This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
New York Times journalists want news stories vetted prior to publication. They want mandatory & ongoing newsroom sensitivity training. The Gray Lady is now a place where journalists fear each other.
Contemporary journalists don’t need to be told they should be careful when writing about certain topics: race, religion, gender issues, and so forth. Sensitivity filters exist inside everyone’s head.
The minute, however, that sensitivity filters become formalized, the minute a newspaper makes it someone’s job to cleanse news stories of politically incorrect content, journalism dies.
Remarkably, a union representing employees of the New York Times is now demanding exactly this. Three days ago, the NewsGuild of New York released a memo about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Guild says it wants to “improve the working experience of Black, Indigenous, and people of color at the Times.” But the memo reaches well beyond that.
It wants the publisher of the newspaper to declare that “diversity and inclusion is part of everyone’s job.”
It advocates “Mandatory and regular cultural competency training for newsroom employees” and “mandatory unconscious bias training (for hiring and for editorial sensitivity reading).”
It says that, whenever a reporter pitches a story idea to an editor, a major concern from the “start of the editorial process,” should be whether that story will offend racial sensitivities.
It further says: “Every newsroom employee should be proactive in improving coverage” of racial matters. It’s no longer sufficient, says the memo, to be receptive to particular concerns, “since that is passive.”
In other words, Times employees can no longer decline to behave like militant, censorious activists. The guild wants everyone to become a newsroom bully – denouncing and pointing fingers at any colleague who dares to write in an unapproved manner about “members of historically discriminated groups.”
This is insane. A journalist’s job is to tell it like it is, to produce information that helps the public make informed decisions.
Informed decisions can’t be made if unfashionable perspectives are never uttered. They can’t be made if relevant facts are deliberately withheld for fear of offending certain communities or interest groups. In the words of a famous book on the topic:
“Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”
But the Guild isn’t interested in the truth. It thinks the public should, like children, be told fairy tales. That is emphatically the opposite of what the founding father of the New York Times intended. In his words, the goal was:
to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved… [bold added]
124 years later, the New York Times has become an entity in which journalists live in fear of other journalists.