You see it every day: a critique of one of the Times’ typically lame bylined pieces from their DC bureau. We all know they’re awful. If the Times covered New York City politics in the wimpy, “who’s to say” way they covered DC politics, they’d be laughed out of town. The latest example is this weekend’s fact-famished both-sides-do-it take on voter fraud. But here’s Jay Rosen pointing out that weak coverage is weak business:
But it’s not that safe. Democrats argue/Republicans contend/We have No Idea… increasingly won’t cut it for the Times, or its competitors like the FT, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post. The upscale, high-information readers the Times wants to charge more money to, the core loyalists who are being asked to finance more of the operation— these users are increasingly likely to know about various preponderance-of-evidence calls independent of whether the Times knows enough to include that review in its reporting. When this kind of reader comes upon he said, she said reporting on a big story where it’s CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, as with the right to vote: bad moment for the Times brand.
My sense: What was acceptably lame under market conditions that Bill Keller began with is a more corrosive practice today. I think The Masthead knows it. This is one of the reasons theycreated the Upshot, where preponderance of evidence, not a summary of partisan talking points, is supposed to be the baseline practice.
Yes, they did create the Upshot, and what I’ve seen is pretty OK, but readers are busy. Why do we need to hunt down the facts about voter fraud in the part of the Times where they deal with facts? Why do they print falsehoods on the front page? That’s how you send readers, not to mention precious clicks, to Vox or Five Thirty Eight.