How Do Blogs at the New York Times Operate? Are they really blogs?


The question came up last week from a startup client: how should they approach blogs? The initial answer: carefully, of course.

The more complete answer is that instead of making PR-Journalism train faster (as in viral), blogging relations can often take longer because you need to spend more time researching a blogger, reading his or her posts and the comments to those posts.

By our client asked a follow-up question: what are the standards of a blog when the blogger is also a reporter? And when the blog appears somewhere on the newspaper’s site.

Good question.

And it’s one raised by Clark Hoyt, the public editor or ombudsman at the New York Times, whose job is to offer transparency and insight into how the Times is put together, to analyze issues in the coverage, and to set things kind of straight, if possible.

I’ve been reading the Times’ ombudsman columns for years because they often provide useful insight into the editorial approach and theory, as practiced by the Times.

Recently Hoyt has been asking the question: “Are blogs’ stanrads the same as the paper’s?”

The answer: Writing in a column entitled,A Private Room With a Narrow View,” Hoyt says, “even such short, narrowly focused pieces need to be fully reported enough to make sure they are accurate and fair.”

According to Wendell Jamieson, deputy metropolitan editor for the Web for the Times, “‘I use the same journalistic criteria’ for blogs and the printed paper.”

Meanwhile, James Sunshine, a former editor of the Providence Journal (now living in Oberlin, OH), responded:

“Is a blog merely the private thoughts of the blogger, who has been given the privilege of saying what he happens to think at the moment without a qualified editor passing judgment on it for accuracy, taste, appropriateness and so on?

“Or is a blog a short news story published online? Your column suggests that it is, and that it is edited by an editor like anything else approved for publication in the paper and must meet Times standards. If that is the case, why call it a blog (whatever that is supposed to mean)? Why not call it a news story? Must everything we do be a matter of clever marketing?”

Responding to that, Jill Abramson, managing editor of the Times wrote:

Blogs are an important part of our news report. On big, running news stories, like the oil spill, the earthquake in Haiti, the elections and so forth, they offer readers the most important, up-to-the-minute developments. Prescriptions, our blog on the health care overhaul, is a great example. It became the go-to site for developments on the complex legislation. There was more material than could fit into a fixed number of news stories, and it gave an outlet to our reporters to share what they were learning on a fast-paced story with many different tentacles.

“For events like sporting matches, Congressional hearings and political debates, we offer live blogging where our journalists report in real time what is happening or being said.

“Some of our best blogs focus on the arts, fashion, food and technology, and offer our journalists and critics a less formal structure to share their reporting.

“While the opinion side of The Times also has blogs, the news blogs exist to report and analyze, not to offer slanted ‘takes.’ Times blogs are never personal diaries. All of our blogs are carefully edited, and we apply the same standards for accuracy and fairness to them.”

I don’t usually quote that much directly from other sources, but I thought it important to capture, rather than just summarize or point people to the link (see the follow-up articleOther Voices: What Exactly Is a Blog?“). Very interesting. I wonder how many other newspapers have editors work with their bloggers.

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