Friday, July 31, 2009

Dan Barry's Flowery Front-Page Profile Of Homeless Group Leaves Out Leader's Conviction As Child Rapist -- Among Other Things.

Again this morning, the NYT's flowery ""This Land" columnist Dan Barry delivers a tone poem about American life, torn from the pages of local newspapers with a dash of his own special spin. This time, it's a story about a homeless enclave living under an abandoned highway overpass in Providence, Rhode Island -- and this one landed on page one.

Trouble is, they're not living under the overpass anymore. They moved on Wednesday, a story covered by the Providence local press -- as was the fact that the group's leader turned out to be a registered sex offender.

A quick Google search -- which Barry was far too busy noting the fact that "a tea kettle sings" to bother with -- reveals that Freitas was convicted of raping a child in the late 1970s and of sexual assault in 1985.

In March of 2008, Freitas turned himself in to Massachusetts authorities, after a failure to register landed him on that state's list of Ten Most Wanted Sex Offenders. Freitas was listed as a "Level 3" sex offender, which -- according to a March 21, 2008 account in the Attleboro, Mass. Sun Chronicle -- means he was "considered by the state to be the most likely to commit new sex crimes."

Barry's story reports only that Freitas "did prison time decades ago" and that he "became homeless for all the familiar, complicated reasons."

Barry, whose prose is as purple as the mountain's majesty he covers, apparently can't be troubled with conventional reporting techniques like Google and Nexis to flesh out his obervations of things like the glow of his subect's cigar. The result is a stale story that -- yet again -- repurposes local news for an unknowing national audience.

There has, in fact, been considerable coverage in Providence of "Camp Runamuck," a tent city set up by John Freitas and his girlfriend last spring. Much of it in the last week has focused on controversy surrounding Freitas's leadership role in the group -- a topic that gets a scant mention in Barry's piece.

According to an account that aired Tuesday on the local ABC news affiliate, Freitas was being accused by other residents of having left the camp and taking food and supplies with him. Another local station reported the news of Freitas's registered sex offender background.

But in some ways the greatest failing of Barry's story is that it doesn't report the most significant new about the camp -- which is that as of Wednesday, Camp Runamuck had moved from the location in Barry's piece to a different area entirely.

Barry's story only mentions in passing that state officials "recently stopped by to say nicely but firmly, that everyone would soon have to leave," but then reports that "for now" remains where he saw them "in late July," still under the overpass in Providence. He then adds this confusing passage that doesn't do anything to inform readers of the group's current circumstances:

Tomorrow, an advance party for the chief will leave to claim another spot across the river that turns out not to be on public property. Many in the camp will decide it’s time to move on anyway, to a spot under a bridge in East Providence. Camp Runamuck will begin its recession from sight and memory.

It's unclear when the "tomorrow" Barry refers to actually happened, but in fact, the group has already moved from the place where Barry's scene is set.

The Providence Journal reported a week ago on the group's intention to move from their spot under a bridge on the Providence River. (It was the Journal that first chronicled the story of the homeless group on a July 8 profile.) Yesterday's Journal reported on the fact that the group had fully relocated to East Providence, under a bridge.

But what difference does a real-time narrative make to Dan Barry? He's too busy with fuzzy atmospheric details like the fact that "the March winds blew" when Freitas set out to find this location in the first place -- a fact we're quite sure the NYT reporter confirmed with the National Weather Service.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Maureen Dowd Plagiarizes Self! Calls Sarah Palin "All Cage, No Bird." She Called Barack Obama That Last September.

What does it mean to be "all cage, no bird"? Maureen Dowd must know, because she's used the phrase twice in the last year -- both times in columns about the differences between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

From "Sarah Grabs The Convenience Grab bag From Hillary," July 29, 2009:

Sarah [Palin] should follow her own advice to Hillary [Clinton] and work harder to be capable. Until then, she's all cage, no bird.

From "Clash of the Titans," September 6, 2008, speaking in the mock voice of Hillary Clinton as she debates a mock Sarah Palin:

CLINTON: I do give you and John credit, Sarah, for following my blueprint to reveal Obama as all cage, no bird.

UPDATE: The proprietor of the InstaPutz blog points out that Dowd also used the "all cage, no bird" phrase in an "Editor's Letter" written in the pseudo-voice of John F. Kennedy Jr., called "Letter from The Hunk" and published in the NYT on August 13, 1997:

I know my last editor's letter, swiping at my loser cousins and showing off my incredibly defined torso, made waves. It was my first venture into serious commentary. And now everyone is gathering, like urchins at a hanging, to wonder if I'm all cage, no bird.

Dowd, who throws around titles and phrases the way the rest of us breathe, also referenced Palin this morning as "the tough embodiment of Diana the Huntress." Dowd never used that allusion before to describe Palin; the reference last appeared under Dowd's byline on December 4, 1994, in a quotation from a Newt Gingrich novel.

Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott appears to have been the first to attach it to Palin, nearly a year ago. In a blog post on September 28, 2008, Wolcott called Palin "Diana the Huntress in a red power suit."

EXCLUSIVE: Did Globe and Mail Columnist Steal From NYT Articles And Maureen Dowd Column? Looks That Way.

How did Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente put together her July 23 column on the dangers of cell phone use while driving? Well, it appears Wente may have helped herself to some uncredited reporting from the NYT, along with some structural and thematic ideas from Maureen Dowd.

Wente apparently lifted a quote from one NYT story, took reporting from two NYT stories, and seems to have borrowed her theme and approach from a recent Dowd column on the topic -- and stirred them into a column with no credit to the NYT for any of those elements, under her own byline.

The Globe and Mail is Canada's largest national daily newspaper, based in Toronto, and Wente has been a columnist there since 1999, according to Wikipedia. Wente's Wikipedia entry also describes her as a conservative who has written frequently about bringing an end to the monarchy in Canada.

It's standard for newspaper reporters -- and columnists -- to cite sources for all facts in their work. Wente's apparent failure to attribute the reporting in her column to the NYT reflects a violation of a basic journalism tenet. To quote the NYT's own Guidelines on Integrity:

When we use facts gathered by any other organization, we attribute them. This policy applies to material from newspapers, magazines, books and broadcasts, as well as news agencies like The Associated Press (for example, "the Senator told The Associated Press").

Wente's column borrows heavily from the NYT's coverage of the dangers both cell phone and driving and, more recently, texting -- and with virtually no credit given to the NYT for providing her source material.

For example: in the fourth paragraph of Wente's column, she uses a quote from Dr. David Strayer of the University of Utah, a psychologist who has studied the dangers of cell phone use while driving. This is how Wente referenced Strayer's research:

“It's not that your hands aren't on the wheel,” says cognitive psychologist David Strayer. “It's that your mind is not on the road.” For years, he's been putting people in simulated driving situations to find out what happens when they're distracted. He's found that talking on a cellphone increases the chance of having an accident by about four times. That's about the same risk level as driving drunk.

But that quote from Dr. Strayer appears to have been taken directly from a January 19, 2009 "Well" column by NYT reporter Tara Parker-Pope:

“It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel,” said David Strayer, director of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah and a leading researcher on cellphone safety. “It’s that your mind is not on the road.”

Wente's description of Strayer's research -- in particular, his use of simulation experiments -- also appears to come in part from Parker-Pope's piece, where she describes them in some detail. Wente also drew information about Strayer for her column from information in Matt Richtel's outstanding page-one piece on July 19 about the dangers of texting and driving:

In a windowless room at the University of Utah, Professor Strayer has spent a decade studying driver distraction....Mr. Strayer’s research, showing that multitasking drivers are four times as likely to crash as people who are focused on driving, matches the findings of two studies, in Canada and in Australia, of drivers on actual roads.

Later in her column, Wente also cited the research of John Ratey of Harvard University, again repeating -- without attribution -- reporting on Ratey's work that appeared in Richtel's July 19 article, as well as in Dowd's column on July 22. From Wente's column:

We're too addicted. We're hopelessly dependent on our gadgets. We thrive on self-induced attention deficit disorder. Every time we phone or thumb or text or Twitter, we get what Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey calls a dopamine squirt.

From Richtel's article:

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and a specialist on the science of attention, explained that when people use digital devices, they get a quick burst of adrenaline, “a dopamine squirt.” Without it, people grow bored with simpler activities like driving.

Dowd also referenced the Ratey research in her column, but attributed the reporting to Richtel:

As John Ratey, the Harvard professor of psychiatry who specializes in the science of attention, told The Times’s Matt Richtel for his chilling series, “Driven to Distraction,” using digital devices gives you “a dopamine squirt.”

The similarities to Dowd's column don't end with the Ratey reference. Indeed, Wente's column bears significant similarities to Dowd's column -- which ran a day earlier in the NYT in several respects. Dowd led her column with the recollection of using a cell phone and creating a dangerous driving situation, as did Wente's the next morning. Dowd constructed her lede around the idea that her cell phone use while driving was prompted by her relationship with her mother; Wente made a similar reference to her mother in her column the next day.

Dowd concluded her column by noting how unlikely it was that people would change their ways because of the dangers involved. Wente made the same point at the end of her column.

Dowd's conclusion:

Left, literally, to our own devices, we spiral out of our dealers know, we'll never disconnect.

Wente's ending:

The trouble is that the bandwidth available to us is infinite, but the bandwith of our brains is not.

Wente did not respond to an email yesterday from The NYTPicker seeking comment on the use of NYT reporting in her column. John Stackhouse, editor in chief of the Globe and Mail, also did not respond to an email requesting comment.

It should be noted that Wente's column did make a passing attribution to the NYT. She mentioned the recent disclosure of statistics about fatalities among cellphone-using drivers. "According to the New York Times," Wente wrote, "the research was depressed."

But that citation only calls attention to Wente's apparent failure to attribute the information in the rest of her column to the NYT.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman Complains: NYT Won't Get Me Comments Moderator For Weekends!

This morning, NYT op-ed columnist Paul Krugman offered his own plaintive whine about his employer's financial troubles: the NYT can't seem to afford a comments moderater for the weekends.

This tragic budgetary circumstance has forced the Nobel Prize-winning economist to have to go through all those crazy blog comments he gets himself!

Under the headline "Housekeeping Note," Krugman lodged his complaint on his "Conscience of a Liberal" blog at 9:11 a.m. today:

Comments here are moderated; the Times doesn’t have anyone to moderate them on weekends, and I can only do so much myself. And it appears that recent posts have generated an amazing number of comments — there were around 1200 in the queue when I logged in this morning, relatively few of them obscene or threatening, as far as I can tell.

So if you’re wondering why your comment hasn’t appeared yet, that’s the explanation.

We've emailed the NYT to see if something is being done to help Krugman out of his overload.

Come on, guys. Krugman delivers you more publicity with one column than the rest of the paper combined! Get the poor guy a comments moderator, so he can get back to the important work of telling Barack Obama what to do.

Friday, July 24, 2009

NYT Hypocrisy: After Supressing Rohde Story, Paper Tries To Crack Privacy Of Family Of Soldier Kidnapped By Taliban.

Four days after the military's release of his name and a Taliban video, the NYT has this morning joined the media coverage of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier kidnapped three weeks ago by the Taliban.

That's the same terrorist group whose kidnapping of NYT reporter David Rohde prompted the paper to engineer a seven-month media blackout of the abduction, including supression of three videos of Rohde sent by the Taliban to the West.

Bergdahl's name had been kept out of the news media ever since his capture on July 3. In its first story on the kidnapping, the NYT disclosed that it had told military officials in advance of publication which details it planned to report, and gotten its approval. It also said that it would "withhold publishing the name if reporters learned it," at the military's request.

But on July 19 -- after the Taliban released a 28-minute video of Bergdahl in which he mentioned his name and hometown of Hailey, Idaho -- most news organizations published the soldier's name. The NYT included wire stories about Bergdahl and the video on its website, but didn't publish his name in the newspaper until this morning.

A statement from Bergdahl's family on July 19 included a request to the news media "for your continued acceptance of our need for privacy in this difficult situation." That request wasn't honored by newspapers and cable networks that swarmed Hailey, a town known for its celebrity residents including Bruce Willis.

The NYT resisted the Bergdahl story for a few days, perhaps acknowledging the irony that it had gone to such lengths to keep its own case quiet. News of the Rohde videos has surfaced only since his release, and their existence has yet to be confirmed or acknowledged by the NYT. NYT executive editor Bill Keller has steadfastly refused to provide any specific information to journalists about the NYT's efforts to secure Rohde's release.

Today's story from Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, by William Yardley, delves directly into the plight of the Bergdahl family, and the biographical background of the kidnapping victim. It described the soldier this way, in a paragraph with no source attributions for any of its information:

Raised with a sister in a family of modest means, Mr. Bergdahl loved bicycles, disliked cars, loved motorcycles, danced ballet, knew his way around a rifle, served espressos, dropped out of high school, earned his G.E.D., read widely, biked the California coast, fished for salmon in Alaska and sailed the Atlantic. He pursued life and with good manners. People took to him.

Yardley's story also engages in speculation about the circumstances of Bergdahl's kidnapping, something the NYT has steadfastly refused to do in the Rohde case, even after the fact. It even went so far as to reference anonymous conjecture about whether his adventurous personality may have played a role in his capture:

Some people here worry that what Sheriff Femling called the soldier’s “adventurous spirit” could have played a role in his capture. The intense focus on what may have happened has led many people here to try to protect Private Bergdahl and his family, which has refused to be interviewed.

All this, of course, comes in marked contrast to the NYT's handling of the Rohde kidnapping. When media outlets learned of the reporter's capture, they were told by NYT officials that any release of information -- or even disclosure of the kidnapping itself -- could endanger his safety.

Media reports of internal differences of opinion, including a reported strong push by a NYT Pakistan reporter, Carlotta Gall, to go public with the Rohde story, have not been confirmed by the NYT.

“I feel we should write about every kidnapping equally,” Gall told NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt in a column published July 5, two days after the NYT didn't disclose Bergdahl's name in print.

Manohla Dargis Weakens Her Argument Against Cliched Writing By Writing Cliches.

"That tap-tap-tapping sound you hear is another nail being driven into the coffin of the romantic comedy."

--from Dargis's July 24 review of Robert Luketic's "The Ugly Truth."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NYT Crossword Editor Will Shortz Bans Use Of Words "Urine" Or "Rectal" In Puzzles. What A Pissy Asshole.

From this week's "Talk to The Times" web Q&A with crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz:

It's true that the word URINE has never appeared in a New York Times crossword — or any other crossword I'm aware of. Margaret Farrar, The Times's first crossword editor (1942-69), followed the philosophy of "good news only," not allowing unpleasant and impolite language, and this rule still holds today. As Merl Reagle, crossword constructor extraordinaire, explained in "Wordplay": "They're sitting there relaxing ... and here comes RECTAL? I don't think so."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

That's Not The Way It Is: In Cronkite Appraisal, Alessandra Stanley Gets Several Facts Wrong. Again.

Television critic Alessandra Stanley's reign of error returned this morning with three key mistakes in her appraisal of Walter Cronkite.

These three errors put Stanley back on pace for a double-digit year -- perhaps not the record-breaker we'd predicted back in February, when Stanley seemed headed for a 60-correction year, but nevertheless an impressive achievement for a reporter whose primary job is to watch television.

In Stanley's arts section essay appraising Cronkite's career, Stanley records three whoppers in quick succession:

When he took over from Douglas Edwards in 1962, Mr. Cronkite would announce the day’s events, and then, as anchors do now, turn to correspondents in the field. Those reporters — and in the early 1960s the CBS A-team included Mike Wallace, Howard K. Smith and Morley Safer — often read their reports sitting at desks in front of curtains in out-of-town studios, as stiff and unsmiling as hostages in a ransom tape.

In fact, Howard K. Smith left CBS News in a huff in 1961 to become a correspondent at ABC, nearly a full year before Cronkite took over as the anchor of the CBS broadcast.

Viewers mostly associate him with calamity, but he liked to align himself with good news, shedding his famed neutrality to express boyish enthusiasm for what he called, somewhat quaintly, “the conquest of space.” (His first words when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, were “Oh, boy.”)

In fact, Cronkite famously uttered the words "Oh boy!" when the lunar module touched down on the moon's surface, not when Amstrong walked on the moon.

But he didn’t turn into “Uncle Walter” overnight, and his last name didn’t become synonymous with television news until well into the 1970s. For many years “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC had higher ratings and more pizzazz; CBS caught up only after Chet Huntley retired in 1970.

In fact, Cronkite's ratings surpassed "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" in 1967, and the Cronkite newscast remained number-one until his retirement in 1981.

[UPDATE: The NYT has appended a correction to Stanley's column, noting three other errors The NYTPicker missed! That brings the total number of errors to six:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to a news organization for which Walter Cronkite worked. At the time, it was called United Press, not United Press International. The earlier version also misstated the date of the first moon landing; it was July 20, 1969, not July 26. And it misspelled Telstar.]

Other statements, while not outright errors, don't measure up as an accurate appraisal.

For one thing, Stanley's description of Cronkite as "closer to homely than handsome" strikes us as an inept description of the man whose windswept mane of white hair, clipped moustache, crinkly eyes and engaging smile made him appealing to millions.

At another point, Stanley says, "He made history just by rising from that desk to check the wires." But in virtually all of the truly historic moments in Cronkite's early career, including the Kennedy assassination report to which she refers, Cronkite was handed wire copy at his desk. A small mistake, perhaps, but still indicative of the kind of carelessness that pervades Stanley's work.

It's sad to see the career of so iconic a figure in American history get such sloppy treatment at the hands of a critic who had weeks to prepare for this moment. But in much the way America came to count on Cronkite for the facts, NYT readers have come to count on Alesssandra Stanley for the careless mistakes that continue to dominate her career.

Friday, July 17, 2009

NYT Hypocrisy: Freelancer Gets Editor's Note For Lifting The Word "Nuzzled," While Maureen Dowd Gets Correction For Plagiarism.

"The Times does not allow writers to replicate language without attribution."

Those words appear in a NYT Editor's Note this morning, holding a freelance writer accountable for an "unwitting" lift from another writer's email in last Sunday's NYT Magazine cover story on whales.

But those words apply equally to NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, who replicated language from a friend's email -- which turned out to be plagiarized -- without attribution in her May 13 column. Yet her clear violation of that NYT policy has continued to go unaddressed by the NYT.

The NYT's double-standard in protecting Dowd on recent charges of plagiarism were never clearer than in this morning's Editor's Note -- putting freelance writer Charles Siebert out to dry for appropriating a handful of descriptive words from a source's email in his 7,498-word account of the way whales may be communicating with humans. Sunday Magazine cover story on whales.

Siebert -- a successful author who has written several cover stories for the NYT Magazine, with particular emphasis on animals -- claims his mistake was "unwitting." Dowd called hers "inadvertant." Why does Dowd's explanation take her off the hook, while Siebert gets punished with an extensive editor's note?

Two months after lifting the contents on an entire email from a friend and putting it in her May 17 column -- learning later that the passage had been plagiarized from blogger Josh Marshall -- Dowd has never explained those events to readers, or had them addressed in any form other than a brief, benign next-day correction. Since then, Dowd and NYT officials have repeatedly ignored requests from The NYTPicker for comment on whether the paper conducted any internal investigation into Dowd's actions, to determine the truth of her flimsy account.

In Siebert's Sunday magazine cover story last week -- an emotionally wrenching, beautifully done report on the way whales may communicate with humans -- the NYT Magazine contributing writer recounted, in his two final paragraphs, an incident in December 2005 involving the rescue of a humpback whale.

In that passage, Siebert made clear from the start that he wasn't an eyewitness to the event. "As Beto spoke," he wrote in transition to his final anecdote, "I thought of another bit of interspecies cooperation involving humpbacks that I recently read about."

What follows is an eight-sentence summary of the incident, drawn from multiple sources including a December 14, 2005 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, and -- according to today's Editor's Note -- "an email mesage that circulated widely after the incident." The NYT gives no further information about the email's author, or how it circulated.

The NYT goes on to say that some of the language in Siebert's account "was identical to descriptions of the rescue" from the email. (Curiously, the Editor's Note can only be found in the print edition; it isn't online, either in the "Corrections" section of the website, or appended to Siebert's article.)

It reads, in part:

Specifically, the lines that the whale swam "in joyous circles" after it was freed and "nudged" the divers gently, "as if in thanks"; that the divers thought it was "the most beautiful experience they ever had"; and that one diver said he would "never be the same" appeared in the email message , which was sent to The Times's writer, Charles Siebert, in the course of his reporting. Mr. Siebert read several accounts if the episode, including on published in thr San Francisco Chronicle in December 2005 on which he based his retelling."

A close look at Siebert's article does, indeed, show similarities between his account and the one published in the Chronicle, which no doubt closely resembles the email recounting the same events. Here is Siebert's version:

A female humpback was spotted in December 2005 east of the Farallon Islands, just off the coast of San Francisco. She was entangled in a web of crab-trap lines, hundreds of yards of nylon rope that had become wrapped around her mouth, torso and tail, the weight of the traps causing her to struggle to stay afloat. A rescue team arrived within a few hours and decided that the only way to save her was to dive in and cut her loose.

For an hour they cut at the lines and rope with curved knives, all the while trying to steer clear of a tail they knew could kill them with one swipe. When the whale was finally freed, the divers said, she swam around them for a time in what appeared to be joyous circles. She then came back and visited with each one of them, nudging them all gently, as if in thanks. The divers said it was the most beautiful experience they ever had. As for the diver who cut free the rope that was entangled in the whale’s mouth, her huge eye was following him the entire time, and he said that he will never be the same.

And here are excerpts from the Chronicle's account:

It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing that it was free and that we had helped it," James Moskito, one of the rescue divers, said Tuesday. "It stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun."

Team members realized the only way to save the endangered leviathan was to dive into the water and cut the ropes.....

Moskito and three other divers spent about an hour cutting the ropes with a special curved knife. The whale floated passively in the water the whole time, he said, giving off a strange kind of vibration.

"When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me," Moskito said. "It was an epic moment of my life."

When the whale realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. Moskito said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.

"It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that's happy to see you,'' Moskito said. "I never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience."

From reading the Chronicle story, it appears clear that most of the descriptions cited by the NYT were, essentially, repetitions of facts from the incident: the recuers used curved knives, the whale swam in circles, and it nuzzled each diver in what appeared to be a gesture of thanks.

Without access to the email, readers can't determine the exact nature of Siebert's supposed lifting of language. But using the Chronicle story as a secondary reference, it appears that the use of the words "joyous," "as if in thanks" and "most beautiful experience they ever had" represent the sum total of Siebert's sin -- words that already bear a strong similarity to the Chronicle story.

Did the email writer observe the incident first hand, or do his own massaging of the Chronicle version? The NYT doesn't say.

We're not condoning Siebert's actions in passing off the language of another writer as his own. Siebert explains that he "unwittingly incorporated" the phrasing from the email, but that doesn't make it any less a violation of the rules.

Nor does Dowd's explanation -- that she was lifting the contents of an email she believed written by a friend, and not plagiarized from a blogger -- excuse what is clearly a violation of the same NYT rule that resulted in Siebert's Editor's Note today.

That's a double standard that severely undercuts the credibility of the NYT.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Don't Send Jim Roberts, The NYT's Digital News Editor, An Email Or A Tweet: "He Prefers To Be Contacted By Mail."

Got a story idea? Don't send an email to Jim Roberts, the NYT's digital news editor and the man in charge of the NYT's website. Don't try to tweet him, either.

If you need to get in touch, Roberts would really prefer it if you dropped off a letter in the mailbox. Maybe, if you're really lucky, he'll even write you back!

This information comes to us via Richard Laermer, an observant publicist who spotted and then tweeted on the irony of the listing from Cision's "Premium MediaSource" guide -- a resource used to list contact information for editors and reporters at major media institutions. Robert's page instructs potential contacts this way:

Roberts is the Digital News Editor and oversees the Web newsroom. He prefers to be contacted by mail.

Now, we have nothing against mail. Frankly, there's nothing we enjoy more than an envelope from Grandma in our mailbox, decorated with smiley-face stickers and the latest Cole Porter stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.

But when we've got an urgent tip to pass along to a to NYT editor -- a breaking news story for the NYT website, for example -- it's awfully inconvenient for us to root around in the kitchen drawer for a stamp, envelope, and pen, and make our way to the mailbox.

Next time we've got a scoop, we may just be forced to move that plant in the window and go meet with Bob Woodward instead.

Friday, July 10, 2009

PUNDIT GONE WILD! David Brooks, In Crazed MSNBC Rant, Claims Unnamed Republican Senator "Had His Hand On My Inner Thigh" At Dinner Party.

David Brooks, the NYT op-ed columnist, has just made the stunning claim that a Republican senator once "had his hand on my inner thigh" for the duration of a Washington dinner party.

On MSNBC a little while ago with NYT reporter John Harwood and MSNBC anchor Norah O'Donnell to discuss his recent column on "dignity," Brooks felt compelled to disclose this tawdry bit of personal history, followed by a mind-bogglingly weird rant from Brooks about politicians as emotional freaks. It's an amazing 1:53 of television. The transcript is below:

BROOKS: You know, all three of us spend a lot of time covering politicians and I don’t know about you guys, but in my view, they’re all emotional freaks of one sort or another. They’re guaranteed to invade your personal space, touch you. I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ehh, get me out of here. HARWOOD: What? BROOKS: I can only imagine what happens to you guys. O’DONNELL: Sorry, who was that?

BROOKS: I’m not telling you, I’m not telling you. But so, a lot of them spend so much time needing people’s love and yet they are shooting upwards their whole life, they’re not that great in normal human relationships. And so, they’re like freaks, they don’t know how to, they’re lonely. They reach out. I’ve spoken to a lot of young women who are Senate staffers and they’ll have these middle age guys who are sort of in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Emotionally needy, they don’t know how to do it and sort of like these St. Bernards drooling everywhere. And you find a lot of this happens in mid-life and among very powerful people who are extremely lonely.

O’DONNELL: Can I ask one other question David? Do you think, what about female or women politicians? Are they dignified and are there examples of when they have not? Or does it tend to be the men who less dignified?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think that’s mostly a matter of genetics. I do think that…I do think there’s loneliness.

O’DONNELL: That was just a softball, David, and you really hit it very well.

BROOKS: Yeah, I wish I could think of sort of St. Bernards, sloppy women who are licking their aides, but but no, I can’t think of any.

HARWOOD: I’m not going there.

O’DONNELL: Did you have a couple drinks at lunch, David? I mean, this is clearly--

BROOKS: No, you’ve hit me…I’m trying not to be too dignified and stuffy.

O’DONNELL: Well, David Brooks as always, thank you very much. That was a lot of fun. You may not have gotten best column of the week, but you got best appearance of the week, certainly.

* * *

NOTE: The first person to post an observation of the Brooks interview on MSNBC appears to be a young man named Adam Sorensen, who immediately tweeted his reaction to the Brooks appearance, shortly after 2:00 p.m. today:

David Brooks just now on MSNBC: most pols "lonely... drooling... freaks." Norah O'Donnell: "Have a few drinks before lunch David?"

Brian Stelter, TV Reporter, Is Now Shilling For HBO On Twitter -- Re-Tweeting, Without Comment, A Corporate Ad For "Entourage."

This post just appeared an hour or so ago on the Twitter feed of NYT television reporter Brian Stelter:

RT @twxcorp -- The boys are back in town! Catch vinny chase + crew in the entourage season premiere, 10:30pm sun on HBO.

Why, exactly, is a NYT reporter re-tweeting, word-for-word, an advertisement from the Time Warner twitter feed? The link in the Time Warner tweet takes readers not to a NYT review or article, but to the HBO "Entourage" website. With no comment or context from Stelter, the tweet serves only to spread advertising for the product of a company he's paid to cover to his 10,787 followers.

We asked Stelter for a comment. His reply included a long list of his tweets that promoted other television shows, which we've cut because they weren't -- like this one -- re-tweets of corporate announcements.

Here's Stelter's relevant comment:

Because I write about television in the newspaper, my Twitter followers can expect that I'll be including references to television shows. I do not believe that a reference to a television show indicates an endorsement.

I found the Time Warner tweet notable for its form (a media conglomerate's Twitter feed exclaiming "The boys are back in town!") and for its function (linking to HBO's site). As an interesting example of Twitter marketing and as a reminder to viewers about the show's premiere, I retweeted it.

In addition, it is my impression that Twitter users understand that a re-tweet is not an endorsement. One of my colleagues, Patrick Laforge [sic], includes the following text in the bio section of his Twitter page: "I tweet and retweet links from all over. A link is not an endorsement." In light of your inquiry, I'll consider adding the same text to my page.

Perhaps most importantly, I did not include my own endorsement in the tweet. Even though I have screened the first two episodes of the new season, I did not offer an opinion about them. Perhaps if I had, then it would have qualified as an "endorsement" under New York Times guidelines.

We agree that a Twitter mention of a television show doesn't automatically constitute an endorsement.

But Stelter's tweet wasn't an objective mention of "Entourage," or the analysis of its marketing strategy he suggests it was meant to be. It was, pure and simple, a re-tweet of a corporate advertisement, without comment. It served as nothing more than a re-distribution of that ad to an additional group of readers -- the 10,757 followers of Brian Stelter.

The Perils Of Anonymity: Or, Why We Can't Have Lunch With Jennifer Preston Right Now. (Or Ever.)

Yesterday morning, in the spirit of good journalism, we emailed NYT Social Media Editor Jennifer Preston to follow up on our recent posts about her disappearance from Twitter.

We would have emailed Preston earlier, but it took us a day or so to find her email address; NYT reporters and editors often assign themselves obscure email addresses, presumably to avoid inboxes filled with unsolicited mail. Rest assured Preston's email address is not, but instead an odd combination of letters from her first and last name. We got it, though!

We got an email back from Preston right away, and she couldn't have been friendlier.

"Call me at 212 556 XXXX -- would love to chat," Preston wrote us at 9:13 a.m. "I'll be there in about 20 minutes. Or, do you have a number for me to call you?"

Well, yes, we have a number. But as Preston and the rest of our readers know, we're an anonymous website. Giving out our phone number (or, for that matter, chatting on the phone) wouldn't do much to preserve our anonymity.

And so, in keeping with the pleasant spirit of Preston's email, we wrote back:

alas, we seem to be afflicted with a debilitating case of laryngitis :( no telling when we're going to be cured. any chance you'd be willing to g-chat?

Soon afterwards, we sent Preston a G-chat invitation. We didn't hear back all morning. She wants to talk on the phone, and who can blame her? So do we. There's nothing we'd like more than to pick up the phone and have a nice, long gabfest with the NYT's Social Media Editor about her plans, her hopes, her dreams. We love yakking!

So finally, at 1:16 p.m. yesterday afternoon, we wrote Preston again:

Are you only willing to answer questions on the phone? We'd love to chat, too -- there's lots of ways to do that these days! Gchat is one. Or if it's wasier you could just email answers to the questions we asked, much like the comment you gave to Mashable. :)
Thanks, hope to hear from you.
The NYTPicker

No word from Preston until last night, at 7:22 p.m., when she wrote:

C'mon, give me a buzz. Here's my cell phone number: 917 XXX XXXX. am sure that I wouldn't recognize your voice. Or, would I?
What is this, with this anonymous thing, anyway....I mean, where's the transparency? Social media is big into transparency. Not very social....your way.
I love Gchat. and Facebook chat, too.
Don't be afraid. Call me. Jennifer

We had to chuckle at her reference to "transparency." The NYT is legendarily opaque. It often fails to respond to reporter inquiries (we're still waiting to hear back from chief spokeswoman Catherine Mathis about the NYT's internal inquiry on the Maureen Dowd plagiarism case). And many of its reporters and editors, including Preston, still cling to email addresses that purposely make them hard to reach.

But we didn't want to engage in a debate; we wanted an interview. So at 9:12 this morning, we wrote back to Jennifer to take her up on her self-professed G-chat love:

re your "anonymous" question, here's a post where we addressed that a few months ago.

glad to hear you love gchat. let's do it. this morning would be great for us, sooner the better! looking forward....


Less than a half-hour later, at 9:36 a.m., Preston wrote us back:

am not doing a gchat unless you let me buy you lunch -- not interested in excuses about anonymous. i have written hundreds of tough stories about people, places and things -- always with my byline...told in the fairest way I could.
how about you?

c'mom it would be fun...coming out and all....could be that you saw light on importance of being social...important step in your development as a journalist (and okay, as a human being.)

So now G-chat was off the table, and instead the Social Media Editor was offering us a chance to unburden ourselves and grow as a human being!

No, thanks. All we wanted was an interview.

This isn't the first time a NYT editor has taken a tough stance with us about our anonymity, of course. A couple of weeks ago, when we were reporting our item about David Pogue's speech to the Consumer Electronics Association's CEO Summit, we emailed assistant managing editor Craig Whitney for comment. We won't reprint his response, but suffice to say it was a tad snippy.

Fortunately for us, Catherine Mathis has been unfailingly courteous whenever we contact her for comment on a story. Sometimes she ignores questions she doesn't want to answer (hey, so do we!) but she treats us as the legitimate news operation we always strive to be. We like the way she writes "Dear NYTPicker" at the top of her emails, like that's our first name -- you know, NYTPicker Brown or something.

So what's up with the anonymous thing, anyway? We get that a lot, and we're just self-absorbed enough to think you're still wondering. We've tried to explain it before but it never quite seems to get through.

Look, it would be great for us to attach our real names to this eight-month-old enterprise. We think it's been pretty damn good so far, and we wouldn't mind getting some personal praise and ego stroking for our efforts. It must be obvious to NYTPicker readers by now that we're not making any money. Also, we've lost several stories as a result of our position; news sources (not just NYT editors) have refused to respond to email questions from an anonymous blog, and we can't really blame them. We're sitting on a huge, explosive story right now about the NYT that we can't confirm because of our invisibility cloak. It's a pain.

But here's the thing: if you knew who we were, it would become about us, not about the information and substance that we hope makes NYTPicker a valuable resource. You'd be calculating our biases, our backgrounds, and our experience as contributing factors in our coverage. And we'd be restricted, too, from writing about people who we might possibly know, and who would consider our coverage a personal affront. Yes, the writers of NYTPicker include those whose lives and careers intersect with the NYT -- though not necessarily in the ways you might think.

The NYT itself recently addressed the anonymity issue in a fascinating "Opinionator" blog post by Eric Etheridge that noted the noble tradition of anonymous writing going back to the Federalist Papers. It weighed the pros and cons carefully, and made for compelling reading.

We're asking readers of The NYTPicker to accept our way of doing business as the price for what we produce. We'd like to think we're performing a public service -- let's face it, there's no one else out there to tell you that the anagram of "New York Times" is "Write, Monkeys," even as we expose David Pogue's conflicts of interest and examine Maureen Dowd's plagiarism. We're going to keep at this and obsessively report on the NYT without fear or favor, for as long as we can afford it. We hope you'll forgive our anonymity, and embrace our effort. We love the NYT just as much as Preston, and someday we'd love to take her to lunch and toast its greatness with some tasty Bellinis.

Meanwhile, let's do G-chat.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Did NYT Social Media Editor Jennifer Preston Make Summer Intern Remove His Revealing Tweet?

What happened to Michael Szeto's tweet about his meeting yesterday with NYT Social Media Editor Jennifer Preston? Did she make him take it down?

That would be yet more ant-social behavior from the NYT's social media guru!

You may recall that in yesterday's post about Preston's odd disappearance from Twitter, we reported that NYT intern Michael Szeto, who writes for the Brooklyn edition of the Local, reported on a meeting he'd had at NYT HQ yesterday with Preston; his boss, Andy Newman; The Local's New Jersey editor, Tina Kelley, and blog designer Jeremy Zilar.

Szeto's endearing tweet reported that he had just emerged from a "social media meeting" with that powerhouse team.

But at some point between our posting and this morning, the item has mysteriously disappeared from Szeto's twitter feed -- as though the meeting never happened!

What's going on with Jennifer Preston, or as Twitter followers like to call her, @NYT_JenPreston? Why did she disappear so suddenly and so completely from the social media network that she one day hopes to conquer? Why would she make a poor, lowly intern feel as though he must censor a perfectly innocent tweet about his heady experiences at the NYT?

We won't know the answers until Preston decides to return to Twitter and rejoin her network of 9,025 followers -- the ones who so excitedly heralded her ascendance to the most powerful new media job in journalism.

Hurry back, @NYT_JenPreston! We miss you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How Did Those Manipulated Photos Get Into The NYT Magazine? Readers Deserve A Better Answer Than An Angry Editor's Note.

So the NYT has replaced Edgar Martins's photoshopped images from last Sunday's NYT Magazine with a tough, no-nonsense editor's note:

A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on entitled "Ruins of the Second Gilded Age" showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, "creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation."

A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from

But as tough as that sounds, in typical NYT fashion it blames an unnamed, outside perpetrator for this horrible deed, and does nothing to explain how a team of top-notch photo editors could have missed the manipulations discovered today by a blog commenter in Minnesota.

The NYT -- which proclaimed that the photos were created "without digital manipulation" in the essay's intro last Sunday -- now owes its readers a thorough deconstruction of how such a flagrant violation of NYT rules could take place in full view of Kathy Ryan, the NYT Magazine's photo editor, and Michele McNally, the NYT's assistant managing editor for photography. It's impossible to imagine that the nine-page photo essay escaped the scrutiny of all those charged with the task of examining photos for possible manipulation.

On two recent occasions, McNally has addressed the subject of photo manipulation -- and both times she has categorically stated that the NYT has adequate procedures in place to spot photoshopped images before they appear in the paper.

But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Just to refresh everyone's memory, here are McNally's two statements on the subject. The first comes from the NYT's "Talk To The Newsroom" feature on July 21, 2006; the second came only last month, on June 18.

From July 21, 2006:

We have a very definitive policy regarding manipulation. For news pictures it is unacceptable. Our ethics guidelines make this very clear. For feature sections we sometimes combine photography with illustration. They are clearly labeled as illustration.

Our production department prepares images for reproduction. They are able to detect anything out of line and if they do, we will not run it. If the cause is murky, we will ask for the raw file. We do allow basic contrast/tonal adjustments as well as some sharpening and noise reduction. Our photographers have been taught these basic photoshop techniques and are well-versed in their use.

From June 18, 2009:

There are many layers of scrutiny that an image goes through before we run it. Each desk picture editor reviews the images, they then can be looked at by the Page One picture editor. If there is something awry we will contact the photographer or agency for a raw file if it can be obtained. The picture editor will open the file in Photoshop and enlarge questionable areas, histograms will be checked. Even then if it passes through the desk, the picture goes through art production, and in preparation for reproduction, they do find discrepancies. If they believe the picture has been over produced they will notify us. On occasion I have requested raw files because I thought the image was overworked only to discover I was wrong.

This time, McNally would have discovered she was right. She now owes it to NYT readers to come forward and explain just how such a massive screwup could have happened, despite all the supposed checkpoints and safeguards firmly in place.

Is The NYT's New Social Media Editor Anti-Social? Jennifer Preston Hasn't Posted On Twitter For A Month!

After a few days of chatting up her 9,000-plus new Twitter followers back in early June, Jennifer Preston, the NYT's much-ballyhooed new Social Media Editor, has become, well, downright anti-social.

At 1:13 p.m. on May 26 -- the day the NYT announced her new position, a first in American journalism -- Preston activated her dormant Twitter account with this enticing post:

Hi, I'm the NYT's new social media editor. More details later. How should @nytimes be using Twitter?

There followed for several days a dialogue between Preston and various Twitterers with suggestions about hash marks, tweet dumping and interface between Twitter and other NYT functions like Times People. Preston appeared to relish her new role as the NYT's First Tweety, and Twitterers showed no signs of slowing their stream of ideas.

And then, on June 9...silence. Tweets addressed to @NYT_JenPreston went unreturned. Had she gone on vacation so soon after starting her new assignment? And for a full month? Or had Preston been somehow swallowed up by the very Internet she'd been assigned to conquer?

Well, we know Preston's at work today. We learned this from the Twitter of NYT summer intern Michael Szeto, whose feed often includes charming mentions of his brushes with in-house celebrities like Jennifer 8. Lee ("Chatting with @jenny8lee at her cubicle. She's very nice") and highlights of his visits to HQ ("Sweetest office so far: managing editor jill abramson").

Only an hour ago, Szeto reported to his Twitter followers that he had just emerged from a "social media meeting" at the NYT with Andy Newman of the Brooklyn "Local" blog where Szeto works, Tina Kelley of its New Jersey counterpart, blog designer Jeremy Zilar -- and NYT@JenPreston herself!

So we assume it's only a matter of time before NYT_JenPreston returns to Twitter and reminds her 9,049 followers that being a Social Media Editor isn't just a job, it's a way of life.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Signs NYT Is Broke: No Letters In NYT Book Review, Article Skimmer Doesn't Work, Customer Care Center Shut Down....

It turns out yesterday's warning to reporters to cut back on text messaging was just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the NYT organization, evidence abounds that the institution is rapidly running out of money.

[July 9 UPDATE: Article Skimmer is back! Thanks to the NYT for putting a few of its remaining bucks on one of its most innovative new formats. We're also getting reports that the Customer Care Center is now working. We can't seem to access it. Any chance the amazing J.D. Biersdorfer would make a house call?]

Exhibit A:

This week, for the first time in recent memory, the letters column in the NYT Book Review -- where authors attacking their critics had become a blood-sport tradition -- was dropped from the July 5 edition.

In A 20-page edition with only 1-1/2 pages of paid advertising sprinkled through its pages, the NYT apparently dropped the weekly feature to make room for reviews. No regular readers could remember a previous instance of the letters feature being dropped -- it's a hugely popular part of the section that allows writers to attack their critics for sins of omission, myopia and stupidity, and for those authors to then defend themselves in what amounts to a debate.

Fun stuff for the schadenfreude crowd, who cringe at the painfully inappropriate lengths writers will go to defend their honor. We want the letters back, but will we get them? NYT Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus and NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis didn't respond to requests for comment. [UPDATE: Mathis emailed that "the July 4 issue (like Labor Day, and some other big holidays) is pretty tight on space, and they didn't have room for letters in it." (Note -- last year's NYT Book Review published on July 6, 2008, did publish letters.) Mathis said the letters will return next weekend.]

Exhibit B: Remember the Article Skimmer? It is a much-ballyhooed (including by us) new way to consume the NYT online, organized by sections for easy scanning of headlines and summaries. On June 18, designer Andre Behrens announced a Article Skimmer version 3.0, which offered improved navigation, arrow keys and other improvements.

But within a couple of weeks, the Article Skimmer hit the skids. At some point in the last week, it became inaccessible via two major web browsers, Safari and Firefox. Whatever its current failings -- Behrens didn't respond to a request for comment from The NYTPicker -- its shutdown and problems haven't been acknowledged on the NYT's "First Look" blog that typically keeps readers informed of new developments.

Exhibit C: Home delivery subscriber like us? Then perhaps you're familiar with something called the "Customer Care Center," normally reachable through a single click from the home page. It takes you to a page where subscribers can arrange to suspend or resume delivery, change their subscription, donate vacation papers to charity, etc. In other words, it gave home-delivery customers the option -- now an industry standard -- to manage their subscriptions from their computers.

That's broke, too. For weeks, a click on the "Customer Care" button on the front page of the NYT's website takes you to the web address, where you'll be met by this message:

The specified URL cannot be found.

That's been there since at least the beginning of June. Presumably they've called the repairman by now.

Exhibit D: Got the new iPhone 3.0 update? Have you downloaded the new NYT app for 3.0? Then you've discovered that it's worse than before. Now, you no longer get a special tab that takes you to Styles stories, or Food & Dining. In fact, those sections' stories don't even seem to fit in the new "streamlined" options available to readers of the NYT on the iPhone.

Just another something to complain about. Last night we came upon this Twitter post from a once-loyal reader called ClaudiusRex:

GRRR. STUPID NYT iPhone update. Removed Food & Dining, the only section I read religiously. Now not sure theres a point to using the reader.

We know just how she feels. We'd text our friends at the NYT to get some answers, but we already know they can't really afford to text us back.

Friday, July 3, 2009

NYT Gets Advance U.S. Military Approval Before Reporting On Taliban Kidnapping Of U.S. Soldier.

In the wake of the David Rohde news blackout, the NYT has quietly disclosed that it gave the U.S. military advance approval of its story this morning by Richard A. Oppel Jr., reporting on the kidnapping of an American soldier by the Taliban.

The NYT also reports that it has promised the military it will not report the soldier's name even if they learn it, to protect his safety. The military did not disclose the kidnapped soldier's identity to reporters.

Oppel writes, in his story's fifth paragraph, that the NYT contacted the U.S. military about the specifics in its story, to make sure it wouldn't create any further danger to the kidnapped soldier. His story makes clear that the consultation took place prior to publication of the story, to get the military's advance approval.

This appears to be a new procedure adopted by the NYT in the wake of its successful efforts to keep the kidnapping of NYT reporter David Rohde secret. In that case, the NYT supressed the news of Rohde's kidnapping and persuaded other news organizations to do the same, citing concerns that reporting his kidnapping might jeopardize his release.

Here is how Oppel disclosed in his story (first posted yesterday afternoon on the NYT website) that the NYT asked for and got U.S. military approval before publishing Oppel's account of the possible kidnapping:

Military officials contacted by The New York Times said they did not believe writing about the kidnapping would increase the danger to the soldier, including any of the details published in this article. At the military’s request, The Times agreed that it would withhold publishing the soldier’s name if reporters learned it. The Times and other news organizations withheld news of the kidnapping of one of its reporters, David Rohde, and two Afghan colleagues, out of concern that publicity in that case would endanger them.

Oppel's story goes on to suggest that the military is unaware of any ransom or other demands from the Taliban kidnappers.

The Washington Post's story on the kidnapping repeats the military's desire to keep the reporter's identity secret. But it makes no mention of getting military assurances before reporting the story, nor does it indicate any promise not to report the soldier's name if the paper learns his identity. The Los Angeles Times story also did not suggest that the paper sought military approval prior to publishing its account of the kidnapping.

The seven-month David Rohde news blackout has become a contentious issue among media analysts who have debated whether the NYT properly kept his kidnapping news a secret. A story in Editor & Publisher yesterday indicated that the NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt may publish a piece critical of the NYT's handling of the story this Sunday.

Contacted by The NYTPicker, NYT chief spokeswoman Catherine Mathis made this statement via email:

It has always been the policy of The New York Times and of most other news organizations to agree to military authorities' requests to withhold the names of military personnel in situations of danger, or until notification of next of kin.

However, Mathis didn't respond to our questions regarding the military's prior approval of details in Oppel's story prior to publication. Susan Chira, the NYT's foreign editor, has not replied to a request for comment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Photo Caption Of The Day....

"Karl Malden, left, and his partner, played by Richard Hatch, gathered information in 'The Streets of San Francisco.'"
---obituary of Karl Malden, 7/1/2009