The resignation of New York Times reporter Bari Weiss and her statements about resigning from the Gray Lady due to being harassed and targeted should come as no surprise.
Let’s look briefly at some of the history of what once was regarded as a well respected and esteemed paper.
In 2003 former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned after admitting to having flat-out fabricated stories. He concocted facts, lied about being places, plagiarized from other publications, and invented quotes from people he never even interviewed.
The New York Times shortly afterward created the public editor position to try to hold the newspaper accountable to the readers.
In November 2016, when Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, The New York Times was reeling in surprise.
The paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, wrote a self-reflective article entitled: “Want to Know What America’s Thinking? Try Asking,” in a refreshingly introspective article. For a brief period of time, some media outlets had admitted to not having listened to a large part of America. That’s quite an admission, since listening and reporting are the most important jobs of news people.
Spayd included one comment from a reader who said: “You may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”
That introspective mentality didn’t last long at the Times.
The Times canned Spayd shortly afterward.
The Times leadership said that supposedly that position wasn’t needed in the age of social media.
“The responsibility of the public editor ― to serve as the reader’s representative ― has outgrown that one office,” Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger wrote in a Wednesday memo to staff, according to the Huffington Post.
“There is nothing more important to our mission, or our business, than strengthening our connection with our readers,” Sulzberger added. “A relationship that fundamental cannot be outsourced to a single intermediary.”
It was a comment completely lacking in self awareness.
Really? So would the 2003 Jayson Blair plagiarism and fabrication scandal not happen today in the age of social media?
Besides, social media was alive and well in 2016, and the leadership of The Times still completely missed what happened.
This decision, along with the decision of The Times to eliminate additional editor positions, seems to indicate that accuracy doesn’t matter as much today. This is always disconcerting, but it is especially so for the newspaper that probably still wants to be known as the nation’s “newspaper of record.”
When Bari Weiss resigned, she stated in her resignation letter: “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.”
For those of us who are struggling to find a good, reliable source of news, keep in mind that having an impartial news source was a relatively unique phenomenon.
At the founding of the United States of America, newspapers were blatantly partisan and didn’t hesitate to attack each other. It didn’t take our new country long at all to develop the two-party system. Newspapers were quick to side with either the Federalist or the Democratic-Republican Party.
In the 1900s, famous newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were both congressmen in New York.
I suppose there are some news outlets today that try to make an attempt at objectivity. But even many of them are biased in some way.
When I studied journalism in college and started my career in journalism, I had always been taught to be objective and not to insert my personal beliefs in the story.
And people did not know where I stood on different positions, something I took pride in.
That doesn’t seem to be the trend now. Today opinion and news is being blurred, and many reporters are becoming activists.
Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan has an interesting perspective.
“We choose what to focus on, what to amplify, what to investigate and examine,” she wrote in a column.
“That’s why the simplistic “just the unadorned facts” can be such a canard. And that’s why the notion to ‘represent all points of view equally’ is absurd and sometimes wrongheaded,” she said.
This goes against what journalism schools have been teaching for a long time, but it is a breath of fresh air to actually hear someone in the media be honest.
This is part of what conservatives often complain about. They don’t just complain that the coverage is slanted or that the headlines are biased. They complain that the news doesn’t cover what they are concerned about.
Sullivan’s comment is honest, and it highlights the change in journalism today. Reporters and media outlets are admitting that their job is not just to report the facts but to tell people what they should believe.
To a certain extent, I agree with that. The actual choice of what to write about shows that someone is the arbiter of what should be discussed.
And the media has been focused on many superficial discussion topics, hardly ever placing the attention on what should be the main focus.
It is not a role to be taking lightly. And if you are in position to teach people — whether you are a pastor, university president, newspaper editor or publisher, or a parent of a family, you’d better know what the truth is.
So the question we need to be asking ourselves is: “What is truth?”
You’ll need that as a starting point first of all. Then you’ll need to decide what really matters and what needs to be the focus.
And let me give you a hint: the leadership of The New York Times has no idea.