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The New York Times public editor's very public utterance

By       Message Clay Shirky     Permalink
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opednews.com Headlined to H2 1/14/12

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Thursday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, went to his readers with a question:

"I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about."

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Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had "misunderstood" a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney's assertion that President Obama gives speeches "apologising" for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.

The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.

"Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB."

"If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases."

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"I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I'm an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?"

Brisbane had clearly not been expecting this excoriating and one-sided a reaction. Brisbane has since tried to clarify his views twice. The first was on the media blog JimRomenesko.com:

"What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question."

'Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?' asked Arthur Brisbane. 'Yes,' came the resounding reply. flickr image  By niallkennedy

The second was on the NY Times site:

"My inquiry related to whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut 'facts' that are offered by newsmakers when those 'facts' are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one."

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This only added fuel to the fire.

read the rest of the article at the Guardian

 

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Clay Shirky writes, teaches and consults on the social and economic effects of the internet. He is a professor at NYU's interactive telecommunications programme , and is the author of  Here Comes Everyone  and Cognitive Surplus. 
(editorial note-- he's an effing genius.)

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The New York Times public editor's very public utterance