Thursday, January 12, 2012

Should the New York Times be a truth vigilante?

Daring Fireball's John Gruber links to this New York Times page in which the paper's public editor asks the following:

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge "facts" that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

I am in agreement with John that it seems obvious that this should be one of a news reporter's goals in writing about current events and public figures. Merely reporting the he-said/she-said of political debates, for instance, serves no purpose if the statements made by the debaters are not analyzed for their truthfulness; this reduces the news outlet to transcribers, thereby reducing its value to readers.

To that end, I sent this email to the paper's public editor, Arthur Brisbane:

Dear Mr. Brisbane,

As a reader of a variety of news sources, one of the reasons I have so much respect for the Times is its impartiality in reporting the news. To that end, I would strongly encourage news reporters to point out falsehoods and lies being put forward by the public figures they are covering.

It is the job of a newspaper to present complete and accurate information so that its readers are fully informed about the events and issues of the day. It is not the job of a newspaper to serve as a propaganda outlet for one side of a debate or another, nor for interest groups. While I understand that the Times is a business, and that the purpose of a business to be profitable, if a newspaper puts profits ahead of principles, it ceases to be a newspaper at all.

With our media culture's dismal signal-to-noise ratio, if the Times cannot report facts and reality—and point out verifiably false statements made by public figures—without being a successful business, then it has no right to be in the business of journalism. We as citizens need the Times to stand as a reliable source of truth, facts and reality, even—especially—in the face of politically-motivated criticism for doing so.

As a resident of California and a frequent consumer of online news sources, I am willing to pay a reasonable price for an annual subscription to the Times online if its reporters are encouraged to point out lies and false statements made by public figures in their news articles, rather than in a separate (often difficult to find) section.

Thank you for your time,
Scott Stebleton
San Francisco, CA

If you think newspapers should serve truth over propaganda and accuracy over profits, let Mr. Brisbane know.

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