Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Changing Times in Washington
The new executive editor at The Washington Times, John Solomon, is making some style changes at the paper. The City Paper reports
these style updates at the Times:
- "Clinton" will be the headline word for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
- "Gay" is approved for copy and preferred over "homosexual," except in clinical references or references to sexual activity.
- The quotation marks will come off of "gay marriage" (preferred over "homosexual marriage").
- "Moderate" is approved, but "centrist" is still allowed.
- We will use "illegal immigrants," not "illegal aliens."
Solomon, vilified by the left
when he was a reporter at the AP and The Washington Post, is now under fire from the right, if some of these comments
are an indication. (Some of the comments at the City Paper story have the same tone.) His liberal critics are still finding fault
with him, too.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 8:39 AM
A while ago, you speculated about why the newspaper industry is in the death spiral that it's in. I don't think it's just the inefficiency of the delivery medium. I think it's the fact that the choices and orientation of the newspaper writers and editors, and journalism professors, don't meet the needs of the reader. The readers want an honest analysis of issues, but what they get from newspaper writers and editors, and journalism professors is "balance". Too often, they follow the idea that there are two "sides" to every issue, and that by setting forth the position of one "side" and the position of the other "side" they have achieved "balance" and thus contributed something useful.
Now, some of this is due to intimidation, but a great deal of it is due to laziness. Look at your post. You say that Solomon has taken criticism from the "left" and the "right". But it isn't important that Solomon draws criticism from two "sides"; what's important is why he is criticized and whether the criticism is justified. The "left" criticizes Solomon for writing dishonest hit pieces on Democrats. A journalist who was not lazy would have addressed the fact that the "left" criticizes Solomon for writing dishonest hit pieces on Democrats. For whatever reason, you didn't do this.
Similarly, a non-lazy journalist would have examined more deeply the criticism Solomon is getting for changing the newspaper style, and whether or not that criticism is justified. Why, for example, is the use of "gay" rather than "homosexual" worthy of criticism? What is the motivation of someone who criticizes a newspaper for using "gay" rather than "homosexual"?
The fact that Solomon is getting criticism from the "left" and the "right" isn't important (though a lazy journalist, editor, or journalism professor might think that it was.) What's important is what Solomon is doing and whether it merits criticism.
A newspaper industry that discussed what X is doing with respect to Y issue, and the facts relevant to Y issue, would keep its readers and attract new ones. A journalism professor that taught his or her students to do this would serve the students and the public.
A newspaper industry that focuses on what A and B say about what X is doing with respect to Y issue does not serve its readers, and a journalism professor that suggests that such an approach is acceptable betrays both students and public.
Thanks for the comments. You'll be happy to know that in my classes, we discuss whether "two sides" of the story is enough. The answer is no.
Things on this blog are a little different. Sometimes I make mention of a noteworthy development and the reaction to it. That's my intent with this post. The style changes at The Washington Times are of interest to me and (I hope) the readers of this blog, and so is the reaction.
The post is a news item, not analysis. It is not intended as a dissertation on John Solomon. Perhaps you can find that elsewhere online.
But the "news" that Solomon has been criticized by the "left" is misleading, mentioned to create a false impression of equivalence. The fact that Solomon has been criticized by the "left" isn't relevant if the intent is to report the style changes and the reaction to them by a wingnut website.
There were two honest ways to report the story. One was to report the style changes, with or without mentioning the criticisms from various wingnut groups, but without mentioning the fact that Solomon has also been criticized by the "left".
The other honest approach would have been to mention that Solomon had been criticized by the "left" for writing dishonest hit pieces on officeholders and candidates, such as Harry Reid, John Edwards, and John McCain, so as to avoid creating a false impression of equivalence that is exhibited by the piece you did write.
The "left" didn't criticize Solomon for failing to reflect their views as perfectly as possible. The "left" criticized Solomon for misleading his readers.
An honest writer wouldn't have sought to achieve a false "balance" by mentioning that someone now being criticized by "the right" has previously been criticized by "the left," and pretended that any effort to avoid creating such a false "balance" would have required "a dissertation on John Solomon".