QOD: NYT on Covering Israel Palestine Conflict

“The Times will never satisfy everyone with its coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — no more than I can satisfy everyone (or even anyone) with this column. But that should not be the goal.

With the situation so polarized and no visible movement toward peaceful resolution, all that Times journalists can do is play it as fairly and straightforwardly as possible, both in covering the news and in engaging honestly and openly with their readers.”

Margaret Sullivan, NY Times Public Editor, in “The Conflict and the Coverage”

Ms. Sullian’s recommendations:

1. Include more. Provide as much historical and geopolitical context as possible in individual articles, within the space constraints of news coverage. Include, too, whenever possible, a sense of the region – for example, that the rise of radical Islam is not a distant issue for Israel but a very real one and a very local one.

2. Engage more. Find ways to be transparent and direct with readers about The Times’s mission in covering this area. Online, a Times version of the Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) — to which the public could submit questions for writers and editors to answer — might be useful. This would also be a way that journalists could be up front with readers about their own backgrounds, disclosing possible conflicts of interest and discussing how they deal with them as reporters and editors. Let readers and critics see that Times journalists are serious, smart and thoughtful people. And I could publish Q. and A.’s with Times staff members on my blog, similar to one I once published with the Times’s community manager about online comments. (I realize this may add more fuel to the fire.)

3. Diversify. Strengthen the coverage of Palestinians. They are more than just victims, and their beliefs and governance deserve coverage and scrutiny. Realistic examinations of what’s being taught in schools, and the way Hamas operates should be a part of this. What is the ideology of Hamas; what are its core beliefs and its operating principles? What is Palestinian daily life like? I haven’t seen much of this in The Times. There should be a native Arabic speaker on staff who can penetrate Palestinian society with understanding and solid news judgment. Mr. Okrent’s idea of a Ramallah bureau was a good one, I thought, but Mr. Kahn has told me that practical problems and expenses continue to make it unlikely. Failing that, diversity becomes an even more important component of fairness.

4. Stop straining for symmetry. In headlines, in side-by-side photos, in photo galleries, the Times sometimes looks like it is running scared. Maybe this is just an excess of sensitivity, but it doesn’t reflect the core value of news judgment above all.