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NY Times Editor inadvertently nails her paper’s problem: “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices.” 11/5/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in NYTimes.
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The NY Times will finally, but fearfully, allow readers to post comments under their articles, something the Washington Post and USA Today have been doing for quite awhile. The Times is so worried about this baby step that they have taken the unprecedented precaution of hiring four part-time staffers to screen each submission before posting it, rather than simply allowing readers to call attention to problem posts like other online newspapers. Kate Phillips, editor of the Times’ Caucus blog said that she struggles so much with the “intolerance” and “vitriol” she sees in some comments that on rare occasions “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices.”

Unfortunately for Ms. Phillips and others at the Times who still may not get it, those pesky “voices” are those of citizens, who government must serve, and customers, whose readership will determine the fate of her publication. King George III and Marie Antoinette no doubt also wished they could go back to the days when they never heard their voices — but at least they might be forgiven for believing their positions were so secure that it would take a bloody revolution of historic proportions to end their reign.

If so many in the Times’ audience are as angry as Ms. Phillips knows they are, the simplest explanation is that there is a problem with the Times. In virtually every other industry it is understood that the first step is to listen to what dissatisfied audiences are saying, even pay for their toll-free phone calls so they can vent their unhappiness, and not to suppress or ignore customer complaints. If the Times is to survive, they must listen to the anger, be honest with themselves, think how they might be contributing to it, and do their best to address it. Of course, that would require humility, a trait the Times is not best known for.

Comments»

1. Ed Driscoll.com - 11/5/07

Voices…They Hear Voices….

(With apologies to Alan and Gerard): I saw the self-designated best minds of my generation destroyed by Bloggers, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Internet’s streets at dawn looking for a miracle fix to their industry’s woes…

2. david - 11/6/07

Hilarious, Steve and his ilk mislead the rubes into frothing rage at imagined slights, said rubes hammer out irrational vulgar rants at Times reporters, Times reporter expresses surprise at the filth that passes for political discourse on the extreme right, and Steve bitches about the snob Times reporter’s dainty sensibilities. It’s like poetry in motion, only icky.

Bonus points:”Unfortunately for Ms. Phillips and others at the Times who still may not get it, those pesky “voices” are … customers, whose readership will determine the fate of her publication”

Steve’s rube readers subscribe to the Times? Please.

3. Steve Boriss - 11/6/07

David, Questions for you: 1) Does the Washington Post get this amount of vitriol from those who comment? Why not? 2) Let’s go with whatever stereotype you have of my readers. Why wouldn’t my “rube readers” subscribe to the Times if the Times was doing a good job presenting news objectively?

4. Chris B. - 11/6/07

As a “rube” reader, I can tell you that from 1981 to about 2002, I read the NY Times every day. From 1983 to 1987, it was essential to doing my job and I became totally addicted to it. I probably missed reading it only 7 or 8 times a year. My wife used to lambaste me because I wouldn’t go on vacation in a place where I couldn’t buy it.

Somewhere around 2003 or 2004 I noticed that it was becoming unreadable. It had always had a liberal perspective, but that wasn’t a secret, and it had the best foreign affairs coverage of any newspaper, and pretty good national political coverage. But by 2004 or so, it just seemed to be becoming unhinged. There’s some mystical power that GWB has that has just made an entire segment of American public opinion unable to maintain any basic perspective. And by the way, I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq.

There was no specific issue or “last straw” that led me to quit buying it; rather, I just noticed that if I didn’t read it on a particular day I could still get a sense of what was going on through other outlets, including the internet. “Bush Derangement Syndrome” has done to the NY Times’ franchise what Clinton-phobia did to the Republicans in the late 90s.

5. david - 11/6/07

David, Questions for you: 1) Does the Washington Post get this amount of vitriol from those who comment?

Yes

2) Let’s go with whatever stereotype you have of my readers. Why wouldn’t my “rube readers” subscribe to the Times if the Times was doing a good job presenting news objectively?

In order to believe you credible, your readers must believe the NY Times is not.

6. Ydobon - 11/10/07

david wrote, “In order to believe you credible, your readers must believe the NY Times is not.

Roger Kimball in Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics over on Pajamas Media has caught the NY Times “misreporting” publicly available figures. It’s own circulation figures, in fact. This kind of misstep not only calls attention to the problem, it explains it.

The Times claimed, “its daily and Sunday circulation each fell 3.5 percent.

Roger points out, “Every other story I saw put the performance of the Times rather differently, noting a 4.5% drop in daily circulation and nearly 7.6% drop in the circulation of its Sunday paper.

Bad news: continued major circulation drops.
Worse news: misrepresenting news.
Future of News: We the People speak.

I don’t think the NY Times is ready for the Future of News.


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