Monday, May 11, 2009

The Times's Public Editor finds a "special obligation" in covering the NYT's sibling; why not its partner?

In a column yesterday headlined When Your Sister Is the Story, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt criticized the newspaper for not aggressively covering the financial troubles at and potential closure of the Boston Globe, which, like the Times, is owned by the New York Times Company.

Hoyt writes:
The Times, which demands transparency and accountability from all sorts of other public institutions, found itself in the uncomfortable position of trying to cover one that had zipped its lip — its own company.

“We believe negotiations should be private,” [corporate spokeswoman Catherine] Mathis told me. But that’s the business side speaking. The news side did not keep pushing hard enough, in my view.


Special obligation

Hoyt cites explanations about the contour of coverage from Times editors and observes:
It is true that the outlines of the story have become depressingly familiar — falling circulation and revenue because of the double blow of a deep recession and the rapid shift of readers and advertisers from printed papers to the Internet, where content is mostly free and ad rates are low. But when the story involves the most revered company in the industry — and it happens to be yours — I think there is a special obligation to be aggressive, which The Times has seemed loath to do.
(Emphasis added)

Special obligation? I've used that phrase multiple times regarding coverage of Atlantic Yards, saying that the Times has a "special obligation" to be exacting--I haven't gone so far as to urge aggression--in coverage of the parent company's business partner.

Business partner, sibling--is there a big difference? I don't think so. But Hoyt has so far ignored Atlantic Yards.

Last words to the brass; epitaph for AY coverage?

Hoyt closed by interviewing the Times's two leaders:
I asked [Executive Editor Bill] Keller about the difficulty of covering your own company. “It’s an utterly thankless task,” he said. “You have people assuming that what you write, if not dictated by the corporate P.R. department, is strongly influenced by the instinct for self-preservation.” He said, “We try to do a balanced job, the same as when we write about any institution.” But he acknowledged, “Historically, newspapers are not good at it.”

[Publisher Arthur] Sulzberger said: “I fully recognize that there is nothing more difficult for a news organization than covering itself. I am proud of the way in which The Globe and The Times have handled the coverage of the union negotiations.”

I think that "historically... not good at it" stands as an assessment of the Times's coverage of Atlantic Yards.

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