Michael Cieply

Meltdown update: Does the New York Times want to cover America's heart and soul?

Meltdown update: Does the New York Times want to cover America's heart and soul?

The leaders of the New York Times have, for more than a decade, known that many of their critics -- loving critics and otherwise -- believe that the world's most powerful newsroom lacks intellectual, cultural and religious diversity.

After all, that was one of the main conclusions in the visionary "Preserving Our Readers' Trust" document (.pdf here) released in 2005 after a sweeping self-study of ethics issues in the newsroom (to state things mildly).

Anyone who wants to understand the back story to the current Times meltdown over Donald Trump and the lives of many Americans who voted for him must read that document. Yes, that document also meshes nicely with the latest pro-journalism sermon ("Want to Know What America’s Thinking? Try Asking") from Liz Spayd, the public editor at the Times. Hold that thought.

After the release of the 2005 self study, then editor Bill Keller released his formal response, "Assuring Our Credibility (.pdf here)." Like the self study, this document was haunted by issues linked to coverage of religious and cultural issues. One more time, let's look at Keller's conclusion:

First and foremost we hire the best reporters, editors, photographers and artists in the business. But we will make an extra effort to focus on diversity of religious upbringing and military experience, of region and class.
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.

See the connections to the current debates? #DUH

And finally:

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.

Amen. However, note that Keller -- for some reason -- feared that hiring more professionals with training or experience in religion-news coverage might be seen as appeasing "believers" or pandering to "conservatives." That's one way to read that paragraph.

Let's move on.

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