The Arthur Bris-Bane Of The New York Times’ (Digital Media) Existence

New York Times Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane published his swan column yesterday, and the Old Grey Lady can’t be happy about it.

Brisbane was a disappointing ombud – not as sharp as Clark Hoyt, not nearly as lyrical as Daniel Okrent.

But he definitely went out with a bang, not a whimper.


• The emphasis on social and mobile media means that Times material appears far from the home base of, not to mention the distant shores of the Old Country, print. For journalists, this presents tantalizing new opportunities to build a personal audience, while for the company it is a way to follow readers where they are going.

The result is an oddly disaggregated New York Times of hyper-engaged journalists building their own brands, and company content flung willy-nilly into the ether.

• The Times is hardly transparent. A reader still has to work very hard to find any Times policies online (though some are tucked away there), and there is still no place where Times editors speak on the issues. As for humility, well, The Times is Lake Wobegon on steroids (everybody’s way above average). I don’t remember many autopsies in which, as we assembled over the body, anyone conceded that maybe this could have been done differently.

• I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

• As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

• It’s a huge success story — it is hard to argue with the enormous size of Times Nation — but one that carries risk as well. A just-released Pew Research Center survey found that The Times’s “believability rating” had dropped drastically among Republicans compared with Democrats, and was an almost-perfect mirror opposite of Fox News’s rating. Can that be good?

Clearly, Brisbane believes it’s not.


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4 Responses to The Arthur Bris-Bane Of The New York Times’ (Digital Media) Existence

  1. Curmudgeon says:

    I have no problem with the Times’ liberal bias, although, there are times when it is clear that bias is more important than the facts in their offerings.

    Would be nice if they just stopped pretending.

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