Dan Barry's "This Land" column about a French bakery in New Hampshire this morning was as stale as, well, a ten-day-old baguette.
Barry's column spotlighted a conflict in Colebrook, New Hampshire, over the possibility that the town would lose "Le Rendez-Vous," an institution that sold pastries, cookies and baguettes in this tiny town near the Canadian border. It seems the U.S. Embassy in Paris had threatened not to renew the owner's business visa, prompting a local campaign to help.
But the conflict had been resolved almost two weeks ago -- as readers of The Boston Globe know, from the front-page, 1,046-word story it published on May 22, which then ran on the NYT News Service wire and appeared in newspapers around the country.
That didn't stop Barry from barrelling ahead with his own 1,178-word story, which added his usual dash of dizzying, overwrought imagery. (He describes one of the owners baking bread "in silent solitude," and heightens the tension by reporting that their supply of flour was "dwindling like hourglass sand.")
But what was the point? Reporter Sarah Schweitzer of the Globe had done a perfectly good feature story that addressed every point in Barry's piece ten days later. With the added benefit of beating Barry to the scoop.
Barry often does stories previously covered by others; he doesn't deny it or apologize for it. He explained his methodology and thinking in a "Talk To The Newsroom" feature last February:
I scan newspapers from around the country through this wonderful series of tubes called the Internet. With a click I can be reading a small newspaper in Nebraska, or Montana, or Mississippi. A colleague of mine, Cate Doty, and I will, in effect, browse the papers of the country, looking for patterns, looking for small moments that could prove to be epiphanic, or illuminating — or just say something about this country of ours....
One of the ways I find out about things going on around the country is by reading newspapers, especially the smaller newspapers. The Times doesn’t have a national police scanner in the center of the newsroom, telling us, for example, that a bank has been robbed in Carleton, Neb., or that the descendant of a murderer has resurrected a folk ballad about the case in Winston-Salem, N.C.....
But the NYT does have the dubious distinction of owning the Boston Globe, and of sending its stories on the NYT News Service wire to its hundreds of clients around the country. We first found Schweitzer's story in the Seattle Times.
With Barry using up an increasingly large percentage of the NYT's limited news budget, maybe his editors ought to push harder for original stories -- or at least, stories not already widely available through that wonderful series of tubes called the Internet, or on the front page of the Boston Globe.