Sunday, April 16, 2006

Q&A with the NYT

Bill Keller answers questions from readers and others in a online chat that the Times says will become a regular feature. It plows a lot of ground that will familiar to those of us who read Romenesko, the trade press and one another's newspapers. Nonetheless, there are many nuggets, some of which I've appeneded here. The whole piece is available by clicking here.

Keller: Not long ago a colleague at the Boston Globe convened an informal committee and tried to list the standards that we aspire to. Here's what she came up with:

  • We believe in a journalism of verification rather than assertion, meaning we put a higher premium on accuracy than on speed or sensation. When we report information, we look hard to see if it stands up to scrutiny.
  • We believe in transparency -- that is, we aim to tell you how we know what we know, to attribute our information as much as possible to named sources, to rely on documentary evidence when we can. As your math teacher might have said, we "show our work."
  • We are agnostic as to where a story may lead; we do not go into a story with an agenda or a pre-conceived notion. We do not manipulate or hide facts to advance an agenda. We strive to preserve our independence from political and economic interests. We do not work in the service of a party, or an industry, or even a country. When there are competing views of a situation, we aim to reflect them as clearly and fairly as we can.
  • We don’t do this as a hobby but as a living. Whether you call it a craft, or a profession, or an occupation, it is something we take seriously, and we demand levels of training and experience that we seek to pass on from one generation to the next.

Q. The colorful lead is the bane (or at least one of the banes) of my time spent with The Times. So often, I have tried quickly to get the gist of a story (this happens in the Sports section more often than in the news sections) only to find that I must read something like "it was a dark and dreary night" before finding the point, or the score, or even a notion of what the article is about.

Whatever happened to the inviolate rule that a lead was 35 words or fewer, telling us where, why, what or who?

-- Peter C. Boulay, Bronx, N.Y.

A. As the sun blazed above the snow-lacquered peaks of the Hindu Kush, the weary editor flipped down his clip-on sunglasses and booted up his laptop.

It had been a long week, a soul-sapping, disorienting and yet strangely satisfying week.

Past the simple campsite where he awaited his digital connection to the modern world flowed all the human mystery of the East: the women shrouded in burqas of azure, or possibly cerulean, he was not too good on blues; the camel-borne warlords draped with belts of bullets; the shoeless boys in filthy "I Heart New York" T-shirts; and all the rest, all separated by semicolons and swaddled in colorful cliches.

The computer flickered to life. The keys clicked like castanets until up came a complaint from the northern part of a far-off metropolis at the eastern end of a troubled superpower. The editor read. He frowned. Then he squinted down at the keyboard and typed:

"Amen, Mr. Boulay. Amen."

–Howard Weaver

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