Tuesday, June 30, 2009

UPDATE: NYT Corrects Bittman Article And Recipe, To Address Botulism Risk. But What About The Video?

WEDNESDAY A.M. UPDATE: Mark Bittman's video recipe for flavor-infused oils is now appearing on the front page of the NYT website -- with none of the food-safety warnings that now accompany his recipe and article on the subject in the print edition and online.

This means that a reader who follows only the directions provided by Bittman in the video -- which includes his suggestion that the oils can last for "a month or two," and his statement in passing that "I'd put it in the refrigerator" -- could be at risk for botulism. The corrections attached to the article and recipe that appear in the print edition tell readers to refrigerate immediately, and to dispose of the oils after a week, for food safety reasons.

Is it just too expensive for Bittman and the NYT to film another "Minimalist" video that offers safety tips along with the recipe, and reduces the risk of a NYT reader contracting botulism? Keeping NYT readers healthy strikes us as a worthwhile business expense.


After The NYTPicker raised concerns on Monday about Mark Bittman's potentially dangerous recipe for infused oils, posted online last Friday -- noting the possibility that it could create a risk for botulism -- Bittman has finally added food-safety warnings to the article this afternoon, and a correction has been appended to the recipe.

But they've forgotten to fix the "Minimalist" video version! It's still up there online, inappropriately advising NYT website users that it's okay to keep those oils in the refrigator a month or two, and making no mention of cooking times or food-safety concerns.

Hurry up with the fix, guys. This is a food safety issue, not a spelling error.

The article last Friday ballyhooed the idea that it's easy to make flavor-infused oils at home. But Bittman made it seem a bit too easy. He neglected to mention the danger of botulism that's created if the oils aren't properly heated or refrigated, and if they aren't disposed of within the proper time.

FDA recommendations about infused oils have been in place for two decades, ever since three botulism cases followed an improper preparation of a garlic-infused oil, and chefs routinely mention the food-safety concerns when offering recipes.

But not Bittman. His recipe said it was okay to keep the an infused oil mixture in the refrigerator for "a month or so," and didn't even suggest any food-safety issues existed around the notion of making infused oils at home.

Here's the new paragraph, added today:

Food safety experts recommend that you do not leave flavored oils at room temperature for more than two hours; refrigerate them, and use them within a week.

Why do food-safety experts recommend that? Well, maybe expecting Bittman to use the B-word is a little too much.

Then there's this correction to the recipe, which was taken down from the website shortly after The NYTPicker contacted Bittman and Pete Wells, editor of the NYT's Dining section, on Sunday:

An updated recipe with the Minimalist column, about infused oils, corrects two errors that appeared in the recipe when it was published at nytimes.com on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The online recipe misstated the amount of time the oil should cook after it bubbles and the length of time it is safe to use after being refrigerated. The oil should be cooked five minutes, not “a minute or two,” and it should be kept in the refrigerator no more than a week, not “a month or so.”

UPDATE: Oh, wait. The video's still there, but with this note in the caption:

Safety note: bubble oil for five minutes. Keep oil refrigerated and use within one week.

Maybe we missed it, or maybe it wasn't there. Either way, it presumes that everyone reads the captions to the videos. Which they don't. Is that really how the NYT wants to address a safety issue in a video recipe? Seems a little lazy to us.

Monday, June 29, 2009

NYT Publishes Puff Piece On Lisa Falcone. Her Husband's Firm Owns 20 Percent Of NYT. Coincidence? Yeah, Right.

Get your vomit bags ready. In tomorrow's NYT Robin Pogrebin delivers a slobbering wet kiss to the ass of Lisa Falcone, whose husband's firm owns 20 percent of the NYT Company.

It's sad but not surprising to see the NYT abandon its standards in publishing a sub-par puff piece on the fromt page of tomorrow's Arts section about Lisa Maria Falcone, whose husband, Philip, runs Harbinger Capital, a private investment firm that helps pay the salaries of Pogrebin, her editors and everyone else involved in ensuring this sweet piece of publicity.

The hook is, one could (and the NYT will) argue, legitimate. Falcone and her husband just did a very good deed -- they've pledged $10 million to the city's latest urban jewel, The High Line elevated walkway on the far West Side.

Pogrebin seemed at a loss in finding the proper tone for her tricky assignment. At some moments she tried to appear hard-hitting, by suggesting that Lisa Falcone was reluctant to talk about her marriage for vague reasons; but then she revealed that it was only because the couple had been through "a difficult time" in the early to mid-1990s.

But those moments of pseudo-toughness gave way to the puffery that tends to be Pogrebin's default position, and certainly seemed fitting for a profile of the wife of a top NYT investor:

Otherwise she seemed surprisingly unguarded. She talks about the causes she cares about with the kind of wide-eyed idealism that makes you wonder how a New Yorker toughened by her share of adversity can seem so cheery. “They say people who have had a hard childhood are optimistic,” she said.

Ms. Falcone seems to have a quirky, independent streak. She collects crosses, large glittering examples of which she usually wears around her neck, and does her own hair and makeup. She pairs her couture clothing with thrift shop finds — at this interview, she wore a second-hand fur-lined sweater over a Lanvin dress.

Pogrebin goes on to "report" that Lisa Falcone wears socks with Hermes shoes, because she's "too busy for a pedicure." She details Falcone's impoverished childhood craving culture, but denied it because her soap opera-addicted mother "refused to sign the permission slips that came home for school art trips."

But those days are over. Falcone is on the board of the New York City Ballet, where Peter Martins tells Pogrebin she has brought "a breath of fresh air."

But skeptical reporter Pogrebin's not buying that. "To be sure, she writes, "City Ballet is interested in Ms. Falcone primarily for her money, and Ms. Falcone is presumably at least partly interested in causes like City Ballet for their cachet." Yes, presumably.

In what may be a first, the story has been posted online with a correction already attached -- before the print edition of the paper has even reached newsstands and doorsteps:

An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect age for Philip A. Falcone. He is 46, not 45.

Whoops! Never a good idea to get an owner's age wrong.


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

Sunday, June 28, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Is Mark Bittman's Recipe For Flavored Oils Also A Recipe For Botulism?

If you happened to stumble on Mark Bittman's recipe, article and video posted Friday about how to make flavor-infused oil from home -- and didn't heed his casual advice to stick it in the refrigerator before using it -- you may want to be aware of something he neglects to mention: unrefrigerated infused oils can cause botulism.

Yesterday -- within hours after The NYTPicker wrote to Bittman and Pete Wells, the NYT's Dining editor for comment on this story -- the recipe was quietly removed from the NYT website. The article itself makes no references at all to refrigeration ("let steep a bit, cool, and use," he writes), and remains posted. So does the video, although it's no longer displayed alongside the article. (It can still be found by searching the NYT's video section.) Neither Bittman or Wells responded to The NYTPicker's request for comment.

Bittman's article, recipe and video all failed to mention anywhere warnings by food-safety experts, chefs and the Food and Drug Administration, that unless properly heated during preparation and refrigerated afterwards, the addition of herbs like garlic and rosemary to olive oil can potentially lead to toxicity levels that cause botulism. Nor does it include a frequent suggestion (by thr FDA, among others) to add an anti-microbial agent as an extra precaution.

Most notably, the recipe's passing reference to refrigeration -- which didn't even make it into the article itself -- doesn't do justice to the fact that refrigeration is a necessary step in avoiding the botulism risk.

"I'd keep it refrigerated," Bittman tells viewers on his video, as though it's an optional step that has more to do with flavor than health.

To be fair, other recipes online also leave out these warnings, and this posting isn't meant to suggest that the widely-respected Bittman intends any health risk to his readers. But it's important to note that other chefs -- such as Alton Brown on the Food Network -- have brought up the potential hazards of homemade flavor-infused oils when offering recipes, and that numerous web postings address the food safety issues involved.

Botulism is a relatively rare but dangerous illness that causes paralysis in the face and other areas of the central nervous system -- and is caused by, among other things, contaminated foods that carry the toxic spores.

In 1989, after three botulism outbreaks caused by the presence of minced garlic in oil used to make garlic bread, the Food and Drug Administration required that all commercially-produced garlic-infused oils be prepared with an anti-microbial agent -- such as phosphoric acid. That news was reported on May 3, 1989 in a NYT article by food writer Marian Burros.

The FDA now recommends that homemade infused oils be refrigerated to prevent toxicity, and disposed of within ten days. Bittman's video suggests getting rid of the oils within "a month or two."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its information page about botulism, specifically offers this advice under the heading "How can botulism be prevented" among its frequently asked questions:

Oils infused with garlic or herbs should be refrigerated.

But Bittman doesn't address any food-safety or health concerns anywhere in his article, recipe or video. He makes no suggestion that users include an anti-microbial agent, or that the oil be discarded within ten days, for health reasons. His article doesn't even mention refrigeration as a health requirement; his recipe does include the direction to refrigerate, but without any discussion of the health-mandated reasons.

A University of Florida food-safety website puts the problem this way:

Garlic-in-oil provides an ideal environment for Clostridium botulinum, especially when the product has been stored at a temperature high enough for the bacteria to grow. When Clostridium botulinum grow in the contaminated garlic in oil, the deadly toxin can be released into the mixture. Once the bacteria start to grow, refrigerating the product slows down but does not stop the production of botulinum toxin.

Hmmm. Seems worth mentioning, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Sick Was Michael Jackson? Pam Belluck Investigates By Asking Two Cheesy Celebrity Biographers.

The headline was accurate enough: "Jackson's Health A Subject Of Confusion."

But not much else in Pam Belluck's report on Michael Jackson's medical condition prior to his death, now available on the NYT website, came from sources that would normally be viewed by anyone at the NYT as reliable.

Unless, of course, you consider -- as Belluck apparently does -- the authors of trashy celebrity bios to be reputable sources of medical information, or accurate reporters on private family matters.

Belluck's story -- portions of which were folded into the print edition wrapup today, but the entirety of which is now online -- quotes only two people (aside from a spokesman from the coroner's office) in its effort to uncover the mystery of Jackson's health: J. Randy Taraborrelli, the author of the 1991 "Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness," and Stacy Brown, who co-wrote "Michael Jackson: The Man Behind The Mask," with former Jackson publicist Bob Jones in 2005.

Here's what the NYT had to say about Taraborrelli's book, in a brief review in 1991 by Michael Anderson:

Perhaps the price of celebrity in modern times is the pruriently obsessive fan; luckily, most of them do not write books. J. Randy Taraborrelli, who gazed with horrified fascination at Diana Ross in his previous biography, "Call Her Miss Ross," now stares at Michael Jackson -- more precisely, at the entertainer's contentious and litigious family. The consequences of great wealth and fame on the clan from Gary, Ind., are detailed by Mr. Taraborrelli's pack-rat researches (greatly aided by a cornucopia of legal documents), but the Moonwalker himself seems to escape the author.

In the intervening years, Taraborrelli has turned his journalistic sights from Jackson to, among others, Frank Sinatra and the Kennedy wives.

Stacy Brown -- now a staff writer for the Scranton, Pa. Times-Tribune -- wrote her Jackson book after befriending Jermaine Jackson and spending vacations at Neverland Ranch. He recounts having spoken to Jackson only briefly; however, because of his close association with the family, he came to co-write the supposed tell-all account with Jones, who claims to have coined the phrase "King of Pop."

Brown and Jones both ended up testifying for the prosecution at Jackson's child-molestation trial in 2005, and their book is widely considered a Michael Jackson smear.

Belluck's story depends almost exclusively on her interviews with the two authors, and at times appears to attribute factual information about Jackson's condition to them:

Stacy Brown, co-author of the 2005 book, “Michael Jackson: the Man Behind the Mask,” said that the singer’s family had been very concerned recently about his use of painkillers, which had started up again a few months ago.

Mr. Brown, who said he continues to have close contact with several Jackson family members although he had not been close to others in the family since he testified at Mr. Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial, said the narcotic Demerol had “been one of the concerns for a long time.”

He said that Mr. Jackson was receiving “one injection per day. He always had a doctor give it to him.”

Mr. Brown said the doctors “were legitimate,” but, at the same time, “no one was ever in a position to say no” to Mr. Jackson.

Belluck's reference to Brown's testimony neglects to mention that Brown testified against Jackson.

Taraborrelli's quotes were less definitive, but no less unreliable -- with information based on personal speculation, not medical knowledge:

During the 2005 trial on child molestation charges, “I sat behind him in court every day for the entire trial,” Mr. Taraborrelli said, and “he had very serious back problems,” and was “obviously medicated to the point where I wasn’t even sure that he understood that he had been acquitted.”

The two men go on to "report" a several other "facts" about Jackson's health, unverified by Belluck and attributed to the authors as though they were close confidants of the family -- such as this reference to a supposed recent return by Jackson to addiction rehab:

Mr. Brown said that family members had “tried a number of different times” to get Mr. Jackson to quit the painkillers. Mr. Jackson had been in rehabilitation programs periodically, Mr. Brown said, most recently attending an outpatient program last year for “a couple of hours” a day. “It wasn’t what his family wanted for him,” he said, “which was a complete stay for six months.”

Or these assertions by the two men, neither of whom cited either their sources of information, or any first-hand observation of Jackson in recent years:

Mr. Taraborrelli said Mr. Jackson “was prone to having very serious panic attacks,” which on at least one occasion were believed to have caused him to miss a concert. “His heart would begin to beat and he had really a clinical panic attack that would put him in the hospital,” he said.

Mr. Brown said he had a longstanding eating problem with “seemingly no motivation to eat. And most things, by all accounts, seemed to repulse him anyway.”

He had become “very frail, totally, totally underweight,” Mr. Brown said.

It's sad to see the NYT, in its zeal to compete on a story of such intense interest, depend on the sorts of sources better suited to the tabloids that usually traffic in these sorts of uncorroborated accounts. We're not trying to be snobs here; Taraborrelli, and even Brown, have decent credentials as celebrity journalists. But neither has the stature -- or apparent first-hand knowledge -- to have their assertions about Jackson published with the weight of the NYT behind them.

Maybe that's why Belluck's story lives online, but somehow missed the cut for the print edition, The dubious reporting by Belluck -- the NYT's former New England bureau chief who now reports on science -- got tacked onto the end of Jennifer Steinhauer's lengthy page-one piece. It would have been better just to cut her interviews entirely, and leave that sort of reporting to the tabloids, where it belongs.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sonia Zjawinski, NYT's "Gadgetwise" Blogger, Likes To Take Your Photos Off Flickr And Hang Them In Her Living Room.

Sonia Zjawinski, a NYT blogger, has stirred up quite a controversy among photographers by endorsing on the NYT's "Gadgetwise" blog a practice that many consider theft.

In a post called "Flickr As An Interior Decorating Tool," Zjawinski has disclosed her habit of taking photos off Flickr pages and using them to decorate her home:

I sift through Flickr on a regular basis for images to use as visuals for my blog posts....I’ve gotten in the habit of printing faves out and framing them. If a user offers the original resolution for download, don’t let that go to waste. Download, print, frame!

Zjawinski does go on to acknowledge that there may be those who consider her approach to home design unorthodox, or even perhaps a violation of copyright law:

And if you’re wondering about copyright issues (after all, these aren’t my photos), the photos are being used by me for my own, private, noncommercial use. I’m not selling these things and not charging admission to my apartment, so I think I’m in the clear.

Obviously, photographers and others may feel quite differently about this, but it’s a thorny issue: If printing out an image on Flickr isn’t ok, what about Wi-Fi picture frames that stream images from Flickr and display them in your living room? What about Tivoing an episode of Lost and watching it later with friends?

The writer promises a followup post in which she'll interview lawyers about the implications of her approach, but it may be too late to calm the angry voices that have already surfaced on the web. Within hours of the appearance of Zjawinski's post at 6:31 p.m. last night, dozens of Twitterers expressed outrage at her apparent endorsement of artistic theft.

"Is this lady for real?" posted one angry photographer. "She has no concept of copyright/ownership. Thanks NYT."

According to a Linkedin profile, Zjawinski is a 2000 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. She was previously home market editor for Budget Living Magazine -- that may explain something -- and has writting for Wired Magazine and New York. She has been writing regular posts for the Gadgetwise blog since March of this year.

As an aside: the photograph of Zjawinski, at left, appeared without credit on the www.unplggd.com website, to which Zjawinski contributes. We presume she'll have no objection to our use of it. In the interest of full disclosure, The NYTPicker admits to the occasional use of photos and illustrations taken from websites without express permission, the practice Zjawinski endorses. We do our best to limit the use of such images, and as often as possible, post pictures provided by the NYT or other outlets for publicity purposes.

Maybe someone should ask Michele McNally -- the NYT's assistant managing editor in charge of photography -- what she thinks of Zjawinski's decorating techniques. She's this week's guest in the "Talk To The Newsroom" feature at nytimes.com. You can reach her at askthetimes@nytimes.com. We'd ask, but they don't like us much.

Monday, June 22, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: David Pogue, In Violation Of NYT Ethics Rules, Took Fee To Speak To Industry Trade Group Last Week.

The NYTPicker has learned that David Pogue, the NYT's hugely popular personal-technology columnist, was paid an undisclosed amount to speak to an industry trade group in California last Friday -- a arrangement that violated the same NYT rules that recently got op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman into trouble.

On Friday morning, Pogue was the keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Association's "CEO Summit" near Los Angeles -- a gathering of hundreds of top executives at the nation's leading technology companies. A spokesman for the CEA, Jason Oxman, confirmed to the NYTPicker that Pogue was paid for his speech, and reimbursed for his travel expenses from New York to California.

In doing so, Pogue violated the NYT ethics guidelines on public speaking that allow NYT staffers to accept fees "only from educational or other nonprofit groups for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus."

The Consumer Electronics Association, while technically a nonprofit organization, is an industry trade group whose stated mission is to "grow the consumer electronics industry," which Pogue covers. It's fully funded by its corporate members, and has its own lobbying division. In its 2007 tax return, the CEA reported spending $3.3 million on government lobbying and political expenditures to promote the consumer electronics industry.

In an email statement to The NYTPicker late Friday afternoon, Catherine Mathis, the NYT's senior vice president of corporate communications, acknowledged Pogue's error in judgement and implied that he had been reprimanded for his CEA appearance:

David Pogue is not a Times staff member, but that, as the Ethical Journalism policy says, freelancers are held to the extent possible to the same standards as staffers when they are on Times assignments. This speech was not a Times assignment, but Mr. Pogue has been reminded of the policy provisions barring acceptance of speaking fees or travel expenses from all but educational or other non-profit organizations that do not have lobbying or political activity as a major focus.

While it's true that Pogue isn't a NYT staff member, the NYT's ethical journalism policy in fact holds freelancers to the same standards as NYT staffers, whether on a "Times assignment" or not, as this clause makes clear:

Our audience applies exacting standards to all of our journalism. It does not normally distinguish between the work of staff members and that of outside freelancers. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to the Times Company's journalism, while not its employees, should accept the same ethical standards as staff members as a condition of their assignments for us. If they violate these standards, they should be denied further assignments.

Given that, would Pogue be expected to return the speaker's fee paid to him by the CEA? After it was recently disclosed that Thomas Friedman took a $75,000 fee for speaking to a California government lobbying group, the op-ed columnist promptly gave back the money. Friedman gave back the money. "It was my fault," Friedman said. "No excuses."

The NYTPicker asked Mathis if the NYT planned to ask Pogue to return the CEA speaking fee and travel reimbursement.

"We have no authority to do so." Mathis replied via email. "While we could deny him future assignments, we have no plans to do so."

Reached last night, Pogue defended his appearance at the CEA to The NYTPicker, though he acknowledged in an email that as a result of his Friday faux-pas, he has agreed to get NYT approval before accepting future speaking gigs.

Here is Pogue's statement, in full:

Well, the Times ethics book says you can't accept speaking fees unless it's for "educational or other nonprofit groups for which lobbying
and political activity are not a major focus."

The group for whom I spoke, the CEA, is indeed a nonprofit, educational organization. But is lobbying a "major focus?"

Less than 5 percent of its staff and resources has to do with lobbying (they have 3 lobbyists on staff among 150 employees). Meanwhile, 90 percent of the CEA's staff and budget are dedicated to research, education and, of course, the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show.

Nonetheless, I've agreed to run future speaking requests by my editors before accepting them.

Pogue didn't answer two questions asked by the NYTPicker: whether he planned to return the money he was paid to travel to and speak to the CEA -- as Friedman did -- and whether he he perceived an ethical problem in accepting money from an industry trade group that promotes the products he reviews.

It's worth noting that the Consumer Electronics Show to which Pogue refers is an annual event designed to promote new products and models. It isn't open to the public. Nor are most of the CEA's other events and activities. The "research" and "education" to which he refers exist to further the ends of the consumer electronics industry that Pogue covers as a journalist.

The thinly-veiled frustration in Mathis's comment about Pogue sheds light a fundamental problem posed by the columnist's poor judgement. The NYT can't afford to enforce its strict code of ethical conduct on Pogue, simply because of his enormous value to the NYT brand.

While not a member of the NYT staff, Pogue ranks among its most popular and valuable contributors; his reviews of new products routinely land on the NYT's top-ten most-emailed list, and his videos have grown immensely popular with readers. Last week, Pogue's rave review of the new iPhone landed him on the list yet again.

As the NYT's future becomes increasingly tied to the success of its website, Pogue's value to the paper continues to grow. Pogue is a personable, witty 46-year-old Yale graduate whose videos and commentary reflect the NYT's own changing persona, from a stodgy print product to an engaging, personality-driven multimedia enterprise. Even in areas of hard news coverage, the compelling character-driven videos by reporters like foreign correspondent C.J. Chivers have given the NYT a new way to demonstrate its dominance.

But while the NYT's relationship with Pogue has meant a massive increase in page views and publicity, it has also given Pogue unusual sway with the NYT and its rule book.

The NYT has long prided itself on a strict firewall between critics and the institutions whose products they review. For example, it would be unheard of for a NYT theater critic to accept a speaking fee from the The Broadway League, or for a NYT movie critic to take money from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for a speech -- or even to appear at events sponsored by those industry groups. It's difficult to imagine a freelance NYT critic doing so without suffering serious consequences, if not outright dismissal.

Pogue's main competition in the personal technology field, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, posts his own strict ethics policy on the All Things D website where he contributes. It says, in part:

I also don't accept trips, speaking fees, or product discounts from companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I don't serve as a consultant to any companies, or serve on any corporate boards or advisory boards. I do occasionally take a free t-shirt from these companies, but my wife hates it when I wear them, as she considers them ugly.

Pogue posts no such guidelines on his website, www.davidpogue.com. It does, however, offer quick access to the "Pogue-o-matic," the writer's handy online guide to product purchasing (with prices, reviews and Pogue's comments) that's also available on the NYT website.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Styles Editors Pose "Plus Size" Model Where They Think She Belongs: Right Near The Ice Cream.

ABOVE: Fashion designers and retailers are offering more options for overweight women such as the one pictured above, who -- like most plus-sized females -- enjoys spending time in the frozen food section at the local supermarket. (Photograph by Robert Wright for The New York Times)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brian Stelter Lets CNN's Jon Klein Talk Off The Record, Then Busts Him On Twitter. That's Not Cool.

In Brian Stelter's widely-circulated NYT piece this morning reporting criticisms of CNN's Iran coverage as weak, there's this quote from an unnamed person at CNN -- attributed, oddly, just to CNN, as though an institution can speak with one voice:

CNN said, “We share people’s expectations of CNN and have delivered far more coverage of the Iranian election and aftermath than any other network.”

Shortly after the story appeared online, Jay Rosen, a frequent Twitterer who teaches at NYU's journalism school, twittered the anonymous CNN quote. In response, Stelter revealed that he had spoken -- "off the record" -- with Jonathan Klein, who oversees the CNN news department as president of CNN/US, after the story appeared online.

Here's Stelter's tweet:

@jayrosen_nyu FYI, Jon Klein did not respond to me until after the #CNNfail story appeared online. He labeled his response off the record.

But if the quote wasn't from Klein -- and apparently it wasn't -- then what was Stelter tweeting about Klein's off-the-record comments on Twitter? It's our view that when a source asks to be kept off the record, that means it's wrong to identify him publicly -- not just in print, but in public forums of any kind. And that would include Twitter.

Stelter has 9,960 followers on Twitter. It may not measure up to the NYT's readership, but anything he tweets counts as public disclosure. He should know better than to bust an arrangement with a confidential source in front of thousands of people he doesn't know -- and to make disclosures on Twitter that he wouldn't in print. Stelter ought to respect the right of sources to communicate with him off the record without the expectation that they'll be busted on Twitter.

One Twitterer has suggested a "grey area" that would allow Stelter to report on having had an off-the-record conversation with Klein, while not divulging its contents. But we see no grey area about confidentiality, and the rules should be no less stringent on this point. It's not the intention of a confidential source to have his/her identity as a source revealed on Twitter, or anywhere else, even if not quoted. That's the rule-break to which our headline refers.

In any case, we have emailed Stelter for his comment/explanation, and will report it as soon as he responds.

UPDATE: Here are the comments from Stelter, with replies from The NYTPicker:

From Brian Stelter, 10:47 a.m.:

Your post is, as you put it, "not cool." I would never, ever disclose a source who demands anonymity. Why would any person jump to that conclusion?

The comment in the story comes from a CNN spokeswoman. If the comment had come from Mr. Klein, it would have said so.

On Twitter, I informed Jay Rosen that Mr. Klein had not commented because Mr. Rosen had asked about it hours ago. Avid followers of the #CNNfail story may have found it interesting that Mr. Klein declined to reply until after the story appeared.

May I suggest that there are, occasionally, reasons to wait publishing until the subject of the post responds to an e-mail?

From The NYTPicker, 11:21 a.m.:

Thanks for your comment. However, it doesn't address the point of our post.

Your tweet clearly identified Klein as someone you interviewed "off the record." Whether the quote in your story came from Klein isn't the point. Your disclosure on Twitter violated the off-the-record terms of the interview, and disclosed the identity of a news source who demanded anonymity.

From Brian Stelter, 11:37 a.m.:

Your premise is incorrect. I did not interview Mr. Klein. I asked him to talk to me; he declined to talk to me.

Most importantly, I never agreed to Mr. Klein's request for anonymity.

As you know, "off the record" is an agreement between two parties to preserve anonymity. Mr. Klein assumed anonymity without that agreement by labeling the e-mail "off the record."

Nonetheless, I respected his request to speak freely in an e-mail, and did not disclose his remarks on Twitter. I merely explained, to a reader who had asked, that he wouldn't talk to me.

To be clear, I did not claim to have interviewed Klein, on the record or off. My tweet said only that "Klein did not respond to me until after the #CNNfail story appeared online. He labeled his response off the record."

From The NYTPicker, 12:15 p.m.:

Stelter says that "off the record" involves an "agreement between two parties." That isn't the case in email.

For example: a New York Times reporter wrote us an email this morning to comment on the Stelter story. "This email is off the record and not for publication," the reporter wrote. It would not be legitimate for us to Twitter that "Reporter XXX from the NYT wrote to us off the record," on the basis that we did not agree to the terms he set forth in his email.

We admire Stelter's tenacity as a reporter, and his desire to hold Jon Klein accountable. However, we continue to believe that Klein was entitled to assume that his email to Stelter was off the record -- not only its contents, but the fact of its existence.

UPDATE: A previous version of this post made reference to Stelter's age. A reader raised the point that Stelter's age is irrelevant to this post. On reflection, we agree, and have removed the reference.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The NYT Takes "Daily Show" Critique To Heart, Begins Tweeting About Bodily Functions, As They Happen!

Beginning about nine hours ago, the NYT began a new kind of "today's news" coverage on Twitter -- the kind that offers the sort of immediate reporting alluded to in the "Daily Show" report Wednesday night on the NYT. We can only hope for more of this real-time updating of current events from the newspaper of record.

What Would Carrie Donovan, The NYT's Late, Great Style Editor, Have Thought Of Yesterday's "Trend" Story About Round Glasses?

"Circles are in."
--Eric Wilson, NYT, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Did Maureen Dowd Attack Obama's Conan Promo, Then Change Her Mind? The Case Of The Missing Pull Quote!

Readers of Maureen Dowd's NYT column this morning found a full-scale endorsement by Dowd of President Obama's recent leisure-time activities -- his Broadway date night, his golfing trips, even his video cameo for Conan O'Brien.

But strangely -- in the pull quote accompanying her column in the NYT print edition -- can be found these words critical of the President:

"We could do without the Conan promo."

Did Dowd change her mind about the President's Conan promo after an op-ed editor pulled that quote from her column? The published version of Dowd's column this morning contains no caveats at all about Obama. Her only reference to the Conan O'Brien plug --given by the President to NBC's Brian Williams last week -- was to list it among the "chatter" of complaints by others about Obama's behavior:

Given the serious times, the chatter goes, should Barack Obama be allowed to enjoy date night with Michelle in New York, sightseeing in Paris, golf outings in D.C., not to mention doing a promotion for Conan O’Brien and a video cameo for Stephen Colbert’s first comedy show from Iraq?

But of course, even the most casual reader of Dowd's column this morning could see she intended an endorsement of Obama's behavior, not a criticism.

Dowd calls Obama an "urbane, cultivated and curious president," and includes lines like "He is intellectually engaged with sculpting history" and "The trellis of hideous problems is a challenge tha lures him to be powerfully concentrated" -- well, you get the idea.

So what happened? Was this a slip by a lazy op-ed editor who didn't even read Dowd's piece, who just saw the word "Conan" and went from there? Or did Dowd's first draft include a criticism of the Conan promo that she later re-thought?

By way of background: pull quotes are used by editors to highlight a significant passage or theme in an article. On the NYT's op-ed page, pull quotes aren't always direct quotations; sometimes they summarize an overall point of view, or call attention to a specific element. For example, the pull quote on Thomas L. Friedman's column this morning -- "Witnessing the free and fair elections in Lebanon" -- correctly captures the essence of the column.

We've emailed Dowd about this odd contradiction between the pull quote and her column, and will let you know her response as soon as we hear.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Did NYT's Damon Darlin Inentionally Mislead Readers To Make A Point? Looks That Way.

It was a made-to-order story for a newspaper that wants web chatter about itself -- a NYT Sunday Business section potshot at the websites that cover Silicon Valley, premised on the notion that blogs print items they know aren't true, just to generate traffic and attention.

Technology editor Damon Darlin led off with the example of recent blog stories suggesting that Apple was considering a purchase of Twitter. First the story appeared on Gawker, Darlin noted -- then on TechCrunch. Both, Darlin contends, were published with a reckless disregard for the truth.

But if anyone's misrepresenting the truth here, it would appear to be Darlin himself.

Here's how Darlin represented the Gawker and TechCrunch scoops:

Neither story was true. Not that it mattered to the authors of the posts. They suspected the rumor was groundless when they wrote the items. TechCrunch noted, 133 words into its story, that, “The trouble is we’ve checked with other sources who claim to know nothing about any Apple negotiations.”

But they reported it anyway. “I don’t ever want to lose the rawness of blogging,” said Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch and the author of the post.

But the trouble is that Darlin, not TechCrunch, got it wrong -- and treats TechCrunch with the same sort of disregard for truth he accuses them of practicing.

Darlin's story tries to imply, through careful manipulation of language, that these blogs published their stories even though they doubted they were accurate.

With regard to Gawker, we get only Darlin's assertion that "they suspected the rumor was groundless" when the post went up. But there's no attribution for that statement. Darlin tells us only that Owen Thomas, who wrote the Gawker item and now works for NBC, "didn't want to comment on the record." Is that meant to imply that he talked off the record? Shouldn't an editor have pressed Darlin to clarify the source of information for his allegations, given how tough and specific they are?

Darlin goes on to say that TechCrunch didn't report its rumor disclaimer until 133 words into the story, a statement that appears intentionally misleading. If Darlin counted all the words, he'd know the TechCrunch post didn't report the rumor itself until 81 words into the story, with the disclaimer following in the immediate next sentence -- a disclaimer that went on for several sentences explaining the background, and the blog's motives for publishing a story it knew could well be untrue.

Here's what the May 5, 2009 TechCrunch post actually said, under the headline, "Twitter Mania: Google Got Shot Down, Apple Rumors Heat Up" -- and beginning in the third paragraph. The bold-faced text represents the caveats to the story, all of which makes clear that reporter Michael Arrington in no way wanted to represent the rumor as true.

Today, though, rumors popped up that Apple may be looking to buy Twitter. “Apple is in late stage negotiations to buy Twitter and is hoping to announce it at WWDC in June,” said a normally reliable source this evening, adding that the purchase price would be $700 million in cash. The trouble is we’ve checked with other sources who claim to know nothing about any Apple negotiations. If these discussions are happening, Twitter is keeping them very quiet indeed. We would have passed on reporting this rumor at all, but other press is now picking it up.

Twitter is strongly signaling that it doesn’t want to sell at any price right now. The founders took significant money off the table in the last round valuing Twitter at $250 million, we’ve heard, and are aligned with investors to see Twitter through to the end.

And frankly that’s probably the best thing for the Internet. I wrote in an earlier post that I’d like to see Twitter spread its wings a little longer and see what it can become. It’ll be hard to do that as a subsidiary of Google, Apple, or anyone else for that matter. If Twitter wants to stay independent that’s just fine with me.

But that didn't stop Darlin from hanging his thesis on Arrington's piece, which reads more like commentary on the Gawker rumor than the blaring of a scoop. If he'd really considered it a scoop, wouldn't Arrington at least have put his news in the first paragraph?

But that didn't keep Darlin from labelling it "truth-be-damned" journalism and likening the practice to the yellow journalism of the early 20th century, as practiced by William Randolph Hearst and immortalized in "Citizen Kane."

Darlin delights in casting Arrington as an arrogant lawyer who "has no journalism training." But is "training" a requirement in journalism? Darlin began his career as a journalist with no "training," either -- he got an American History degree from the University of Chicago.

Darlin might have also pointed out, for the sake of balance, that TechCrunch has accurately broken Silicon Valley scoops in the past, including Google's acquisition of YouTube. (TechCrunch labelled its original story on that as a "completely unsubstantiated rumor" in its first post, even though it turned out to be true -- down to the $1.6 billion purchase price.)

The reporter goes on to say that Arrington is "at ease, even high-minded, in explaining the decisions to print unverified rumors." One could just as easily describe the tone of Darlin's story as high-minded, however -- with its ongoing implication that newspapers never print anything that isn't later proved wrong. See past NYT editor's notes for details -- a quick search of the NYT index turns up dozens in recent years, clarifying inaccuracies, mistakes in reporting, etc.

We get Darlin's point. It's damaging to the journalism profession for blogs to recklessly print stories it knows aren't true, simply to get page views. And it's clear that Arrington (and, even more so, Gawker) operates from a speed-driven mentality that lends itself to mistakes.

But when a NYT reporter weighs in on the topic, the least we should expect is a display of the higher standards it supposedly represents. Darlin's shoot-from-the-hip story showed little of that, and went after Arrington in a reckless and inaccurate way. NYT readers deserve better.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

NYT LA Bureau Chief Jennifer Steinhauer Blocks NYTPicker As Twitter Follower! What Did We Do?

NYT Los Angeles bureau chief Jennifer Steinhauer has blocked The NYTPicker from following her on Twitter!

Steinhauer follows in the curious footsteps of NYT copy desk chief Patrick LaForge, who famously blocked the NYTPicker from following him on Twitter last month after first calling us "cowards."

LaForge (known to his 3,573 Twitter followers as "Palafo"), like Steinhauer, hasn't protected his updates -- which means that we can easily read his tweets anytime we please. The act of "blocking" on Twitter doesn't keep anyone from reading a Twitterer's updates, of course.

Honestly, we'd just been enjoying Steinhauer's tweets, and often found ourselves in sync with her sensibility, such as this endearingly neurotic post from Wednesday:

Read 1,000 words I wrote yesterday,edited 9 of them; manically checked Amazon rank;changed FB photo;ate 3 twizzlers.Quittin' time!

Or her latest update, posted just a few hours ago:

"Basil is the slutty prom queen of herbs that gets all the attention; more ought to be paid to that sweet girl next door, marjoram."

So why has the witty Steinhauer -- co-author of the new novel, "Beverly Hills Adjacent," and wife of NYT television reporter Edward Wyatt -- stopped us from following her? We're a little hurt, actually. Her remaining 117 followers include "Hospitality Shoppe," "Shorty Awards" and "1TCLF1ML0JZ4M2X."

Come on, surely we're no more menacing a follower than 1TCLF1ML0JZ4M2X!

Today's NYT Has Not One Local News Story. It's A Sad Day In The History Of A New York Newspaper.

"Your question is whether or not we would be interested in using the facsimile method of reproduction to make the New York Times available in other communities. The only answer I can give you at the present time is no."

--a memo from Arthur Hays Sulzberger, NYT's publisher, August 1, 1959

Fifty years later, the NYT has become exactly what the current publisher's grandfather wisely opposed: a national newspaper.

Today -- almost five decades to the day after Sulzberger wrote that memo blocking the national move -- the NYT did the unthinkable: it published a Sunday paper, with hundreds of pages of content at a first-time-ever $5 cover price, without a single local news story anywhere inside.

We believe that the shift to make the NYT a national newspaper -- begun in the early 1960s, and developed more fully under Sulzberger's son, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, in the 1980s and early 1990s -- has been the costliest mistake in the NYT's history, and the one that now threatens its very existence. As the NYT still chases down subscriptions for handfuls of readers in remote sections of the country, it has abandoned its core business -- the New York City market -- in ways that have cost the paper readers, revenue and respect.

And that mistake lies with those who inherited what authors Alex Jones and Susan Tifft labelled "The Trust" -- the control of the NYT that has been in the hands of the Sulzberger family for decades. Even though the dreamed-of millions in national advertising never quite materialized, Punch Sulzberger's notion of a national edition has become the paper's permanent policy, carried forward by his son Arthur into the twenty-first century. In doing so, father and son have led the NYT down a path towards its possible destruction. If the NYT fails to survive, it will be because this misguided strategy ignored the NYT's core mission as a local newspaper.

In 1992, Punch Sulzberger justified the NYT's limited, class-based approach to local coverage for a national audience, in a startlingly frank interview with media journalist Edwin Diamond:

"We're not New York's hometown newspaper. We're read on Park Avenue but not in Chinatown or the east Bronx....We should deal with the overall important urban stories that are of interest to Times readers wherever they live, Palo Alto or 82nd and Fifth."

It should be noted that 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue was the location of Sulzberger's apartment.

"Our journalism has never been more glorious," managing editor Jill Abramson boasted to readers in a "Talk To The Newsroom" feature this past January. But in reality, the NYT's abandonment of its mandate to cover New York City has left the paper with a warped identity of itself. Abramson, executive editor Bill Keller and the rest of the newsroom leadership see only what they want to see; their arrogance doesn't allow them to acknowledge the broad gaps in coverage created by a combination of massive budgets cuts and misguided decisions.

But readers know the difference, and realize that the NYT is no longer the newspaper of record for New York City. Its motto, emblazoned each day on the front page -- "All The News That's Fit To Print" -- sounds increasingly like a hollow promise from editors who have ceded local coverage to the competition, and who preside over a battered, weakened newspaper that ignores the city at its peril.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

With Unemployment At 9.4%, NYT's Alex Williams Writes Humor Piece About Career-Changers. Ewwww.

There's really not much we can add to the horror of Alex Williams's cover story in Styles tomorrow, "What's Your Backup Plan?" -- in which the NYT reporter, ridiculing the fact that so many Americans are talking about a "Plan B" when they lose their jobs, tries out three new careers. For laughs.

We could attack Williams for using his NYT connections to procure the jobs. We could ridicule Williams for his witless prose. But mostly, we want just to shake our head in amazement at Williams -- and Trip Gabriel, the editor who allowed this story into print -- for the insensitivity of turning a national unemployment crisis into fodder for comedy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's Official: NYT No Longer Offers Local News Section on Sundays. It's "Needlessly Duplicative," John Geddes Explains.

For decades, the NYT provided its local readers an entire Sunday section devoted to metropolitan news. Even after budget cuts last year, it continued to include several pages within the "A" section -- labelled "New York" -- for local coverage.

But as of two weeks ago -- just before raising its Sunday newsstand price to $5 -- the NYT stopped offering New Yorkers a Sunday local news section at all.

This afternoon, as part of this week's "Talk To The Newsroom" feature, managing editor John Geddes has conceded the point to two readers who complained of the absence of local news in the last two Sunday editions.

Geddes said the move coincided with the launch of the new "Metropolitan" section -- a news-free assortment of soft local features and columns that closes on Fridays, and arrives with the home-delivered NYT on Saturday mornings.

That, in Geddes's view, would make a Sunday local news section "needlessly duplicative."

Here's Geddes's full explanation:

It seemed to us that having a dedicated “New York” page in the A section and a section titled Metropolitan in the same day's paper was needlessly duplicative. So we’ve elected that when metropolitan-area news breaks on Saturday, we’ll put it in the A section, and as always, will offer any related, but perhaps less newsworthy, coverage on our web site.

Needlessly duplicative, or too expensive? Bear in mind that for decades, the NYT offered zoned local sections for New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, etc., as well as a stand-alone local news section. Even after the NYT abandoned a separate local-news section last year, it continued to include local news pages in the front news section on Sundays.

But with the launch of "Metropolitan" those pages have disappeared.

Geddes defends the NYT's Sunday local-news coverage by citing two pieces published in the last two weeks -- Michael Powell's examination of accidental police shootings, and a Daniel Wakin piece about Islam in New York City prisons.

But one of the readers who raises the issue, Glenn Richter of Manhattan, correctly labelled the "Metropolitan" section's stories as "set pieces" -- which they must be to get edited and printed before the weekend even begins. No matter how good they may be -- and so far, it has been a mixed bag at best -- they're no substitute for local news coverage.

It's sad to see Geddes try to spin the crisis that has caused the NYT to keep shrinking its local news hole. For the managing editor to call a local news section in the NYT "needlessly duplicative" is even sadder.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What Did The NYT Website Look Like 13 Years Ago? Nine? Six? A Few Minutes Ago? Let's Take A Look!

For your morning amusement, the above images capture what visitors to nytimes.com saw on November 12, 1996, only a year or two after the NYT launched its website, preceded by images from December 2, 2000 and February 15, 2003, and this morning.

How much is nytimes.com now worth? They must be dropping some serious cash on that website. We get the NYT home-delivered (natch) but we'd pay extra for online acess. We just wonder how they build an effective pay wall. They've got Google already distributing the content. And will the advertisers like it if they drop millions of page views in the process? Hope that's all figured out.

We like the monthly fee. It's what we're used to (Netflix etc) and it makes sense. Do it. Tell us what you need and we'll pay.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why Did NYT Bury Its Salacious Berlusconi Correction? You Won't Find It In The Corrections Column.

If a correction falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

At some point in the last few days, the NYT quietly appended a correction to its Friday front-page story by Rachel Donadio about prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's sexual escapades with 40 under-age women at his villa in Sardinia.

Well, it turns out some of those women weren't under-age after all. Whoops! Forty did sound like an awful lot.

But instead of correcting its mistake in the NYT's prominent page-two corrections column, the NYT slipped the correction onto the end of the online version. That way, only readers of the actual story (those who made it all the way to the end, that is) would hear what went wrong:

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of girls younger than 18 who were allegedly invited to a villa by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. Mr. Berlusconi is alleged to have invited about 40 women to the villa, but only some of them were allegedly younger than 18 at the time, not all of them.

Seems to us like a fix that warrants inclusion the the NYT's corrections column. The original piece did run on the front page.

The NYT's integrity guidelines clearly state the paper's policy on corrections:

Because our voice is loud and far-reaching, The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small....If a correction is warranted, fairness demands that it be published immediately.

Maybe we're not reading the word "published" right. Do all corrections get published in the print edition? Or do corrections now only run in the paper at the NYT's discretion? We're just curious how that works.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

NYT Reports That "The Taliban Could Not Be Reached For Comment." We Didn't Even Know The Taliban Had A Phone Number!

In Adam B. Ellick's dispatch a few hours ago from Kabul, the NYT correspondent reports the statements of British officials that a helicopter strike killed one of the Taliban's "most dangerous" leaders, Mullah Akhter Muhammad Mansoor, as he was riding his bicycle.

However, Ellick's story makes clear that these reports come from the British military, and could not be confirmed independently. Indeed, as any good NYT reporter should, Ellick explains exactly what efforts he made to confirm the account.

"The Taliban could not be reached for comment," Ellick notes.

But NYT readers should bear in mind that this story was posted online at 12:52 p.m. this afternoon.

This leaves The Taliban nearly 12 hours to check its messages and return Ellick's phone call before the deadline for the print edition.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Today's Dan Barry Column Sound Familiar? Maybe That's Because The Boston Globe Did It Ten Days Ago -- On Page One.

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.