Can’t do

Can’t do

: I was thinking more about Chris Albritton’s post, linked below, about the difficulties of reporting in Iraq. The one thing I wish he’d done was think from the readers’ perspective and tell us the stories he thinks he should report and would report but, because of security and other difficulties, can’t.

In short: What is the effect of security issues in Iraq on the quality of coverage we are getting?

The New York Times and Washington Post and other major news organizations should write similar messages to their readers. I don’t want to hear about all their problems; I hate stories about not getting the story (“the mean mayor wouldn’t call me back”).

Instead, I want them to honestly tell us what we’re not getting in their coverage of Iraq: How they’re not able to tell us the mood of the street because they dare not venture onto the street, for example.

I’m not suggesting that reporters should take more risks for the story; I was very relieved this week, for example, when three NBC news employees who’d been held hostage were released. But I am suggesting that news organizations be transparent and open with us. They know the stories they should be delivering but can’t and they should tell us that.

: You see, not all communication with readers has to be in the form of post mortems and mea culpas. How much better it would be if a news organization would level with readers as the news and coverage goes on.

But post mortems are better than coverups and it is a new Times that has Dan Okrent dissecting the corpus journalism of WMD coverage:

The Times’s flawed journalism continued in the weeks after the war began, when writers might have broken free from the cloaked government sources who had insinuated themselves and their agendas into the prewar coverage. I use “journalism” rather than “reporting” because reporters do not put stories into the newspaper. Editors make assignments, accept articles for publication, pass them through various editing hands, place them on a schedule, determine where they will appear. Editors are also obliged to assign follow-up pieces when the facts remain mired in partisan quicksand.

The apparent flimsiness of “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert,” by Judith Miller (April 21, 2003), was no less noticeable than its prominent front-page display; the ensuing sequence of articles on the same subject, when Miller was embedded with a military unit searching for W.M.D., constituted an ongoing minuet of startling assertion followed by understated contradiction. But pinning this on Miller alone is both inaccurate and unfair: in one story on May 4, editors placed the headline “U.S. Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq” over a Miller piece even though she wrote, right at the top, that the discovery was very unlikely to be related to weaponry.

The failure was not individual, but institutional.

How much less embarrassing this would be — and how much more respectful to the readers — if it had occurred months ago and not just in print but even in dialogue online.

When Len Apcar, editor of, was at the first Bloggercon (he didn’t attend the second), he said he doubted the editors of The Times would want to be too transparent about their process. At the time, I’ll admit I pretty much bought that. But I don’t now. What’s the harm of letting your readers, your customers, your public know that you, too, debate and fret about the stories you can’t get or the stories that are resting on the stomach like bad kebabs? What’s wrong with transparency? It beats the hell out of opaqueness — especially for an industry that demands transparency of all others.