Harpo Jaeger dot com

NYT executive editor Bill Keller gets it exactly right

On the differences between the NYT and partisan news outlets:

The first is that we believe in verification rather than assertion. We put a higher premium on accuracy than on speed or sensation. When we report information, we look hard to see if it stands up to scrutiny

Being right is necessary but not sufficient. We also strive to be impartial. We are agnostic as to where a story may lead; we do not go into a story with a preconceived notion. We do not manipulate or hide facts to advance an agenda. We strive to preserve our independence from political and economic interests, including our own advertisers and including our own government. (NPR, whose news coverage I admire, must surely be wondering whether a federal subsidy is worth its vulnerability to the riptides of Congressional politics.)

But just as doctors and lawyers, teachers and military officers, judges and the police are expected to set aside their own politics in the performance of their duties, so are our employees. This does not mean as one writer recently scoffed that we poll people at both extremes of any issue, then paint a line down the middle and point to it as reality. It does not mean according equal weight to every point of view, no matter how far-fetched. (Sorry, birthers, but President Obama is an American citizen.) Impartiality is, for us, not just a matter of pretending to be neutral; it is a healthful, intellectual discipline. Once you proclaim an opinion, you may feel an urge to defend it, and that creates a temptation to overlook inconvenient facts when you should be searching them out.

I think this last part is exactly right. And I also like that Keller doesn’t fall into the traditional “this is all the fault of the bloggers” line of reasoning. In fact, he even takes a shot at that precept: “…worrying that the accelerated competition of Web news has undermined our premium on accuracy.”

There’s still, and will continue to be, a place for real, verifiable, reporting. Some if it is done in newspapers, some of it is done in blogs. There’s also a good deal of shoddy journalism in both. It’s heartening to see an executive at one of the finest news organizations in the country talking frankly about the structural incentives that shape the way news is produced and consumed. That’s the first step to better aligning those incentives with the public interest.