Thursday, April 11, 2013

Our national pastime: Press criticism | Jack Shafer:

In early 1946, Albert Camus emptied into New Yorker press critic A.J. Liebling’s ear his plan for a new newspaper.

“It would be a critical newspaper, to be published one hour after the first editions of the other papers, twice a day, morning and evening,” said Camus, who knew a thing or two about journalism, having recently resigned his editorship of the Paris daily Combat.

“It would evaluate the probable element of truth in the other papers’ main stories, with due regard to editorial policies and the past performances of the correspondents. Once equipped with card-indexed dossiers on the correspondents, a critical newspaper could work very fast. After a few weeks the whole tone of the press would conform more closely to reality. An international service,” Camus told Liebling.

Camus never found a backer for his “critical newspaper” and eventually left journalism. But the idea stuck to Liebling like duct tape, and he cited the interview in his 1948 book, The Wayward Pressman, as well as his 1960 Camus obituary in the New Yorker. Camus spoke of compiling complete records of “the interests, policies, and idiosyncrasies of the [newspaper] owners” and “every journalist in the world.” Then, the contents of news stories could be gauged for credibility, he explained.

“But do people really want to know how much truth there is in what they read?” Camus asked. “Would they buy the control paper? That’s the most difficult problem.”