You are at the center of this discussion

By · Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

not teaching,

News judgment — and reader judgment — are at the core of a recent decision by The New York Times to publish a story more than two weeks after learning about an issue.

The issue is explained in a piece by Ben Smith, the media columnist for The Times, published under the headline, “The Times Took 19 Days to Report an Accusation Against Biden. Here’s Why.”

The piece begins:

On March 25, Tara Reade, a former Senate aide for Joseph R. Biden Jr., alleged in an interview on a podcast that Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had sexually assaulted her in 1993.

And it continues:

More than two weeks later, on April 12, The Times published an article by Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember that included an interview with Ms. Reade detailing her claims.

In a question-and-answer format, Smith relates to us how Executive Editor Dean Baquet explains “the decision to wait, and the decision to publish.” His answers put The Times’ audience at the center of the discussion.

This is one of those reads that needs to be absorbed in its entirety, and here are some key quotes by Baquet that we share with you to pique your interest. 

Why the wait to publish: I thought that what The New York Times could offer and should try to offer was the reporting to help people understand what to make of a fairly serious allegation against a guy who had been a vice president of the United States and was knocking on the door of being his party’s nominee.

What the decision to publish means: It means that there is enough about her case and her allegation to present to readers for them to make their own judgment.

What readers should believe: Sometimes I think it is OK to tell readers they have to make their own judgment. I understand that people want simple answers, but in my experience editing stories like this, sometimes there aren’t simple answers and sometimes you just have to figure that the reader is sophisticated, thoughtful, will read it, weigh it and make his or her own judgment. And I think in this case, that’s the best we could offer. And that’s a lot, by the way. We took two and a half weeks to talk to a whole lot of people to provide that information to the reader.

Take a moment to take in Smith’s piece , which delves deeply into the many facets of this story — touching, perhaps, on questions you might already be asking.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

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