Newspaper Editor Does His Job

"Sorry. This is commentary dressed up as news reporting,” Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker recently told one of his reporters. "Could we please just stick to reporting what he said rather than packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism?"

Here's hoping that editors at Philip Anschutz's Oklahoman or (less likely) Warren Buffett's Tulsa World will do more of this. This is vitally important at a time when too many reporters are simply "Democratic operatives with bylines" (USA Today columnist Glenn Reynolds's memorable phrase). Other reporters aren't necessarily activists but rather have developed incestuous relationships with their sources and over time have started to write more for their sources than for their customers. (It doesn’t help matters when the reporter’s center-left worldview is already predisposed to align with that of the sources.) This is basically the journalistic equivalent of regulatory capture.

Whatever the reason, it's up to editors to do what reporters often fail to do: Look out for the interests of readers (aka customers). Warren Buffett, whose BH Media Group owns dozens of newspapers (including the Tulsa World), told USA Today’s Rem Rieder last year that the newspaper industry hasn’t "cracked the code yet" in terms of a viable long-term business plan. "Circulation continues to decline at a significant pace, advertising at an even faster pace," Buffett said. "The easy cutting has taken place. There’s no indication that anyone besides the national papers has found a way." If there is a way, it has to start with gaining and keeping the trust of one’s customers—something that isn't happening right now.

I don’t expect Oklahoma journalists to be political conservatives, of course—in the long march through the institutions, the left long ago captured the J-schools—but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that reporters and editors at least keep in mind who their customers are. And whether one looks at state and national election results or survey data on ideological self-identification, it’s pretty clear that conservatives outnumber liberals in this state by a very wide margin. Reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly—or at least not poking the majority of your customers in the eye—might be a good start toward cracking the code.

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