Interview with L.A. Times Editor Bob Sipchen — Part Two: Blogging by Reporters, Objectivity, and Transparency
This is Part Two of my interview with L.A. Times Sunday Opinion editor Bob Sipchen. (Part One was about the “Outside the Tent” feature.) In this part of the interview, Sipchen and I discussed objectivity and transparency in journalism.
In connection with the topic of bloggers like Kaus being invited “inside the tent,” I asked Sipchen whether the L.A. Times had ever discussed the possibility of allowing blogging by writers (like the blog run by Dan Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee) or editors (like the group blog run by editors of the Dallas Morning News). [UPDATE: The post originally called Weintraub a “reporter” — in fact, he’s an opinion columnist. My mistake.]
Sipchen said that the concept of blogging under the auspices of the newspaper had been actively discussed as a real possibility for the Opinion Section. Sipchen said that this was quite different from letting a reporter blog, which he said was unlikely to happen.
Sipchen said that the reason reporters shouldn’t blog has to do with journalistic objectivity. The “higher beings” at the paper have a view of journalism that comports with his own view, which is that there is a real benefit to making an effort to be objective. The paper strives to have its reporters hold their biases in abeyance. The reader should not know what a reporter’s political viewpoint is after reading a story. [I’m biting my tongue so hard here I’ll be spitting blood soon. — Ed.]
I asked Sipchen about the school of thought that journalism should be more transparent — that reporters and editors should be more forthright about disclosing their biases. I mentioned that some variant of this view has been advocated by many blogger-journalists, such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, and (to some extent) Dan Gillmor. I noted that Marc Cooper’s recent “Outside the Tent” piece made the same argument about the paper’s reporting from Iraq.
Sipchen expressed strong disagreement: “When I’m reading a newspaper story out of Baghdad, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what some 28-year-old reporter thinks.” Sipchen said that he wants the reporter to tell him the facts on the ground, not what the reporter’s conclusion is about those facts. “Why on earth should I care about what the reporter thinks?” Sipchen asked rhetorically. “Maybe he’ll become an expert and I’ll care then.”
Sipchen said that he understands what Marc Cooper was arguing for, and added: “There’s a place for the sort of subjective reportage that he talks about.” But Sipchen doesn’t think that place is on the news pages of The Times, and says that he’d rather see reporters subjugate their own biases and simply report the facts. And allowing reporters to blog would inevitably bring their biases to the forefront, where Sipchen believes they don’t belong.
My own view is that reporters should strive for a mix of transparency and fairness. As long as journalists follow basic values of fairness, the value of transparency counsels that they should not pretend to objectivity on an issue as to which they have reached a decision. But they should disclose every material fact that they reviewed in making that decision — including those that tend to contradict their position. They should also tell us something about their background and views, so that we can see where they are coming from and judge their views accordingly. I think that allowing reporters to blog — unedited if possible — would be the best way for readers to learn their views.
Next is Part Three: Sipchen’s reaction to the interview.