Hidden in today's business section of the NY Times is a story (with excerpts) describing the conclusions and recommendations of a Times panel which grappled with enhancing the credibility of the Old Grey Lady. We also learn that the full 16 page report will be tucked away at their business website sometime on Monday, May 9 (here we are!). From the excerpts:
An internal committee at The New York Times has made specific recommendations to improve the paper's credibility with readers. They include the following:
1. Encourage the executive editor and the two managing editors to share responsibility for writing a regular column that deals with matters concerning the newspaper.
2. Make reporters and editors more easily available through e-mail.
3. Use the Web to provide readers with complete documents used in stories as well as transcripts of interviews.
4. Consider creating a Times blog that promotes interaction with readers.
5. Further curtail the use of anonymous sources.
6. Encourage reporters to confirm the accuracy of articles with sources before publication and to solicit feedback from sources after publication.
7. Set up an error-tracking system to detect patterns and trends.
8. Encourage the development of software to detect plagiarism when accusations arise.
9. Increase coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion.
10. Establish a system for evaluating public attacks on The Times's work and determining whether and how to respond.
As master of the obvious, I had outlined a way for the Public Editor of the Times to run a blog when this was being kicked around in February.
The highlight of the story may be the exhortation to Timesmen (and women!) to come out swinging:
One area of particular concern to Mr. Keller at the outset was the relentless public criticism of the paper, amplified by both the left and right on the Internet, that peaked during last year's presidential campaign. The paper was largely silent during those attacks, and Mr. Keller asked the committee to consider whether it was "any longer possible to stand silent and stoic under fire."
The committee asserted that The Times must respond to its critics. The report said it was hard for the paper to resist being in a "defensive crouch" during the election but now urged The Times to explain itself "actively and earnestly" to critics and to readers who are often left confused when charges go unanswered.
"We strongly believe it is no longer sufficient to argue reflexively that our work speaks for itself," the report stated. "In today's media environment, such a minimal response damages our credibility," it added. As a result, the committee said, the newsroom should develop a strategy for evaluating public attacks on The Times and determining whether and how to respond to them. "We need to be more assertive about explaining ourselves - our decisions, our methods, our values, how we operate," the committee said, acknowledging that "there are those who love to hate The Times"' and suggesting a focus instead on people who do not have "fixed" opinions about the paper. A parallel goal of this strategy, the committee said, was to assure reporters "that they will be defended when they are subjected to unfair attack." The defense should be led by journalists in the newsroom, the report said, "with support and advice from our corporate communications, marketing and legal departments."
I can scarcely contain my excitement. Could this ludicrous response from Nick Kristof to Michelle Malkin in defense of Kristof's recycling of an unsubstantiated Dem attack meme be an example of the new, more open, more assertive Times? Geez, get back in the defensive crouch.
MORE: Frank Rich tackled the issue of fading journalistic credibility, and guess what - it's all Bush's fault. Whew.
And in the guest editorial spot, Adam Cohen wrote a much-derided piece calling for a code of blogger ethics. Guidelines for the Times can be found at their company website (here are Guidelines on Integrity).
MORE: The notion of a Times blog appears in the recommendations on p. 3, but is not mentioned again in the report.