Jul 15, 2020 - Economy

Newsrooms vs. "the ultimate editor" Twitter

The Twitter logo bird pulling the curtain

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Bari Weiss' dramatic resignation from The New York Times' Opinion department Tuesday is the latest aftershock from an earthquake that has rocked U.S. newsrooms re-evaluating what role opinion journalism should play in the internet age.

Driving the news: In a letter written to the Times' publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, Weiss says she was the victim of persistent bullying within the organization and warns the New York Times that "Twitter has become its ultimate editor."

Details: In her letter, Weiss describes herself as a "centrist" who became a victim of "a 'new McCarthyism' that has taken root at the paper of record."

  • "A new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else," she writes.

Catch up quick: Critics charged that Weiss' coverage of Israel, the intellectual right online and other issues contained factual errors and prized controversy over insight.

  • The Times fired Weiss' former boss — Times Opinion Page editor James Bennett — last month in the wake of a controversy over publication of an opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that advocated using force against racial justice protesters. Many Times staffers, particularly those of color, said the piece endangered them.
  • Bennett's departure came as newsrooms around the country began to address allegations of poor editorial judgement, racism and toxic workplace culture that led to a series of high-profile firings and resignations. On Tuesday, that list got longer.
  • Longtime columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan, a maverick conservative who once edited the New Republic, said Tuesday that he is leaving New York magazine and taking his column elsewhere. In a series of tweets, Sullivan alluded to concerns similar to those in Weiss' letter as leading to his departure.

The big picture: The reckoning around systemic racism in America has forced the media to address decades of inequality within their own newsrooms and and how it may have created longstanding imbalances in their coverage.

  • But that industry-wide conversation has become more hostile against the backdrop of an increasingly hyper-partisan political environment that is tethered to the 24/7 social media news cycle.
  • News organizations that pride themselves on presenting "both sides" in their opinion columns face challenges from activist employees who argue that some perspectives promote hate or violence.

Be smart: These conflicts are emerging as the media industry faces a massive business transformation, moving from a reliance on corporate advertising dollars to support from consumer subscription dollars.

  • Subscribers today want to support news organizations that reinforce their world views — and are quick to cancel their subscriptions when they're unhappy with what they read.
  • The New York Times now makes the vast majority of its revenue from subscriptions, and has seen an unprecedented surge in subscribers during the Trump presidency, the coronavirus crisis and Black Lives Matter protests.
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