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The New York Times in the Age of Gawker

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.


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