Roger L. Simon

No more "newspapers of record"

I have written before that the editorial and financial decline of The New York Times is a good thing for American democracy. (I’m not trying to gloat about the latter- their business troubles- merely pointing to them as another indication of the former having been recognized by the public. ) Of course, that decline is not really a decline – the newspaper was always as it is, more or less – but rather a symptom of changing times and access. The Times is no longer able to function ex cathedra as it was during the era of Walter Duranty (1930s). Jayson Blair, whose fairy tales were far less significant than Duranty’s, was discovered relatively quickly a few years ago and now their quasi-propagandistic alacrity has been unmasked within a day. History has been replayed as farce.

Some of this zeal is the obvious outgrowth of the desire to get a scoop in an increasingly competitive journalistic world. Some of it stems from normal human bias. It was this bias that the Times attempted to deny in successfully building its reputation as the “newspaper of record,” a distortion that simply ignores the most basic aspects of our behavior. We are all biased to one extent or another from infancy. We can try to be impartial (sometimes with good intentions and sometimes not) but such a state is almost impossible to achieve short of the installation of rigid scientific systems. A newspaper article describing a highly-charged political situation rather quickly departs the realm of science. Virtually every front page article of every newspaper (and blog or aything else) is injected with some measure of opinion reflected in the writer’s choice of style and content.

So I applaud the Times’ relative demise. I say “relative” because the media, like virtually everyone else, are lazy. To abandon the NYT completely as the gold standard of how a story should be covered would require thinking for themselves and doing extra work. And it is also human behavior to admire and follow “stars” and the Times will remain one of those stars, albeit a tarnished one.

But speaking of “stars” and the Times, Pajamas Media’s (then OSM’s) keynote speaker Judith Miller is blaming the blogs for her problems. [Should we get our honorarium back?-ed. No. Be graceful. Anyway she’s got big legal fees.]. According to Jack Shafer in Slate: In August, Bill Keller replaced Raines as executive editor, and according to Miller, he told her, “You are radioactive. … You can see it in the blogs.”

“I’m pretty sure I never said any such thing,” Keller tells Brenner. (This isn’t the only recent “he said, she said” story in which Miller comes out the loser. See this sidebar.)

Miller describes to Vanity Fair the process by which the Pajama People destroyed her:

The bloggers were without editing, without a way for people to understand what was good, what was well reported-to distinguish between the straight and the slanderous. Things would get instantly picked up, magnified, and volumized.

(Sounds more like what my hairdresser does with my thinning locks. But never mind.)

Note to Jack: mine are already too far gone for help.