Which Voices And What Do They Say? A Fight For The Soul Of Our Media

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Bari Weiss

Bari Weiss, a leaning-conservative writer for the editorial page of the New York Times, has just quit her job, saying that the paper didn’t stand up for her when she was attacked for politically incorrect opinions. She wrote, “My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.”

Bari departed with this resignation-letter blast at The Times. An excerpt:

”Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.”

Partly this uproar is fallout from the departure of the former editorial page editor, James Bennet, a deeply respected editor who had wanted to broaden the ideological spectrum of the page and was forced out after running an explosive op-ed by the Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Weiss characterized the conflict over Bennet as a culture war between the younger, “woke” writers and those over 40 more dedicated to a range of opinion. She said this conflict is spread across many papers in the nation.

Surely, finances are forcing papers to favor younger, cheaper writers. Surely the country, at least in large cities, is drifting leftward. Another more financial reason was once explained to me by a notable writer at the New York Times. The bias of the paper, he said, is not to liberalism but to urbanism, a close cousin. The reason is economic: it’s easier and more efficient to print and distribute papers in an urban concentration, so the Times caters to urbanist (normally liberal) readers. Of course, as the Times switches to millions of digital readers, this factor may diminish.

And what about in Seattle? The Seattle Times is now really two papers: the news side which exhibits the same leftward drift of most media (urbanist, younger, woke writers coming into dominance, following the big stories of leftist urgency), and by contrast the editorial page, which reflects publisher Frank Blethen’s fiscal conservatism (and social liberalism).

For the rest, Seattle media exhibits a growing monoculture of reporting that is too-predictably sympathetic to victims and underdogs. “Follow the victim” has supplanted the old mantra of “follow the money.” This orientation seems particularly true for public broadcast media, with its reliance on member contributions and the need to cultivate ideological loyalty. Media have always had a yen for younger readers, since advertisers favor the young, who are more willing than stubborn oldsters to switch brands and try on new identities.

But I would say the main reason is the rise of Young Turks to positions of authority in mainstream newsrooms, pushing aside the aging Boomers and their complacent moderation.

The other trend is the defection of moderate and conservative writers to the echo chamber of FOX and right-wing radio and blogs. Like everything else in America, media are becoming ever more tribal and polarized and identitarian. Seattle, which used to be a kind of swing-state, ideological broker, now aspires to leftist vanguardism. Our media are coming off the sidelines and joining the parade.

8 COMMENTS

  1. David, as usual, well written. “identitarian” great word .

    How ’bout: leftist vulgarism rather than: vanguardism

    there is a lot of hand wringing over loss of small papers and local journalism . the journalists are on a suicide mission but don’t know it.

  2. This is a disappointing and self-pitying move, especially coming from someone as (apparently) tough and determined as Weiss always seemed to be. When she claims that she is leaving the NYT because of bullying by her colleagues, she is indulging in exactly the kind of fragility and whining that she so eloquently called out when other journalists did it. Writing opinion journalism has never been a popularity contest. That’s a truth that she seemed to welcome and acknowledge in the past. Has she forgotten about that? And which one is the real Weiss? Is it the whiner or the warrior?
    Her departure also contributes to the very lack of editorial diversity at the NYT that she is now complaining about. There’s some irony.

  3. To Doug Norberg: Not so sure about the suicide mission; more like a survival mission. Advertisers, sponsors, donors all like a more sharply defined audience, where their ads “resonate.” I suspect much of the ideological alignment has more to do with these marketing decisions than intolerance in the newsroom. It used to be that media wanted “mass,” so they could appeal to a wide audience, such as department stores (once the mainstay of city dailies). Now mass is with Google and Facebook, and so to stay alive the rest of the media has to practice market segmentation. Not sure how to cure this.

  4. I appreciate the point of view you are expressing. And I also appreciate the articles I have been reading in Post Alley, and the tradition of the Weekly that it is carrying forward. I have to say, however, that the profile of your writers leans heavily Boomer/post-Boomer and that you would benefit from more opinions from younger writers.

    • Tim Spelman, I couldn’t agree with you more. Too much of any single thing is a bad thing. Diversity (of age, political slant, race, sexual identity, income level, whatever) is essential because it benefits everyone, insiders as well as outsiders.

  5. Nicely put, David! The ideological drift of many Seattle publications leftward leaves many important stories uncovered and results in a stultifying lack of diversity of opinion. It’s good to see that Post Alley is resisting this drift. It makes for a sharper, livelier, more interesting publication.

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