A peek behind the scenes at the Boston Globe

A peek behind the scenes at the Boston Globe

Harry Forbes writes the Boston Globe watchdog blog, Squaring the Globe, and back in April he was invited by the Globe’s ombudsman to visit the newspaper and take a tour of the newsroom. He took him up on the offer and now Harry has posted his impressions of the tour.

Harry makes some good points in that we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that there’s a vast left-wing conspiracy getting talking points faxed to them every night, which end up in the news the next day. It’s not quite like that. And while there is definitely a liberal bias in the mainstream media, most journalists will deny that it’s there. What really happens is that most editors are themselves liberal and they are prone to hiring reporters who think like them. In addition, the newsroom environment will often become hostile to reporters who are not just as liberal, not overtly usually, but in subtle ways. In addition, the ever-increasing pressure of a shorter and shorter news cycle forces reporters often to fall back on instinct and impression, which is where more of their subjective voices comes out and the objective vision is lost. An infamous example of this came last year when New York Times reporter Ian Fisher, in a story on the death of Pope John Paul II, left a note to himself in an article that appeared on the paper’s web site. Sandwiched in between two paragraphs from liberals trashing the Pope’s legacy was the following note: “need some quote from supporter,” as if journalistic balance is achieved by throwing in any quote from an ideological opposite of those you quoted first.

So, as Harry describes, in the process of reporting and writing a news story there are few opportunities for someone to stop and say, Hey, doesn’t this sound a little biased in favor of one side? Aren’t our own ideological biases coming through here?

The reporter writing the story and this editor are the primary people responsible for the story’s content and accuracy. They collaborate to write the story and take primary responsibility for its accuracy. This may seem to be a fragile system, and it is. It relies on the good faith efforts of people to produce a quality product. Would extra check help to eliminate bias? I doubt it. Additional approvals would not have much value given the very tight schedule that constrains production. Besides, having fewer approvals concentrates responsibility (and accountability) for a story’s accuracy.

More than just an inside look at a major metropolitan newspaper’s newsroom it’s also an attempt to understand the forces that shape the newspaper business today and influence the product that we read over our coffee every morning. I heartily recommend it.

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1 comment
  • It’s also an inside look that explains why many of us don’t read a newspaper over our coffee anymore and haven’t for quite some time.