Comments of the Week

January 18-22, 2010

Every Friday, we excerpt some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we receive each week. Think we’ve missed something? Well…comment!

Reporters Doubling as Docs in Haiti

On Wednesday, Curtis Brainard wrote about television journalists in Haiti who are also trained as doctors, and the journalistic ethics involved when someone like CBS’s Jennifer Ashton or CNN’s Sanjay Gupta performs medical care on air (and then tweets about it).

“But what about patients’ privacy? It seems that in exchange for medical care, the earthquake victims give up their healthcare privacy. It is helpful for the world to see the extent of the disaster and the pictures convey the urgency of need. But some of it seems to not even consider that privacy is as valid in a disaster as in any other healthcare setting. And since they’re real doctors, they would normally be fully aware of privacy issues. There are ways to photograph injuries while masking patient identity. That’s the standard for medical publications, signed consent or at least masked identity. For patients lying on stretchers perhaps unconscious (the injured who cannot give full consent to photography), I think they should make more of an effort to conceal their identities or move the camera away from patients who are not fully clothed, for example.”


The NYT Will Charge Online

The New York Times announced this week that it will start charging readers for online content, on a metered model, sometime in early 2011. Better late than never, wrote Ryan Chittum on Wednesday. Some readers agreed, but wondered why the wait.

“Why is the NY Times waiting a year? Simple, they want their fellow papers around the country to play follow the leader. The Times knows they would be going it alone if they throw the switch today. Too many readers would bail and read free news elsewhere. So will enough major dailies” take the bait” and put up a pay wall to lessen the availability of free news? I doubt it. However the Times is probably hoping a significant number will do it which will drive enough subscribers to make it worthwhile.”

Rich price

“’We have to get this really, really right’, Mr. Sulzberger says.

“And he’s right about that.

“BUT — and please pay attention, NY Times — getting something ‘really, really right’ is very often about very difficult choices, not merely about formats, colors, and pricing. It’s about aims, identity, and philosophy.

“An example: I’ll happily state here and now that I’m NOT going to pay — for the paper or for online access — if the Times is not going to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so to speak. What I mean by that is this: The NY Times should understand what it is to ‘serve the public good’, genuinely, in the deepest sense of that ideal. In the sense that Thomas Jefferson, Edward R. Murrow, George Orwell, and many others understood to be vitally important.

“For example, if the Times’ business model is to gain a large part of their revenue from ExxonMobil advertising, and another large part from the paying public, AND IF the Times thus continues its present habit of not wanting to upset ExxonMobil with on-target, honest reporting regarding the oil and ExxonMobil aspects of global warming, then forget it. I can pay for entertainment and for half-truths in a million other places, or get them free.

“If The Times wants to get it really, really right, and rebuild credibility, and gain back my revenue (I probably used to spend $500 a year on The Times), then it has some considerable soul-searching to do. That’s my advice.

“I do hope you make the right choice.

Be Well,


Jeff Huggins

“Mr. Huggins is on to something. Honesty is a quality missing from far too many newpapers and other media venues, as it is in the millieu of politicians.

“We don’t, as a general rule, believe much of what we read or hear anymore. An article (citation needed) the other day indicated that in some countries, some more advanced techologically than ours, print news readership is up while on-line access is also up. Could that be due to a greater degree of trust in the media of those countries?

“Doug Underwood’s “When MBAs Rule the Newsrooms” notes that most media now regard their newsrooms as “profit centers’ and as such cut expenses in the obvious place, news coverage. Too often political news and corporate news comes from “spokesmen” or handouts. Obviously, the spin is not even mentioned.

“The news media is not really expected to be “unbiased” or “fair and balanced”. The industry arose because people had axes to grind. In spite of the J-school emphasis on impartiality, reporting and opining both reflect the writer’s biases. All we can ask is that writers and announcers identify those particular biases so that we can adjust accordingly. And editors and publishers should do likewise.

“Reliance upon subscriber revenues does tend to remove the pronounced problem of offending large advertisers. I tend to agree that the “Times” should charge more rather than less for their paper, at the same time providing honest, even though biased most of the time. But the product for which we pay should provide fair value.”

Doug Morrisey

Health Care and the Massachusetts Senate Race

On Tuesday, Trudy Lieberman wrote about the role health care played in the Martha Coakley-Scott Brown Senate race in Massachusetts, and some lingering questions regarding an insurance provider/health care system collusion investigation.

“Re this post’s sub-title “What’s bothering folks up there, anyway?”, I’d say it’s much of what Trudy points out in this post. It’s also that many voters don’t trust what’s being said publicly by the health “reformers” (politicians in Congress) when that’s placed alongside what’s actually being done behind closed doors where the health policy is crafted. The “reform” bills that came out of each branch of Congress favor the interests of the medical-industrial complex above the needs of the average American! Yes, there’s some good in each bill but there’s a lot that’s pretty awful.

“I consider myself an Independent and that’s my baseline political registration here in Massachusetts. I’m a creative thinker who values humanitarian ethics blended with fiscal responsibility. I’ve worked in health care for 30 years, 15 of those as a Master’s prepared nurse.

“I’m one of the 60-70% of voters who support a “robust” public option in health reform. The majority of voters recognize the value of this cost-saving option. Many of us who are under 65 want the option not have our healthcare dollars run through a private insurance company.

“Why not explore the common-sense solution of looking at how to improve Medicare so that it’s both more comprehensive in benefits and standards to not pay in open-ended fashion for unneccessary and/or harmful medical services (e.g. the McAllen TX phenomenon as profiled by surgeon Atul Gawande in the New Yorker)? Then open up Medicare to all who want to pay in.

“American Medicare for all who want to participate is an obvious policy option for national health system reform.

“I predict there will be a growing demand for the choice of a more cost-effective model of providing comprehensive health insurance, such as improved Medicare-fo-All.

“Bold and sustained leadership from our elected leaders to make this reform happen would be the real silver lining in the Massachusetts vote.”

Ann Malone RN

Character Studies

On CJR’s books blog, Steve Weinberg reviewed David Maraniss’s Into the Story: A Writer’s Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, an anthology of the journalist’s work.

“Dispassionate detachment required to create an honest assessment and profile of any public figure is a method that Maraniss does well enough to be noticed and might be incorporated as its own course at Columbia Journalism simply because bias is so easy to cultivate in print or in media. Special training may be required in order to prevent falling victim into being the horn of that bias rather than the introspective skeptic that good authors strive to be.

“While we can’t know everything at the moment since so much depends upon facts that are obscure or situations we cannot possibly know about, the projection of favorable or unfavorable reporting is always the trap for the unwary journalist and can ruin careers by later destroying credibilty of the journalist by going out on those limbs. Training courses for protection of journalist methods would go far to provide a consistent approach to articles and works worthy of the public’s time and attention. So many seem to rely upon political or social persecution for notoriety. Fast profits through muckraking are easy; Steady profits through insight are not but serve humanity better and could be cultivated as the professional approach to topics, people, and events.”


Time the Conquerer

Encore Fellow Jill Drew’s newspaper-reading ritual and her thoughts on reading a print product in a time-crunched world got readers talking about their own—and greater America’s&;mdash;reading habits.

“If you want to know how people spent so little time with the paper, don’t look at WSJ, NYT, WaPo, look at the thin daily gruel served in Miami, Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Franciso, Hartford, Philadelphia, Kansas City, New Haven, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and then on to small metro areas. It’s hard to even find 39 minutes worth of material in them unless you do the crosswords and sudoku. In fact, it’s quite silly to apply that time limit to someone trying to read the three densest papers.

“Ahh if only I had that sort of time to read that many papers. I’m a high school student in the Baltimore region and I’m absolutely enamored newspapers, for many the same reasons as the author. Since the Sun has been no good for about the past 10 years, I get the Post delivered. Unfortunately I dont get to read much of anything until after school. And then when homework and other extracurriculars are added, I sometimes find myself not finishing the paper until late at night, by the time the next day’s edition is already being printed. Time is the enemy of newspapers, but even so, I think most anyone could fit at least one quality paper into their day, every day if they make a conscious effort to inform themselves.”


“But I really like Jill’s condemnation of the overbroad nut graf and editor-driven stories. It’s a shame she wised up too late.”


“I find it useful to assess this issue in economic terms: The opportunity cost (in time) of consuming irrelevant information is rising.

“That is to say, every 39 minutes I spend reading information that’s lightly relevant, like the NYT’s too-thin trend stories, is 39 minutes I didn’t spend reading highly relevant information from a niche outlet like Blazer’s Edge or CJR.

“The implication: it’s not that modern readers are “distracted” from what matters or that life has somehow hurried up. It’s not that newspapers have gotten crappier. It’s that, given the proliferation of new niche content sources, lightly relevant content newspapers’ simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to consume.

“I also agree with Drew’s conclusion: catering to core loyalists is the only way to sustainability.

“More thoughts on this here:”

Michael Andersen

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Kimberly Chou is a writer in New York.