When I was soliciting advice a few weeks ago about my tentative decision to intern for the New York Post this summer, Professor Jack Pitney paid the Post a compliment that, like the best compliments, was meaningful because it was descriptive. Sure, he said, the Post may go for the flashy headline, but it's also "gritty" and "real." This, I'm learning, is what distinguishes it from certain other newspapers, which one can only describe as unreal.
Here's what I mean. I started my internship on Monday, and one of my main tasks for this week has been to read all the big New York newspapers--the Post, the Daily News, the Sun, the Times, and the Wall Street Journal--to get a feel for the style of each and for what's been going on around the city.
One of the big recent stories, I discovered, concerned two separate incidents in which police had detained members of the street gang called the Latin Kings. In the first, a large group of Kings were allegedly being disorderly on their way to a funeral for a slain comrade; in the second, a crowd wearing the Kings' gang colors was arrested at New York's Puerto Rico Day parade. There, the gang had been denied its request to participate, and the police were concerned that they would attempt to crash the party.
The New York Times, however, determined that the story needed some, uh... broader perspective. Apparently "many New Yorkers" are under the impression that street gangs stopped existing when West Side Story left Broadway. Gang colors, the author helpfully explains, are just like Gucci "horse bits" or children's soccer referees' uniforms in Riverside Park--they help you express your identity.
Or maybe they're just like the uniforms of that other street gang, the NYPD. At least, so says "Almighty Sire," a member of the Kings that this reporter interviews for her story. Sure, she eventually gets around to talking to the police, who present a very different view of what the gangs are and what they do, but nothing in the story indicates that she takes them any more seriously than the Kings themselves.
I guess this reporter would tell you that she was just being "objective." If so, it's a mighty strong indication that "objective journalism" simply doesn't exist, or at least that it shouldn't exist. All journalists should be fair, which often involves admitting that there are things they either don't or can't know. But they should also acknowledge that even when the truth doesn't come down clearly on one side of an issue or the other, it comes down somewhere.
This "he said, she said" blather that passes for journalism at the New York Times, however, isn't fair or good. It may be "objective," but it's also a blatant shirking of a journalist's first responsibility, which is to figure out what's going on. Meanwhile, this reporter lets her own cultural background and biases shine through as if they were completely normal.
Read the two columns linked above, and then tell me what should be New York's "paper of record."