Gaining Confidence: ‘N.Y. Times’ Releases Key Internal Report

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By: E&P Staff

An internal committee at The New York Times has recommended steps to increase readers’ confidence in the newspaper, including reducing errors, increasing coverage of religion, “rural areas” and “middle America,” making reporters and editors more accessible, and possibly starting a blog.

Executive editor Bill Keller, who had asked the panel to study questions of journalistic credibility, endorsed the recommendations in Monday’s editions, calling the report “a sound blueprint for the next stage of our campaign to secure our accuracy, fairness and accountability.”

The committee proposed taking steps including encouraging high-ranking editors to write a regular column dealing with the internal workings of the Times — this is in addition to the fairly new public editor’s column. Other suggestions include using the Internet to provide documents used for stories and transcripts of interviews, and further curtailing the use of anonymous sources. It saw no point in boycotting background briefings.

Recommendation #4 reads: “Consider creating a Times blog that promotes interaction with readers.”

As for accessibility: “The Times makes it harder than any other major American newspaper for readers to reach a responsible human being,” the committee’s 16-page report said. It also noted that the paper printed 3,200 corrections last year.

The committee was made up of 11 editors, 6 reporters, a copy editor and a photographer.

The committee also recommended that the paper “increase our coverage of religion in America” and “cover the country in a fuller way,” with more reporting from rural areas and of a broader array of cultural and lifestyle issues. The report will be available today on the Times company’s Web site, www.nytco.com.

The “credibiity” committee also declared that The Times should respond to its critics, nothing “there are those who love to hate The Times.” The report urged The Times to explain itself “actively and earnestly” to critics and to readers often confused when charges go unanswered. “We strongly believe it is no longer sufficient to argue reflexively that our work speaks for itself,” the report stated. “In today’s media environment, such a minimal response damages our credibility,” it added.

The Times this morning quoted early reaction to the report from Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley, who said The Times had to strike a balance between “smart public relations” and “letting your work speak for itself ….

“I would be loath to see a paper like The Times begin to spin its image too ardently through public relations techniques,” he said. “But I do firmly believe that the paper has to defend itself.”

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