The creeping menace of diverse voices

BillKellerSometimes you know you're doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do. Other times, you know it's right because you're ticking off the right people. Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, might take some comfort from the quality of responses to his memo (PDF) announcing that the Times will cover religion more seriously.

Keller sent his memo to all Times staff in response to an earlier report (PDF) by the Times' Credibility Committee. (Terry commented on the committee's report in this post.)

Like the report, Keller's memo mostly addresses questions of responding to the Times' critics and assuring that anonymous sources are both necessary accurate and preventing errors (or correcting them punctually).

Here's what Keller wrote about the importance of giving more serious attention to religion:

Of course, diversifying the range of viewpoints reported -- and understood -- in our pages is not mainly a matter of hiring a more diverse work force. It calls for a concerted effort by all of us to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. This is second nature for many of our reporters, especially on the national staff, and there have been some exceptional successes -- the coverage of conservatives by David Kirkpatrick (including the splendid piece on evangelicals in the class series) and Jason DeParle, and a number of recent Magazine pieces. I intend to keep pushing us in this direction.

I also endorse the committee's recommendation that we cover religion more extensively, but I think the key to that is not to add more reporters who will write about religion as a beat. I think the key is to be more alert to the role religion plays in many stories we cover, stories of politics and policy, national and local, stories of social trends and family life, stories of how we live. This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.

Editor & Publisher ran a concise report on the memo Monday.

Southbound Cinema offered this commentary:

The aim, [Keller] wrote, is "to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation."

In other words, Rush Limbaugh has spent fifteen years whipping idiots up into a frenzy, making people perceive bias that isn't there. We helped beat the drum for the Iraq war, but we're still a favorite whipping boy for jack-offs who take Fox News and the Washington Times seriously.

So, we give up. Here's more right-wing shit on our editorial page. Here's a bunch of religious crap that isn't news.

Here's the end of the end of the New York Times.

Screw em.

And Echidne of the Snakes wrote this:

Let's see. Why would the New York Times want to diversify its coverage of news by hiring more ex-military, more Evangelical Christians and more Republicans? For that's what the bland statement above boils down to. Isn't this just a way to pretend that one is increasing diversity while hiring more and more white men? Just consider the recent hirings among the opinion columnists: John Tierney and David Brooks. We don't need women columnists on the Times. One is plenty, even if she's on leave. After all, we have John Tierney telling us that women can't compete, and all the columnist boys telling us what their wives think.

I would be remiss if I didn't note that both the Credibility Committee and Keller cited these examples of how the Times has sometimes painted with too broad a brush (quoting from the committee's report):

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist "inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme." We often apply "religious fundamentalists," another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

We particularly slip into these traps in feature stories when reporters and editors think they are merely presenting an interesting slice of life, with little awareness of the power of labels. We need to be more vigilant about the choice of language not only in the text but also in headlines, captions and display type.

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