Monday, December 12, 2005
The (two) people respond to the Public Editor; Times Tower ignored
I'm confident that The New York Times's reporting on the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller matters (with the latter being muddy, in my view) is far more significant than its reporting about financial transactions involving its parent company. The connection between the parent company's financial dealings and what ends up in the paper is tenuous at best. Just reporting the facts of these transaction will suffice. But since Mr. Blair and Ms. Miller wrote what appeared in The Times, more lengthy explanation was required.
In the final analysis, readers will judge The Times by what appears on its pages over all, not on specific issues. The Times, like any other publication, isn't perfect. It has to make decisions. And at the end of the day, you've got to get a paper out. The Times steps into the "batter's box" every day, and its success rate is well over 90 percent. That's why readers continue reading it.
Please, stop the hand-wringing - instead, do the best you can for tomorrow's issue. That's all readers expect.
The connection between the parent company's financial dealings and what ends up in the paper is tenuous at best? Tenuous, but in the case of the Times Tower, the more aggressive coverage by the Village Voice and the New York Observer provides evidence to debate that connection rather than dismiss it.
Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education and history at New York University, wrote:
Providing links to other newspapers is a fine idea, so far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. First, of course, most readers of the newspaper continue to read the print version. More to the point, providing multiple links doesn't address - and won't affect - the actual coverage in The Times. To get truly independent and critical coverage of yourself, you need to hire reporters that do not work for The Times (I argued this in a Nov. 9 op-ed article in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
A journalist friend told me, "That's a great idea, but no newspaper would ever do it." I asked why, and he said, "Because they don't want their dirty laundry aired in public!" That's an understandable reason, of course, but it's hardly a defensible one.
It actually has been done at least once, when the Seattle Times in 2003 hired a free-lance reporter to cover the Joint Operating Agreement--shared business arrangements but separate editorial functions--between the the Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. As Bob Steele wrote in Poynter Online: The freelancer will be an independent contractor whose reporting will neither be guided nor edited by top Times editors.
Wouldn't it be interesting if, to write about the Times Tower, the Times hired Paul Moses--the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, now journalism professor and freelancer, who wrote those Times Tower articles for the Voice?
Meanwhile, the Public Editor has not taken advantage of his Web Journal to inform readers whether or not the Times Tower deal was among the "several business transactions involving its parent company over the past five years" which "the paper has done a pretty good job" covering. The last post is from 11/23/05, even though the Web Journal is for comments "on matters that aren't appropriate for his column in the Sunday Op-Ed pages, or won't fit into it."
Meanwhile, the Times's troubles with Judith Miller and the leadership of publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. are getting attention from bigfoot journalists like Ken Auletta in the New Yorker (THE INHERITANCE: Can Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., save the Times—and himself?) and Seth Mnookin in Vanity Fair (Unreliable Sources).