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.” 11/5/07Posted by Steve Boriss in NYTimes.
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.