Advocacy, Not Reporting, at the NYT

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

Via Paleo Retiree, an insider gives us a peek into how things really work at the New York Times:

Having left the Times on July 25, after almost 12 years as an editor and correspondent, I missed the main heat of the presidential campaign; so I can’t add a word to those self-assessments of the recent political coverage. But these recent mornings-after leave me with some hard-earned thoughts about the Times’ drift from its moorings in the nation at-large.

For starters, it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes. Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”

This sounds exactly like my experience as a junior attorney. The senior partner assigns you a position to argue and it’s your job to conduct the necessary legal research to find the existing precedents that support their argument. You reason backwards starting with their conclusion. Whether their preferred conclusion has any basis in reality is a separate, and sometimes irrelevant, issue.

I’ve had to tell the senior partner on more than one occasion that, sorry, the law doesn’t support your position. They inevitably get angry. Sometimes, after they’ve thrown their little tantrum, they adjust to the new reality and proceed accordingly. Other times, you are asked to make an argument that you know is bad. But even this can be understandable because there are inevitably instances where your best argument is still a losing one. You proceed with the losing argument anyway because, well, you’re being paid to advocate as strongly as you can on behalf of your client.

It’s been fascinating to watch the NYT and other mainstream organs operate like paid lawyers for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Mr. Cieply’s quote above is yet more evidence that they’re not reporters, they’re advocates.

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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3 Responses to Advocacy, Not Reporting, at the NYT

  1. The problem of top-down narrative is aggravated by the generational culture diff. The management is old, attached to the status quo, sclerotic in terms of imagination, invested in denial as a means of control.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have yet to see anything about Native Americans, either on the rez or off. We forget that Mexicans and the SW include a LOT of Native American identification. In Montana the rezes, if they ever worked together, could control the state. They are the prey of the resource exploiters.


  3. JV says:

    Not too surprising, although it’s too bad. The NYT narrative was certainly easy to read in the ramp up to the Iraq invasion, and it’s been much analyzed since then. I’ve always read the NYT with a jaundiced eye. They do some great work, but yeah, they are the primary mouthpiece of mainstream liberalism. And hey, as a mainstream liberal myself, I can’t say I’m all that offended, ha. And for what’s its worth, the Times has been doing pioneering work in interactive journalism. As a web developer, I’ve been really impressed.

    Of course, the conservative media has its own narrative, and a quite glaring one at that. Maybe it’s more noticeable to me because I disagree with it? Probably. Could also be differing communication styles between right and left. The standard media consumption advice to diversify your sources still stands. And for chrissakes, DO NOT get your news from your Facebook feed.

    Liked by 1 person

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