July 29, 2015

Public Editor’s Journal, The New York Times

Margaret Sullivan, New York Times public editor, agrees with the paper’s firm defense against a critique of their series ‘Unvarnished’.

The critique that was written by former Times correspondent Richard Bernstein for the The New York Review of Books has received a range of responses, with the Times’ Editors saying that it was a piece of industry advocacy and not unbiased journalism.

“I was glad to see Times editors rebut the complaints so strongly. And I think they’re essentially right,” said Sullivan.

In the piece, Sullivan recounts her prior conversations with Bernstein stating, “although he makes some points worth considering, but they are minor ones that do not mar the overall quality of the project.”

Mr. Bernstein wrote to me about his concerns numerous times last spring, and I looked into them, talking to several editors, reviewing his complaints and corresponding with him several times.

I was satisfied that, while the project may have been a bit overwrought in places, it was solid. Its intense focus on one salon worker, whose lot in life was indeed deplorable, was a very effective story-telling technique but by its nature a narrow one. Other personal stories, told in some depth, would have brought more nuance. And, more fully acknowledging that some salon owners do it right would have been a way to deepen the series. In addition, stating that newspapers were “rife” with the employment ads that featured extraordinarily low wages may have been an overstatement. But these points don’t diminish the larger picture in any substantial way.

Sullivan states that because of the impact that the story has had and the government reform it followed, it is a piece she considers to be “impressive and admirable,” something she also told Bernstein in an email months ago.

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I report, write and produce interactives for Poynter.org as the institute's 2015 Google Journalism Fellow. Tweet me @gurmanbhatia or email at gbhatia@poynter.org.
Gurman Bhatia

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