In the news biz, this was the week that was

The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s hard to escape the incredible story of Jayson Blair, a Brooklynite who, as a reporter for the New York Times, invented accounts of major news events that were then passed along as fact by his editors at the Times.

We need not give the Times a failing grade for offering a young man a chance. But Blair long ago blew that chance, and his editors appear to have gone out of their way to cover up the young man’s assault on truth.

The Times moved to “get ahead of the problem” (to use public relations vernacular), publishing a massive report in Sunday’s edition detailing Blair’s lies. For all the specifics cited in the Times account, however, many questions went unanswered.

While the Blair disaster is certainly, as the Times put it, “a low point” in the 152-year history of that newspaper, it’s not necessarily the lowest. While many still cling to the notion that the Times is America’s “newspaper of record,” it’s long been a warped one.

Journalism critics this week reminded us of some of the Times’ historic blunders — in the 1930s, it was telling America that Uncle Joe Stalin was a great guy, and in the early ’40s it deliberately buried news of the Holocaust.

I’m more concerned with the present — the superficiality of much of the Times’ coverage, the outright bias on issues where its editors have a special interest, the preponderance of advertiser-boosting and focus-group satisfying fluff in much of the newspaper.

The Times has the right to do what it wants, and if people are willing to spend a-buck-a-day on their fix — well, it’s arguably safer, and certainly cheaper, than drugs or drink.

But the Times sets the news agenda for the American media. Nonsense that would be enjoyable in the New York Post is potentially dangerous in the Times.

Am I arguing that The Brooklyn Paper is more honest, more competent than the Times? Hardly. But with their resources and reach comes a responsibility they’ve failed to honor.

• • •

I was privileged this week to accompany Celia, my wife and The Brooklyn Papers publisher, to the Brooklyn Leaders Award Luncheon of the Arthritis Foundation NY Chapter, where she was the community service honoree.

Particularly in a week when the news media is under such heavy criticsm in the wake of the Times-Blair affair, it was a delight to hear so many nice words spoken publicly about Celia and our newspapers — by Borough President Marty Markowitz and luncheon co-chairman Dr. Daniel Ricciardi.

I sometimes compare production of our newspaper to the assembly of a jigsaw puzzle — so many pieces, just so much space. The work that leads to the final step, when pages are laid out, belies its simplicity.

The Times referred to Jayson Blair as a “prolific” reporter who filed nearly 600 stories over four years — by my count, that’s about three stories a week, assignments aided by the Times’ vast support staff.

Look at today’s Brooklyn Paper. If you’re reading a Park Slope or Downtown edition, you’ll find 16 stories by Patrick Gallahue; in Bay Ridge, Deborah Kolben’s byline appears 16 times. Behind every story, there’s Editor Neil Sloane — prodding, fine-tuning, listening.

GO Brooklyn, our entertainment section (accurately described as the “essential guide to the Borough of Kings”) is not a clipboard of press releases assembled on automatic pilot — it’s edited by Lisa Curtis, a professional who vets every story idea.

Celia accepted her community service honor — on behalf of her dedicated staff.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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