Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Happy New Year! / public editors suck

Via Atrios: The Washington Post's ombudsman is for shit.

So, I've noticed, is NPR's. So is the Raleigh News & Observer's, for the most part. His title should be Chief Flack, not Public Editor. I guess I've gleaned a little bit of insight about the inner workings of the paper from his columns, e.g. what copy editors do, but it's always quite slanted and quite protective of the N&O's staff. He never holds anyone's feet to the fire. One of his recent columns was devoted to why the paper is sometimes wrinkled during the printing process. Hard-hitting stuff!

The NYT's new guy Calame has done some good things; he came down pretty hard on Judith Miller, and he was frank in writing that the Times's managing editor would not respond to his questions about NSA domestic eavesdropping and why the paper held the story for over a year. But Calame's predecessor Dan Okrent was a bit of a disaster.

Fear of the online world, and lack of understanding of it, are the crux of the dilemma for public editors. The WaPo has been persistently nettled by the phenomenon of bloggers, in their guise of self-appointed watchdogs of the establishment media. That's Deborah Howell's problem in the episode linked above. Newspapers are in a difficult and confusing position -- I say confusing because these misunderstandings lead them to commit acts of self-mutilation. Here's John Harris training his fire on the Post's in-house blogger Dan Froomkin. Okrent's low point was when he sided with an Internet troll named Donald Luskin over the Times' editorial page superstar Paul Krugman.

The latest black eye on the news business was the reporting of the mine accident in Upshur County, West Virginia last week. It's A Miracle! // oops, no it's not. West Virginians are marked by religious faith, but they're also marked by a deep sense of stoicism. Being braced for the worst; not expecting the universe to hand them a break. That sense of stoicism deserted some of them on that fateful day. Bottom line, I have trouble singling out the media for criticism. There was a generalized premature delirium, and I don't see why anybody, reporters or family members or CEOs or anybody else, was celebrating until those miners emerged from underground.