NYT DC bureau chief: ‘The Web has created a more responsible press, with higher standards’

Reddit
David Leonhardt explains in a Reddit AMA response why the Web has been good for journalism:

Think how much easier it is for readers to point out flaws (or perceived flaws!) in a story today than in the past. You don’t have to rely on our Letters to the Editor page or our Corrections process. You can write your own blog post or get the attention of a media critic (including our public editor, a job that didn’t exist until a decade ago). Such criticism isn’t always enjoyable — and we don’t always agree with it — but there is little question that it makes us better at our jobs.

Beyond this new accountability, the Web has also allowed and required us to become much more innovative. Think of the tremendous interactives that Amanda Cox, Steve Duenes, Matt Ericson, Kevin Quealy and all the NYT graphics editors produce.

Or think of all the real-time political coverage that Jeff Zeleny, Jim Rutenberg, Mike Shear and others provided during the presidential debates this year. Or the columns in the Business section, most of which are relatively new. Or the videos, like the celebrated one on hockey fighting. Or the Well blog, by Tara Parker-Pope.

Whichever of these features you like or don’t like, I’m utterly persuaded that The Times is a better publication than it was in the past.

The New York Times D.C. bureau chief became the latest journalist to participate in a Reddit AMA, following journalists Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman, Anthony De Rosa, Matthew KeysAsad Hashim, and many more.

For the uninitiated, an AMA is an invitation for Reddit users to “ask me anything” in a wide-ranging Q&A thread. Think of it as the Internet’s reinvention of the Larry King interview.

Some other highlights from Leonhardt’s responses:

Q: How has Twitter and social media impacted long form reporting?

Leonhardt: Long-form journalism is doing quite well, in fact. Many of our 5000-word or 8000-word NYT Magazine stories end up on our online Most Read, Most Blogged or Most Emailed list. Same goes for long investigative pieces and narrative pieces in the newspaper.

I do worry, theoretically, that people will have less interest in long-form journalism on screens. I certainly prefer long stories on paper. But so far, so good for long-form journalism.

Q: People don’t want the truth… It doesn’t sell papers. They want sensationalism and things to reaffirm their opnions.

Leonhardt: I disagree, respectfully… The truth does sell papers. Whatever our flaws and sins, The Times has the audience that it does because it has built up a reputation for reporting the truth over many years. When other papers cut back during wars, the Sulzbergers expanded our news report. When the government told us not to publish the Pentagon Papers, we did anyway. Again, we have made mistakes over the years — and they prove the point, in that they have hurt us, not helped us.

This election brought one more example. Despite enormous criticism, Nate Silver and Micah Cohen, on the 538 blog, continued to talk in a straightforward way about what the polls were showing. They were simply reporting the truth, and it looks very good in retrospect.

Q: I am a young budding journalist. I am confronted by many differing opinions on what is to become of print journalism as blogs and Twitter seem to be taking much of the gusto of newspapers. Give us a forecast on the future of Journalism, the printed word, and comprehensive investigative reporting.

Leonhardt: The future of journalism is assured, I think. Journalism — facts and narration — predates newspapers and will outlast newspapers.

The future of the printed word — that is, newspapers as we know them today — seems less certain. As a reader, I would be terribly sad not to wake up to printed copies of the NYT and Washington Post, among other papers. As a writer and editor, I don’t have a preference about whether people are reading our journalism on paper or a screen.

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