Beating a Dead Sea horse: Seeking intellectual diversity at The New York Times

Once again, let's return to the pages of that famous -- some would say infamous -- 2005 self-study done of The New York Times entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust," which followed one of that newsroom's most spectacular series of editorial disasters, ever.

Toward the end of its report, the "Credibility Group" tip-toed into a crucial minefield, asking if the world's most prestigious newsroom had focused on many different kinds of diversity -- except for intellectual and cultural diversity (which are rather crucial forms of diversity, if you stop and think about it).

What does this have to do with Moses? Wait for it.

People who care about what happens at The New York Times -- which mean anyone who cares about journalism and public discourse in America -- will remember some of the following summary quotes, including this one with obvious relevance to GetReligion:

Our news coverage needs to embrace unorthodox views and contrarian opinions and to portray lives both more radical and more conservative than those most of us experience. We need to listen carefully to colleagues who are at home in realms that are not familiar to most of us.
We should increase our coverage of religion in America and focus on new ways to give it greater attention, such as expanding the Saturday report beyond the religion column.

In other words, cultural diversity matters and can affect crucial news beats -- with religion being the most obvious. And there was more, with a call for management to:

Expand the scope of our goals in advancing newsroom diversity. Our paper's commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason -- to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.
The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.

It is interesting to note that this was one of the only concepts that then editor Bill Keller (yes, that is Bill "Kellerism" Keller) pretty much ignored over in his published response (.pdf here) to that sobering report.

At the very end of the self study there was this one additional plea on this subject -- with a mild warning that this lack of diversity was affecting the quality of the news product. Once again, not the subjects that were on the minds of the study committee:

In part because the Times's editorial page is clearly liberal, the news pages do need to make more effort not to seem monolithic. Both inside and outside the paper, some people feel that we are missing stories because our staff lacks diversity in viewpoints, intellectual grounding and individual backgrounds. We should look for all manner of diversity. We should seek talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths.

Now, this might seem like a bit of a leap, but let's jump from these passages in this important report to a correction that ran the other day in the Times (hat tip to former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey). The irony, of course, is that the author of said passage is normally considered on the religion-friendly side of the newsroom. The question, for me, concerned the copy desk team, which is considered one of the best in the business.

First the passage in question, by David Brooks:

The nature of that leap is illustrated by an incident that takes place at the start. The normal version of this episode is that God parts the Red Sea, the Israelites cross, the Egyptians are engulfed and then the Israelites sing in celebration. But the alternate version is that the Israelites are singing at the moment of crossing. They are not singing in celebration. They are singing in defiance of terror.

And now the correction (cue the music):

Correction: April 4, 2015
David Brooks’s column on Friday misidentified the sea that God parted in the Book of Exodus. It is the Red Sea, not the Dead Sea.

Thus, the obvious question: Does the Times copy desk need to seek out more people who frequent synagogues?

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