Tuesday, May 10, 2005

NYT Panel Proposes Steps To Increase Credibility, First of Six Blogs Evaluating These

I'm going to try commenting in the next five days on proposals made by a special panel of the New York Times for improving the paper's credibility with readers.

I find I only back three of the 10 proposals mostly and four partially. Three, I don't favor at all.

My main concern is that the New York Times and other papers which may follow its lead may only be shackling themselves while not materially increasing their credibility with readers, and certainly not stilling the controversies that, in the age of blogs and the Internet, increasingly are enveloping newspapers.

Sometimes, it's just best to do your job and let the readers think what they will. They certainly already have the right to write letters to the editor, complain by e-mails and in other ways, and ask questions. If they really don't like the paper, no one forces them to subscribe or read it.

Some of the ideas seem, on first blush, to be good ones. But they may work out with unforeseen bad consequences.

To the extent, also, that they distract reporters and editors from their regular work, such ideas as making newspaper personnel more available to readers' e-mail might turn into a nightmare. Having been entirely open to e-mails when I was writing a consumer column for three years for the L.A. Times, I know that on some days I received as many as 200 e-mails and just coping with them took up most of the day. E-mail has done a lot for us all, but it also can be a royal nuisance.

This is not a perfect world. Reporters and editors can't satisfy everyone all the time. And our forefathers who wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States did not include a proviso requiring everyone's complaint about what was written to be heard and carefully evaluated..

I suppose I agree with New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller in general that there is "an immense amount that we can do to improve our journalism." Newspapers certainly can always become better. But an unmeasured effort to do so, and all at once, is utopian: it will drive us all to the nuthouse.

In the next five days, barring some sensational distracting news development, I plan to take up two of the main proposals of the New York Times panel each day in detail. If I'm interrupted, I'll return to the series as soon as practically possible.

In the meantime, let me say, I support three of the 10 ideas for the most part. These are 6, 9, and 10. Six, is to "Encourage reporters to confirm the accuracy of articles with sources before publication and to solicit feedback from sources after publication." Nine, is to "Increase coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion." Ten, is to "Establish a system for evaluating public attacks on The Times's work
and determining whether and how to respond."

I support ideas 2, 3, 7 and 8 partially. Two, is to "Make reporters and editors more easily available through e-mail". Three, is to "Use the Web to provide readers withcomplete documents used in stories as well as transcripts of interviews." Seven, is to "Set up an error tracking system to detect patterns and trends." Eight, is to "Encourage the development of software to detect plagiarism when accusations arise."

I oppose ideas 1,4 and 5. One, is to "Encourage the executive editor and the two managing editors to share responsibility for writing a regular column that deals with matters concerning the newspaper." Four, is to "Consider creating a Times blog that promotes interaction with readers." Five, is to "Further curtail the use of anonymous sources."

So, until tomorrow: WHY THE TOP EDITORS SHOULD NOT WRITE A REGULAR COLUMN. And SOME LIMITS ADVISABLE ON E-MAIL ACCESS.

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