In her latest column, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wondered why the paper’s coverage of the annual March for Life rally in Washington was limited to a photograph buried deep within the paper, instead of a more substantial news story:
Hundreds, if not thousands, of New Yorkers – many of them Catholics – piled onto buses in the freezing cold and headed down to Washington this week for the 41st annual March for Life, the world’s largest anti-abortion gathering.
Was this local participation, or the event itself, worthy of a news story in the paper of record? Apparently not.
Sullivan seemed genuinely puzzled as to why such a large event, that draws hundreds of thousands of people, was covered by the Times with just a single photograph and a two-line caption on page A17 of the paper.
She noted that this lack of coverage drew several complaints from readers, and decided to ask the Times’ Washington bureau chief, Carolyn Ryan, why the paper didn’t assign a staff reporter to cover the story.
Ryan told Sullivan that the Times had given extensive coverage to opponents of abortion with its front-page story on Tuesday—the day before the march. The story was about newly energized efforts by Republicans using ballot initiatives and legislation in Congress, and a three-column live staff photograph of the event on its national election page, plus a Reuters story on the event.
Ryan added that they cover every protest, and that they tend to focus on the “substance” of the issue. She also alluded to the smaller crowd this year, due to the bitter cold, as yet another factor.
Sullivan, to her credit, didn’t buy Ryan’s excuse and said that the Times should have covered the march with a staff reporter in Washington. She said that even though the crowd was smaller, it’s still a major event, and there were fresh angles to cover.
Not covering the event, Sullivan said, only “gives fuel” to those who accuse the Times of being anti-Catholic, and those who see it as reflecting a liberal bias by the paper. She added that the march had significant news value, and deserved more than a photograph in Thursday’s paper.
Yes, a big snowstorm that struck the D.C. area on Tuesday combined with the bitterly cold temperatures to keep the crowd size down this year, as compared to previous years. But that doesn’t diminish the March for Life’s newsworthiness, as Sullivan said.