A Model of Restraint in the Race for News

The Times was at its best after the tragedy in Boston.

Comments: 40

  1. The NYT was the only media I used to follow the tragedy all day until, (Sorry!) the final hour. By then , I really hoped and wanted to see the terrorist caught and needed to see it actually happen. But, even as I had the TV on, I still kept your site open to make sure what I was hearing was the real truth. I grew up w/ the NYT and it's always been, to me anyway, the only real media that I trust.

  2. The Times was, however, far beyond the pack on its reporting from Texas. The fact that the death toll was much greater than the Times reported for several days, and much closer to what other news outlets said from the beginning, highlights how much more focused its newsroom is on events on the East Coast that it is likely to have witnessed first hand, or even, I might add, half way around the world. than in the red heartland of the United States. This story was arguably as important as the Boston Marathon and, if not a terrorist incident, certainly rooted in light touch regulation that costs more lives on a regular basis in that state than terrorism does anywhere in the US.

  3. I heartily agree with The Times' decision to crop the photo of Jeff Bauman. Prompted by this posting, I went to the Huffington Post web site to look at the uncropped photo. It is gruesome and adds nothing of value for the average Times reader.

    I would like to express my deepest sympathies to Mr. Bauman and my wish for great healing and a return to a fulfilling life.

  4. The Times was good, but as much as it pains me to give credit to Boston anything, I think the Globe did a much better job reporting on the city's shutdown and hunt for the Tsarnaevs than did the Times. What I appreciated about both papers is that neither jumped to judgment. It's why I prefer print and radio. Thanks for your moderation!

  5. I want to extend my congratulations to the NYT for both its accuracy (this week) as well as its Pulitzers.

    As I first read "The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek", I was amazed and knew it should win some awards for combing the poignant story with interactive maps, videos and interviews.

    Now could someone do something similar for the events of this week? (Well, not all of them.) Detailing the events in and around Boston would be helpful for those of us who don't live on that coast.

    Thank you NYT.

  6. As someone who grew up in Boston, I greatly appreciated the restraint that the New York Times reporters displayed as the week’s events unfolded. I found myself reading every last bit of information on the rumor websites (that’s you, Foxnews), and then going to the NYT website to check whether or not the latest rumor was true. The difference in reporting was very noticeable and I very much appreciated your careful work.
    - From a frequent critic of the NY Times

  7. This is an oddly congratulatory account for a Public Editor, who is supposed to hold the paper's feet to the fire. There are plenty of people around to congratulate the Times.
    Among the questions this column could have asked are:
    1. Is waiting to be right a general practice of the Times, as this column asserts, or just what happened this time? I remember reading on nytimes.com after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting that she had died, which of course was not true.
    2. What about the other newspaper owned by the New York Times Company, the Boston Globe? It was one of several media that reported on Wednesday that a suspect had been caught, which turned out not to be true.
    3. Did the Times's coverage appreciably advance the Boston bombing story? It is of course easy to not be wrong by holding back on news that breaks from the pack. Are there any particular aspects of this important story that the Times broke?
    A final point: more people are questioning whether in the current diverse media environment the Pulitzers should be regarded as the sort of measure they once were. As newspapers disappear, the fact that the Times won a good share of awards this year may be a product mainly of it shrinking more slowly than the rest of a waning journalistic sector. Shouldn't the Public Editor be pondering this rather than jumping to pop the champagne cork?

  8. Perceptive comments. However I would argue that I read the Times (as, I suspect many others do) not because, (per your point #3) it happens to "break" or "advance" the stories, but to get an accurate picture of the news.

    Which goes back to your first point. You seem to criticize the editors for jumping the gun on the Giffords story, and then criticize them for their restraint by asking what they "broke" here. I for one, like to think they're learning!

    Point two shouldn't apply to the New York Times public editor. That is a different newspaper with a different editorial staff, and, presumably it's own public editor.

  9. Criticism, or "hold... feet to the fire," is meaningless unless one also is willing to praise where praise is due. To merely berate, as you seem to think is the only part of a Public Editors' role, loses all effect and meaning if there is no equal for that which is well-done.

    Regarding the Pulitzers, I'd suggest you read the articles; they are some of the finest examples of journalism I've read over the past 55 years. The quality of the articles speak for themselves.

    As to your comment reguarding newspapers disappearing you are wrong. I'd suggest you look at the stats: http://www.naa.org/Topics-and-Tools/SenseMakerReports/Multiplatform-News.... Paper may be going by the wayside, but other forms of media, tablets, smart phones, etc are doing fine. The question newspaper need to resolve is one of revenue, not readership.

    You, obviously, do not like the NY Times and exhibit a strong bias. The Boston Globe is not the Times and is a separate entity. If you comprehend what the the Public Editor is saying, accuracy is more important than "news that breaks from the pack." If you prefer that news media ignore accuracy, for whatever reason, there's always the NY Post and Fox News Corp.

  10. Perceptive comments. However I would argue that I read the Times (as, I suspect many others do) not because, (per your point #3) it happens to "break" or "advance" the stories, but to get an accurate picture of the news...which goes back to your first point.

    You seem to criticize the editors for jumping the gun on the Giffords story, and then criticize them for their restraint by asking what they "broke" here. I for one, like to think they're learning!

    Point two shouldn't apply to the New York Times public editor. That is a different newspaper with a different editorial staff, and, presumably it's own public editor.

  11. I agree. Other newspapers and TV stations were quick not only to say that a suspect was in custody, but to publish videos of the supposed suspect. This did an extreme disservice to the person in question. By waiting until the facts were in, The New York TImes was assured, to the extent possible, that what it was reporting was the truth.

    Congratulations on the four Pulitzers!

  12. In our tabloid, instant gratification culture, it is refreshing that the NY Times shows restraint and a conservative/parsimonious approach to reportage. I didn't need the Public Editor to tell me this, but consider it reasonable to do.

  13. Great. The New York Times congratulates itself for doing what it's supposed to do and for not being as stupid as many other news sources.

  14. As someone married to an American Muslim, and with plenty of American Muslim friends, I have followed very closely the way in which the NYT covered the news. I think the NTY has done a great job, but I was very saddened to read "Suspects With Foot in 2 Worlds, Perhaps Echoing Plots of Past" this morning. The article quoted an "specialist" who explained the suspects' behavior as a problem of "divided loyalties:" “I think there’s often a sense of divided loyalties in these cases where Americans turn to violent jihad — are you American first or are you Muslim first?"

    This is a ridiculous and dangerous interpretation of these men's behavior, and a false dichotomy. It promotes the myth that Muslim Americans cannot be loyal to Islam AND to America. In the process, it portrays all Muslim Americans as ticking bombs, who because of their "loyalty to Islam" may have to at any moment go on a shooting spree. It invites suspicion and fear.

    And why link these events to all previous ones where Muslims have committed violent crimes, as he does in the article? Why not tie it to cases of other NON-Muslim disturbed teenagers who turned to violence? Is faith really the main variable here? Of course, it was assumed that it was, even before the suspect has spoken about his motifs.

  15. A good issue for The Times to follow which doesn't seem to have been followed by other media: What were the two brothers living on? An interesting clue is that the man was fixed their cars thinks that they were rich.

    The Times has the resources to work that issue that other news organizations do not.

  16. As this horror was unfolding this week, particularly with the tumult of Thursday night into Friday, I knew that a timeline would be necessary. Where did I turn but the New York Times, which provided one article with such timeline.

    That is why the Times continues to win Pulitzer prizes.

  17. As a reader, not a journalist, or a news junkie, I have always found the coverage in the NYTimes to be my go to source for the most accurate information reported in the most respectful way. I spent a few moments this past week on my Twitter feed to see other, often engaging, news agencies chase down exhausted people from trauma nurses to Newtown community members in search of fresh and breaking angles.
    I find this type of journalism doesn't offer much value to the reader, and its transparent retelling makes me feel like I, as the reader, am harassing weary people for inessential information.
    The race to be first is important in reporting the news, but not so important that it compromises its end result. I feel over the years the Times digital edition has really found its strength in the murky waters between integrity and in the moment competition. I will patiently wait for the correct, in depth and respectful information from the Times rather than scour the web for the newest and most likely incorrect information. It is a service I am truly grateful for.

  18. Speaking of coverage on the Boston bombing: Why isn't anyone questioning whether the bombing could have not been avoided? at the expense of 4 lives, 170 injured, and possible 333 million dollars by shutting down the city? Was Homeland Security not doing their job? Have agencies become complacent? It seems now this has turned into a party and a celebration of heroes. The real heroic act would have been to avoided this in the first place.

  19. I think NYT had first rate reporting last week and the current technology to make it the best digital newspaper -- congrats on 4 Pulitzer Prizes.

  20. The news reporting was indeed excellent.

    Unfortunately, there was an early-week editorial piece predicting -- nay, asserting -- that the Boston Marathon would return in full glory next year.

    That would be very nice, but at this point we can only wait and see.

  21. During this horrible Boston Marathon event I read each issue of the New York Times. While you are busy congratulating yourselves on award winning journalism perhaps you might note that the poor victims receive barely a mention, while you fawn, page after page, over the perpetrators. We have read everything about their lifestyle as murderers, listened to their friends comments. Once again, the bad guy gets the attention, not the victims.
    John Clark

  22. Pulitzer Prizes are like advertising awards; they disguise the rottenness of the whole. Which, not surprisingly, is lost on the Times's public editor.

  23. Absence of Irony alert. The Pulitzer Prizes are endowed and named for the founder of "yellow journalism."

  24. You would doyour readers a great favor if you brought back two practices which you did away with some time ago: First, when there is a vote in Congress, list the voters . Then we know how our congressman voted, and we can get a better handle on the law from the rest of the list. Then print important speches in full Then you will have at least most of the News Thats Fit to Print. Thank you

  25. I heartily second your suggestions.

  26. Media outlets (this week at least 2 if you count this article) need to stop referring to Twitter as if it is a news source or somehow similar to cable news. Twitter is a chaotic set of messages written by individuals, but somehow the (older?) main stream media seems to imbue it with magic powers- and worse, feel disappointed when it creates unfounded rumors (the other article I'm thinking of took twitter to task for the rumor that Boston had shut down cellular service, but never mentioned that The New York Post said 12 people had died). Comparing the speed of The New York Times to generic "twitter" (is it a verb?) is just dumb. While twitter is a quick way to find out what people are talking about it is practically never a reliable source of news.

  27. The NYT got the coverage right. I checked in with the web site from time to time during the dramatic and traumatic events and appreciated the non-sensational tone of the reporting.

    I'd like to credit NPR also with the same level and tone of reporting. In contrast to other radio stations and in particular to the TV coverage, NPR reported facts in a non-sensational way and made clear what was known about the events and what was mere speculation.

    We are fortunate to have two such high level sources for news, especially when fast moving, horrific events are unfolding.

  28. "It is useful, too, to think about the photographs that readers accept unquestioningly when they show bloody scenes from, say, Iraq or Syria. The protests seem to come more often when such images are of Americans, or when they are closer to home."

    Not all readers accept those photographs unquestioningly; I know that I have commented numerous times about gruesome photographs in the Times, as have many others. I think it's disrespectful to the victims to publish lurid photographs of their injuries or (especially) dead bodies, and a violation of their privacy--no matter what country they're from. The truth can be reported thoroughly and accurately without the use of shocking images.

  29. Taking care with facts and being respectful to people are as important as getting the story. That the NYT manages to balance these aspects of journalism rather well is sometimes the only good news to be found.

  30. It seems like the Times' coverage of the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the alleged WMD hangs over this article, to say nothing of how the Times handles some of these big events.

    The coverage seems to be better and accurate overall since those ugly days.

  31. At one point The Times erroneously reported that police had found three unexploded bombs. Then the report disappeared without a correction. That should have been included in the Public Editor's listing of errors.

  32. April 21, 2013

    American journalism surely enjoys New York Times superior excellence by all its professionals. The NYT always emulated for its style in: language, arts, and politics domestic / international. Indeed the fullness in the New York Times literary spectrum enjoys getting all levels of reporting: elegant, efficient, and economic.
    The New York Times, as top leader, winning so many prizes, is welcomed for its faith in the cultural commitment: enhancing, enriching our quality of life. Its brave vector advances with proper facts towards serving to inform guiding our life cycle dynamics; smartly and with the highest judgments of trust - Online (Global and Chinese,) -Print edition. In vanguard to enlightenment, accuracy is true to the Times.

    Joseph John Amato
    Manhattan, New York

  33. I think one article ("Manhunt’s Turning Point Came in the
    Decision to Release Suspects’ Images", published online Apr 20)
    did fall beneath the Times' generally high standards. This
    article credits the FBI's photo release with driving subsequent
    events: e.g. "While the decision to publicize the suspects’
    identities resulted in the arrest of one of the men, it set in
    motion a violent string of events that lasted for 26 hours." But
    in fact the photo release seems to have been essentially
    irrelevant -- the crucial event leading to the shootout and
    capture was the carjacking and the suspects' release of the
    driver after telling him they were the bombers; and the suspects'
    identity was eventually determined from fingerprints, not the
    photos. It is possible that the carjacking occurred because the
    photo release had caused the bombers to become desperate but
    this is sheer speculation at this point. Clearly it is in the FBI's
    interest to have people think that their identification of the
    suspects' images (rather than the efforts of the Boston &
    Watertown police) was the crucial breakthrough, but the facts
    seem to be otherwise and the Times' reporters ought to have
    exercised some scepticism here.

  34. The facts seem to indicate that the Boston and Watertown police and the FBI were all working together and doing a good job of it. It has been reported that the police were asked to back off and wait for an FBI negotiator to come in. After the negotiations had been going on some time the suspect was removed from the boat with no further violence to him or to others. The FBI has a good record of negotiation during standoffs, and I give them credit in this case. The injured man may have killed himself and provided no useful information whatsoever had officers rushed in with guns blazing. As to the release of the photographs, it sounds like good police work to me. The more eyes are focused on finding a critical piece of information, the more likely that information will come to light.
    Kudos to all.

  35. Certainly finding & releasing the suspects' photos was good police work. The photos will be important at the trial, and, had events developed differently, they might well have turned out to play a crucial role in capturing/killing the suspects. But the facts indicate they didn't. It is quite unusual in my experience for an entire Times' article to be based on a false premise (that release of the photos was the 'turning point'), as this one seems to be. It may be unfair to blame the FBI for this misinformation -- maybe the reporters simply assumed that, because the photo release occurred only a few hours before the suspects were located, it must have caused it; but of course that's a false inference.

  36. I fell asleep watching Letterman and woke up to the news broadcasting events unfolding in Boston, the overnight chaos of Thursday night was dramatic but it was the NYT I turned to in order see what had really happened. And thankfully the NYT was carefully considering what they would release. From their coverage it was obvious not much was really known in the sense of concrete fact. The TV news being reported was clearly conflicting, out right wrong and too early for accurate reporting and that was perhaps after watching for 30 minutes. Anchors rushed from place to place, out of breath and waving their hands to get attention. There was simply no point in watching the mess they were broadcasting. I appreciate and knew that I could turn to the NYT for the best reporting and I was not disappointed. I, like a large portion of viewers, do not live in Boston. There was no need for me to watch these events in real time. I don't know what local Boston stations did but I hope they served their viewers better than the national broadcasts. There really was important information that needed to reach local residents. That is perhaps the lesson the national networks should consider. They are not serving the immediate area, they are not serving national viewers nor advancing the search for the truth when they behave as they did. There is no question they could do much better. There isn't much room for much worse.

  37. I was on the road most of the day Friday, listening on satellite radio to MSNBC. Based on how things eventually turned out, the NBC news team seemed to be head and shoulders above its counterparts on the broadcast side of things.

    In particular, there were a couple of instances where MSNBC hosts were apparently inundated with various and sundry "man in the street" eyewitnesses coming forward. A couple made it through producer screenings, only to be rebuffed by on-air hosts when it turned out their "eyewitness" accounts were sorely and obviously lacking. I recall one such incident when Chris Matthews was on the air, and he very quickly (but politely) moved on when it was clear the "witness" did not witness anything.

    Others more knowledgeable than I have praised the Boston Globe's coverage.

  38. The "elephant in the room"issue is that with the change in how most Americans get news - hordes of people rely on "gossip news " - rehashed material presented on line as news, totally reliant on first line news reporters, not on actual sources. What's more they don't know the difference. There are more purveyors of gossip news with less and less research and investigation.

    I am very glad that the NYT refrained from going forward with poorly sourced material, and still supports it's own reporters and research.

    As an aside, - so when are you going to take up the most surprising information that crept out in the story of the tragedy: to what extent is the FBI sharing information with Russia? It makes sense that their would be some info shared in the aftermath of a terrorist strike, but is information about American citizens being shared without their knowledge? Let's say that I do not feel comfortable with the idea that FBI agents are now located in Russia and becoming cozy with counterparts in a nation which is known for terrible abuses of civil rights - and worse, even assassinations.

  39. However your coverage of West, Texas has been atrocious. This event had more deaths and destruction and was preventable. This event is way more to the heart of the nation's problems than terrorism....

  40. I very much appreciated the paper's care and restraint in both reporting and photo selection during this tragedy. In fact, it was the only news source I could bear. I kept a window to the NYT open on my computer while working, and checked it periodically. Didn't watch TV news. Couldn't look at other papers.

    Having said that, I have to agree with Colby that your coverage in West, Texas, should not have taken a back seat to Boston. They were two huge stories happening at the same time. They should have been treated as such.