Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tina Kelley, What Happened When You Called The Maplewood Fire Department? Tell Us, Please.

We're kind of obsessed with "The Local," NYT Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tina Kelley's new local news blog in Maplewood, N.J.

But you know, as much as we love a good caption contest and admire a fourth-grader's school art project as displayed in the "On The Fridge" segment, we're addicts who refresh the blog every few hours or so in search of real news, so we're still waiting for Kelley to keep her reportorial promise to us from yesterday morning.

Here's how her post, "Fire and Nice," from 8:16 a.m. yesterday, began:

Good morning!

Oh, right, this is a chatty small-town blog. Howdy, Tina! She goes on:

There was a two-alarm fire this morning on Ridgewood Road near Mountain Avenue, and Maplewood Online was up later than I was, posting about it, saying everyone seemed to be O.K. By 1:20 a.m. firefighters had made sure no one was in the house, according to the folks at Breaking News Network. Has anyone heard anything more in the meantime?

Apparently not. No comments in the last 24 hours! Dang. Anyway, that doesn't mean Tina Kelley plans to shirk her reportorial responsibilities.

I’ll be calling the fire department to see what may have started it, and in the process, I’ll be confirming reports on Maplewood Online and Maplewoodian that three firefighters and three police officers are being cut from Maplewood’s budget this year.

Now that's journalism! And don't you know it -- by 6:25 last night, Kelley had confirmed and posted the news that had been revealed on the Maplewoodian blog two days earlier, about those three cops and firemen getting cut from the budget. Which, it should be noted, was reporting the contents of a press release from the Mayor of Maplewood.

Isn't Tina Kelley getting her City Hall press releases yet? Come on, Tina, press releases are the backbone of local journalism! Time to get get cracking.

Plus there was no followup on that fire, despite Kelley's promise. What started it? We'll never know.

A close look at "The Local" reminds us of the small-town weekly newspapers we read as a kid: police blotters, reports on public meetings, stories about the budget. Yesterday Kelley even posted an essay on the comforts of hearing the local train whistle, a piece that could have been published oh, say, 80 years ago. There's nothing here to suggest the backing of the nation's newspaper of record, or the involvement of an ace local reporter.

It's boring. There, we said it.

And the really sad thing is that it's not even providing a unique service to the residents of Maplewood. In addition to the Maplewoodian, there's a website known as "MaplewoodPatch" that's offering essentially the same coverage of the community, and competing directly with The Local for attention and advertising.

An interesting Bloomberg story this morning makes clear that this competition may not really be leading anywhere, either. Right now, all these blogs are fighting over the advertising of a tiny sliver of retail business. Bloomberg reports that a local bookstore in Maplewood got a NYT reporter covering a recent reading and the offer of a chance to blog on the website.

A Maplewood pizza operater tells that he has now been interviewed by every blog in town.

"Isn't that great?"says Dan Richer, the owner of Arturo's.

No, not really. How soon before the NYT ad sales force returns to request advertising from the retailers the website covers? And how soon before the walls between journalism and advertising collapse completely, the way they so often do at the hyperlocal level?

If this idea is going to work -- and we're really not sure it should -- Tina Kelley is going to have to get up earlier in the morning than Joe Strupp and the Patch kids, and get some scoops on her website. She can't promise fire followups she can't deliver, and she shouldn't be wasting so much space on ephemera like kids' pictures and a contest that's a pale imitation of the one in The New Yorker.

If the NYT wants to make its mark in Maplewood, it should do so the way it has for over a century in the rest of the world -- through its unique brand of sharp reporting, original ideas and stylish writing. So far, there hasn't been much sign of those elements on "The Local."

But on the bright side, there's never been better odds of getting your 9-year-old kid's painting published in the NYT. That's progress, right?


Anonymous said...

What a waste of talent to have a New York Times reporter looking around Maplewood for ways to scoop the other blogs.

Anonymous said...

You figure Tina Kelley's salary is at least $150K. How can they possibly make enough money on the site to pay for that? Another business blunder.

Anonymous said...

Why exactly did you remove your blog post "Barack Obama's "Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions," NYT Edition." ? I'm not sure it's responsible for journalists to remove their work from the internet. what kind of journalists are you exactly?

Anonymous said...

And for transparency:

Barack Obama's "Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions," NYT Edition.
Another interchange in the NYT's Friday interview with President Obama deserves note -- the one in which an unnamed NYT reporter asked him this reductive question:
Q. The first six weeks have given people a glimpse of your spending priorities. Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?

To which Obama answered, "The answer would be no."

It's sad to see reporters for the NYT wasting valuable time with the President pursuing efforts to label his policies with an outmoded term like "socialist." The word came up during the campaign by conservatives looking to smear the Democrat with a linguistic weapon that has no real meaning in the current political context.

It's clear that Obama was annoyed by it, and rightly so.

Listening to the audio excerpts of the NYT interview -- which conveniently don't include the original "socialist" question, probably so we won't know which of the four NYT reporters present asked it -- we can then hear a male reporter asking a followup:

"Is there anything wrong with saying yes?" an unidentified NYT reporter asked.

Obama's testy reply: "Let’s just take a look at what we’ve done. "

The NYT's Jeff Zeleny kept pursuing the label question, though, even after Obama's detailed deconstruction of his spending policies:

Q. Is there one word name for your philosophy? If you’re not a socialist, are you a liberal? Are you progressive? One word?

A. No, I’m not going to engage in that.

Shortly after he returned to the White House, Obama called the NYT to follow up.

“It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question,” Obama told NYT White House reporter Jeff Zeleny.

The NYT took the followup as an occasion to brag that the president called: on its Caucus blog yesterday afternoon at 5:41 p.m., the NYT posted news of the call under the headline, "Obama's Got Our Number."

Obama went on to implicate the policies of George W. Bush as part of what's now perceived by conservatives as a socialist spending approach, and his answer deftly took apart the theory.

But really, what did the NYT think it would accomplish by wasting valuable time pursuing questions about a political label? The country faces far more serious problems than the prospect that our president might fit the textbook definition of any given term -- socialist, liberal, or progressive.

Zeleny and his team should be ashamed of themselves for wasting so much time in a 35-minute interview with questions designed only to promote headlines, not news.

"Our journalism has never been more glorious."
--Jill Abramson, managing editor, The New York Times, January 7, 2009


Whoops! Thanks for pointing it out. We didn't intend to remove it. We'd taken it down to fix a couple of typos, and, well, apparently we forgot to re-post. It's up now -- just scroll down a little.

As for your question about what kind of journalists we are, we'll let our work here speak for itself, and appreciate your interest in what we do.

Thanks again for alerting us to the missing post.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nytpicker, be careful. They're reading you and you're getting to them. They're pissed.

Anonymous said...

I've just found your blog and I dig it. Unfortunately, efforts such as yours may soon put you out of business as a NYT critic . . . which is kind of a good thing!

(With any luck you'll be reincarnated as some other major media gadfly.)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if anybody will ever see this comment after that lengthy digression on Obama ... But if you had been reading the Millburn section of The Local, you'd know that last week it broke the only story of note broken by any of the zillion blogs covering Millburn-Maplewood-SOrange: the news that Trader Joe's is negotiating to come to town. Pulitzer prize material it's not, but in our little burg it's a big deal.

Anonymous said...

What did Tina Kelly win her Pulitzer for?

Anonymous said...

Think she wrote some of the Portraits of Grief after 9/11. Those won the Pulitzer for Public Service. So she shared, but it still counts.

Jonah said...

I am the bookstore owner discussed in your post. Neither Ms. Kelley nor the New York Times has approached us for advertising.