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You Have a Lot to Say and We're Listening

Our goal is to strengthen ties with readers and to hold ourselves more accountable.


Since The Times appointed me its readers' representative--a new post--in March, thousands of you have called and written with questions, complaints and thought-provoking comments about The Times' coverage, its content and the competency of its reporters and editors.

There's praise as well as criticism. It's obvious that whether you love us or are disappointed in us, many of you feel a sense of "ownership" of The Times and thus a vested interest in what we do.

Because of the volume of your phone calls, faxes, e-mail and letters--about 150 a day--we are expanding our staff and scrambling to get back to those of you who've been patient in awaiting responses to your legitimate concerns.

Our goal is to strengthen The Times' relationship with readers and to hold ourselves more accountable to our ideals and professional standards. Toward that end, I'll share your comments with the editorial staff in a newsletter and I'll write a column for the readers explaining The Times' journalistic practices and policies. I will also discuss issues raised by readers such as bias, political correctness and the practice of using confidential sources. This first column gives you a glance at what we have learned from you so far.

A number of readers believes our coverage of the Balkan war is biased against the Serbs, while others complain of reporting they see as too pro-Serb. The Times has seven staff members on the scene in the Balkans and a dozen more in Europe and Washington, each reporting on the war from his or her vantage point to provide a balanced picture. Because there is so much comment about this topic, I want to deal with it fully in a forthcoming column.

The issue of perceived bias is a serious and constant complaint of many readers. Conservatives complain about "liberal bias" on the editorial and op-ed pages and others rail about Michael Ramirez, our conservative editorial cartoonist. One's definition of bias can be complex, and I will deal with it in a future column because it goes to the heart of whether Times news reports are viewed as credible.

A lot of you don't care for what you see as "political correctness" in The Times. One Orange County reader objected to our story in which police asked local media for help in finding two suspects in the rape of a 12-year-old girl. The Times printed exactly the same detailed description as another newspaper--but left out that the suspects were Latino. "Which description would you have wanted to read if it was your daughter?" the reader asked. We do have a policy of not mentioning a person's race or ethnicity in a story unless it is relevant. In this case, because the police provided an otherwise very detailed description, it was relevant, and the reader is right--we should have mentioned it.

Around the time of Passover and Easter, non-Jews faulted us for too much Passover coverage, including a Jewish publication that was a paid insert in The Times in certain areas. One Catholic reader said we had Jewish recipes in the Food section and never "Catholic food," which he defined for Davilynn Furlow, our deputy readers' representative, as "well, ham!" Some Protestants think we cover Catholic issues in space that could be filled with more stories about their churches. No one faulted us for too much St. Patrick's Day coverage, but several Irish folks faulted us for not enough. You get the picture.

A lot of grammar mavens complain about slip-ups by our writers and copy editors. Not just little mistakes, but quite obvious ones such as a late-breaking obituary that had the dead man's age as 64 in the headline and 66 in the story. That was inexcusable sloppiness. Our editor, Michael Parks, is sufficiently concerned about the quality of our printed word that he is appointing a team of reporters and editors to identify mistakes, determine how they occur and propose a course of corrective action.

Glitches in the weather page, caused when our computers crashed last month, prevented us from getting local temperatures one day and had hundreds of you jamming our phone lines to complain, many threatening to cancel your subscriptions. Those of you who groused must have felt very empowered when the local temps reappeared the following day.

But you do have influence. Scores complained about the difficulty of a new crossword puzzle in Southern California Living, and it was your complaints that got the puzzle changed. We are in the process now of monitoring complaints from unhappy fans of the comic strip "Rubes," which was dropped to make room for a new strip called "Boondocks," which has received a number of complaints for what some readers view as its "racism."

A number of complaints arrives daily from folks in the 310 area code who think we have not covered the area code overlay issue fully and want a Times investigative report.

Some complaints have to do with non-editorial matters, and they are forwarded to Times senior vice presidents Bob Magnuson (circulation), Mark Kurtich (printing quality) and John McKeon (advertising).

In short, you have a lot to say, and in time, we'll answer just about everything. Almost. For the guy who asked us for a video of a TV show he saw (but can't remember when) on how to beat the odds in Las Vegas, sorry. But I know how you feel: If I could beat the odds in Vegas, I wouldn't be writing this column.

The readers' representative can be reached by phone at (877)554-4000; by fax at (213)237-3535; by e-mail at and by mail at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, 90053.

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