Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The NYTPicker's "Worst Lede Of The Day" Award Goes To Michael M. Grynbaum!

One night next summer, after the last reel unwinds and the time ticks past 2 a.m., Elaine Beverly will clock out of her job at the AMC Loews multiplex near Lincoln Center and, as she has for months, wait to catch the crosstown bus that carries her home to the far Upper East Side.

If all goes as planned, it will never arrive.

-- "Late Night Bus Cuts Keep Riders Scrambling," by Michael M. Grynbaum, posted at 11:19 a.m. today.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ethics Breach: Harvard B-School Prof Takes 3M Junket, Then Writes Wet-Kiss Column About 3M For NYT's Sunday Business Section.

Remember that NYT rule that recently cost freelance contributor Mike Albo his job, the one about not accepting free trips from current and potential news sources?

Well, it got broken again today, this time by a Harvard Business School professor who writes a regular freelance NYT column. At least this time, the company that paid for the free trip got its money's worth -- in the form of a wet kiss column from the recipient in today's NYT Sunday business section.

In her "Prototype" column today, Prof. Mary Tripsas, a business-management expert and member of the Harvard Business School faculty, writes about customer innovation -- and uses as her lead, and main example, the customer innovation center at the 3M Corporation's headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Most of her column focuses on 3M, which she describes as at the "forefront of a movement" that involves customers in the innovation process. After several paragraphs of worshipful description of the place and interviews with the executive in charge, Prof. Tripsas concludes: "[The center] has helped 3M to establish productive, long-term customer relationships."

What Prof. Tripas doesn't mention is that on November 12, she and several other innovation researchers from around the country flew to St. Paul for a day-long briefing on the center, their travel and accommodations provided by the company -- in direct violation of NYT rules.

Those rules state:

Specifically, in connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources.

Even if Prof. Tripsas hadn't written about the center, she might have been deemed in violation of the rules, which are designed to prevent freelancers from accepting freebies from companies currying favor for future stories, as well as current assignments.

But by writing about 3M after her November trip, Prof. Tripsas openly violated the NYT's rules against accepting any form of compensation, including travel expenses, from people, companies and institutions being written about.

In response to questions from The NYTPicker, Prof. Tripsas confirmed that she accepted free airline travel and accommodations from 3M.

"I am a professor who does research on innovation and, in fact 3M was not aware of my recent NYT affiliation when they invited me," Prof. Tripsas told The NYTPicker via email. "As a professor, I am sometimes invited to speak to companies about innovation, and it is not unusual for the company to reimburse travel expenses, so 3M did pay for my hotel and airfare. I did not inform the New York Times of that since I viewed the visit as a speaking engagement that was part of my broader academic research. "

Prof. Tripsas, an associate professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, has been writing the NYT's Sunday business "Prototype" column regularly since August; today's piece marked her fifth appearance as a NYT columnist.

Prof. Tripsas was joined on the junket by several other academics and business innovation experts, including Prof. Michael Lippitz of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Jeffrey Phillips, vice president for sales and marketing at OVO (a Raleigh, N.C.-based company focused on innovation) and a handful of others.

The NYTPicker has contacted NYT spokeswoman Abbe Serphos for comment.

We have also emailed Patricia Kranz, the NYT's deputy Sunday Business editor and Prof. Tripsas's editor on the piece. NYT rules also state:

Assigning editors and producers who deal with nonstaff contributors should be aware that a freelancer's previous involvements and professional behavior can prove an embarrassment. They should make every effort to insure that a freelancer has no history or ties that would raise a real or apparent conflict of interest on a particular assignment.

We've asked Kranz whether she believes Tripsas's acceptance of a free trip from 3M constitutes a "real or apparent conflict of interest." We'll update with her response.

It will be interesting to see whether the NYT takes any action against Prof. Tripsas for her acceptance of a free trip to 3M headquarters. Any decision to let Prof. Tripsas continue her column would directly contradict its decision to terminate Mike Albo as the Styles section's "Critical Shopper" columnist, in the wake of revelations that he had taken a Jamaica junket from Thrillist and JetBlue Airlines. In that instance, the junket didn't directly relate to any of Albo's columns, but a NYT spokeswoman said in October of Albo's transgression:

After a further review of the details, we do have concerns about Mike Albo's participation in the Jamaica trip organized by Thrillist. To the extent feasible, we apply our strict ethical standards to all Times contributors, and accepting free trips and other giveaways is at odds with those standards.

We're still waiting for comment from the NYT.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

After Just Seven Months, NYT Kills Off Ethicist's "Moral Of The Story" Blog. Randy Cohen Calls The Decision "Mutual."

The blog "pruning" promised last month by executive editor Bill Keller has begun. The NYT has quietly killed The Ethicist's blog, "Moral Of The Story," shutting it down in November after only seven months in existence.

Randy Cohen, the longtime "Ethicist" columnist for the NYT Magazine and the blog's sole contributor, confirmed to The NYTPicker that it was dead by a "mutual and amiable" decision of Cohen and his editors.

"Having produced 'Moral of the Story' for the term we'd agreed on, my editors and I decided not to continue it," Cohen told The NYTPicker via email. "I quite liked writing it, but I'm eager to devote my non-'Ethicist' time to other sorts of writing and am at work on a play."

The NYTPicker contacted Cohen and NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty on Friday to inquire about the status of the blog, which Cohen hadn't updated since November 4.

McNulty told The NYTPicker at noon on Friday that she was "checking" on the blog's current status, but had yet to reply with a comment by Sunday evening.

Just last April, the NYT launched Cohen's blog -- devoted to deconstructing the ethical issues behind various news events and trends -- with a major splash on the website's front page. It addressed a multitude of diverse subjects: the nature of religious debate, the David Letterman scandal, where Michael Jackson should be buried, wolf hunting, and the propriety of magazines using Photoshop.

The blog posts often appeared several times in a week with long, discursive essays by Cohen, sometimes including followups addressing the hundreds of reader comments it generated. In August, Cohen took some heat from The NYTPicker -- and later changed his column -- after quoting his ex-wife, Katha Pollitt, as an expert in the column, and not disclosing their relationship.

Rumors have been flying in recent days about the possible closing of various NYT blogs. Keller warned of the prospect of blog cutbacks in November, telling the staff:

Many of our blogs serve a valuable journalistic purpose... But if we find instances where a blog or a vertical is consuming considerable effort and expense with little reward, we're prepared to do some pruning.

Despite the decision to close "Moral of the Story" last month, the NYT has left Cohen's blog up on the NYT website as though it's still in business -- complete with a rotating series of ads that include Toyota, Seroquel, JetBlue and Banana Republic. The final, November 4 post from Cohen explained a new format for commenting on the blog, and gave no hint of its imminent demise.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sound Familiar? Executive Editor Bill Keller Says No More Newsroom Cuts "Planned Or Foreseen." Just Like He Said Last Year.

No, I do not see another round of newsroom staff reductions on the horizon. In fact, we are entering into the budget discussions for 2009 with a determination — shared by Arthur and Scott — to protect the journalistic team that is the engine of our long-term success....What [the recession] will NOT mean, I most fervently hope, is a surrender to the short-sighted, serial staff cuts that have hollowed out some of the nation's great news organizations.

--Bill Keller, NYT Executive Editor, in remarks to the NYT newsroom staff, October 27, 2008

Of course, we have no guarantees of what the future holds. But, anxiety-fed gossip nothwithstanding, there is no further newsroom staff cut planned or foreseen, no "next round" on the agenda. It is my fervent hope that we will never endure another month like this one. Indeed, while the business climate remains cloudy, there are some hopeful signs — in the heft of the paper, in the display ads on the website — that we are over the worst of the economic upheaval. The company is hard at work on some promising ways to boost revenues and get back on a path to growth. More to come.

--Bill Keller, NYT Executive Editor, email to the NYT newsroom staff, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Nearly Empty NYT Newsroom, As Photographed By Reporter Brian Stelter On December 17, 2009.

(Photograph by NYT television reporter Brian Stelter, originally posted on Twitter.)

"We're Scared."

Those were the words of a reporter inside the NYT newsroom yesterday, echoing the emotions of a staff now motivated to perform out of fear that they might one day lose their jobs.

As they watched former star reporters like Sara Rimer, Christine Hauser and Eric Konigsberg prepare to leave the NYT involuntarily -- the victims of layoffs engineeered by their employer's failing fortunes -- they knew they could well be next.

"You can't rest on the fact that you once wrote a great story five years ago," one reporter told us. "Now it's all about what you did six months ago. Three. You're being evaluated constantly, and if you don't measure up, you're gone."

Sources suggested to us that those who got laid off yesterday weren't blindsided by their fate; the shock was felt more by their colleagues, who wondered whether another round of cuts might reach them. NYT newsroom managers put together an annual written review that assesses each employee's strengths and weaknesses, and several sources said those reports figured heavily in the decisions.

Others got laid off at least in part because they'd only recently arrived in the NYT newsroom. Reporters like Konigsberg and business staffer Kate Galbraith had gotten their jobs only in the last few years, and neither had yet done stories that cemented their reputations.

The decisions were, of course, driven by economics. The NYT managers had to consider the complex equation between salary and substance, and measure every employee's performance in a cost-benefit analysis.

It's a far cry from the NYT culture that once gave new hires the confidence that they had been given a job for life. In decades past, a reporter past his prime might be sent to cover New Jersey, or assigned to real estate -- and there they would linger until they were either old or bored enough to retire. Those days are over.

Reporters like Rimer (who joined the NYT in 1983, and has been based in Boston) and real-estate reporter Josh Barbanel (a 1981 arrival who once covered city and state politics) had each distinguished themselves earlier in their NYT careers; but in recent years, both had diminished numbers of bylines, fewer scoops and lower profiles. They knew -- as did their bosses -- that their salaries outweighed their value. When the time came to cut, their names surfaced immediately as possibilities.

So now, as reporters continue the daily task of putting out the paper they love, they have to consider a fate that once seemed unthinkable -- the possibility that their bosses might be weighing their work on a daily basis as a reason to let them go. Few at the NYT believe that this latest bloodbath will be the last.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is This The New, Short-Staffed, Post-Buyout NYT In Action? Today's Metro Section Runs Same Story Twice.

Is this the first example of how poorly the post-buyout NYT is going to function? If so, we've got big troubles ahead.

On Page A36 of this morning's NYT, in the Metro Section's "City Room" column, a two-paragraph summary reports the following:

The state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, obtained a court injunction on Tuesday ordering the United Homeless Organization to immediately remove its sidewalk donation tables pending the outcome of a civil lawsuit.

It goes on for another paragraph or so, summarizing the suit.

Turn the page to A38, and guess what? There it is again, the same story! This time it gets a headline -- "Group's Tables Ordered Off Sidewalks" -- and the byline of City Room powerhouse Sewell Chan. There's also a snappier lede and a little more detail to the story, which has morphed into 8 full paragraphs. It begins:

The state’s attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, obtained a court injunction on Tuesday ordering the United Homeless Organization to remove its sidewalk donation tables pending the outcome of a lawsuit Mr. Cuomo’s office has filed against the group, which he has called a sham.

We know the NYT lost some valuable metro editors to the buyouts last week -- Nicole Collins was one smart young talent who got away, along with some respected copy desk veterans. It seems logical to assume one of them likely would have caught the mistake.

We wonder how many more problems -- worse than a mere repetition of stories -- will happen as a result of the new, short-staffed NYT. As executive editor Bill Keller correctly observed last November: "What you can do with less, is less."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The NYTPicker's 2009 NYT Byline Of The Year Competition Heats Up With The Sudden Arrival Of Jauretsi Saizarbitoria.

A warm welcome to Jauretsi Saizarbitoria, whose byline turned up yesterday on two articles on "The Moment" blog. Yes, that counts.

Saizarbitoria isn't a journalist, exactly. She works by day for a company called StarworksNY, which casts celebrities for ad campaigns and magazine covers. Honestly, we even briefly considered trying to expose her as a violator of various NYT freelancing rules, but we couldn't exactly figure out which rules she broke. There appears to be a loophole that lets people freelance for the NYT's T Magazine while getting paid by fashion designers. Paging Whitney Port!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Huh? NYT's Alan Feuer Bestows Anonymity On "Media Executive" Eating Lunch With Leo Hindery Jr. In A Crowded Restaurant.

Anybody know who Leo Hindery Jr. had lunch with the other day at the Four Seasons? Of course they do -- it's a public place with dozens of witnesses to everything that goes on in the midtown lunch mecca.

But that didn't stop NYT metro reporter Alan Feuer from giving one of his "At The Table" subjects the right to keep his presence there "anonymous" -- in clear violation of NYT rules regarding anonymity.

In the Metropolitan section feature today, Feuer reported on a power lunch with Hindery -- the former CEO of the YES Network, and now a managing partner of a private equity fund -- and, as Feuer put it, "an unnamed media executive so desperate to preserve his anonymity he slipped a reporter a note (below) begging to be known simply as 'Bob,' which is not even close to his real name."

The begging worked. Feuer thereafter referred to Hindery's lunch date as "the Media Executive Whose Name is Not Bob."

The feature -- which opened with a perfunctory paragraph acknowledging the Four Seasons as a popular power lunch spot -- went on to disclose nothing, aside from the fact that the two men ate crab cakes.

The lunch partners made clear to Feuer that they were discussing "a deal," and did not particularly appreciate the interruption.

"He and I do have to get to business now," Hindery told Feuer, finally shooing him away.

Feuer, the dutiful servant, bowed his head and left.

The NYT's rules about the use of anonymity in the paper are quite strict, and expressly prohibit situations like this. The paper has been widely criticized in recent years for an excessive use of anonymity in its stories, and has repeatedly promised a crackdown.

What makes Feuer's agreement so egregious, of course, is that the Four Seasons is a public place, where the notion of remaining anonymous is ridiculous. Dozens, if not hundreds of New Yorkers pass through the restaurant's Grill Room each day, and many of them must have known the identity of Hindery's date.

But Feuer's column -- like far too much content in the NYT -- is designed not to mess with the comfort level of New York's richest and most powerful people. The decision to grant anonymity to Hindery and his date smacks of the worst kind of wealth worship.

The minute Hindery's lunch partner said he didn't want to be identified, Feuer should have closed his notebook and walked away. But instead he dutifully agreed to the terms and wrote his story up exactly the way they wanted it to appear.

Here are the NYT's rules regarding the use of anonymity in the NYT that Feuer appears to have broken:

The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy.

In routine interviewing – that is, most of the interviewing we do – anonymity must not be automatic or an assumed condition. In that kind of reporting, anonymity should not be offered to a source. Exceptions will occur in the reporting of highly sensitive stories, when it is we who have sought out a source who may face legal jeopardy or loss of livelihood for speaking with us.

Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source.

We will not use anonymous sourcing when sources we can name are readily available.

UPDATE: NYT Defends Its Racist "People Of Color" Holiday Gift Guide As "Smart, Informed" Ideas For "Minority Readers."

Diane McNulty, the NYT's chief spokeswoman, has finally commented about our Wednesday post on the NYT's Holiday Gift Guide -- you know, the one with a handy, separate section offering gifts made "by and for people of color."

McNulty explains that the feature reflected "the efforts of a diverse Times staff to directly address minority readers with our content."

The spokeswoman is presumably alluding to the fact that the guide's "Of Color/Stylish Gifts" page was written by Simone S. Oliver, a black member of the NYT's editorial staff.

McNulty statement defends the NYT by saying the paper was offering gift ideas to a "wide variety of audiences and interests."

She's right! Aside from "minority readers," the NYT Holiday Gift Guide has special pages devoted to such diverse groups as children, caffeine lovers, and people who prefer "seriously huge televisions."

McNulty also advises NYT readers to "use the guides however they choose," and says the NYT will continue to provide "content that's relevant and appealing."

In other words, the NYT wants you to know that any reader, regardless of skin color, is free to buy themselves a "Wise Latina" t-shirt, or give their loved one a copy of the "Mocha Woman's Guide To Life."

Here's McNulty's statement, in full:

Our online gift guides are intended to offer holiday gift ideas for a wide variety of audiences and interests, with Times writers and editors making smart, informed choices that might appeal to those different audiences.

The "Of Color" guide, in the Style & Travel category, is in keeping with that philosophy, and with the efforts of a diverse Times staff to directly address minority readers with our content.

Of course, we expect our readers to use the guides however they choose, and we hope they'll find interesting ideas in many different categories. But we'll continue our effort to provide content that's relevant and appealing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bad News For Labor: NYT Newspaper Guild Unit Losing Art Mulford, Its Leader, And Other Top Union Stalwarts To NYT Buyouts.

One name you haven't seen on anyone's list of NYT personnel taking a management buyout is Art Mulford.

But when Mulford, a longtime newsroom index writer, leaves the paper this month with buyout check in hand, the NYT's Newspaper Guild local will be losing its chairperson. And that loss may end up having serious implications when it comes time for the NYT's layoffs to begin.

Forgotten amid coverage of the NYT's latest labor troubles is a dispute -- still pending -- between NYT management and the guild over a round of layoffs in 2008 that were done out of seniority order. The Guild fought that decision, and that case remains in arbitration.

Many now expect that the company will, once again, ignore seniority when making its latest round of layoff decisions. Indeed, executive editor Bill Keller pledged to do so in a newsroom speech in November:

Let me be very clear about one thing: we intend to use merit to decide who is laid off and who is not. Nobody in the newsroom is going to get laid off solely because they lack seniority, despite what you may have heard. Our contract with the Guild allows us to go out of seniority and make cuts on the basis of merit. That’s what we did last time, and it will be my priority this time.

How the Newspaper Guild unit handles the situation will depend, in part, on who takes Mulford's place. He had been a shop steward at the NYT for more than three decades, and took over as chairperson of the NYT unit in 2006.

The buyouts are also taking with them other leaders in the NYT union contingent. Reporters Neil Lewis and Stephen Labaton in Washington both were active in the Newspaper Guild; so was newsroom editor Carla Baranauckas.

Other key union departures include Richard Kompa, a layout manager -- the Guild unit's 2nd chairperson -- and Nancy Bachrach, an account manager and the unit treasurer, who are both leaving with buyouts.

The implication of these departures isn't clear yet. But when reporters lose their strongest advocates in a possible fight with management over jobs -- no matter what the circumstance -- it can't be good news.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NYT Gift Guide Includes A Separate Section For "People Of Color." White NYT Readers, You May Skip To The Next Page!

We don't like to throw around words like "racist" in the same sentence as the NYT's name, but there's no other word we can think of to describe this page in the NYT's annual Holiday Gift Guide -- called "Of Color/Stylish Gifts" and aimed exclusively at the paper's non-white readers.

Or, as the NYT describes it, "gifts created for and by people of color."

Found in the "Style & Travel" section of the Gift Guide, it stands alongside sections called "Frugal Travel," "Chic and Cheerful," and "Cosmetic Enhancements."

But this page is the only one aimed squarely at readers whose skin isn't white in color -- and it's the first time we can remember a gift guide, anywhere, openly defining its offerings by their appeal to a specific racial group.

Can you imagine the NYT designating a section of its Holiday Gift Guide to presents made "for and by white people"? Or Jews? Or Chinese? Of course you can't.

We welcome NYTPicker readers of any color to click here and see the page for themselves.

The gift suggestions include:

-- "The Mocha Guide To Military Life," a book for black women whose husbands or boyfriends serve in the armed forces.

--"Hair Rules," a hair-care product for a hair-stylist "hero to Michelle Obama and Alicia Keys" that includes a travel kit for kinky hair.

"Ash Kumar's Bollywood Henna Kit," to "emulate your favorite Bollywood star."

-- "The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships," a book aimed exclusively at black couples.

--"Carol's Daugher: A Mgical Beauty Collection," described this way: "Tiana, Disney’s first animated African-American princess and the protagonist of “The Princess and the Frog,” which arrives in theaters in December, is the inspiration for Carol’s Daughter’s new bath and hair collection, the Magical Beauty Collection."

-- "
M2M damoreJon Nail Polish" which brags that buyers "don't have to go for broke to look like a million."

-- A "Wise Latina" t-shirt, presumably to be worn by wise Latinas.

--"Boxing Kitten Clothing," designed by Maya Lake, "draws her design influence from tastemakers like Josephine Baker and W.E.B. Du Bois." Huh? Last we checked, DuBois was a civil-rights activist. We're told these designs have been worn by Beyoncé and Erykah Badu.

We're a bit flabbergasted to see NYT's holiday gift ideas arranged according to the skin color of its readers. We're contacting the NYT to see if someone there can explain the paper's thinking -- or lack thereof.

UPDATE: Several commenters have mentioned Hanukah gift guides, articles on menorah buying, etc., as examples of the same thing. They're not. Hanukah is a holiday celebrated only by a single religious denomination. This gift guide takes a holiday season celebrated by both Caucasians and people of color, and sets apart a page for gifts meant "by and for" a group of people defined only by the color of their skin.

NYT's Alex Berenson Is Leaving The NYT "Quite Soon," But Says Reports That He's Taking A Buyout Aren't True.

NYT business reporter Alex Berenson has told The NYTPicker that he plans to leave the NYT "quite soon," but says a website report that he accepted the NYT's buyout offer was wrong.

"I am working on a fairly solid story that I expect will run in January," Berenson told The NYTPicker. "After that I will be leaving."

Berenson has been a NYT reporter for a decade, mostly on the business desk except for a five-month tour of duty in Iraq during 2003 and 2004. That experience led Berenson (who now covers the pharmaceutical industry) into a second career, writing spy novels around a fictional CIA agent/hero named John Wells.

"My choice to leave has nothing to do with any concerns about the future of the Times, which I think is bright," Berenson said. "But since 2006, I have had three novels published, with a fourth on the way....I am under contract for two more, which will be released in 2011 and 2012." His first novel, "The Faithful Spy," won an Edgar Award for best mystery novel.

"Basically," Berenson said, "my night job turned into my day job when I wasn't looking." A NYT source said Berenson had been working for the paper at half-pay in 2009 while pursuing his fiction career.

NYT Reporter Ralph Blumenthal Confirms To NYTPicker: After 45 Years At NYT, He's Taking The Buyout.

After a 45-year career at the NYT, where he most recently served for five years as Southwest bureau chief based in Houston, Ralph Blumenthal confirmed to The NYTPicker that he has accepted the paper's buyout offer.

"It is correct," Blumenthal, now a metro reporter, told The NYTPicker via email. "I've had a long and fulfilling career at The Times. The offer of a buyout has spurred me to move on to some book projects and other challenges.

Blumenthal has had a storied career at the NYT that has included five books, including his most recent on Lewis Lawes, the warden of Sing Sing, for which Blumenthal got a Guggenheim fellowship. "Miracle at Sing Sing" was published by St. Martin’s in June of 2004.

Blumenthal reported for the NYT on numerous beats, including culture and crime, and covered the war in Vietnam for the paper from 1968 to 1971. In 1993 he led the NYT's coverage of the World Trade Center bombing, which earned the paper a Pulitzer Prize; in 1994 he won the Worth Bingham Prize for distinguished investigative reporting for stories on airline safety.

The buyout list at the NYT continues to grow; last night it was reported via a tweet by the New York Post's Joel Sherman that Jack Curry, the NYT's national baseball correspondent, had also accepted the NYT's buyout terms.

The list will grow, and its ranks will be joined later this week by those laid off by NYT management. Those decisions will be made on merit, as recently made clear to the staff by executive editor Bill Keller.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Barack Obama Wildly Over-Exposed, Deeply Secretive, Or Building A George Bush-Like Fortress? NYT: Yes.

From "How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan," Peter Baker's page-one reconstruction of the situation-room discussions that led to the President's recent decision to expand the war effort, Sunday, December 6:

And in another twist, Mr. Obama, who campaigned as an apostle of transparency and had been announcing each Situation Room meeting publicly and even releasing pictures, was livid that details of the discussions were leaking out.

“What I’m not going to tolerate is you talking to the press outside of this room,” he scolded his advisers. “It’s a disservice to the process, to the country and to the men and women of the military.”

From "The Lady and the Tiger," Maureen Dowd's op-ed column on the White House social secretary's handling of the party-crasher episode, Sunday, December 6:

The Obama White House is morphing into the Bush White House with frightening speed. Its transparency is already fogged up.

From "Reality TV’s Glare Hits High Office," David Carr's Media Equation column on the Obama White House's willingness to appear frequently on television, Monday, December 7:

When Barack Obama became president, he promised a “new era of openness.” After almost a year of a media diet that seemed to be all-Obama, all-the-time that concluded in a reality-program couple crashing a state dinner at the White House, I’d be O.K. with the kimono closing a bit.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

UPDATE: NYT Publishes Editors' Note, Admitting Suzy Buckley Promoted Boyfriend's Restaurant In Violation Of NYT Ethics Rules.

This morning, the NYT published a brief editor's note in the print edition acknowledging that freelance travel writer Suzy Buckley promoted her boyfriend's restaurant in the T Travel Magazine on November 22 -- in violation of the NYT's conflict of interest policies.

Buckley's use of the NYT to promote the restaurant, 8 Oz. Burger Bar in Miami, was first reported by The NYTPicker on November 23.

But unlike most NYT editors' notes and corrections, this one only made it into the print edition. It's nowhere to be found anywhere on the NYT website, either in the corrections column, or adjacent to the original article. [UPDATE: Sometime after this post went up this morning, the NYT added the Editor's Note to the corrections column online. The Burger Bar listing still doesn't have the Editor's Note appended.] Here's the full text of the note:


The "Place" feature about Miami in the T magazine travel issue on Nov. 22 included a reference to the 8 oz. Burger Bar. The writer has had a long personal relationship with a co-owner of the restaurant; had editors known of that connection, the restaurant would not have been included in the article.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Geez, After All The Nice Things The NYT Has Said About "30 Rock"...

From the Thursday, December 3 episode of "30 Rock," as Jenna (Jane Krakowski) explains to Jack (Alec Baldwin) how he should be handling the difference between "Regular Liz" and "Performer Liz," came this interchange:

Jenna: You've got to lie to her, coddle her, protect her from the real world.

Jack: I get it. Treat her like the New York Times treats its readers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Congratulations To The NYT For Not Publishing The Most Amazing Correction Ever.

From the Thursday, December 3, 2009 Washington Post:

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

What's Wrong With What Gretchen Morgenson Did? A Lot. Some Next-Day Thoughts From The NYTPicker.

Yesterday, we published two stories about the methods used by Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning NYT business reporter, to produce her new book, "The Capitalist's Bible."

Our reporting revealed that numerous passages in Morgenson's book were virtually identical to sections in a 2004 book, "Encyclopedia of Captitalism," published by Facts on File.

Ordinarily, such wholesale copying would be considered plagiarism, and cause for a public media scandal, especially given Morgenson's prominence in the profession.

In this case, it's not -- but only because of a subtle deception by Morgenson and the publishers, who apparently didn't want readers to know that much of the new book was copied wholesale from the earlier work.

Here's the tick-tock:

In 2004, a company called Golson Media recruited numerous academics from around the country to write entries for a book called "Encyclopedia of Capitalism," to be published under the imprimateur of Facts on File -- but with the copyright held by Golson.

The three-volume set -- which gave individual bylines to all contributors, and included, in many cases, detailed bibliographies to support the research -- was published and sold primarily to libraries.

Writers' agreements gave full rights to all material to Golson, to do with it what it wished.

And that, apparently, gave Golson an idea: what if it re-purposed the encyclopedia as a mass-market book for a new, general interest audience? To do so Golson would need to recruit a famous brand-name writer to put on the cover. The company specializes in this' its website brags of using "Pulitzer Prize-winning authors."

And that's where Gretchen Morgenson -- winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting -- came in.

J. Goeffrey Golson, the company's president and editor, recruited Morgenson to be the editor of his new project -- a "rewrite" of the 2004 book, to be published for a mainstream audience by Harper Business. She came on board, and with the help of Golson staff writers and newly-recruited academics, the new book was born.

In September of 2009, "The Capitalist's Bible" was published, now under the copyright of Harper Business.

Unlike the previous encyclopedia, the new book contains no individual bylines. It has no bibliography or source citations. The only name on the book is that of Gretchen Morgenson, identified on the cover as a "New York Times journalist" and the editor.

But given that the book is more than 300 pages long and that Morgenson has a full-time job at the NYT, it's clearly unlikely that she wrote -- or necessarily even edited -- a significant portion of the book.

The process by which the book came together is explained only in a short acknowledgement in the very back of the volume, more than 300 pages in, which says only that it was "produced using some rewritten text from the Encyclopedia of Capitalism, published by Facts On File for the library reference market."

No mention of Golson.

No mention of individual writers.

No mention of source material.

No mention of the fact that in many, many instances, the material wasn't rewritten at all -- but, rather, copied verbatim from the earlier book.

In her defense of the new book, Morgenson insists that it was Golson's legal right to do whatever it wanted with the original material. It owned all rights.

"The copyright to the Facts On File encyclopedia is held by Golson Books, Ltd., which has permission in writing from Facts On File to use the material in "The Capitalist's Bible," Morgenson told The NYTPicker. "Facts On File does not have, nor did it seek, approval rights for the rewritten material."

Okay, so Morgenson is right: technically, legally, Golson could do whatever it wanted with the words of others.

But is it right to take another person's words and lift them into another volume, without credit or admission?

Is it legitimate to call it "rewritten" when it's copied?

Is it being open and straightforward with readers for Morgenson to bury the explanation of her methods in the back of a 5,490-page book, in a single, incomplete paragraph?

Morgenson is a journalist who, on a daily basis, demands openness and honesty from the corporations and individuals she covers.

If a company attempts to bury its significant disclosures in the back of an S.E.C. filing, Morgenson will call them on it.

If a business tries to justify an action that appears wrong -- like stealing -- by pointing out that it has adhered to the letter of the law, Morgenson will rightly note that dubious distinction.

Yesterday, in response to several followup questions from The NYTPicker about the verbatim lifts of passages -- in which we asked about credit, about her reference to the process as "rewriting," et cetera -- she sent us this four-word email reply:

"The acknowledgement is appropriate," Morgenson wrote us.

Would Morgenson have been satisfied by a one-sentence reply from a company that ignored the essence of her questions?

Would Morgenson have considered the matter over and done with, because the company told her they had a signed document allowing them to commit an act that, on the face of it, appeared to violate some of the industry's most fundamental tenets?

In this case, Morgenson's only defense against a charge of plagiarism is a piece of paper whose existence wasn't even publicly known until yesterday. Even if that document entitled her to copy the words of others into her book -- eliminating only the authors' names from the mix -- it doesn't justify it.

Morgenson owes her readers -- and the writers whose work she has rewritten and copied -- a fuller explanation of what happened than the incomplete and misleading acknowledgement buried in the back of her book.

CORRECTION: The commenter who pointed this out is right -- "The Capitalist's Bible" is 320 pages, not 5,490 pages. We've corrected the number in our post. The NYTPicker downloaded the book to our Kindle for iPhone app, which doesn't include page numbers and inaccurately gave that as the book's page count.

EARLIER: Portions Of Gretchen Morgenson's New, "Rewritten" Version Of 2004 Book Were Copied Verbatim, Without Credit.

EARLIER: Two-Thirds Of New Book Edited By Pulitzer Prize-Winning NYT Reporter Gretchen Morgenson Rewritten From Someone Else's 2004 Book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Portions Of Gretchen Morgenson's New, "Rewritten" Version Of 2004 Book Were Copied Verbatim, Without Credit.

It turns out that several portions of NYT business reporter Gretchen Morgenson's new book, "The Capitalist's Bible," were copied nearly verbatim -- and without acknowledgement or credit -- from a 2004 Facts of File book, ""Encyclopedia of Capitalism."

In side-by-side comparisons of the two books, The NYTPicker has found numerous instances of identical or near-identical passages. This contradicts the new book's acknowledgement, which says only that the new book was produced "using some rewritten text" from the original book. It also refutes Morgenson's email to The NYTPicker this morning, which described the process as "rewriting" the source material.

Morgenson's email explains what isn't mentioned anywhere in her book, which is that her self-described "colleague" on the book, Golson Media -- and not Facts on File -- owns the copyright to the original book, and holds all rights to its contents. That fact is disclosed nowhere in the new book.

"The copyright to the Facts On File encyclopedia is held by Golson Books, Ltd., which has permission in writing from Facts On File to use the material in "The Capitalist's Bible," Morgenson told The NYTPicker. "Facts On File does not have, nor did it seek, approval rights for the rewritten material."

But nowhere in her email, or in the acknowledgement in the very back of her book, does it explain that the new book includes word-for-word lifts of text from the original Enclyclopedia -- which credits each entry to its individual author, often alongside a bibliography.

The new book by Morgenson -- a 2002 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting -- offers no bibliography, sources, or credit to individual writers. "I did much of the rewriting," Morgenson told The NYTPicker via email, "joined by staff writers for Golson Books, Ltd., and academic authors."

Morenson also declared to The NYTPicker that "the acknowledgement is sufficient and the placement appropriate," referring to its placement after the 5,490-page book's index, and including a reference only to "some rewritten text" from the Encyclopedia of Capitalism. The new book also makes no mention of Golson Media or its ownership of the copyright.

Below are five side-by-side examples of passages from The Encyclopedia of Capitalism, followed by a near-identical passage in The Capitalist's Bible, with no credit given to the original author, or acknowledgement made of the verbatim excerpt. These were found after only a brief scan of the two volumes, and represent only a small number of the many examples of verbatim text found by The NYTPicker:


[John] Locke argued that humans, though concerned with self-interest, tend to do good, and join together into governmental or economic associations for mutual benefit, but not at the expense of natural liberty....Private property, one of Locke's fundamental natural rights shared by all humans, derives from a person putting forth labor to acquire goods from the public domain.
-- Encyclopedia of Capitalism, 2004

[John] Locke had argued that humans were essentially good despite their self-interest, and that governments were formed for mutual benefits, not the sacrifice of natural liberties....Private property, one of Locke's fundamental natural rights shared by all humans, derives from a person putting forth labor to acquire goods from the public domain.
-- The Capitalist's Bible, 2009
[Adam] Smith is usually identified as a proponent of economic liberalism, because he combined his optimistic view of economic competition and restrained self-interest with liberal assumptions of man's inherent goodness and collective goal to work for the interests of the common good. Unlike modern liberals, Smith believed that economic behavior did not require government intervention to achieve the maximum good for society. Goodness could not be imposed, but rather would be a natural consequence of human behavior. -- EOC, 2004

[Adam] Smith is usually categorized as classical liberal, because he combined his optimistic view of economic competition and restrained self-interest with the liberal assumptions of man's inherent goodness and collective goal to work for the interests of the common good. Unlike modern liberals, Smith believed that economic behavior did not require government intervention to achieve the maximum good for society. In his view, goodness couldn't be imposed -- it would be as natural consequence of human behavior, human nature. -- TCB, 2009


For most developing countries, except those with oil to export, virtually the only way to engage in economic development is to secure international financing for projects beyond the capacities of their weak economies and and revenue structures. To qualify for international loans from most major banks, the IMF or World Bank must certify the borrower's willingness to service the debt. IMF counselors have established a standard, which requires the loan recipient to agree to structural adjustment plans. These often include: trade liberalization to encourage international investors; reducing and ending tariffs that may have protected infant industry; privatization of public sector enterprises and rationalizing public sector work by downsizing and reducing the number of public employees; ending subsidies for food products and services; devaluation of local currency; and expanding export production. -- EOC, 2004

For most developing countries without oil to export, one of the only opportunities for economic development is international financing for projects beyond the capabilities of the local economy. To qualify for international loans from most major banks, the IMF or World Bank must certify the borrower's willingness to service the debt. IMF counselors have established a standard, that requires the loan recipient to agree to structural adjustment plans. These often include trade liberalization to encourage international investors, reducing and ending tariffs that may have protected infant industries, privatization of public sector enterprises and rationalizing public sector work by downsizing and reducing the number of public employees, ending subsidies for fod products and services, devaluation of public currency, and expanding export production. -- TCB, 2009

Game Theory:

There are two distinct but related ways of describing a game mathematically. The extensive form is the moist detailed way. It describes play by means of a game tree that explicitly indicates when players move, which moves are available,and what they know about the moves of other players and the "state of nature" when they move. -- EOC, 2004

There are two distinct, but related ways of describing a game mathematically. The extensive form is the most detailed way. It describes play by means of a game tree (pictures it as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" type of flowchart) that explicitly indicates when players move, which moves are available, and what they know about the moves of other players and the "state of nature" when the move. TCB, 2009

Central Banks

During the early 20th century, central banks discovered the power of monetary policy and have been exercising this power to influence macroeconomic events ever since. Monetary policy refers to the manipulation of the money supply and interest rates to achieve macroeconomic objectives. Central banks typically have a variety of tools at their disposal to conduct monetary policy including: altering the interest rate banks pay when they borrow from the central bank (known as the discount rate in the United states and the bank rate in Great Britain); changing reserve requirements (i.e., the portion of bank depositors' funds that banks must hold in liquid reserves); and engaging in "open market operations" (i.e., buying or selling bonds to alter the amount of cash reserves in the banking system). -- EOC< 2004

During the early 20th century, central banks discovered the power of monetary policy, and have been exercising this power to influence macroeconomic events ever since. Monetary policy refers to the manipulation of the money supply and interest rates in order to meet particular goals on a macroeconomic (that is, affecting the whole economy) scale. Central banks have a variety of tools at their disposal to conduct monetary policy, including altering the interest rate banks pay when they borrow from the dcentral bank (known as the discount rate in the United States), changing reserve requirements (the portion of depositors' funds that banks must hold in cash), and engaging in "open market operations" (that is, buying or selling bonds to alter the amount of cash reserves in the banking system.) -- TCB, 2009

EARLIER: Two-Thirds Of New Book Edited By Pulitzer Prize-Winning NYT Reporter Gretchen Morgenson Rewritten From Someone Else's 2004 Book.

Two-Thirds Of New Book Edited By Pulitzer Prize-Winning NYT Reporter Gretchen Morgenson Rewritten From Someone Else's 2003 Book.

Roughly two-thirds of a new book edited by Gretchen Morgenson, the NYT's Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter, was rewritten from a previous book without apparent permission -- and with only partial acknowledgement of the original source, buried in the back of Morgenson's 320-page volume.

The book edited by Morgenson -- "The Capitalist's Bible" -- was published this past September by Harper Business. Morgenson is prominently identified on the book's cover as a "New York Times journalist." The book that served as Morgenson's source material, "Encyclopedia of Capitalism," was published in 2004 by Facts on File for use by libraries, and was edited by Syed Hussain, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

Morgenson's acknowledgement, found following the index at the very back of the tome, reads as follows:

The Capitalist's Bible was produced using some rewritten text from the Encyclopedia of Capitalism, published by Facts On File for the library reference market.

The acknowledgement makes no mention of asking for, or getting permission from Facts of File to use its book as the source material for much of Morgenson's book.

And in an email to economics professor Ron Cronovich of Carthage College in Wisconsin -- who had been unable to find information about her sources in the book -- Morgenson admitted that the rewrite was more significant than previously disclosed.

In response to Cronovich's request, Morgenson acknowledged nearly two-thirds of the book -- as opposed to "some" -- had been rewritten from the Facts on File text. Morgenson's email said, in part:

The authorship credit is on the last page of the index. About 65% of the book is rewritten from the Encyclopedia of Capitalism, published by Facts On File in 2003 for the college library market. The content is academically vetted and updated from the original.

Morgenson's failure to adequately acknowledge her source material was first noted yesterday on an economics blog known as "Future of Capitalism."

Many questions remain unanswered by Morgenson's brief, buried acknowledgement. They include:

Did Morgenson or Harper Business seek, and/or obtain, permission from Facts on File to use its book as the basis for the nearly two-thirds of the material in the book rewrote? If so, did Facts on File read and approve of the rewritten material, and/or the content and placement of the acknowledgement?

2. If Morgenson and Harper Businessdidn't seek and/or obtain permission, why not?

3. Does Morgenson feel that the acknowledgement given to the EOC was sufficient in explaining to the reader how much of the material in "The Captialist's Bible" was rewritten from the EOC? In the acknowledgement she describes the amount as "some," while to Prof. Cronovich she cited a 65% figure.

4. Is Morgenson satisfied with the placement of the acknowledgement, in that it follows the index rather than preceding the text, where it would have been more likely to be noticed by readers?

5. How was the material "academically vetted and updated," and by whom?

6. Was the rewriting of the EOC text done by Morgenson, or by someone else? If by someone else, who did the rewriting?

Spokeswoman for Facts on File and HarperCollins were contacted last night for comment, along with Prof. Hussein and Morgenson. No one has yet responded. We'll update as we learn more.

CORRECTION: A commenter has correctly pointed out that "The Capitalist's Bible" is 320 pages, not 5,490 pages. We've corrected the number in our post. The NYTPicker downloaded the book to our Kindle for iPhone app, which doesn't include page numbers and inaccurately gave us that as the book's page count.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back By Popular Demand: The Worst Lede Of The Day! Today's Prize Goes To...

...Stuart Elliott, the NYT's advertising columnist, for this gem on the new Dockers advertising campaign:

First, Justin Timberlake brought sexy back. Now, Dockers will try to bring khaki back.

One could, of course, make the case that Mr. Timberlake’s task was far easier because sexy never really went very far. By contrast, although Dockers remains a popular and successful brand in the category of men’s casual pants, its long-term health is in question because many younger men associate Dockers with its heyday of casual Fridays and the 1990s.

Monday, November 30, 2009

With Her First NYT Byline, Liz Leyden Offers A Sparkling Refresher Course In A Fast-Fading Art Form: The Metro Feature.

To us, the slow but steady disappearance of the young, hungry NYT reporter delivering the simple, stylish metro story -- of the sort Gay Talese, Anna Quindlen, Maureen Dowd and William E. Geist specialized in before they became media stars -- has become one of the most painful public markers of the NYT's economic decline.

We miss the days -- not so long ago, really -- when a recent arrival like Andrew Jacobs stopped us cold with his hilarious, graceful take on train travelers stranded at Grand Central Station after the final departure. Or when a newly-minted metro reporter named Alessandra Stanley drolly informed us one morning of the identity of T. D'Alessandro, the faceless elevator inspector whose signature we knew so well. Or when Anna Quindlen, before she ever even dreamed of writing novels, chronicled with poetry the futile search for a homeless woman, Alma Siegel, by a volunteer worker whose heart she had once touched:

''I know this woman,'' said a police officer in the Port Authority. ''This is the woman I had sent to Bellevue. Family in New Jersey, right? Some money in it?'' But then he looked closely at the picture and saw that it was someone else he meant.

It has been many, many mornings since the last time we read an article that caught our eye as the debut of a fresh, exciting new byline. But it happened this morning, when we stumbled on the metro feature on A24 about the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs and its "forest kindergarten," and were introduced to the soft-spoken eloquence of a new NYT byline: Liz Leyden.

As it turns out, Leyden isn't a just-off-the-bus NYT kid reporter. We haven't quite been able to piece together her biography yet, but it appears she spent much of the 1990s as a staff writer for the Washington Post, and has since written for Salon. We also found her name on the website of a Saratoga Springs elementary school where she's a class parent -- so we're assuming she has relocated away from the Manhattan media meltdown you heard tell about in this morning's David Carr column, and is freelancing for the NYT.

We'll guess that in a week or two, Leyden will get a $1,000 check from the NYT for her article today, and no promises of future assignments. We'll happily correct this if we're wrong, but we're under the distinct impression that NYT reporters are getting laid off, not hired.

It isn't that Leyden's story is so special. It's a straightforward account of a group of young schoolchildren who spend three hours outdoors each day. It delivers the requisite supply of expert quotes and anecdotes. But right away, the lede lets us know we're reading the work of a writer who appreciates the cadence of words, and the value of verbs:

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Fat, cold droplets splashed from the sky as the students struggled into their uniforms: rain pants, boots, mittens and hats. Once buttoned and bundled, they scattered toward favorite spaces: a crab apple tree made for climbing, a cluster of bushes forming a secret nook under a willow tree, a sandbox growing muddier by the minute.

And at the end, we relished Leyden's choice not to cave to journalistic convention -- as so many reporters do -- and conclude with a summing-up quote. Instead, she meandered a bit, and left us after the last paragraph with our minds free to form a mental picture for ourselves:

Trails had been worn through the thickets. An old stone wall ran through the center of the trees toward huge tepees the children had built from sticks and vines.

Everywhere, there were things to discover. A branch balanced on a split tree trunk became a seesaw. A teacher sawed thick stumps into logs the children used to bridge bogs. A pit became a monster house, complete with boys standing in the rain shouting warnings: “You don’t want to come over here! You’ll get smushed!”

Piper Whalen, 5, turned toward her own treasure: an enormous fallen tree. She climbed on and lifted her arms. “I’m riding a roller coaster,” she said. “Come on and ride with me.”

The raindrops continued to fall until, finally, it poured, hard enough to splash though the canopy of trees. The children were delighted.

“It’s wet!” exclaimed one.

“My hair is getting a drink of water!” another said.

Piper began to laugh. She stuck out her tongue and turned her face toward the sky.

Leyden won't be winning any Pulitzers for today's story, or maybe even any more assignments. But her debut this morning reminded us of the thrill of discovery -- and of what's too often missing from the NYT these days, as its resources diminish and its supply of new arrivals drops to zero. There's no substitute for fresh perspective and restless ambition when it comes to poetry.

UPDATE: It turns out Leyden is married to the NYT's Albany bureau chief, Danny Hakim, who shared the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for the paper's coverage of the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal. Leyden and Hakim were married on July 14, 2001.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Writer Suzy Buckley Uses NYT's "T" Travel Section To Praise Restaurant Owned By Her Old Boyfriend -- An Accused Fetus Killer.

The NYT Magazine's "T" Travel section isn't exactly where you look for tough investigative reporting -- especially when writing about Miami tourism as it did yesterday in an issue paid for, in part, by a huge advertising supplement about Florida tourism.

But its writers probably shouldn't be promoting business ventures owned by their old boyfriends -- especially ones recently arrested for killing a 13-week-old unborn fetus.

But that didn't stop the NYT from publishing freelance writer Suzy Buckley's five-page spread on Miami nightlife, leading off with her recommendation -- prominently displayed with a photo on the feature's front page, in an attractive time-clock design -- to try the popular South Beach burger joint co-owned by Josh Woodward, until recently her boyfriend:

2 p.m.: Have a grass-fed beef burger topped with Bel Paese cheese and a Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale at 8 oz. Burger Bar. 1080 Alton Road; (305) 397-8246; 8ozburgerbar.com.

Woodward and Buckley broke up just recently -- apparently right before October 29, when the Miami Herald reported that the restaurateur had been taken into Miami police custody on charges in connection with the death of a 13-week-old fetus, reportedly his child. The Herald later reported that Woodward had been charged with murder.

The Herald's story said that Woodward "was suspected of placing an unspecified powder in the pregnant woman's vaginal area," causing a miscarriage.

While the police didn't reveal the name of the pregnant woman, the Herald noted that "the only girlfriend most people associated Woodward with was Miami writer Suzy Buckley." The two were widely reported to be in a relationship, which was repeatedly referenced in society columns.

At the time of Woodward's arrest, Buckley denied being the mother involved in the miscarriage. Sort of. But not really!

"We were planning to get engaged soon and married,'' Buckley told the Herald. "We had a long, incredible and beautiful relationship, and he is loved and respected by so many people in the Miami community. These extensive allegations are obviously outlandish, but I have -- understandably -- ended the relationship.''

The whole sordid situation didn't stop Buckley from promoting Woodward's restaurant in this past Sunday's NYT -- alongside numerous plugs for other local businesses.

Buckley is a frequent fashion and travel writer in Miami. In one website bio, published alongside a fashion column that appears on the website of "The Starter Wife," the USA TV series, Buckley is identified as "a fashion writer and television personality" who appears regularly on E! Entertainment, is the lifestyle editor of Ocean Drive, and writes for multiple magazines and guidebooks.

Buckley "is often found traveling to exciting global destinations," her bio reports.

Buckley's reporting on her boyfriend's burger joint is, of course, a direct violation of the NYT ethics policy, which clearly states:

No journalist may report for us about any travel service or product offered by a family member or close friend.

The NYT has been policing such conflicts rigorously of late, having fired the Styles section's Critical Shopper columnist Mike Albo for accepting free travel on a JetBlue/Thrillist junket -- even though he wrote nothing for the NYT on anything connected with the trip.

At the same time, the NYT has applied a different set of rules and standards to David Pogue, its popular freelance tech columnist, who accepts travel, speaking fees and expenses from corporations the NYT covers, on a regular basis.

We've contacted the NYT public-relations department for comment, and will update if/when they respond.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oh, Right.

A correction appearing on today's NYT op-ed page:

An Op-Ed article on Wednesday, about the founders’ debates about climate, misstated the status of the United States in the winter of 1783. It was an independent country, not a collection of colonies.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Read It And Weep: Dan Barry Borrows Yet Another Story Idea From Newspapers and TV, Adds Sugar And Spice, Serves Cold.

Dan Barry has done it again.

Today's "This Land" would-be tone poem from the flowery columnist -- chronicling a South Carolina program that encourages prisoners to help solve cold cases with playing cards -- is a story that has been done repeatedly over the years in the national press. It has been a piece done on CNN, Associated Press, CBS This Morning, USA Today and the Denver Post, not to mention WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C. and WISI in Columbia, S.C., in stories that date back to 2006.

Still, Barry's story goes to some lengths to suggest that his story is new. He writes this morning:

The South Carolina Department of Corrections started selling these decks in its prison canteens for $1.72 about a year ago; since then, inmates have bought more than 10,000 packs.

But the WISI-TV story about the South Carolina program -- which was posted over a year ago on its website, on September 16, 2008 -- the station reported:

Prison officials say playing cards is a popular pastime behind bars. In the past year, the 24,000 inmates in South Carolina prisons bought more than 14,000 decks of cards for their own use.

Who's right?

We wouldn't keep harping on the NYT "This Land" columnist's frequent half-baked retreads -- stories that have been reported elsewhere earlier, that he repackages for NYT consumption -- because as journalism crimes go, it's a petty misdemeanor.

But at a time when 100 NYT newsroom employees face the possibility of a layoff -- and executive editor Bill Keller has declared that "we intend to use merit to decide who is laid off and who is not" -- it seems reasonable to wonder whether Barry is worth the considerable salary he's paid to roam the country in search of clippings and news reports.

Barry's sin is simple: the Pulitzer Prize-winner doesn't seem to much care that -- in a column devoted to chronicling the quirky off-the-beaten track stories that bring America to life -- the stories he tells have sometimes already been told in other newspapers, or on television.

Just since February, The NYTPicker has noted three previous Barry columns on topics and characters that have been previously covered elsewhere:

On February 2, Barry wrote about a 115-year-old murder case in North Carolina that had been chronicled one week earlier in the Winston-Salem Journal.

A June 1 Barry column about a New Hampshire bakery had been reported on the Boston Globe's front page ten days earlier.

On July 31, Barry's story about a homeless enclave in Rhode Island -- chronicled repeatedly elsewhere in the local press -- contained stale information and neglected to report the fact that his central character was a twice-convicted child rapist.

It seems to us that a journalist's calling ought to involve shining a light where others can't or won't go. But at times Barry seems attracted to the lights shined by others, as if to challenge himself to produce a better, more effective chroncicle of a story than the one already told.

But can he? Barry's oveheated prose style tends to call attention as much to itself as to the topic. In today's column, describing the playing cards used by prisoners with pictures of murder victims on their faces, Barry writes:

Hands are won and lost as the inmates shuffle and toss the cards on top of one another. Their discards form kaleidoscopic arrangements in which the dead and the missing peer up together, as though from a deep, shared hole.

Or this:

The “unsolved” decks, long since stripped of any reverence, are now part of the everyday prison culture here. Inmates say that the cards are too expensive, that the cards are not as sturdy as those they replaced, that sometimes a card is just a card.

“I’m tired of seeing James,” says a man hunched around a hand he’s just been dealt. James is James Oneal Boulware, shot to death in Rock Hill a couple of years ago. The two of spades.

James and 51 others are soon shuffled and spun across tables to form new combinations of faint possibility. Read ’em and weep.

Barry knows whereof he speaks. All too often, he shuffles the pile of clippings on his desk to form new combinations of faint possibility.

One of the things we love about the NYT's wonderful "One In 8 Million" series is its assurance to readers that its subjects have never been written about before -- and the feeling of freshness that derives from that promise. In a country with 304 million people, isn't it possible for Barry to make a similar "This Land" pledge?

Maybe it's time for the NYT to put Barry on the layoff list, and find a new, talented columnist to take his place -- someone with the energy and determination to find original ideas and undiscovered characters for a "This Land column worthy of its resonant name.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NYT's "Douche" Move: Page-One Trend Story Based On Numbers Requested From Arch-Conservative Parents Television Council.

Today's NYT offers one of those tasty page-one trend stories everybody reads -- this one noting that more television shows now use the word "douche" than ever before.

It may be true, and probably is.

But seeing TV reporter Edward Wyatt and the NYT base its front-page reporting on numbers the paper actually requested from the Parents Television Council -- a notoriously conservative TV watchdog group that has brought 99 percent of all indecency complaints before the FCC (we learned that from an excellent 2004 NYT story) -- makes us a little sick.

The PTC has been around since 1995, founded by conservative commentator L. Brent Bozell, and is responsible for complaints to the FCC about the Janet Jackson nipple slip and cursing on "NYPD Blue."

Okay, we'll admit it -- we have a horse in this race. We think the indecency obsession that governs television, and the NYT itself, is outmoded and anachronistic in the 21st century. Isn't it time for television and newspapers to realize they're not shielding anyone from anything?

For example, we know that when David Carr referred the other day in the NYT to a Twitter page with an "unprintable" word in its title, he was talking about "ShitMyDadSays." Is that really unprintable? No. It's unprintable only by the standards of a newspaper clinging to old rules and ancient ways.

But seeing Wyatt and the NYT team up with the PTC to do a story about "douche" as a new curse word reflected a new low in the NYT reporting approach. The PTC is an activist group with a cause -- one that got mentioned in Wyatt's story after the jump. He described them as "conservative interest group that monitors (and opposes) profanity on television."

Wyatt's story reports that the NYT asked the PTC to compile the numbers for its "douche" census.

Is that really a reliable way to compile statistics? The PTC has a stated, singular bias, and its interests are served by Wyatt's story in promoting its cause. Shouldn't the NYT do its own monitoring and reporting on these trends? Well, obviously it wouldn't be worth it. And, well, that's what the PTC does, right? They like to listen for bad words on TV!

Beyond that, Wyatt's story is merely ridiculous. He's essentially trying to prove that the increased use of words like "douche" show the effort that TV writers will make to avoid words that will get the network fined -- usually as a result of PTC efforts.

Wyatt admits that the word "douche" doesn't really merit attention alongside George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television," which he cites:

And "while the word “douche” is neither obscene nor profane — although this usage is certainly offensive to many people — it seems to represent the latest of broadcast television’s continuing efforts to expand the boundaries of taste, in part to stem the tide of defections by its audience to largely unregulated cable television.

Offensive to whom? Wyatt doesn't say. Presumably he means to his friends at the PTC!

Wyatt goes on to quote the creator of the new hit comedy "Community," Dan Harmon, describing "douche" as "a thing that sounds like a thing you can't say."

Funny line. Unfortunately, it's just the kind of thing that will now incite the PTC, with its NYT page-one clipping in hand, to approach the FCC in search of a new ban.

Friday, November 13, 2009

NYT's David ("Not A Reporter") Pogue Gets A New Title. From Now On, Please Refer To Him As "New York Times Visionary."

Readers may remember the media kerfuffle a few months back, when NYT technology columnist David Pogue told an interviewer that he was "not a reporter" and declared in exasperation: "Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?"

Well, how about this for billing? In the online brochure for the Kids@Play summit at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next January -- where Pogue will be speaking -- Pogue's bio offers up a new official title:

"David Pogue, technology columnist, New York Times visionary."

This is presented not as marketing hype, but in the official listing of titles and bios for the event's speakers. It appears alongside other official titles, such as" Warren Buckleitner, Editor, Children's Technology Review" and "Jim Gray, Ed.D., Director of Learning, LeapFrog Enterprises."

In Pogue's case, the new title is followed by his official bio, reprinted word-for-word from his website.

Which raises the question: is this a new title that Pogue has bestowed on himself? Will it officially replace "reporter" and "journalist" on his NYT business card? Either way, it must be a comfort to NYT editors to have a official visionary in the building. Not that he ever drops by, of course.

[UPDATE: We received a statement Friday afternoon, in the form of a posted comment, from Robin Raskin, the creator of the kids@play event whose brochure identified Pogue as a "visionary."

"Not to bore you with the details, but the mistake was totally on our side of the fence," Raskin wrote. "David's name/bio and the word visionary came from an overzealous intern."

Before that we had received an email from Pogue about it. He described "visionary" as "definitely not a title I would ever use for myself." Pogue's email blamed the mistaken title on the organizer of the panel he was to appear. He named the organizer and suggested we contact him. But since the "overzealous intern" explanation comes from the event's creator, we'll accept that as the official version of what happened.

By the way, a note to commenters: Relax! We like David Pogue. We think he's funny and good at what he does. Our post doesn't accuse Pogue of wrongdoing, or attack him in any way. We made it clear that we didn't know if Pogue had been involved in the "visionary" thing or not. We were only reporting on the existence of the brochure, which was readily available on the Internet.]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One NYT Article We'll Never Finish Reading...

...is Lynn Hirschberg's NYT Magazine profile this Sunday of Megan Fox, which begins: "Megan Fox is a fox."

Monday, November 9, 2009

NYT's Bill Keller Blasts "Armchair Experts" Again. Except This Time, Keller Forgets That He Was The Armchair Expert.

NYT executive editor Bill Keller loves to regularly stick it to the "armchair experts" who attack his newspaper.

Keller did it again this past week in his latest "Throw Things At Bill" speech to the staff, in which he said:

One of the armchair experts quoted by the public editor wondered why we don’t eliminate the Sports section. I’d like to be as clear as possible: none of those things is on the table.

But hey, wait a minute...that "armchair expert" was none other than Keller himself!

Here's the line from Clark Hoyt's recent Public Editor column to which Keller referred:

More radical moves, like dropping the sports section, have been rejected because they would undermine the quality of The Times or would not save much money, Keller said.

To be fair, it's entirely possible Keller made the comment while seated in an armchair.

We remembered the line so well because the Sunday morning it appeared, it prompted us to email sports editor Tom Jolly, to find out whether he'd heard anything about a plan to drop his section from the paper.

Frankly, we'd been struck by the fact that Hoyt had attributed the idea to Keller. The prospect of killing the NYT sports section would seem unimaginable, especially to the paper's executive editor.

"All I can tell you is that the idea was never raised with me," Jolly replied via email that morning, when we asked if anyone had ever mentioned the idea.

Ten minutes later, we got an unsolicited followup email from Jolly.

"Just to clarify: That would suggest to me that it was not on the table in a serious way," Jolly wrote.

That second email got us to wondering why Keller would have even brought up the notion of killing the sports section with Hoyt. If it wasn't on the table, why refer to it at all?

So we wrote back to Jolly with a couple of followup questions:

Do you have any idea why Keller would have mentioned sports to Hoyt, even as a move they rejected? "Rejected" implies that it was proposed. And the elimination of sports is the only "radical move" mentioned in Hoyt's sentence, attributed to Keller.

We don't want to make too much of this, if it's truly a non-story. But the thought that anyone at the NYT even entertained the notion of eliminating sports coverage was pretty shocking to us. Was it to you?

Jolly, clearly a courteous fellow, wrote us right back.

"We're in an environment in which all ideas deserve consideration, no matter how radical," Jolly said. "As you might expect, my own belief is that our sports section helps distinguish the NYT from the Journal, which is probably our chief competition going forward."

Good answer. We agree. And so, apparently, does the armchair expert.

Did NYT's Unusual, Restrictive New Advertising Scheme Help Force Closing Of Broadway's "Brighton Beach Memoirs"?

It used to be that the NYT review could make or break the future of a Broadway show.

But in the case of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," an unusual, highly restrictive business deal between the NYT and the Broadway revival's producers -- one that offered substantial, heavily-discounted NYT advertising in exchange for exclusivity until after opening night -- may have hastened the show's quick demise.

In return for what was described to The NYTPicker by sources as a "three-ads-for-the-price-of-one" arrangement, the NYT deal dictated that "Brighton Beach Memoirs" couldn't advertise anywhere else. Those restrictions even included the far more powerful pull of local radio and television, and direct mail marketing.

A meager $500,000 in advance ticket sales led "Brighton Beach Memoirs" to close on November 1, after just 9 performances. The closing came despite rave reviews -- including a mostly-positive review from NYT theater critic Ben Brantley -- and a Neil Simon's long track record of success on Broadway.

And while the "Brighton Beach" producers don't blame the NYT arrangement entirely for the show's closing, they believe it was an important factor.

"We neglected the very audience we needed," one highly-placed "Brighton Beach" production source told The NYTPicker, referring directly to the NYT deal. "Direct mail builds a solid foundation and a healthy advance. We had neither."

The unusual arrangement was first reported last Wednesday in the New York Post, and has been confirmed to The NYTPicker by sources close to the production with first-hand knowledge of the NYT deal.

One production source told The NYTPicker that the NYT advertising deal involved a "very deep discount" for the full package, and identified Sharri Kaplan as the NYT advertising representative who presented producers with the so-called "pilot program" deal.

Diane McNulty, the NYT's spokeswoman, responded to questions from The NYTPicker Sunday afternoon with this emailed statement:

We don't discuss details of conversations we have with our advertisers. What I can tell you is that your sources' estimates are inaccurate, their description of the arrangement is inaccurate and their description of how the plan came about is inaccurate. In addition there are many factors which impact the success of Broadway plays including: ticket prices, reviews, subject matter, competitive alternatives etc.

No one disputes McNulty's last point. Reporter Patrick Healy's fascinating NYT page-one post-mortem on "Brighton Beach Memoirs" accurately noted other possible factors for its demise: changing audience tastes in comedy, the lack of any big-name stars, and the missing "wow" factor that sometimes turns flops into hits.

But unmentioned in Healy's account -- even though sources say the reporter was told of the arrangement by "Brighton Beach" producers -- was the NYT's advertising deal with the show.

For decades, the NYT generated a considerable portion of its advertising revenue from Broadway producers, who would routinely take out page after page of ads in the Sunday Arts & Leisure, Weekend and Arts sections to promote their shows. But in recent years, as producers seek a better return on their investment, much of that money has moved to television, radio and direct-mail marketing -- leaving the NYT with a tiny fraction of the theater advertising revenue it once commanded.

Now, the NYT may get even less -- as Broadway producers have been able to observe, via the "Brighton Beach" debacle, just how little influence NYT advertising has on advance ticket sales.

"Producers on other shows have seriously questioned this deal," the "Brighton Beach" production source told The NYTPicker. "While no one will abandon the Times, you will notice a huge reduction in the amount of theater advertising....I would seriously doubt anyone will ever take a deal like this again."

The results may already be evident. In yesterday's Arts & Leisure section, there wasn't a single full-page ad for any of the 35 shows currently on Broadway -- and less than two full pages of theater advertising in total, including the NYT's paid "Theater Directory" listings.

Broadway insiders blame the shift away from NYT advertising on the paper's exorbitant rates -- which are higher for theater than for some other forms of entertainment, and which don't deliver enough returns to justify the price.

"These days, a New York Times ad is a vanity thing, a way for producers to show off to their friends," one top theater advertising-agency executive told The NYTPicker. "It doesn't sell tickets."

The "Brighton Beach" insider told The NYTPicker that the lack of direct-mail advertising and radio -- specifically prohibited by the NYT deal -- helped doom the show.

"Theatergoers tell us that they choose the shows based on a variety of things: what they read, what they've heard from people they trust and some blend of advertising and press," the insider said. "They may not know the difference."

That may explain why, even with this exclusive arrangement in place, the "Brighton Beach" producers weren't able to reach today's target Broadway ticket buyers, those who attend at least three shows a year and are accustomed to getting direct-mail discounts.

"If you don't get the Westchester housewife to buy tickets for her and her husband, your show is going to close," the theater-advertising executive said. "She's listening to the radio in her car or reading her direct mail flyers, not flipping through Arts & Leisure."

Beyond that explanation, even simple logic suggests that the NYT arrangement was counterproductive to its revenue goals. Had outside advertising generated enough ticket sales to keep the show running, the NYT might have eventually gotten enough advertising to justify the discount. Think about it, guys!

Sadly, this arrangement appears to reflect, in part, the NYT's delusional arrogance about itself as an important player in the Broadway community. It appears the NYT myopically convinced itself that if the "Brighton Beach" arrangement worked, it could conceivably market the approach to other reluctant theater advertisers.

Now, no such luck.

And in a somewhat bitter irony for both sides, the NYT's arrangement included running a full-page ad for "Brighton Beach Memoirs" in the Arts & Leisure section on Sunday, November 1 -- the day the show closed.