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May 24, 2005

The New York Times: Seeking Your Trust

The New York Times published an internal critique last week titled Preserving Our Readers’ Trust, conducted by a self-named Credibility Group headed by Allan Seigel.

Most of the report makes recommendations that will help the paper take advantage of new technologies and do better and more accurate reporting. So most of the report misses the mark, because it does not deal with the central issues that have caused the Times to violate the trust of its readers—an insular, elitist worldview and blatant bias.

But on the last page of the report, the study group hits on some of the real issues. (h/t: Terry Mattingly)

In a section titled Diversifying Our Vantage Point, the report reads:

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist "inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme." We often apply "religious fundamentalists," another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

We particularly slip into these traps in feature stories when reporters and editors think they are merely presenting an interesting slice of life, with little awareness of the power of labels. We need to be more vigilant about the choice of language not only in the text but also in headlines, captions and display type.

Many staff members say that the paper covers breaking news well, but that it needs to take additional steps to cover the country in a fuller way. The national desk is already moving in this direction, but we encourage more reporting from the middle of the country, from exurbs and hinterland, and more coverage of social, demographic, cultural and lifestyle issues. We would also welcome even more enterprise reporting beyond New York, Washington and a handful of other major cities.

Nothing we recommend should be seen as endorsing a retreat from tough-minded reporting of abuses of power by public or private institutions. In part because the Times's editorial page is clearly liberal, the news pages do need to make more effort not to seem monolithic. Both inside and outside the paper, some people feel that we are missing stories because our staff lacks diversity in viewpoints, intellectual grounding and individual backgrounds. We should look for all manner of diversity. We should seek talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths.

A candid analysis and recommendations that the Times would be wise to heed.

As Mattingly writes in his weekly column, the cover of the report should have had the famous New Yorker illustration, which demonstrates the self-focus of New Yorkers, but notably also fails to include even one church steeple.

As the Times’ study group has pointed out, the paper—and all of MSM—need to more aggressively seek out the steeples that not only dot the New York and the national landscape but animate the lives and dreams of all of America.

Posted by Jim at May 24, 2005 08:44 AM

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