The New York Times’ new public editor, Arthur Brisbane, follows up his not-too-promising debut with a piece in which he expresses concern about analytical stories that straddle the line between news and opinion.
What’s odd about it is that though he quotes a variety of people on the subject, ranging from annoyed readers to Media Nation favorite Dan Gillmor, he only offers one partial example — a piece by an outside contributor, Jonathan Weber, who edits a non-profit news site in San Francisco called the Bay Citizen. Brisbane notes that Weber wrote about “‘vituperative’ union attacks and ‘scorched-earth’ tactics,” but he doesn’t tell us anything about the circumstances that led Weber to use such language.
Brisbane also cites a Matt Bai column about Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul Republican congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, but fails to give us even a hint of what Bai wrote.
The Times links to the Weber and Bai columns, of course, but I’m not going to bother following those links. I want to know precisely why Brisbane is concerned about those columns, and since he doesn’t tell us, clicking isn’t going to help — I’d just be guessing. Besides, what about print readers? That’s how I first read the column, as the Sunday Times is one of our few remaining print indulgences.
In an age of information overload, it’s essential that quality papers such as the Times provide analysis, interpretation and context. Just-the-facts is no longer good enough, if it ever was. Some readers may be driven away by such an approach, but I suspect even more will be drawn in.
Is it possible to go too far with this approach? Sure. Did Weber and Bai go too far? I have no idea.