Jay Rosen, the NYU journalism department chair who writes at Press Think, sounds disappointed and discouraged by L.A. Times managing editor Dean Baquet's remarks this week in New Orleans (see yesterday's post). Rosen's response is long and thoughtful, and I can't do justice to it, but here are snippets.
Okay, Baquet would rather be respected than loved. Who can argue with that? But his alternatives--aim for respect, or crave to be loved--are stale and cramped, and they can be argued with.
When 10,000 people (who follow politics well enough to feel outraged by an editorial decision during election season) get angry and quit the newspaper, it might be wise to think anew, not about the love you don't need from people, but the hate you now have from some. Yet Baquet said he had "no second thoughts about the decision to publish," according to Russell. "To him, the episode sheds light on a newspaper's role in the community: to be a cranky watchdog."
Well, I doubt that "crankiness" explains 10,000 gone.
For even if you are proud of your call in the groping mess, comfortable with the reasoning and would do it again, (Baquet said all this) there is still the matter of what you learned from the bitter public reaction, what you take away for the future. And how to explain what you learned to the public you learned it from. On the evidence of the speech in his hometown, Baquet learned that the old time newsroom religion, which is powerful in its call and response, answered all his doubts. But is that the belief system of the 10,000 who quit? Does it answer any of their doubts?
The New Orleans reporter didn't include in his story, but told Rosen, that Baquet found the 10,000 subscriber defections an "astonishing shock." (The number confirms my Oct. 28 post: 9,000+ cancellations.) By the way, Rosen repeats that he had no problems with the groping stories themselves.