links for 2010-08-28
George Orwell Liveblogs World War II: August 29 "There Will Always Be an England" Edition

The New York Times's New Public Editor Gets Off to a Bad Start

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Arthur Brisbane:

To fulfill the public editor’s charge, I plan to write columns and blog posts, publish readers’ letters, reply to readers privately, and otherwise mediate an exchange between The Times and its audience.... I believe that journalists should leave their political views at the door when they report and edit the news. I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Barack Obama and then Scott Brown, so, as you can see, I have already left my views at the door!

That is, I think, very bad. If your political views are anything but a joke, they are a natural reflection of what you see in the news and thus of what you report and edit. A journalist who lives his or her political views at the door has (i) either reduced himself or herself to a mindless sock puppet-like regurgitator of press releases, (ii) or a pointless chyron of the horse race--even if he or she can avoid writing "opinions on shape of earth differ," (iii) or is simply a liar.

Hopefully Arthur Brisbane is the last of these. It would simply be a waste of ink to be a regurgitator of press releases, or a chyron of horse races, or to be reduced to writing "opinions on shape of earth differ."

So I will presume that Brisbane will not in fact check his politics at the door: doing so would mean checking his judgment and his perception of reality at the door. And so I want to know about his judgment and his perception of reality: I need to know where he is coming from if I can understand how to understand what he writes.

So, a simple question: what kind of view of America and the world makes somebody think it was a good idea to vote first for Barack Obama for president and then for Scott Brown for senator?

There were 3 million voters in Massachusetts in 2008. Roughly 950,000 voted for John McCain in 2008 and Scott Brown in 2010. Roughly 100,000 did not vote in 2008 and voted for Scott Brown in 2010. Roughly 50,000 did not vote in 2008 and voted for Martha Coakley in 2010. Roughly 50,000 voted for John McCain in 2008 and Martha Coakley in 2010. Roughly 950,000 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Martha Coakley in 2010. Roughly 850,000 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and stayed home in 2010.

Roughly 100,000 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Scott Brown in 2010.

That's what Arthur Brisbane did. And, as you can see, that is a very unusual thing to do--something only 3% of Massachusetts's 2008 voters did. It makes me curious about the shape of Arthur Brisbane's mind, and about what reality he perceives.


More:

Jay Ackroyd:

Eschaton: Contempt: In his opening column, the new ombud at the NYTimes displays the newsroom's contempt for its readers--people are apparently either partisans or nitpickers--and, by extension, for the "scold, scourge" in "the principal's office" who ostensibly represents them.

Arthur Brisbane:

The Public Editor - Why I Would Do This: “I feel like I’ve been sent to the principal’s office.” The Times reporter sitting across from me smiled nervously. I hadn’t even spoken yet. Scold, scourge, wreaker of cold justice: apparently, that’s what’s expected of the public editor. In my introductions around the office, the first question — almost universally — was, “Why on earth would you want this job?” All of this came after I had accepted the position, of course, and before I had considered that this is how the public editor’s post is viewed in some corners of The Times.

Maybe it’s a good question. Why on earth?

I wanted the job for several reasons. First is that The Times matters. No other American news organization has the resources and the ambition to reach as deeply and as broadly.... The public editor deals with problems in the aftermath. It’s forensic, a kind of journalistic “CSI.”

Second, the next few years will be an inflection point for The Times....

Finally, any journalist would find it hard to say no to the chance to practice the trade here.

Admittedly, serving as the paper’s fourth public editor is a really strange way to do it. The job bears little resemblance to the roles I have played previously: newspaper reporter, columnist, editor, publisher, corporate manager.

The public editor is a radical concept...

I think it is time to hit the pause button and say: Newspapers have had ombudsmen for two generations now. That Brisbane can still call it a "radical concept" tells us a lot about him--and is a bad signal for his qualifications to hold the job.

Brisbane goes on:

According to my agreement with The Times, the public editor is the “designated representative of the readers of The New York Times.”... Bloggers, tweeters, aggregators and competing Web sites pore over Times content every day, hunting for food, hunting for fodder. In military terms, you could call it asymmetric warfare — a lightly armed foe waging war against a much larger and less agile one. The metaphor of war, though, is incomplete because this is not just about the committed antagonists of The Times. It’s also about the loyalists. When they find errors or other shortcomings, they expect their beloved to own up. Theirs is not to wage war but to salvage affection. That said, when they do get angry, they too resort to the blogosphere, the Twitterdome and the like...

Again, pause: no, the metaphor is not "incomplete," the metaphor is wrong. And it is a very worrying sign that Brisbane classifies those who want the Times to be its best self with those who want it to die because the loyalists "too resort to the blogosphere, the Twitterdome and the like..."

Brisbane goes on:

To fulfill the public editor’s charge, I plan to write columns and blog posts, publish readers’ letters, reply to readers privately, and otherwise mediate an exchange between The Times and its audience.... I believe that journalists should leave their political views at the door when they report and edit the news. I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Barack Obama and then Scott Brown, so, as you can see, I have already left my views at the door!

As I said above, that is, I think, very bad. If your political views are anything but a joke, they are a natural reflection of what you see in the news and thus of what you report and edit. A journalist who lives his or her political views at the door has either reduced himself or herself to a mindless sock puppet-like regurgitator of press releases, or a pointless chyron of the horse race--even if he or she can avoid writing "opinions on shape of earth differ," or simply a liar.

Hopefully Arthur Brisbane is the last of these. It would simply be a waste of ink to be a regurgitator of press releases, or a chyron of horse races, or to be reduced to writing "opinions on shape of earth differ." So I will presume that Brisbane will not in fact check his politics at the door, because doing so would mean checking his judgment and his perception of reality at the door. And so I want to know about his judgment and his perception of reality: I want to know where he is coming from so I can understand how to take what he writes.

So, a simple question: what kind of view of America and the world could make somebody think it was a good idea to vote first for Barack Obama for president and then for Scott Brown for senator? There were 3 million voters in Massachusetts in 2008. Roughly 950,000 voted for John McCain in 2008 and Scott Brown in 2010. Roughly 100,000 did not vote in 2008 and voted for Scott Brown in 2010. Roughly 50,000 did not vote in 2008 and voted for Martha Coakley in 2010. Roughly 50,000 voted for John McCain in 2008 and Martha Coakley in 2010. Roughly 950,000 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Martha Coakley in 2010. Roughly 850,000 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and stayed home in 2010.

Roughly 100,000 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Scott Brown in 2010. That's what Arthur Brisbane did. And, as you can see, that is a very unusual thing to do--something only 3% of Massachusetts's 2008 voters did.

So I would like to know why Arthur Brisbane did this.

Comments