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Annals of Agenda Journalism

Assume you’re the editor of a newspaper formerly known as the paper of record. You have two big stories to cover: (1) a Middle East head of state addresses a joint session of Congress, capping a week in which he received a better reception than the President in his State of the Union address; and (2) a Republican candidate has a large account at Tiffany’s for his wife. Which do you put on page one, and which on page 6?

Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, addressed that issue today, sort of, in his Times column. He reported that reader Alice Alekman was surprised not to find the first story on Page 1 and to find there instead a story on Newt Gingrich’s $500,000 tab with Tiffany’s. Brisbane quotes the response of the Foreign Editor of the Times, Susan Chira:

Ms. Chira defended the decision on the Netanyahu coverage, saying: “In our mind, this was not news. He didn’t say anything he hadn’t said before.”

Brisbane writes that Ms. Chira’s response was “reasonable.”

The Page 1 article on Gingrich ran 928 words and noted it had been a week since Politico had broken the news. Here was the Times’ contribution to front-page news – “the glittering strand of diamonds that Mrs. Gingrich wore last month to the Washington premiere of the couple’s latest documentary movie looks strikingly like one that Tiffany advertises for $45,000.” The article featured a picture of Mrs. Gingrich wearing the jewelry.

The article on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress ran on page A-6 with 956 words – fairly extensive coverage for something that “was not news.” Fortunately, the Times had sufficient staff to report it without mobilizing its readers in its latest quest to cover “news” with the “courage of our own convictions.”



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