Our Readers Made Our Journalism Better in 2019. Here Are 8 Ways.


“Never read the comments.” It’s an internet cliché. But here at The New York Times, we do read your comments — and your emails, tweets and letters, too.

We know that our readers have great ideas, valid criticism, constructive feedback and compelling stories to share. Listening to you and incorporating your thoughts make our journalism stronger. (And, sometimes your comments are hilarious; just ask Stu and Kathy, or Christine or the unofficial NYT Cooking Comments Instagram account.)

Below are just a few times when Times readers have contributed to our report this year, and what we learned from them.

Readers often inform our journalism. Their questions and feedback provide opportunities to explain how we work and grapple with difficult editorial decisions.

In January, when we published a photo showing some of the dead victims of an attack in Nairobi, Kenya, many readers thought we made the wrong call. They said the image was inappropriate, and some questioned whether we would publish similarly horrific photos after an attack in the United States or elsewhere in the West.

Whenever the question of publishing graphic images arises, many people across the newsroom are involved in hard conversations. Editors must weigh the desire to be sensitive and respectful of victims and their families with our mission to give readers a clear view of what’s happening in the world.

Criticism of the Nairobi photo spurred us to revisit and clarify our guidelines for the publication of graphic images. And we asked Meaghan Looram, our director of photography, and Marc Lacey, our National editor and a former Nairobi bureau chief, to answer a selection of questions raised by readers.

“To give you a sense of how difficult these decisions are, there are people in the newsroom who felt in retrospect that we shouldn’t have run the Nairobi photo,” Marc wrote. “As a result of the concerns from our readers that this photo raised, we’re going to convene a group of people to come up with clearer guidelines.”

You can read their full answers here:

Readers also prompted us to explain why we sometimes include descriptions of a person’s appearance in our political coverage.

When Vanessa Friedman, our chief fashion critic, wrote about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s burnt orange coat and our Politics reporters mentioned it in an article, some readers took issue.

“I look forward to your headline about Trump having worn a navy suit and red tie at his next press conference, and about McConnell wearing a black suit and blue tie when announcing that he won’t let the Dems’ bill be voted on in the Senate,” read one tweet.

The feedback made us realize we could benefit from doing a better job explaining why we cover such things, so Vanessa did:

To ignore how public figures use what they wear is to ignore one of the ways our own understanding is being manipulated. I consider it part of my job as The Times’s chief fashion critic to help readers understand how fashion is being used to communicate, in the same way Andrew Ross Sorkin helps us understand economic policy.

Admittedly, if this context is missing, that’s our mistake; if we are going to use clothes as a signpost of related substance, that connection should be clear. (That is why we deleted our tweet that referred to Ms. Pelosi’s dress: The context was missing.)

You can read her full explanation here:

Over the years, readers have asked how our editorials work: who writes them, why they’re unsigned and how their views are developed.

When The Times’s editorial board argued in support of the impeachment inquiry in September, James Bennet, the editorial page editor, used it as an opportunity to explain not only why the editorial board was making this argument, but also what an editorial board is — a question he said he and his colleagues are asked constantly, including within The Times.

“The role of the editorial board,” he wrote, “is to provide Times readers with a long-range view formed not by one person’s expertise and experience but ballasted by certain institutional values that have evolved across more than 150 years.”

You can read his full explanation here:

Poignant memories and experiences shared by readers often add to our journalism, leading to articles and follow-up pieces that highlight their stories.

In May, a Times article on chest binding prompted a discussion among readers about the practice, which some transgender and gender-nonconforming people use to compress their breasts and to treat body dysphoria. We heard from readers who were upset that more voices of trans people were not included.

We then asked readers who have used chest binders to tell us why they’ve worn them and what effect binding has had on their lives. We heard from more than 200, mostly teenagers and young adults. Here is a selection:

After The Times published a Food article about how mealtimes can be difficult for widows (a gender-neutral term that bereavement counselors now use), hundreds of readers described in the comments the heartbreak and the joy that food and cooking can bring after losing a partner.

We rounded up some of those comments in this article:

Readers continued to console one another in the comments of the roundup. “I’m a nine-month widow tonight and this thread has given me some hope and a lot of comfort — I feel that I am not alone,” wrote Mary Sutton Pobedinsky from Monroe, N.Y.

For years, The Times has asked readers to contribute their voices to our reporting — usually centered on a question or a topic that our journalists would like to address. But Your Lead, a Reader Center project announced last month, is involving our readers in the editorial process even further, empowering them to act almost as assignment editors. The project asks readers to send us their questions that they want our journalists to investigate.

A note to readers who are not subscribers: This article from the Reader Center does not count toward your monthly free article limit.

Follow the @ReaderCenter on Twitter for more coverage highlighting your perspectives and experiences and for insight into how we work.


Source link