PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Times sees fit to print a rapid response

NEW YORK: The centerpiece of last Sunday's New York Times was neither a penetrating look at a public-policy issue nor a weighty dispatch from a foreign land. Instead, the front page of the May 11 edition found the Times raking through its own muck with its reaction to the newspaper of record's most significant scandal in recent memory: the widespread dissembling and fabulation in its pages by 27-year-old reporter Jayson Blair.

NEW YORK: The centerpiece of last Sunday's New York Times was neither a penetrating look at a public-policy issue nor a weighty dispatch from a foreign land. Instead, the front page of the May 11 edition found the Times raking through its own muck with its reaction to the newspaper of record's most significant scandal in recent memory: the widespread dissembling and fabulation in its pages by 27-year-old reporter Jayson Blair.

Unlike the Times' most recent black eye, when it was accused of misreporting elements of the investigation of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, the accused spy, the paper wasted very little time in exploring in painful detail Blair's journalistic improprieties. Its editors placed five reporters on the story almost immediately after Blair resigned, and the extent of his misdeeds, which included stealing liberally from other papers and possibly fabricating sources, came to light. What they turned up was a gripping narrative, heavy on workplace detail, and written with the same gusto the title takes when investigating government agencies. By all appearances, little was kept from the reporting team. Editors at all levels were interviewed. Internal memoranda were quoted and expense records were vetted. The result was a textured portrait of Blair's rapid ascendance, from intern to city reporter to a national reporter working on the DC sniper saga. The story laid out for all of its readers to see the vast managerial failures and the bizarre web of deception spun by Blair. The Times devoted another two pages to explaining the major corrections resulting from stories written as far back as 2001. To be sure, the story did not answer all of the questions surrounding the disgrace. The largest complaints from press critics were that the Times' upper management, who promoted Blair despite his vast history of reporting mistakes, got off scot-free. Because the Old Gray Lady moved with openness, honesty, and a swiftness uncommon for such an august institution, The New York Times wins our PR Play of the Week.

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