Anyone doubting the Times’s access-obtaining prowess need only look at the mega conference at the Times Center last week featuring a Who’s Who of business and financial leaders, starting with Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. (And I’m much closer to Margaret Sullivan’s view than Felix’s on this. Everyone understands the necessity of these conferences, but the issue is the paper’s potential indebtedness to sources, and a quote of Gerald Marzorati, who organized the event, is telling. “I can understand that question, but I see no evidence of a problem,” he said, other than one of “the optics.” Well, optics count, for one thing. But, having organized similar events (without the money part; ours are free), I can tell you, as I wrote the other day, “[they] involve, let’s say, a significantly enhanced degree of collaboration, beyond the normal journalism give-and-take, between news organizations and the powerful people and institutions that they cover.”)
Like I say, it’s a balancing act. And that absolutely means you can fall off, though usually it’s not so abrupt as a fall; more like a slow sinking into the warm, cushy, perfumed maw of access, where fancy canapés are served.
On the other side, credit must be given where it’s due, and to say that the Times has walked away from accountability reporting would be just wrong. In 2008, I compared its coverage of the crisis favorably to The Wall Street Journal’s, a judgment that I think holds up. More recently, I’m thinking of the 2010 blockbuster that kept the News Corp. hacking story alive until the Guardian could blow it open the next summer; the iEconomy series, especially the Foxconn story; and the monster-blowout WalMart bribery story. We should call these and other similar stories what they are: a public service.
(And it’s hard to tell how much the business editor had to do with this story or that one, but, generally speaking, it was Ingrassia’s watch, so he should get credit and blame.)
Another way to think of it is, if Sorkin has (plenty of) space to do what he does, so does Gretchen Morgenson, who, I’ve written, represents the other pole, does as well. This is the far more vulnerable space, bureaucracy-wise, with its time-consuming, expensive longform stories, confrontations, legal risks, and bridge-burning nature. But there it is.
Could it be bigger, better, with more? Sure.
But big institutional journalism, especially in the business-news business, is a balancing act between access and accountability, and the business section of the most important American newspaper under Ingrassia, it should be said, stayed up upright and held on to the umbrella.