party’s nomination.
That insight, such as it was, was achieved because reporters saw the phenomenon as an irrational behavior that NEEDED to be explained. If they had hewn to a rule that says Donald Trump must be taken as a serious, normal candidate because some readers think he is, they'd never have found anything. This theme arose exactly because of the attitudes that make some readers think the paper is biased.

As readers know, I love-hate the Times, and the hate side has a good deal to do with its hysterical bothsiderism, its continual effort to make the case that the opposition Y to any public figure X is perfectly reasonable, no matter how insane or dangerous or tasteless Y's views may be. This Spayd seems to be asking them to make more of an effort, such that no reader can even suspect a reporter thinks a rightwinger is insane or dangerous or tasteless.

This public editor is a terrible, terrible choice. Unless it's just that Russians have hacked into the Gray Lady and snuck in some dreadful changeling.

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