Monday, June 13, 2005

"WHAT HAPPENS TO THE INSTITUTIONAL VOICE?" It disappears, that's what. And it may be about time. Veteran media reporter Alicia Shepard, a former American Journalism Review stalwart writing her first piece for the expanded New York Times media section, today takes a look at Michael Kinsley's controversial efforts to shake up the Los Angeles Times' editorial page.

Kinsley has been cutting staff, using freelancers, and generally trying to reinvent what is often the most stodgy section of any major daily newspaper. He's also reportedly groping his way toward a radically different Web version of his pages. Shepard quotes an old-timer, political reporter Jack Nelson, as saying, "I think it's absolutely crazy to have outsiders writing editorials at all. What happens to the institutional voice?"

Kinsley is dealing with a conundrum. Opinion-writing is the most popular part of any paper (in sports, especially, but in politics, too). Yet the unsigned editorial - that is, the institutional voice of the newspaper, speaking from on high - has seen better days. In a Web-based media culture increasingly shaped by multiple opinions and talking back, that kind of one-way communication seems less and less relevant - the newspaper equivalent of what Les Moonves disparagingly calls the "Voice of God" when referring to the old-fashioned anchormen.

Opinion - well-informed opinion that responsibly seeks to inform and persuade - is vital to any news organization. Today's Boston Globe offers an interesting model: the lead editorial is a signed piece by Donald MacGillis - the first of a series on carbon-free energy - on the politics of wind power, reported from Denmark, a windmill haven.

Jay Rosen acidly observes that though the "religion" of journalism plays down the importance of opinion, the New York Times recently sent precisely the opposite message when it announced that the online edition will begin charging for columnists this fall. Readers want opinion-writing. It's the Voice of God they're tired of.

14 comments:

The Troll said...

I liike knowing my papers' voices. I know yhe Globe, Herald, and Phoenix and they each have a voice. I know what to expect from their editorials so when they stary from the expected it has much merit. I like the newspaper identities on top of shallow content.

Ken D. said...

The unsigned "opinion of the newspaper" editorial and the so-called "church/state" separation from the news pages seem self-evident concepts to most people in the newspaper business. I think the whole business is very strange and does not stand up well to analysis. Whatever credibility a (semi-)anonymous editorial has comes from its not-so-indirect association with the news pages. That mocks the supposed separation, which I doubt that very many readers take seriously anyway. Editorial writers who disagree should try selling the editorial column separately, or start signing their work and become self-syndicated op-ed columnists.

efg said...

I haven't read the actual woodpulp LA Times for perhaps 8-10 years, and I never saw it regularly. But I read it (and the Washington Post) on line almost every day. Each is a huge relief from the stodgy, boring Globe. I know that you know Kurtz at the Post, but have you checked out Tim Rutten at the Times? He did a wonderful evisceration of Nancy Grace the other week.

It is also unnerving to read a national news story in the Post or the Times one day, and see it in the Globe (supposedly an important national paper) the next.

Anonymous said...

Re: efg's comment on Globe's National news: wouldn't be so bad if they didn't usually get scooped by Herald on breaking local news as well. Shouldn't they at least specialize in SOMETHING?

Anonymous said...

DK, you're the best. Without you, I would be unaware of "CommonDreams.org" and their crackpot "Buy Citgo gas and support Hugo Chavez" movement, (Voice of God link). And they wonder why right-wing nuts thrive? (An aside, how does something published by NYT Co. get a ".org" site?)

copy editor said...

Anyone can get a .org domain.

Dan Kennedy said...

Well, you know more about Common Dreams than I do!

Anonymous said...

Usually I could care less what the editorial staff at the NYTimes, the Globe or the Herald have to say. Give me some AP stories, local news, blogs and some talk radio and I'm set. I'm 35. Watch the circulation numbers continue to slide as my generation and the ones before me take over the "mainstream."

Anonymous said...

Belch & fart at 10:07

Tim F-W said...

CommonDreams.org has nothing to do with the New York Times: the Maureen Dowd column linked above was copied by the COmmonDreams.org folks under the fair use exception to the copyright laws.

There is lots to criticize about the Times, no matter what your political bent. But it helps one's argument if one's facts are factual.

Anonymous said...

If you asked 100 people on the street about the "fair use" exception, how many, do you suppose, would know what the hell you were talking about? Silly me, I thought the person was asking a question.

Dan Kennedy said...

I'm not so sure Common Dreams' practice of copy-and-paste constitutes fair use. (I'm not a lawyer, though I play one in the classroom!) If someone wanted to sue Common Dreams for copyright violation, I think they'd have a very hard time defending themselves. Several years ago the Los Angeles Times sued the Free Republic in a very similar case and won. It amazes me that Common Dreams, Truth Out, and others continue to do this without running into trouble.

Tim F-W said...

Common Dreams may well be stretching the fair use exception past the breaking point. (I would agree that it is.)

Regardless of the legality of its reposting on a New York Times article, Common Dreams is not owner by, controlled by, or even overseen in the least by The New York Times Company.

All I wanted to do was dispel the knackered idea that "anonymous" had that the Times somehow "published" the Common Dreams site.

Anonymous said...

Wow, glad that's settled.(Talk about a distinction without a difference!) Regardless of whom the website is acquiring content from, the Citgo program bespeaks, at best, an astonishing ignorance of the industry on which they pontificate. I guess truth can be bloody knackered as well, eh guvnor?