The blog Patterico's Pontifications usually refers to the L.A. Times as The Dog Trainer and almost daily flags what it considers liberal bias in the coverage of conservatives. Today, the blog posts an interview with Bob Sipchen, editor of the Times' Sunday Opinion section, about the origins of the new feature "Outside the Tent"—where critics such as Patterico are invited to rip the Times in its own pages—and, more generally, about objectivity in journalism. It's in three parts; the news in the first part is that Sipchen's boss Michael Kinsley originally wanted to hire Slate blogger Mickey Kaus to write a regular Opinion column called "Inside the Tent." When that didn't work out, Kinsley suggested they rename it and invite a variety of critics to weigh in.
The interview includes the first written account I've seen of Sipchen's guidelines for "Outside the Tent" pieces:
* These pieces should be about what appears in the Los Angeles Times Ė news stories, editorials, comics, columns etc.Ė or about the editorial practices that influence what appears in the paper. They should not be about internal politics, personalities, personnel issues (who got fired, who should have been hired), business practices, advertising or circulation matters. They should be criticism not reportage.
* These pieces should not be about Times employees. Feel free to tear into what someone has written, photographed, drawn. Donít attack character.
* These pieces must deal with facts and be supported by evidence. Reasoned opinion is fine. Please donít repeat rumors or offer speculation on matters that canít readily be verified with a reasonable degree of certainty.
* These pieces will be held to our usual standards, and while we pledge to edit in a way that helps the writer make his or her case most clearly and forcefully, we will also edit for taste, accuracy and fairnessĖas we would any other column.
To elaborate just a bit, the tenets of good journalism are universal and Times editors and reporters are no less entitled to fair treatment than the people they write about and photograph. For various reasons-not the least of which is that we simply donít have the time-Opinionís editors canít be put in the position of having to go to a reporter or editor for comment about an allegation about his or her competence or motives made in this column. We donít want opinions to ping-pong back and forth in the column (although we may well run rebuttals at some point). Investigative reporting on the Timesí alleged failings is a legitimate enterprise, but this column isnít the place for it. Nor is it a gossip column. Itís a media criticism column.
Sipchen also says the paper's commitment to the feature is tentative, but that it is widely read within the paper. In part two, Sipchen argues that Times reporters should make an effort to be objective and suppress any political views, which Patterico disparages in an aside: "Iím biting my tongue so hard here Iíll be spitting blood soon." In a follow-up email, Sipchen praises Patterico—the nom de blog of L.A. County prosecutor Patrick Frey—for doing the interview and elaborates further on his views about the superiority of reporting that shoots for objectivity over merely opinionated reporting.