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NY Times: Our Trans Coverage Was Fine the First Time, Thanks

To the Times, journalists demanding higher standards are now activists, which means their concerns don't matter.

The exterior of the New York Times building.

(David Smooke / Unsplash)

On Wednesday, almost two hundred contributors to the New York Times signed an open letter that shared their "serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper's reporting on transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people." That same day, GLAAD released a similar letter, signed by advocates and organizations.

Hundreds more NYT contributors, as well as thousands of other journalists and Times readers, have now added their names to the open letter. And Times staffers are now beginning to speak out publicly as well:

The letter made no demands beyond asking for a response—there were no calls to stop reporting on trans issues and trans youth, merely a call to examine how many of the high-profile stories fall short of the Times' own standards. (That hasn't stopped the usual blowhards from painting the letter, which is demanding better journalism during a time of great consequence and peril for its subjects, attack on journalism.)

So how has the Times as an institution responded to this call for higher journalistic standards, coming from many people whom the Times trusts to write and report for the paper?

Well, see, these journalists? To the Times, they're now activists, which means their concerns don't matter.

In a statement issued by Charlie Stadtlander, the Times' director of external communications, Stadtlander seemed to conflate the letter from journalists and the letter from GLAAD, writing, "We understand how GLAAD and the co-signers of the letter see our coverage. But at the same time, we recognize that GLAAD's advocacy mission and The Times's journalistic mission are different." Stadtlander confirmed to Nieman Lab that the statement applies to both letters.

And on Thursday, Joe Kahn, the Times executive editor, sent a letter to the newsroom, which conflated both letters and painted it as a "protest letter."

He included what can only be viewed as a warning: "Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy. That policy prohibits our journalists from aligning themselves with advocacy groups and joining protest actions on matters of public policy. We also have a clear policy prohibiting Times journalists from attacking one another's journalism publicly or signaling their support for such attacks."

"We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums," Kahn wrote, throwing his full support behind the paper's coverage.

There's a telling quote that a Times reporter "who is a favorite plaything of the masthead" (ahem!) gave in a New York magazine profile of Kahn, written by Shawn McCreesh just last year: "There is a sense—and this makes a lot of people very happy—that he is much less willing to indulge the complaining and the constant cries of activism and that he is somebody who has expressed little patience for the newsroom culture-war eruptions that have been such a distraction for us lately. The question is whether or not he feels confident to act on those impulses."

I guess we know the answer to that now.

But there's an even more telling quote that Kahn gave later on in the piece, one that he should remind himself of. "I strongly believe the Times needs to ground its journalism in deep reporting, open-mindedness, curiosity, and empathy," he said, adding, "There is no such thing as perfect neutrality, and defaulting to 'both sides' framing on divisive issues can be insufficient and misleading. But the journalistic process needs to be objective and transparent, and we need to challenge ourselves and our readers to understand all the facts and explore a wider range of perspectives."

Does the Times' recent reporting live up to that standard? That's what the thousands of journalists who signed the open letter urged the paper to consider.

And some more journalism for your Friday:

  • The City will be spending $43 million to "equip schools with video equipment and buzzers monitored by school safety agents," as part of an initiative pushed by DOE head David Banks to lock the doors of schools.
  • We don't have a "rat czar" yet but we now have a "chief public realm officer." There's also an opening to be the City's next "nightlife mayor."
  • Outgoing Board of Correction head Amanda Masters didn't mince words in her resignation letter. She specifically called out DOC Commissioner Louis Molina, writing, "As you all know, the Commissioner of the Department of Correction has made several disparaging remarks about our agency over the course of several weeks, which were inaccurate, and this was destructive."
  • Let's check in on how George Santos is doing! Via the Independent: "The office of embattled Republican congressman George Santos was surrounded by a police barricade on Wednesday as local residents delivered a petition calling on him to resign. Around 25 residents visited his district office in Douglaston, Queens, and asked to speak with the congressman. The protesters were turned away by a member of his staff, who said Mr Santos was in the building but would not speak to a 'mob.'"
  • Why not check in on the MTA while we're at it. Via the CITY: "The MTA has terminated a multimillion-dollar contract with a company that was supposed to improve the agency’s paratransit performance but instead delivered a string of failures, THE CITY has learned."
  • On Wednesday, Tesla fired dozens of workers at its Buffalo plant, one day after workers announced they plan to unionize.
  • Congrats to the HarperCollins union! Read our interview with union chair Laura Harshberger.
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