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NYTimes Statistic, Can It Be True?

In New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt’s piece today, If It’s Fit to Blog, Is It Fit to Print?,  there is a statistic that I found quite amazing. He writes:

Editors may be tempted to think that if the newspaper’s Web site has a story, the newspaper has covered it, but more than 80 percent of readers of the printed Times do not go to its Web site.

More than 80 percent only read the printed version of the Times? Who are these people? I want to know. I subscribe to the paper, but can’t image not reading it on line too.

My feeling is that Hoyt, at least in mindset, is in that 80 percent camp. He is still trying to figure out print’s role vis-a-vis the bloggers’ or Internet’s role. That inquiry is way too limited. What he should be asking is how The New York Times can help people better seek the truth in the chaos of the Internet and the blogosphere.

His Public Editor’s piece centers on an excerpt from “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong with Washington,” by Scott McClellan, President Bush’s former press secretary. The excerpt  deals with the Valerie Plame, CIA case, which led to the conviction of Scotter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.

McClellan wrote:

“I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president’s chief of staff and the president himself.”

The blogosphere erupted with the question: Did the President knowingly ask McClellan to lie? The New York Times did some behind the scenes fact finding to determine whether to run the story in print and ultimately decided no. It was covered accurately with a Times’ web post.

However, for me, the behind-the-scenes discussion — and the logic for not chasing a nonstory  – also should have been posted on the website. It provides more insight than anything that was published.

Another statistic that also amazes me is that The Times receives 1,000 messages each day and publishes 15. Multiple that 1,000 times 365 days, that’s 365,000 messages a year. That’s should be part of Hoyt’s query. How can The New York Times mine those 365,000 message to help us seek a greater truth. Hoyt received 50 messsages about the McClellan issue and published one response. 

 Would it not be smart to find a way to engage those other 49 people, those other 985 people who take the time to write to The New York Times each day. How can that happen in a cost effective manner? What a fantastic forum they have at hand. But no, Hoyt’s mindset is with the 80 percent, who are print bound, and thus his noodling of how to reconcile print to the age of the Internet rather than asking how The New York Times can channel all that internal knowledge and external interest and energy into providing a platform to help us all better understand the world in which we live.

One Response to “NYTimes Statistic, Can It Be True?”

  1. Karl Says:

    Brilliant post.

    Communities of interest exist around collections of stories about a particular topic.

    It’s up to the papers to realize this, join the conversation, surface it, and help provide focus from it.