June 19, 2003

Raines, the Baby and the Bath Water

William Powers warns in the Atlantic that as newspapers "recoil from all things Rainesian," granting adjective status to the departed editor of the N.Y. Times, they should be wary of running full tilt toward "all things safe and moderate perhaps even further into the slouching, zombified dullness that prevails at so many American newspapers and sends readers running in the other direction."

Good point. Newspapers are reactionary by nature and prone to herd-like response when an industry trend spooks the pack. In recent years, newspapers have zoned and de-zoned and zoned again; demanded shorter stories then praised the narrative; flattened newsroom hierarchies into pods and teams, then decried the lack of leadership.

Truth is suddenly trendy (as it always should have been) and Powers is right to be concerned that efforts to scrub the stain of dishonesty from newspapers might also bleach them of color.

He writes: "As we leave the Raines era behind and rightly condemn its errors, let's not lose the brightness and dash, the audacity, that came with it. The Times has a few big problems, but it's an audacious, ambitious, living, breathing newspaper. And there are way too few of those."

More audacity is needed, not less.

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Posted by Tim Porter at June 19, 2003 08:27 AM