Monday, October 12, 2009

More Times Bashing

NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt devoted his space yesterday to questioning whether coverage in the Times of the health care reform debate was any good. He doesn't really come to a clear conclusion. He seems, if I may guess, to feel that there's something wrong, but can't quite put a finger on what it is. Well, perhaps I can help.

Hoyt talks about the Times' need for an online component, and how that's supposed to work:

To pull it together and help readers make better sense of the debate — and find background information when they want it — editors created a blog, Prescriptions. It went online in August, with a version appearing daily in the printed paper to tie the two together.Prescriptions, much like the paper’s online presidential election site last year, is a rich trove. It offers multiple daily posts on breaking events or related issues, like whether overweight people should pay more for health insurance. There are links to recent news articles in The Times and elsewhere, primers comparing the various Congressional health plans, examinations of health systems in other countries, answers to frequently asked questions, explainers on topics like insurance exchanges, and even a history of past efforts to change the health care system. Want to do your own research? There are links to original documents, like the Congressional bills and government statistics on health spending.
The background material is fine, I assume, but what about the blog? That's easy: it's just not part of the conversation. I have seen occasional links to the occasional post, but does anyone consider the Times the go-to place for quick analysis of what's going on? I sure don't.

Consider today's news, which is the insurance industry's offensive against health care by means of a newly commissioned report. Naturally, Jon Cohn at TNR and Ezra Klein at the WaPo have the goods on it -- detailed posts describing exactly what kinds of assumptions the insurance lobby is making, and why they are (or in most cases, are not) warranted. What does the NYT give us? The Prescriptions blog has a one sentence pointer to a Robert Pear story. And Pear's story does no analysis at all; it summarizes the industry claims, and balances that with a one-paragraph quotation from Democrats saying that the claims are nonsense. There's absolutely no way that any reader could learn from the story whether the claims are, in fact, nonsense, or even what the possible weaknesses of the industry study might be.

If you want to understand the substance of the health care reform debate, you go to Cohn or Klein. If you want to understand the politics of it, Ezra is excellent there too, and there are other good resources, including some that I'm too modest to name, that can help you. I do think the Times has done some good individual stories (although the penetrating political analysis that miscounted the number of Democratic Senators wasn't a high point). The blog, as far as I can see, is safely on everyone's skip list.

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