On Sunday, The New York Times quoted Ezra Klein slamming his old bosses at The Washington Post. But by Monday morning, the Times altered the quote from one that hit the Post specifically to one criticizing the newspaper industry in general.
On Sunday evening, the NYT published a piece about Klein’s jump from the Post to his new Vox.com’s “explanatory journalism” news site. In the first piece, writer Leslie Kaufman quoted Klein as saying that the Post was somehow keeping him from doing journalism correctly, which was one reason he left print media:
“We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism there,” he said of the Post, as he offered a preview of his new site, Vox.com, which was scheduled to launch Sunday night.
But by Monday morning, that quote slamming the Post was softened considerably and given a new direction:
“We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism,” he said of daily newspapers, as he offered a preview of his new site, Vox.com, which was scheduled to be introduced Sunday night.
Clearly, the quote morphed from one specifically faulting The Washington Post for its policies to a more general criticism of the newspaper industry as a whole.
There is no way to tell, of course, but either the The New York Times misquoted Ezra Klein in the first place on being “badly held back” at The Washington Post, or Klein changed his mind and wanted his quote to be read as a broad critique of the whole newspaper industry, instead of one solely directed at the Post, and the Times bent to his will after the fact.
Whatever happened, readers got the changed quote, with no explanation of why the change was made at the Times website.
In an email to the Huffington Post, Klein tried to explain what he really meant:
Because the quote was referring to daily newspapers more broadly! The point I’m making there is that the print technology gave rise to a way of doing the news — and, ultimately, ways of publishing the news online — that ended up locking a lot of what we knew away from readers. It created a culture of how we do the news that focused too much on new information and too little on important information even after the technological rationale for doing that had passed. But that’s definitely not a particular Washington Post problem! They’re hugely forward thinking on this stuff. I genuinely believe that there’s no other major news outlet where Wonkblog could have taken root, for instance. They do awesome stuff online, and will continue to do so.
The New York Times‘ reluctance to explain the change means we will probably never know what came first, Klein’s criticism of The Washington Post in particular or his criticism of the industry in general.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com