By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Arthur Brisbane’s example-free critique

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.

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  1. david wilson


    i just read the Brisbane piece, and i agree wholeheartedly. It seems like he is just taking the critcism at face value and not exploring exactly what these writers wrote, and where they crossed the line, if in fact they did. He needs to show, not tell.

    david wilson

  2. Dan, The Times should hire you to coach Brisbane in how to do the job. His shortcomings are so obvious.

  3. B.A. DuBois

    Yeah, I haven’t been too impressed either with his first attempts… I hope he get his mojo and starts really looking into issues.

    And I know ombuds are expensive but boy, the Globe sure could use one…

    • Dan Kennedy

      @B.A.: Yes, ombuds are very expensive, but the Globe could consider an outside, unpaid person, possibly from academia. But not me!

  4. L.K. Collins

    A conspiracy to make the ombudsman position irrelevant and therefore expendable? Who knows.

    And Dan, many of your offerings are nothing but guesses, so why shouldn’t you do it here?

    Or maybe you shouldn’t do it elsewhere…

  5. Aaron Lester

    The Matt Bai column that Brisbane refers to is about Paul Ryan, Republican representative from Wisc., not Rand Paul of Kentucky.

  6. Bob Gardner

    Is this a problem with Brisbane’s writing or your reading? I read about this on Campaign Outsider this morning, and John Carroll not only seemed to understand
    Brisbane’s column, but to excerpt it in a way that seemed not only coherent, but pretty detailed.
    What’s not to understand?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: Presumably you’ve read Brisbane’s column. Did he offer any examples of what he was concerned about or didn’t he? I’ll answer that: he didn’t. I’ll read John’s post later. I’m sure I’ll learn something from it. But if John’s got examples, then he dove into Bai’s and Weber’s columns himself, which is what Brisbane is getting paid to do.

  7. Paul Bass

    Re: margie Arons-Barron’s suggestion:

    They should just hire Dan, period, to be the public editor!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Paul and @Margie: Thanks for your support. I would rather have a root canal than be anyone’s internal-affairs cop.

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