- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

The New York Times cleaned house in public yesterday. In an open report to staff and readers, the 144-year-old newspaper vowed to re-examine its ethics and news practices to restore credibility lost during a humiliating scandal.

Two years ago, reporter Jayson Blair left the paper under charges of fraud and plagiarism; Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd resigned in the aftermath, leaving the staff demoralized but resolved to right the wrong.

“It is no longer sufficient to argue reflexively that our work speaks for itself. In today’s media environment, such a minimal response damages our credibility. Critics, competitors and partisans can too easily caricature who we are and we do,” the new report states.

Titled “Preserving our reader’s trust,” the internal analysis was authored by 19 Times staffers drawn primarily from investigative and political beats.

In many ways, the project has pulled the paper back from the high-stakes, frantic realm of the 24-hour news cycle that has pitted print against broadcast and the Internet for a slice of a diminishing audience.

The Times has vowed to curtail but not eliminate casual, daily reliance on anonymous sources and to reduce “garden variety factual errors.” The paper also aspires to verify facts, clarify boundaries between news and opinion and cut back on use of blanket labels such as “religious fundamentalists” — which the report deemed a “loaded term.”

One outside analyst also “found that the overall tone of our coverage of gay marriage, as one example, ‘approaches cheerleading.’,” the report said.

While some critics have accused the Times of blatant liberal bias, it has lost credibility on both sides of the fence. A Pew Research Center survey found last year, for instance, that 31 percent of Democrats believed what they read in the Times; the number was 14 percent among Republicans.

And while the report promised the Times would be more “open and forthcoming,” it also reveals that reporters may not be so quick to jump before network cameras in the future.

“On occasion, our reporters have been lured into offering opinions or making statements that went beyond their reporting and expertise,” the analysis notes.

In addition, it recommended the Times shed some of its East Coast elitism and increase coverage of middle and rural America “from exurbs to hinterland,” while providing readers immediate outlets to comment on coverage or contact staff.

“I believe this document represents a sound blueprint for the next stage of our campaign to secure our accuracy, fairness and accountability,” Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a message to Times staffers yesterday.

The paper is not alone in its journalistic woes. This year alone, reporters from the Detroit Free Press, USA Today, Tampa (Fla.) Tribune and Atlanta Journal-Constitution have resigned or been investigated for providing fraudulent news coverage.

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