As keen-eyed media watchers know, The Bay Citizen’s editor, Jonathan Weber, writes a weekly column that also appears in the New York Times as part of TBC’s partnership with the newspaper. And his Aug. 15 column about the pushback from San Francisco public employee unions to pension reform, entitled “Fighting Tooth and Nail, Unions Overstep,” has created a bit of a tempest. Some NYT readers complained that it should have been treated as opinion rather than news, and last week the newspaper’s public editor, aka ombudsman, Arthur Brisbane, agreed:
It’s easy to see why these readers reacted as they did. The Weber column, which concerned union opposition to pension reform in San Francisco, stood at the very precipice of political opinion writing — analyzing union opposition while noting “vituperative” union attacks and “scorched-earth” tactics.
Times editors said they carefully edited the piece and that Weber simply analyzed the political conflict without weighing in personally on pension reform. Still, it strikes me as risky to bring on an outside entity — even one like The Bay Citizen that the Times has fully vetted — and empower it with a mandate to produce such work.
To which Weber responds in a Bay Citizen post yesterday:
[Brisbane] says my column "stood at the very precipice of political opinion writing," which may be true, but the whole idea of a reported column is that it marries facts and point of view. Journalism today embodies a whole range of styles, some with more point of view and some with less, and while clear labeling of what's what is a good goal, it's not realistic to think that there can be some kind of calorie counter measuring the amount of opinion in a given piece.
Footnote: One big factor in Weber’s favor: the NYT editors who vet his column agree with him.