Sunday, July 17, 2011

NYT Public Editor Examines Shale Articles

In his weekly Sunday column, the Public Editor of the New York Times, the paper's ombudsman, addressed criticism of the NYT's series of articles on shale gas three weeks ago, especially the piece that appeared on the front page of the Sunday paper on June 26.  In looking deeper at the article, he asked the writer and editors to take another look, especially in light of the fact that many oil and gas majors have become involved in shale.

In the end, the Public Editor's conclusion was that the article was flawed:
"My view is that such a pointed article needed more convincing substantiation, more space for a reasoned explanation of the other side and more clarity about its focus...(t)he article went out on a limb, lacked an in-depth dissenting view in the text and should have made clear that shale gas had boomed."
The writers and editors pretty much stuck to their guns saying that the article was supposed to be about the independents, not the majors who are investing billions in the big shale plays, a view that was lost on the Public Editor and many readers (like me).  The national editor said that he considered the article "deeply sourced, meticulously reported and measured, and we would not change a word."  That's not surprising from the editor of the piece who gains nothing by second guessing his past work.

While I am glad that the Public Editor wrote that he felt the article was imbalanced, it is unfortunate that his opinion carries little weight (i.e. the publisher is not retracting the article). It is the job of an ombudsman to operate independently of writers and editors and represent the readers' interests, and it's big of the Times to give the Public Editor a weekly column. Unfortunately the result of his dissenting opinion likely will lead to no action beyond this self-examination, which is a deeply unsatisfying conclusion in my mind.

Following publication of the Public Editor's column this morning, the editorial staff from the national desk (where the original article originated) offered a blistering response.  Again not surprising given that the objectivity and quality of their work is being questioned.

I guess the internal debate at the Times rages on just as it does in the real world.

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