Patterico's Pontifications

2/21/2005

Interview with L.A. Times Editor Bob Sipchen — Part Three: Sipchen’s Reaction to the Interview

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 10:15 am



In two previous entries, I posted an interview with L.A. Times Sunday Opinion editor Bob Sipchen. Part One is about the “Outside the Tent” feature. Part Two discusses objectivity and transparency in journalism.

I showed the interview to Sipchen before publishing it, to allow him the opportunity to object to any statements or quotations that he believed to be inaccurate. He indicated to me that he has no such objections, and that I “got it right.”

He did ask me to clarify two or three things, where he was afraid that people might get the wrong impression based on things he had said. Rather than try to summarize his clarifications, I’ll simply reproduce his entire e-mail below, in the extended entry portion of this post. (I encourage readers to read the interview before reading Sipchen’s reaction.)

Patrick,

I’m impressed. You got it right and I don’t seem to have said anything terribly stupid (although I’m sure your readers will disabuse me of that notion). Two small points.

1). Re: Dunphy. I didn’t mean to suggest that the conversation between the reporter and the author may not have occurred. It clearly did, and while I have no reason to doubt the author’s account of what was said, I can’t be put in a position of trying to judge whether his account is more accurate than the reporter’s or to sort out the myriad reasons (bite your tongue again, but they aren’t necessarily nefarious) why the well-respected and by all indications entirely honorable reporter chose what information to include in his report–or whether an assignment or copy editor may have deleted it for a million other reasons the author simply doesn’t know. Those are the kinds of tail-chasing “investigations” that could wipe out hours I don’t have as Sunday Opinion editor, and it’s hardly a task I’d want to delegate.

2). Re: That interesting little tangent on objectivity you lured me into: I don’t want to leave the impression that I disdain the views of someone just because she or he is a reporter (whether 28 years old or 68 years old). I spent most of my career as a reporter and hope to go back someday because I think it’s a far more important and difficult job than pontificating (or editing). The reporter’s job is to be fair while accurately and honestly reporting the facts and providing unbiased context. That’s a much tougher assignment that it might seem, for all variety of reasons–one of the least of which is that we all have biases. A good reporter has the discipline to filter out most personal bias. His or her editors then try to squeeze out any remaining slant or prejudice. It’s an imperfect science, but I think readers would grow weary quickly of the blather that would fill newspapers if reporters freely spiced their stories with whatever political, religious, philosophical, or culinary views they happen to hold that day. I teach journalism, and I can assure you that most of my young students know exactly what’s wrong with the world and how to save it. What they remain clueless about is how to report facts. They have to be taught the exhilarating skill of keeping an open mind while wrestling respectfully with other peoples’ views.

Oh, yeah. I only volunteered that I didn’t leak that to Kaus because you had a slightly accusatory tone in your voice when you brought it up (what do you do for a living again?). [For what it’s worth, I didn’t intend to sound accusatory. — Ed.] I never leak anything to anyone and speak only on the record in interviews.

Bob Sipchen
Editor
Sunday Opinion

I want to emphasize that I published this post at the same time that I posted the interview; it is only a separate post for space reasons.

Wouldn’t it be great if newspapers could provide full and instant feedback from the subjects of their articles, as I have done here? Don’t get me wrong: I understand why they can’t. Still, I think that seeing this e-mail gives you, the reader, a much greater degree of confidence in the accuracy of the interview than you would have without it. And to the extent that the subject of the interview feels the need to clarify a certain point, allowing him to do so at the same time that the interview runs is in the interest of accuracy, fairness, and the truth. And isn’t that what we’re all striving to achieve?

12 Responses to “Interview with L.A. Times Editor Bob Sipchen — Part Three: Sipchen’s Reaction to the Interview”

  1. It sounds like you and Sipchen are talking past each other on the topic of reporter biases. I agree with him on the general notion that a reader should not be able to tell a reporter’s bias from reading his article. I do not think it follows that he shouldn’t divulge his biases in other fora such as blogs. Unless, of course, the objective is to make the reporter appear unbiased, which is not the same thing as actually being unbiased.

    Xrlq (c51d0d)

  2. Geez, talk about not seeing the elephant in the room. He talks about how the LA Times has superior safeguards to ensure accurate unbiased reporting.

    Sipchen should talk about why the paper reports in huge frontpage headlines that the Governor is cutting education spending by billions when the budget is billions more than the year before. Some discussion about their results instead of their happy process and superior memo-passing ability would be appreciated.

    Ladainian (91b3b2)

  3. Jeeze Louise, Patterico; I would love to have a sit-down with Sipchen for about half an hour. I would bring along that day’s LA Times and just read from the front-page stories — noting the bias that dripped from every one of them like the corrosive saliva dribbling from the alien in the eponymious movie.

    The Los Angeles Times is the most consistently biased and one-sided of the ten or fifteen top newspapers in the country, moreso than the Washington Post, the New York Times, or even the Boston Globe. Does Sipchen actually not know this? Can he really not see it?

    I suspect that’s part of the problem: leftism to the LA Times is water to a fish.

    Dafydd

    Dafydd (df2f54)

  4. Great job. Truly great. You produced a fascinating record of Sipchen’s thinking. I find it very valuable. I also think the Los Angeles Times had a great idea with this feature, which is amply clear from your treatment of it.

    Two other notes:

    I would have preferred no “bite my tongue” interruptions. Analyze that part after. No mature reader is going to think you approve if you don’t object.

    I disagree that it would be a tragedy if they discontinue it. The most impressive thing about Sipchen’s attitude, from my perspective, is the experimental feel of it. “It’s an evolving thing..” “We’ll have to see…” and so on, are good signs, because they mean TRYING STUFF is becoming normal.

    For a conservative (about journalism) newsroom culture, this is key.

    If you know you can kill it, you’re more likely to try it.

    Cheers. Great blogging, Pat.

    Jay Rosen (93f62a)

  5. You may be successful in helping them to improve and to arrest the erosion of their franchise, which they are frankly pissing away quite unnecessarily. Or you may not. But at least this record will show that you tried. A noble effort.

    ZF (af20d4)

  6. I don’t think Sipchen & Patterico were talking past each other on objectivity. I think they just disagree on certain things, but they fully understand each other’s position.

    Sipchen would be an interesting interview to do on a topic by topic basis. These first discussions were largely on generalities, abstractions and such. That’s a great start. But it would also be interesting if, as time allows, you could interview him on specific stories that you feel were slanted, as close to their publication as possible. It’s in the actual that the abstract takes shape (e.g. the old chess story: “there are no principles, only moves!”)

    ras (b76930)

  7. Well, one thing to keep in mind is that he is the Sunday Opinion editor. It’s not really fair to hound him about the news side.

    And, while I appreciated his time, I don’t plan to bother him again. I am grateful enough that he took the time (and undertook the risk) to do this.

    Patterico (756436)

  8. Patterico,

    Right. Good point. No, I don’t think one should harass. We may disagree w/the man on certain issues, but he seems to be making a sincere effort and that’s to be respected, too.

    ras (b76930)

  9. Effort is irrelevant. What is important is whether the LA Times passes the water cooler test, which it doesn’t.

    Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, at the workroom water cooler you recite things you read in the morning paper. If your morning paper is the LA Times, you are often totally full of shit. That’s because the articles, which often contain many facts, insinuate things which are totally false. The articles take an “insidery” tone, where if you already know the facts before you buy their paper, you can use their articles to explain how lefties are better than righties.

    When circulation and making money become a top-ten concern of the paper, they will pander to the water cooler crowd. I hope that happens soon.

    Ladainian (91b3b2)

  10. Before I sat down to read your piece and the subsequent pieces relating to it, including the e-mail reply from Mr. Sipchen, I made a deliberate effort to give everything an objective framework. Consequently what I came away with was that the new feature in The Los Angeles Times is no so much about accountability and responsibility on the part of those at The Los Angeles Times but merely a marketing attempt to regain readership for said newspaper. If, for example, you are a blogger and you gain the attention of Mr. Sipchen, and are allowed to publically take him and his employees to task it is hoped you will tell everyone you know, and they will run out and buy a copy of The Times to read what you wrote.

    In other words: Business as usual: The Los Angeles Times is a corrupt, dishonest newspaper published by corrupt, dishonest people, who take a perverse pride in having no morals, ethics, principles, values, standards, or beliefs.

    James C. Hess (14d516)

  11. Each of us, including reporters, is entitled to a personal bias. However, full disclosure of a reporter’s bias is warranted. A reporter’s bias is to often a flashlight’s narrow beam in the search for ‘truth’; rather than the all illuminating glow from the lantern of ‘true’ objectivity.

    Porkopolis (c6f1fd)

  12. This was some good stuff. But I fear Mr. Sipchen is living in a dream world regarding his belief (wish?) that reporters “be fair while accurately and honestly reporting the facts and providing unbiased context.”

    How many people here have ever really thought about what it takes to distort a context to one side or the other? It takes one word. Only one. Example: “An unconventional music teacher from X-Y High School in the Southwestern Suburb of Dullsville has lost his job after the school board declined to reject his resignation and reinstate his contract.”

    Anybody spot the biased context? One word: unconventional. How can the reporter make that judgment? The reporter never sat in on any of the music teacher’s classes, and if he had, has he sat in on the classes of a representative sample of other music teachers, as a measuring stick for what’s “conventional” in a public school music classroom? Of course not. The reporter thought there wouldn’t be a fuss being made about the teacher if there wasn’t something “unconventional” about him–whether that’s true or not–and thought it would add color to his story. As a result, anybody reading the story gets it into their heads that at the very least, the music teacher was “unconventional” and … yeah, probably deserved to lose his job on that basis.

    This happened to a friend of mine. The job situation was separate from the news story–that was going down regardless of what was written in the paper. But anybody not involved in the situation could read that story and come away with an opinion of the music teacher having nothing to do with the facts of the case–that actually could bias future hiring school administrators against him. All thanks to one word.

    Anwyn (01a5cc)


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