The Times’s decision to open itself to criticism from the inside, criticism that is made public, is a clear indication of its desire to keep its standards high.It's a clear indication of its desire to clearly indicate its desire to indicate that it desires to keep its standards high. We'll see what Sullivan actually does. This week, her column is about "the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story" — taking cover under the appearance of balance — instead of "more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading." Journalists, we're told, have been feeling "pressure" recently "to be more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading." Recently? Why recently?
Diagram that sentence. Or, don't... just rewrite it. New media is continually applying this pressure. It's not your movement. It's your reaction. The old cover of phony balance doesn't work anymore. Now, what is the NYT supposed to do? Sullivan says:
It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.
Journalists need to make every effort to get beyond the spin and help readers know what to believe, to help them make their way through complicated and contentious subjects.Help readers know what to believe... The one recent example she gives is the conflict over voter ID laws, in which one side points to the asserted problem of voter fraud and the other contends that the new laws are really about vote suppression. NYT readers wrote to her to complain about an article that presented the statements of both sides, instead of helping readers know what to believe: "that there was little evidence of voter fraud."
The national editor, Sam Sifton, rejected the argument. “There’s a lot of reasonable disagreement on both sides,” he said.... “It’s not our job to litigate it in the paper...We need to state what each side says.”Sullivan's next line is "On other subjects, The Times has made clear progress in avoiding false balance." So the accusation — stated weakly, but stated — is that the NYT falsely equated the 2 sides' assertions and has failed to make enough progress in the movement to help readers know what to believe.
... “Both sides have become very angry and very suspicious about the other,” [said the author of the article, Ethan Bronner]. “The purpose of this story was to step back and look at both sides, to lay it out.” While he agreed that there was “no known evidence of in-person voter fraud,” and that could have been included in this story, “I don’t think that’s the core issue here.”
There's your problem with the NYT, according to the new public editor: It's just so darned balanced and so reticent about manipulating reader opinion. And — this is the funny part — new media is pressuring the NYT to get with it and tell us who to believe. Hint: It's the Democrats. Why can't the NYT amp up their support for the Democrats? Hmm. It's what new media wants, sayeth the new promote-transparency-and-understanding editor, telling us about something a reader wrote.
Letters to the editor! That's not really new media, even if it was email. Does Sullivan understand much of anything about the pressure new media has been putting on the NYT? She thinks the solution is to be more clear about vouching for the Democratic Party's arguments? That would relieve the pressure?