My interest is mainly in the opportunity to repost one of my favorite all-time Lab documents, which Zach Seward wrote about two years ago. It’s a transcript from a conference we held here at the Nieman Foundation back in 1995. The conference was entitled “Public Interest Journalism: Winner of Loser in the On-Line Era” (we dug hyphens back then), and one of the sessions featured Esther Dyson interviewing the then-relatively-new publisher of The New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger. It’s the oldest documentation I’m aware of the Times’ perspective on its journalists getting feedback from readers. Here’s the relevant excerpt of the transcript, after Sulzberger tells Dyson that they’ve always gotten feedback from readers, even pre-Internet:
MS. DYSON: Yes, and you get that feedback when you go to cocktail parties at Michael’s, and people come up to you who are your elite readers. But now, you’ve got some guy who can’t really spell, who wants to waste your reporter’s time sending him Email.
MR. SULZBERGER: …I don’t think that’s going to happen. And maybe I’m fooling myself, but I really don’t think that an individual reader directly to reporter, that that’s going to be a major factor in how this is going to design itself.
MS. DYSON: But it’s going to be a major factor in how they have their time wasted, or how they have their time enriched.
MR. SULZBERGER: Are you making the assumption that we’re going to put all of our reporters online? Is that the assumption built into the question, that every day, all of our reporters will have hundreds and hundreds of Email’s that they’ve got to respond to?
You can pick up a pen today and misspell a letter any one of our editors, reporters, business folks. Most — I will speak, I think, candidly for the newsroom — most of those letters go unanswered. It drives me nuts, but it’s true.
Anyway, go read the whole thing and have your own journalism version of I Love the ’90s.