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Monday, June 27, 2005

Can The New York Times' Credibility Committee Fix the Paper of Record?

Bill Keller probably has the toughest job in the MSM. He took over the severely listing ship of The New York Times in July 2003 in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal and the departure of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd as, respectively, executive editor and managing editor. In so many ways, Keller returned to a newsroom in unprecedented dissarray.

Among the measures taken by Keller and others was the appointment of a Credibility Committee made up of Times insiders - with a heavy emphasis upon people from the paper's Washington Bureau - who were tasked with recommending approaches to restoring the paper's tattered position as the daily newspaper of record.

The committee delivered its recommendations last year. Earlier this month the committee issued a status report on implementation of its recommendations. Keller has now responded to the updating with a memo of his own to newsroom colleagues.

Taken together, the committee report and the response to its recommendations by Keller and the rest of the Times' newsroom leadership and rank and file represent a milestone in the MSM's history. For that reason, both bear serious thought and analysis. The committee report is here and Keller's first response is here. I will have my own observations later this week.

Meanwhile, others are reading and reacting. Tom Maguire of JustOneMinute.com evidently is not heartened, observing of a Keller admission of confusion among some readers about when the Times is reporting the news and when it is commenting about the news: "I filed this under 'No Kidding': 'Even sophisticated readers of The New York Times sometimes find it hard to distinguish between news coverage and commentary in our pages.'" Maguire extracts a number of crucial quotes from Keller here and summarizes the committee's main points here.

Editor & Publisher is promising multiple stories on the report and Keller response. The first article from the daily newspaper industry's leading trade journal is here.

Stay tuned, folks.