Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

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FAQ: Ethics and accuracy

July 20, 2007 | 10:59 am

What's the relationship between the opinion pages and the newsroom?
The two staffs are separate and report to different editors. The newsroom editors, reporters, columnists and critics report and write the news and analysis articles on the foreign, national, regional, business, sports, feature and entertainment pages. The opinion pages consist of the editorial page and the op-ed page, and the Sunday Opinion section. The editorial page features letters to the editor and approximately 20 editorials a week that reflect the work and point of view of The Times' editorial board (eight writers and two editors). The op-ed page, under the supervision of Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor, features dozens of pieces every week, some by Times columnists and others by outside contributors. The staff of the editorial and op-ed pages reports to Nicholas Goldberg; the newsroom staff reports to Editor Russ Stanton. Goldberg and Stanton both report to the publisher, Eddy W. Hartenstein. [updated December 2009]

What's the difference between opinion pieces and news analysis?

The news pages include straight news reports, but also analyses, columns and reviews.  All are written and edited by newsroom staff. News analyses that run in the news sections are fact-based assessments by reporters who are knowledgeable about the issue or news event they are covering. Columns and reviews in the news sections are fact-based, but offer as well the writers' perspective on those facts. These are unlike the opinion pieces and editorials that are published in the opinion section, which offer in addition to interpretation of the news a strong viewpoint meant to persuade. (Readers who believe that  news articles show bias are invited to send specifics to the readers' representative office.)

Why aren't crowd counts always a part of stories about marches and protests?
Accurately counting the size of a large crowd is a very difficult endeavor, best done from an aerial viewpoint using a grid system. That is rarely done. Instead, officials or organizers of demonstrations often estimate. Those guesses tend to be heavily influenced by what they would like to believe. Organizers almost always think the crowd is larger; officials who oppose whatever a march or protest is about almost always think it's smaller. That doesn't mean they are deliberately dishonest, just that every person's perceptions are heavily influenced by their desires. Unless someone has done a real count, it's often preferable to describe crowd size only in general terms, or to use geographical points of reference such as how long the parade route stretched, "three blocks down Grand Avenue," "filling the plaza," etc.

How do stories get picked for the front page?
Which six stories land on A1 gets decided for the most part at a daily 3:30 news meeting, when a roomful of editors from various sections gather to pitch the possibilities and debate their merits. Editors aim for a good mix of important news and interesting stories ranging from sports to business to politics. Editors also might reach for lighter pieces -- as one editor put it, "stories that give readers a reason to want to live." That breather is often found in the Column One feature that's published six days a week, which editors describe as a "showcase for Los Angeles Times stories that are notably original, surprising, amusing or just plain interesting."

Why don't you give equal coverage to each candidate during elections?

Editors don't frame their campaign coverage quite that way. Rather, the newspaper sees its role as helping readers by focusing on the candidates who have a realistic chance of being elected. They try to give more coverage to the candidates who seem to have significant support -- by virtue of the money they've raised, the endorsements they have, how they do in the polls, and their past political experience. If a third-party candidate is likely to be a major factor in the race, editors focus on him or her, too. Readers often point out the Catch-22: without much coverage, lesser-known candidates stay that way. But editors try to meet the basic obligation of reporting fully on those who might be our elected officials.

Why doesn't the weather page show Baghdad's temperatures?

Since the opening offensive strikes on the city of Baghdad in 2003, the two official overseers of international weather information -- the International Weather Source and the World Meteorological Organization -- ceased listing actual temperature reports on their websites from the city of Baghdad. It has been a longstanding practice of The Times to publish only actual temperature reports managed by legitimate weather data gathering organizations such as the National Weather Service. As soon as the data does become obtainable for publication those temperatures will be published.

Why can't I talk to your foreign correspondents when I call the Times newsroom?

Because those reporters are working in the countries that they cover. The dateline -- the name of the town or city at the beginning of the articles from abroad -- indicates where the reporter was when he or she wrote the piece. (That's why, incidentally, a story about, say, a suicide bombing in Baghlan, Afghanistan, might have a Kabul dateline: The reporter wrote the piece from Kabul, drawing information from stringers, eyewitnesses and others with direct knowledge of the events. A map showing the foreign desk bureaus is here.

What's The Times' practice about using the word "terrorist"?

This question often comes from individuals who believe that the word should have been applied to someone but wasn't; suicide bombings and other attacks are often reported in grim detail, so the enormity of the event is made clear to the reader. The words "terrorism," or "terrorist attack," for example, are used, although editors prefer to use a precise description of what happened in an attack, such as "a suicide bombing," "a kidnaping," or "a rocket attack." A terrorist act is an act of violence that specifically targets civilians to achieve a political goal. Many groups around the world sponsor or carry out terrorist acts. Many of them also carry out actions that do not fit the definition -- attacks on military forces, for example, or they engage in peaceful activities at the same time. Because of that, editors generally try to avoid labeling a group or a person as a terrorist and, instead, prefer to describe the action.

Is there more than one solution to today's Sudoku?

Probably not. The Sudokus in the Los Angeles Times are created by Andrew Stuart of MM Multimedia Ltd (www.sudoku.org.uk <http://www.sudoku.org.uk>). Andrew guarantees not only that is there a solution to every Sudoku puzzle, but also that there is only one solution and that there is also a logical way of solving it -- although for the harder ones this might be obscure to say the least. There is even a $200 cash prize for anyone who can show a faulty Sudoku puzzle that does not meet those criteria (which has not been claimed since the offer was made more than two years ago). If you would like to test a Sudoku you suspect of being faulty, you can use this step-by-step logical solver that Andrew built and is part of the suite of programs used to test and create the sudokus found in The Times. The address for this is
http://www.scanraid.com/sudoku.htm <http://www.scanraid.com/sudoku.htm>.  There is a solution count for quickly checking the number of solutions as well as stepping through the logical solve route.

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