Thursday, October 29, 2009

Coincidence? 1) NYT Wins National Design Award. 2) Bill Keller Shows Up. 3) NYT Does Story On National Design Awards.

The prestigious National Design Awards were handed out last Thursday night at a gala dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street -- an event the NYT has chosen to cover a week later with a breezy account in the Home section by Joyce Wadler.


Weren't the awards announced last April, making the dinner itself just a pro forma distribution of the prizes? And isn't a week an absurd amount of time to wait to cover an awards ceremony in a daily newspaper?

Well, the explanation appears to lie in what wasn't reported -- that for the first time, the NYT itself won one of the highly-coveted prizes. And that to introduce the winner at the dinner was none other than executive editor Bill Keller, Wadler's boss.

In the previous nine years the awards have been handed out, the NYT has either skipped coverage of the event entirely, or mentioned the awards only in passing. But bear in mind -- in the previous nine years, the NYT wasn't a winner.

"We are, in fact, the Technicolor Lady," Keller reportedly cracked from the podium, when introducing the winners from the NYT's graphics department.

That clever quote, of course, did not appear in Wadler's story. Nor did the fact of the NYT's win. Nor did Keller earn inclusion in Wadler's list of "heavy hitters" at the event, which included Charlie Rose, Chuck Close, and Eileen Fisher.

Nor were Keller and the NYT winners included anywhere in the slide show from the event posted on the NYT website this morning -- which, by the way, includes a lovely, newsy photo of the white-tuxedoed waiters at the event.


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

Former "Critical Shopper" Columnist Mike Albo Tells NYTPicker That NYT Standards Department Fired Him Via Email. Is That Standard?

Mike Albo, the "Critical Shopper" columnist fired by the NYT last week for taking a Jamaica junket paid for by JetBlue and Thrillist, has told The NYTPicker that "no face to face discussion took place" with NYT editors before his dismissal.

"The decision came from the NYT Standards department on Friday, October 23 in the form of a letter sent to me by email," Albo said. "No face to face discussion took place prior between any NYT editors and myself about the episode."

Albo, who described himself as "not a true, regular travel writer (freelance or contributing) for the NYT," said he was "taken back a tad" by the NYT's decision.

"The letter also cited that a trip sponsor, H&M, was a direct conflict given my duties reporting on retail and consumer products," Albo said. "H&M’s presence at this trip was a water bottle in the gift bag. I left it in the hotel room."

Here's Albo's blow-by-blow of how it went down -- some of it, anyway:

The reporter for DailyFinance contacted me and the Times about his story, on 10/20. My editor, and then the Standards department of the NYT emailed me soon after that day. I sent them the Thrillist JetMystery questionnaire I filled out out before going on the trip in which I made clear to the organizers of the Thrillist trip that I had no intentions to cover it for the NYT.

In this questionnaire, when asked what publication/media outlet I represent, I listed a few magazines I would consider pitching, promising nothing up front. They also requested in the same questionnaire a few words on what my angle would be, and I wrote: “I am interested in seeing how brands can appeal to targeted demographics, and how this kind of effort can supplant blanket advertising.”

That, apparently, was not the correct answer.

When asked about his future plans, Albo told us:

I will miss writing for the Times. The editors there are fantastic, as you can imagine. But, moving on, I am really looking forward to finding new outlets to discuss our strange commercial culture. I love writing about how things are sold to us, and how products and brands try to work their way into our lives in intimate ways. And that is really what fascinated me about that trip to Jamaica. It certainly wasn’t the country, which is a terrifying place for gays and lesbians. I don’t know exactly what I am going to do for money right now, but I am performing with my comedy outift, Unitard, in November.
More from Albo on his post-NYT plans:

I am working on another novel (which is by strange coincidence about a freelance writer who barely makes money and always feels compromised)...I’m working on turning The Underminer (my second book) into a TV show....But most exciting is...I'm shopping around a show about two kooky freelance fashion writers who contribute to a big newspaper and get into all kinds of crazy trouble. (that last one is a joke. Sort of.)

EARLIER: David Pogue Wins A Free Trip To Disney World -- And Immunity From NYT Freelance Policy. Why Not Give Mike Albo A Break, Too? October 22, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Coincidence? NYT Publishes Paean To Sony Movie Execs Who Just Made A NYT "Modern Love" Movie Deal!

First of all, as everyone knows, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn played a couple at each others' throats -- not a man and a woman who happily complement each other's skills in perfect harmony.

But even if reporter Tim Arango didn't write the ridiculous headline on his Sunday Business puff piece today, "Sony's Version Of Tracy And Hepburn," he deserves ridicule for delivering a poorly-reported, ass-licking paean to the partners who run Sony Pictures.

Tim O'Brien -- the Sunday Business editor who presided over the Amy Wallace wet kiss to controversial dog trainer Cesar Millan two weeks ago -- is fast earning a reputation as the NYT editor to pitch for those who want to place a puff piece in the newspaper of record.

Today's cover story purports to show how Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, the partners who run Sony Picture Entertainment (the 2,076-word piece never even bothers to mention their actual titles) balance their responsibilities and approaches in leadership that has led to the studio's success.

But in fact, Arango makes no real case for Sony's success or for their collaborative skills. Beyond that, the story doesn't meet the minimum standards for balance in reporting, and reads like an effort to get someone a screenplay deal.

And maybe it was: only last Monday, Variety reported that Columbia Pictures -- under the supervision of Pascal and Lynton -- just made a "first-look" deal with the NYT to produce a movie based on its "Modern Love" columns. Sony Pictures Television has already issued a check to the NYT to develop a TV series for HBO off the column.

Shouldn't those deals have been mentioned somewhere in the piece?

Arango -- who only quotes five people in his story aside from Lynton and Pascal -- didn't appear to interview a single person in Hollywood whose financial well-being isn't at least partly dependent on their relationship with the duo.

He quotes two Sony subordinates --Matt Tolmach and Jeff Blake -- saying favorable things about their bosses; producer Brian Grazer, whose "Da Vinci Code" was paid for by Lynton and Pascal; and Bryan Lourd, a CAA agent whose clients are frequently employed by them.

"You never see any fissures between them," employee Jeff Blake states boldly of his bosses.

In other words, there's not a single quote, either on or off the record, in the story not appearing to curry favor with the pair, who control salaries, budgets and employment for every bold name in the piece. In an industry where it's not difficult to find back-biting critics to go off the record with their complaints, it's a stunning imbalance.

Was there really no one Arango could find, even anonymously, to say something vaguely critical of these two seemingly wondrous Hollywood executives?

Beyond that, Arango has to stretch the facts to represent Sony as a success story. He notes that under their leadership, Sony had its most successful year in 2006. Well, this article is appearing in 2009!

Oh wait. To be fair, in the story's 47th paragraph, Arango notes that the studio's operating income is $305 million in the current fiscal year -- down from $339 million in 2004, the year they took over Sony.

That profit decline comes despite an increase in ticket prices in that five-year period, and the supposed string of hits they've produced in 2009, including the excorable film, "The Ugly Truth." Was that Katherine Heigl crapfest seriously a hit that these two can be proud of?

And we're not even going to mention that Arango -- who devotes considerable space to Lynton's marriage and personal life -- leaves out the fact of Pascal's marriage to former NYT movie reporter Bernard Weinraub. Whoops, we just did.

Arango is about to leave the NYT media/Hollywood beat for a tour of duty in Iraq. Let's hope the foreign desk pushes him for a bit more balance and depth than this sychophantic puff piece offers. Which is to say, any at all.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Whoops! Leggy Former Portfolio Editor Joanne Lipman Makes Mulitple Mistakes In Today's Op-Ed Whine About Women.

On today's op-ed page, former Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman declares in definitive terms that the women's movement "has stalled" and that attitudes towards women "have taken a great leap backward."

True? Maybe -- although her sweeping generalizations about women often sound out of tune with reality. She calls reports of advances for women in recent years "spectacularly misleading," without explaining why.

But Lipman's piece -- a whiny, disorganized and poorly-argued mess called "The Mismeasure Of Woman" -- also makes use of several false and misleading statements to make her ill-considered point.

Lipman begins with some recollections of her time at the Wall Street Journal, a passage riddled with inaccuracies:

After graduation, when I first joined The Wall Street Journal, I could count the number of female reporters there on one hand. The tiny ladies’ room was for guests. The paper was written by men, for men. It didn’t even cover industries that were relatively female-friendly, like publishing, advertising and retailing. When the newspaper finally did introduce coverage of those sectors a few years later, most male reporters weren’t interested. So we women stepped up.

Lipman must have quite a handful of fingers. In fact, the Wall Street Journal had a significant number of women reporters throughout the 1970s and 1980s -- including ones who covered banking, commodities, food, broadcasting, the stock market, and Hollywood. By the time Lipman arrived in 1983, the WSJ had been covering publishing, advertising and retailing -- highly coveted beats -- for years, with both men and women. And it had plenty of ladies' rooms, too.

You doubt us? Just ask around the NYT. Plenty of former WSJ reporters and editors worked there in the 1980s and will confirm that Lipman's statement is deeply, totally false. Start with managing editor Jill Abramson or business editor Larry Ingrassia.

Lipman then claims that women "gained respect" at the WSJ only in 1996, when Alix Freedman won the national reporting Pulitzer for her coverage of the tobacco industry.

What about in 1983, when the WSJ's Manuela Hoelterhoff won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism? Oh wait -- Lipman was still at Yale. What she doesn't know doesn't matter.

When Lipman gets around to her more recent achievements, she dismisses them as rare blips on the radar screen.

She describes herself as "one of the few women to have run a major business magazine." -- not bothering to note that there are only a few major business magazines.

Even so, Lipman might have mentioned Jane Amsterdam, the founding editor of Manhattan Inc., one of the nation's most respected business magazines before it folded in 1990. Amsterdam was hired for that job in 1984, more than two decades before Lipman became the editor of Portfolio. Or Katrina Heron, the editor of Wired from 1997 to 2001. Women haven't yet achieved parity with men on the magazine front, but Lipman is hardly a pioneer.

Lipman saves her most outrageously inaccurate assertion for last.

"My career was recently summed up in a New York magazine article as leggy," Lipman writes caustically, as though that single-handedly set the woman's movement back by twenty years. This seems an odd argument from a writer who, a few paragraphs later, advises women: "Don't be afraid to be a girl."

But anyway, it's not even true. Here's what Steve Fishman actually wrote in New York Magazine last April:

S. I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Condé Nast, falls in love with his editors. His romance with Joanne Lipman began over lunch at his U.N. Plaza apartment, with its beige carpets—no red wine allowed—and paintings by Warhol, de Kooning, Cézanne. Lipman, 47 years old, who’d spent her entire career at The Wall Street Journal, is a serious journalist with a serious mien, and long legs, which she likes to show off with short-skirted power suits. Lipman is “attractive,” in Newhouse’s vernacular—“He uses the word like others use the word spiritual,” says a former editor. The two brainstormed at a small dining-room table. Newhouse, in his standard worn New Yorker sweatshirt, told her he had an idea for a business magazine. Newhouse didn’t say much more; he rarely does. He asks questions. But Lipman excitedly filled in the details.

Anyone who thinks that sentence -- or even that paragraph -- sums up Lipman's career as "leggy" just can't read.

Which, now that we think of it, may explain the failure of Portfolio, a magazine that proved to have no legs at all.

Holy Cow! Alex Williams' "Slaughterhouse Live," In Sunday Styles, Echoes Kim Severson's "Young Idols With Cleavers" from July Dining Section.

Do Alex Williams, the Sunday Styles reporter, and his editor, Trip Gabriel, read the Dining Section? If so, maybe they wouldn't have repeated essentially the same trend story about butcher obsessions that appeared in the NYT just three months ago.

Williams's front-page Sunday Styles section piece tomorrow, "Slaughterhouse Live," bears a strong resemblance to an earlier -- and better -- version of the same piece, written by food writer Kim Severson and published on the front page of the NYT Dining section on July 7.

Both stories deal with a the same emerging interest in butchers as stars, and the desire of young cooks to learn the art of carving carcasses. Williams even went so far as to interview two key players in the movement that Severson already spoke to -- Ryan Farr, a San Francisco-based chef who teaches carving at his butcher shop, and Tom Mylan of Marlowe & Daughters in New York, who does the same thing here.

There's the occasional differience. Williams's story focuses more on the learning phenomenon; Severson is more interested in the sex appeal of butchery. Severson attributes the trend to journalist Bill Buford, while Williams gives credit to journalist Michael Pollan.

But that's just carving up scraps of details in two stories that are substantially the same. Severson's story was good enough to not bear repeating.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

David Pogue Wins A Free Trip To Disney World -- And Immunity From NYT Freelance Policy. Why Not Give Mike Albo A Break, Too?

Last Friday, NYT technology columnist David Pogue spoke at Epcot/Walt Disney World in Orlando -- his fee, travel and accommodations paid for by the Raytheon Company, one of the nation's biggest defense contractors -- about "the changing social media landscape," as a Raytheon spokesman explained it to The NYTPicker.

Pogue shared the podium with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a prime target of David Barstow's Pulitzer Prize-winning NYT investigation into the Defense Department's use of military personnel as paid media analysts.

Was Pogue's speech a violation of NYT policies? Probably. His acceptance of a speaking fee automatically goes against the NYT's rule about taking payment for a speaking engagement from anyone other than a nonprofit. No doubt, in this new climate of caution, Pogue probably got prior approval from his editors to take Raytheon's money to line his already fat wallet.

Would the NYT consider firing Pogue for such a thing? Hardly. In fact, the paper does everything possible to allow its high-profile columnist and website draw to keep his job. Even after the NYT's Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, questioned the integrity of his outside dealings, Pogue gets to write Apple support manuals and keep roaming the country, collecting fees from anyone. And even after he told an interviewer recently that he was "not a reporter," he also gets to keep pretending he is one -- identified at the Raytheon confab and elsewhere as "David Pogue of the New York Times."

Meanwhile, it became clear yesterday that the NYT is considering the fate of the very funny and talented Mike Albo, one of its "Critical Shopper" columnists and an occasional travel writer, in light of news that he took a free trip to Jamaica last weekend, courtesy of Thrillist and Jet Blue. Media columnist Jeff Bercovici broke the news on AOL's Daily Finance website under the headline, "Ethics Takes A Holiday," and took the NYT and Albo to task for the rules violation.

[In another absurd overreaction, Bercovici had earlier in the week called for Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli's resignation in the wake of the controversy over his recent confession that he knew those salons were off the record. Dude makes NYTPicker look like a softie.]

Yesterday, in light of Bercovici's reporting and the later linking to his post on sites like Romenesko, the NYT issued a statement suggesting that Albo's job might be in trouble because of the trip, which also had a Newsweek staffer aboard the Jamaica junket. A NYT spokeswoman told Bercovici:

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

Whether Bill Keller and his team realizes it or not, Albo is one of the NYT's great assets. His bi-weekly column is a hilarious take on the world of retail fashion, told from the perspective of a penniless freelancer who stares longingly at cashmere sweaters he can't afford. He's a stylist of the first rank, way better than most of the NYT's full-time reporters who can't even locate the paper bag they need to write their way out of.

Fine. Discuss the situation. Tell Albo he can't do it again. Pay for his trip if it'll make you feel better. But whatever you do, don't make Mike Albo the sacrificial lamb for your hypocrisy. Until you're ready to squarely address Pogue's endless hair-splitting of rules in pursuit of outside income, the NYT has no right to make Albo feel bad for taking a quick, paid vacation from the life of a struggling NYT freelancer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SF Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein Accuses NYT Reporter Jesse McKinley Of "Borrowing" A Lede. Bronstein's Full Of Shit.

The NYTPicker loves a good plagiarism story. This isn't one of them.

Phil Bronstein, executive vice president and editor-at-large of the San Francisco Chronicle, took to the Huffington Post last night to accuse NYT San Francisco correspondent Jesse McKinley of "borrowing" the lede to his profile of new Oakland police chief Anthony Batts from the Chronicle.

"Maybe the Times was just being economical," Bronstein said sarcastically of the supposed borrowing.

It's a serious accusation. And in this case, Bronstein is full of shit.

Bronstein ignores one of the basic reasons stories often overlap -- which is that the news can't be changed to accommodate a newspaper's desire for complete originality in reporting. You can own your writing and your voice, but you can't own the news.

True, the Chronicle story (which appeared on August 17, by reporter Matthai Kuruvila) opens with virtually the same lede as the piece by McKinley, which led off the NYT's new Bay Area report last Friday. Here are the ledes, first from the Chronicle:

When a headhunter called Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts in March and asked him whether he was interested in becoming Oakland's next chief, Batts knew the answer: No.

"I was happy in Long Beach," Batts said during his first public appearance Monday since accepting the chief's job in Oakland.

But everything changed three days later, on March 21: four Oakland police officers were gunned down in the deadliest day for law enforcement in the city. Batts viewed the television coverage.

"I watched the pain and the suffering in the Police Department," he said. "I watched the pain and the suffering in the community as it too hurt at the same time."

After attending the officers' funeral at the Oracle Arena, Batts said he text-messaged the headhunter: "I want to help."

And then, the NYT:

Anthony W. Batts was enjoying a successful run as the head of the Long Beach police when a headhunter called last winter and asked if the chief’s job in Oakland had any appeal. Mr. Batts said no.

Then, he said, came March 21, when a recently released parolee, Lovelle Mixon, shot and killed four Oakland police officers and cemented the city’s reputation as the violent crime capital of the Bay Area.

Sitting at the officers’ funeral, Mr. Batts said, he changed his mind. “I decided that I’d like to help,” he said.

Yes, they're very similar. But that's for one simple reason: it's a good anecdote, and the facts of it can't be altered simply because the NYT wants to differentiate itself from the previous story. There just aren't two different ways to tell that tale.

What McKinley did instead, to set himself apart from the Chronicle piece, was to present NYT readers with a thorough, well-reported and breezily-written analysis of Batts's background and experience, and the challenges presented by the Oakland job. Filled with facts and insight, McKinley's story trumps the Chronicle version in every way.

The fact is that a reporter doesn't own information. In this case the anecdote belongs to Batts, and it's his right to disseminate it to whoever he wants. Bronstein has no right to suggest that McKinley wasn't properly doing his job by using the story -- which makes for a compelling introduction into his well-executed Batts profile.

If Bronstein were spending more time policing the quality of his own reporters' pieces instead of searching for plagiarism cases that don't exist, maybe the NYT wouldn't have seen a competitive opening for its new San Francisco report.

As long as the Chronicle continues to suck, Bronstein should probably get used to seeing his half-baked news accounts get redone -- and improved -- by the superior talents the NYT has at its disposal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

BREAKING: NYT Accuses Washington Post Editor Marcus Brauchli Of Lying To NYT Reporter About "Off The Record" Dinners.

The NYT is calling Marcus Brauchli, the executive editor of the Washington Post, a liar.

The NYT has reported this morning -- in a brief, buried "postscript" in the corrections column -- that it now has evidence that Brauchli lied last July when he told the NYT that he didn't know the paper's controversial corporate-sponsored dinner parties would be off-the-record.

The NYT doesn't state flatly that Brauchli lied. But the juxtaposition of the two Brauchli statements in the postscript make clear the NYT's position that he misrepresented the truth in interviews with the NYT.

[UPDATE: In an email to The NYTPicker, a NYT spokeswoman stands by the postscript. "The note speaks for itself," wrote Diane McNulty, the spokeswoman. "Information came to our attention after the Sept. 12 article and we decided that this note was warranted." McNulty did not elaborate.]

In a July 3 page-one story, Richard Perez-Pena reported that the Post had abandoned plans to hold high-priced dinners that would bring together Washington lobbyists and Washington Post reporters and editors. The news created a media firestorm around the idea that the Post would sell access to its staff to business interests, and led to the resignation of the Post's marketing executive, Charles Pelton.

At the time, Brauchli told Perez-Pena that he'd been explicit with the paper's marketing department about the paper's right to use information gathered at the dinners -- a distinction that enabled the editor to maintain a discreet distance from the scandal. The July 3 NYT story reported:

Mr. Brauchli said that in talking to The Post’s marketing arm, “we have always been explicit that there are certain parameters that are elemental for newsroom participation” in special events. Among those, he said, “we do not limit our questions, and we reserve the right to allow any ideas that emerge in an event to shape or inform our coverage.”

Brauchli extended that claim to a flat denial of knowledge that the dinners would be off the record, in a NYT story in September reporting the resignation of Pelton:

Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Post, and Ms. Weymouth said they should have recognized the ethical issues created by the plan and ended it earlier. But they said they had not known all the details of how the dinners were being promoted — for instance, Mr. Brauchli said he had not understood that they would be off the record — and that those details significantly compounded the ethical problems.

But in this morning's "Postscript," the NYT reports that Pelton's lawyer has provided them a letter from Brauchli to Pelton that proves otherwise:

However, in a subsequent letter to Mr. Pelton — which was sent to The Times by Mr. Pelton’s lawyer — Mr. Brauchli now says that he did indeed know that the dinners were being promoted as “off the record,” and that he and Mr. Pelton had discussed that issue.

The "Postscript" doesn't quote from the letter. However, by placing in its corrections column, the NYT is making the bold statement that the two previous statements by Brauchli to the NYT were false.

This represents a new development in the story. Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post's ombudsman, reported in July that several mid-level managers knew of the ethical problems created by the dinners, but continued to absolve Brauchli of direct responsibility, repeating Brauchli's claim that he was "stunned" by the news. Here's what Alexander reported on July 12:

Brauchli conferred with Pelton about the salon dinners. At one point they showed up at the newsroom desk of reporter Ceci Connolly, who covers health care, which was to be the discussion topic of the July 21 dinner. Subsequently, she said, "Charles asked me for some contact phone numbers and e-mails, which I provided."

Brauchli said that Pelton believed that "in order for these things to succeed, they need to be on background. And I think the language went from 'background' to 'off the record' which, from my perspective now, [is] even worse."

Alexander absolved Brauchli -- and publisher Katharine Weymouth -- of any direct knowledge of the parameters until the story broke on the Politico website on July 2. He reported that Brauchli forwarded Pelton's May email outlining the plans to top newsroom managers, but does not suggest that Brauchli read it himself, or knew in advance that the dinners wouldn't meet the Post's ethical standards.

Why did the NYT not report this news in the paper itself, where the rules of journalism might have applied -- and where a reporter might have called Brauchli for his comment on the discrepancy? Was it hoping to bury the news on a Saturday, when the media hordes might not descend on Brauchli over this apparent contradiction? The NYT's brief statement doesn't address those specific questions.

UPDATE: In Brauchli's letter to former Post marketing executive Charles Pelton -- the basis for this morning's NYT "postscript" accusing Brauchli of lying to the paper -- Brauchli claims that the NYT reporter "apparently misunderstood me."

In acknowledging for the first time that he knew the controversial dinners were off the record, Brauchli said he explained to NYT reporter Richard Perez-Pena that "my original intention had been that the dinners would take place under Chatham House Rule -- meaning that the conversations could be used for further reporting without identifying the speaker or the speaker's affiliation."

Brauchli stated definitively to Pelton in the letter that "I knew that the salon dinners were being promoted as 'off the record.'"

But when Perez-Pena's stories appeared and suggested otherwise, Brauchli made no attempt to clarify or correct the NYT articles. "I should have said something at that point but did not," Brauchli wrote in the letter to Pelton, dated September 25, and published this morning by Politico.

However, in McNulty's statement to The NYTPicker today that "the note speaks for itself," the NYT is clearly stating that it doesn't believe Brauchli's version of events. The postscript made no mention of Brauchli's claim in the letter that he had been misunderstood.

UPDATE: "The letter speaks for itself," says Kris Coratti, communications director of the Washington Post, in an email to The NYTPicker responding to our requests for comment from Brauchli. It's probably not a coincidence that Coratti's comment is virtually identical to McNulty's statement on behalf of the NYT earlier today.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

All The News That's Fit To Print Money: Launch Of NYT's San Francisco Edition A Sad Milestone In Newspaper's History.

Tomorrow's launch of an expanded San Francisco edition of the NYT -- complete with columns and local reporting from several new contributors -- might look, on the surface, like a step forward for journalism. It means work for some unemployed writers, and a chance for the NYT to scrape together a few extra bucks towards the cause of keeping itself alive.

But to us, it's an insult to the city that gave the NYT its name.

Even kids can remember the old days -- oh, you know, back before the fall of 2008 -- when the NYT had a stand-alone Metro section seven days a week. When the Sunday paper had zoned local sections that offered long, discursive features about issues that mattered to New Yorkers and suburbanites who considered the NYT their hometown paper. When multiple full-time NYT correspondents were based in the outer boroughs, in New Jersey, on Long Island, in Westchester, in Connecticut.

Nowadays, the NYT's metro coverage is a shadow of its former self. Entire Sunday papers arrive without a single local breaking-news story from the day before. The new Sunday "Metropolitan" section wastes valuable column inches on stories like last Sunday's embarrassing profile of the blonde twins who make $800 a week at their bartending jobs, while haphazardly applying for journalism positions on Craigslist. Or on Ariel Kaminer's bizarre weekly column, "City Critic," a poorly-written, first-person pursuit of ephemeral notions like wandering the city in a Hazmat suit.

Yes, of course the NYT can still kick ass with the best of them on local stories that matter. Witness its Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of 9/11 and the Spitzer scandal, and its consistently top-flight columns from Jim Dwyer. Metro editor Joe Sexton deserves to be commended for doing an enormous amount with the dwindling resources at his disposal.

But to see the NYT spend its valuable, limited capital on coverage of San Francisco -- as it continues to cut back on local news -- seems to us a misappropriation of badly-needed news resources. It's a business decision masquerading as an attempt to offer "enterprising coverage" to local San Francisco readers.

In fact, of course, it's a way for the NYT to sell more local advertising in its zoned national edition. The NYT doesn't explain its choice of San Francisco as its first place for expansion of coverage, except in executive editor Bill Keller's mention in the news release that he grew up in the Bay area. But clearly the calculation has been made that San Francisco is the right place to start, for business reasons -- as opposed to, say, Los Angeles or Miami or Seattle, all in need of better local coverage.

All this must be particularly galling to the residents of Boston, who have seen the NYT-owned Boston Globe ravaged by budget cuts in recent months. We're sure that for Globe reporters who've taken pay cuts, it's easy to imagine the money being used to pay the new San Francisco contributors better spent on their salaries instead. And for local readers, it's insulting to see the NYT shift its newsgathering resources from Boston to San Francisco.

The NYT's move supports the widespread belief that local advertising, in support of hyper-local news coverage, will keep newspapers alive in the future. It's an odd twist on the paper's move to go national in the 1980s; now, in the face of the new local emphasis, the NYT is using its national distribution as a means to create a local news element in the paper outside of New York.

It makes sense as a business decision, perhaps. But as a harbinger of the future, we find it depressing that the NYT has begun to stake its future on the expansion of coverage in cities other than the one that gave it a reason to exist.

Someday, we fear, it will be the New York Times in name only.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fake Scoop: NYT Borrows Today's Above-The-Fold, Front-Page "Secret" Iraq Vets Story From Stars And Stripes, Agence France-Presse.

In the third paragraph of today's above-the-fold, page-one story about wounded war veterans returning to Iraq, NYT foreign correspondent Rod Nordland pumps up his reporting by representing it as a scoop.

"The seven-day program, called Operation Proper Exit, has been kept quiet previously," Nordland writes, "partly because returning to a combat zone is considered a delicate experiment."


Well, it wasn't too delicate for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes to report on it a month ago, on September 13, 2009 in an article called "For The Wounded, One Last Mission." That story, by Seth Robson, recounted the experiences of the soldiers on the initial June trip back to Iraq -- brought there by the Troops First Foundation in an effort to help them achieve psychological closure.

Robson made no mention of any secrecy concerning the mission, and even quoted an email from a vice chief of staff of the Army, identified by name, confirming details.

Yet Nordland, in his story today, said the June trip "was kept secret because no one knew for sure how the soldiers would handle their return."


Other stories about the operation are also easily accessible online -- such as a June 20, 2009 account of the June trip by Staff Sergeant Jon Cupp in the online newspaper Newsblaze.

Nordland's story isn't even the only report on the October trip by American soldiers back to the front lines. The Khaleej Tmes, a daily newspaper in Dubai, published a lengthy account on October 13, that makes no mention of secrecy and doesn't imply exclusive access. That story appears to have come from the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news service, to which the NYT subscribes.

There's nothing wrong with the substance of Nordland's story; it's a well-written, emotional account of the pilot program and its effects on the soldiers who went along on the second trip to Iraq. Nordland is a former Baghdad bureau chief and chief foreign correspondent for Newsweek; he now holds the title of foreign correspondent in the NYT's Baghdad bureau.

But it's sad to see the NYT -- whose executive editor, Bill Keller, likes to cite its Baghdad bureau as evidence of the paper's superior coverage -- represent its foreign reporting as unique and page one-worthy when it's not. In this case, Nordland went beyond simply suggesting that his story was the first, or omitting a reference to Stars and Stripes. His story stated definitively that the operation "has been kept quiet previously" as though to suggest his reporting had pierced some sort of military confidentiality.

Do Nordland and the NYT not consider stories in Stars and Stripes, Newsblaze and the Khaleej Times a form of public disclosure? According to Wikipedia, Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, has 350,000 worldwide readers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia -- presumably a few NYT reporters and editors among them. The Khaleej Times reports a circulation of 75,000.

Did Nordland and his editors see the other pieces and choose to ignore them? What led Nordland to state so clearly that the program was a secret, when clearly it wasn't? We've contacted the NYT with those questions, and will update when we get an answer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Maureen Dowd Uses "All Cage, No Bird" Line For The Fourth Time Today. Not That We're Counting Or Anything.

"Gandhi Wuz Robbed," October 11, 2009, in the voice of George W. Bush:

W.: I hear ya, 42. As if his head wasn’t big enough. This cat is all cage, no bird. He doesn’t have a clue.

"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.

"Clash of the Titans," September 6, 2008, 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.

"Letter from The Hunk," August 13, 1997, in the voice of John F. Kennedy Jr.:

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.

NYT's Amy Wallace Rolls Over And Plays Dead For "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan in 3,126-Word Sunday Business Puff Piece.

If we policed every instance of puffery in the NYT, we'd need a small army of NYTPickers.

But Amy Wallace's Sunday Business section cover story -- a 3,126-word profile of Cesar Millan, better known as "The Dog Whisperer" -- stands as a classic example of the form. In epic length, Wallace manages to rhapsodize almost non-stop about the famous dog trainer, and to reduce any criticism to a, well, whisper.

"Not everyone agrees with Mr. Millan's methods," begins a paragraph more than 2,000 words in, where Wallace finally mentions a minor criticism of Millan raised by s single dog trainer.

But in fact, as any dog owner knows -- including Jill Abramson, the NYT's managing editor, who mentioned Millan in her NYT blog a few weeks ago -- Millan is a controversial, even polarizing figure whose popularity has brought with it some serious objection to his methods.

In her August 3 "Puppy Diaries" column about her new puppy, Scout, Abramson referred to "a raging argument between those who favor the Cesar Millan pack leader approach, which requires firm command and control, and those who prefer the positive reinforcement and reward technique used by Diane and other trainers."

No mention of that conflict, or any others, in Wallace's wet, sloppy kiss.

But in fact, Wallace would have had to go no further than back issues of the NYT -- or even Wikipedia -- to find evidence that Millan's methods have drawn significant opposition.

In September 2005, the American Humane Association (a watchdog group that keeps an eye on popular culture for animal mistreastment) asked the National Geographic Channel to stop airing Millan's "Dog Whisperer" series, calling his methods "inhumane, outdated and improper."

In a February, 2006 NYT story, the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, said the Millan had "put dog training back 20 years." He specifically criticized Millan's advocacy of pinning dogs down and pulling on their leash as part of the training process. Dodman also said he approached the TV channel to ask that they discontinue the show.

Wikipedia also makes references to two legal battles that Millan faced, including a lawsuit from a client and another from two former publicists. Both settled out of court.

But you won't find any of this -- or, for that matter, any real assessment of Millan's methods -- anywhere in Wallace's story. Instead, she blathers on endlessly with the encomia of movie stars and other dog owners who've used Millan to train their dogs.

"It's a miracle," the story begins.

"It's unbelievable," starts the second paragraph.

To her credit, Wallace does acknowledge her epic lateness to the subject (yet another flaw of the story) right away. "If you have a television, you may know Mr. Millan," she writes. She mentions his three bestsellers, his magazine and, of course, the show's high ratings. She doesn't mention that Millan has been frequently profiled and written about elsewhere, including a Q&A with the NYT Magazine's Deborah Solomon in May 2006.

Other classic lines from Wallace's piece:

"No wonder Mr. Millan's reputation as a fixer...has been immortalized in pop culture."

"Not bad for a once-poor native of Culiacan, Mexico....When he talks about transformation, in other words, he's living proof that anything's possible."

"According to MPH Entertainment, the production company that is Mr. Millan's partner...he will be a $100 million business in a few years. And he says he's just getting started."

"Like the dogs that he is world-famous for understanding -- and, notably, unlike some of their owners -- Mr. Millan doesn't judge others. Instead, he lives in the now and maintains a sort of über-balanced mien."

And that's just in the first thousand words.

Oh wait, we forgot. What about that paragraph that mentioned Millan's weaknesses? Here's what Wallace wrote:

“Positivist” trainers like Ian Dunbar reject the idea that a submissive dog is a happy dog. Mr. Dunbar advocates treating dogs as companions, not followers. While Mr. Millan uses his hand like a mother dog uses her mouth — to nudge dogs to behave — Mr. Dunbar shuns physical corrections and relies instead on treats and rewards.

But lest anyone else get the last word, Wallace hands Millan the mike:

To each his own, says Mr. Millan, whose favored “tsst!” sound is a correction heard around the world. “It’s just that I think I know something you might not know,” he says. “An open-minded human can learn from anybody.”

It's sad to see such weak work from Wallace, who has done distinguished journalism at the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine, where her memorably aggressive 2001 profile of Variety editor Peter Bart made her a finalist for a National Magazine Award. There's no evidence of her tough, skeptical side in today's piece.

Tsst! to Sunday Business editor Tim O'Brien and NYT business editor Larry Ingrassia for letting Wallace's poorly reported and deeply one-sided profile into print.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

From NYT Front Page, 80 Years Ago Today: "Please Don't Call Us For World Series Scores...We're Busy!"

From the NYT front page, October 8, 1929, in reference to Game 1 between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago Cubs:

The Athletics won, 3-1.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Today In NYT Hypocrisy: Sunday Styles Ridicules Others For Misusing The Verb "Curate," While Sunday Business Misuses It On Same Day.

From "On The Tip Of Creative Tongues," by Alex Williams, Sunday Styles, page 1, 10/4/2009:

THE Tipping Point, a store in Houston that calls itself a sneaker lifestyle shop, does not just sell a collection of differently colored rubber soles, along with books, music and apparel. No, its Web site declares, the store “curates” its merchandise.

Promoters at Piano’s, a nightclub on the Lower East Side, announced on their Web site that they will “curate a night of Curious burlesque.”

Eric Demby, a founder of the Brooklyn Flea swap meet, does not hire vendors to serve grilled cheese sandwiches, pickles and tamales to hungry shoppers. He “personally curates the food stands,” according to New York magazine.

And to think, not so long ago, curators worked at museums.

The word “curate,” lofty and once rarely spoken outside exhibition corridors or British parishes, has become a fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded, who seem to paste it onto any activity that involves culling and selecting. In more print-centric times, the term of art was “edit” — as in a boutique edits its dress collections carefully. But now, among designers, disc jockeys, club promoters, bloggers and thrift-store owners, curate is code for “I have a discerning eye and great taste.”

Or more to the point, “I belong.”

From "Where The Hotel Is The Hub," by Brooks Barnes, Sunday Business, page 1, 10/4/2009:

THE Sunset Tower Hotel, once a dilapidated dump but now a power-broker capital in Hollywood, recently hired a detective. After all, a crime had been committed — at least in the eyes of its owner, Jeff Klein.

When US Weekly reported in August that Renée Zellweger and her new beau had guzzled Champagne in a Sunset Tower suite, Mr. Klein had a meltdown. The detective was hired and, soon, a room-service waiter was fired.

“He claimed he only told his mother,” Mr. Klein says. “I didn’t care. Gone!”

A New York society brat turned serious hotelier and restaurateur, Mr. Klein, 39, bought the Sunset Tower in 2004 and has transformed it partly by throwing out the handbook of how entertainment industry haunts are managed, especially in Los Angeles. A ban on media leaks about boldface business deals or celebrity frolicking is strictly enforced. Mr. Klein is also very careful about curating a clientele. Celebrities deemed out of place, including the rapper Sean Combs and Britney Spears, have been — gasp — turned away.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Should You Ever Eat A Hamburger Again? Michael Moss, Who Wrote Today's NYT Blockbuster, Tells NYTPicker Decision Is "Very Personal."

All morning on Twitter, NYT readers mesmerized by today's page-one Michael Moss 4,870-word blockbuster about Stephanie Smith -- the 22-year-old dance instructor paralyzed from the waist down after eating an E. coli-laced hamburger -- have been saying the same thing: no more hamburgers for me!

"Scary. Don't think I'll be ordering a hamburger any time soon." -- Janice Jensen

"Did you read that story? Not that I make it a habit, but I don't see how I can ever feed my son a hamburger again." -- Seth Rogovoy.

"Long, but important story about E-Coli that will make me think twice about eating a hamburger." Joe Drape, NYT reporter.

But is that the appropriate reaction?

Moss's terrific story investigated the lax procedures at processing plants that led to Smith's condition, but it didn't answer the question of whether readers ought to stop eating hamburgers if they want to avoid the risk of E. coli infection. In the fifth paragraph, Moss writes that Smith's experience " shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe."

But how much of a gamble is it, exactly?

We emailed Moss (a Pulitzer Prize finalist when he worked at the Wall Street Journal) this morning to ask him whether the takeaway from his story ought to be a decision to stop eating hamburgers. At first he replied that it was a tough question to answer because of "the lack of good data on what precicely the odds are of having 0157 in any one burger."

We pressed, and Moss has since sent us a more detailed response. While not definitive, we reprint it here for readers who may be wondering -- as we were -- just how risky it is to eat a hamburger, in light of his excellent reporting.

"Evaluating the risk of falling ill to E. coli in ground beef is extremely difficult," Moss told The NYTPicker. "There is very little sampling of retail product, and health data is quite weak too, so one cannot simply divide the number of illnesses each year into the number of eaten burgers. And if we did have a good number on risk, then any decision on dealing with that risk is very personal.

"I met meat scientists who will not touch packages of any meat in the grocery store, but rather use plastic bags from the produce section as gloves. They also use bleach to clean their own kitchens after cooking. I also met a senior USDA official who will only eat burgers well done, but his wife insists on eating hers rare. We are running a video on Monday on our cooking test, in which we managed to spread a nonharmful strain of E. coli in my kitchen despite following the safety instructions.

"Whatever the precise risk, I think the question the reporting sought to answer was whether all is being done that could be done to reduce the risk."

Hmmm. Just to be safe, we're going to stick with steak.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bait and Switch: NYT Takes Away Its iPhone Crossword App From Customers, Keeps The $9.99, And More Than Doubles The Price.

As recently as last Monday, you could pay $9.99 for a NYT iPhone Crossword Puzzle app that had no subscription fees, or time limit. Sweet deal!

But if you did, you just found out that the NYT has just pulled a classic bait-and-switch.

Now the NYT gets to keep your money and your app will stop working in the next month or two. If you want to keep getting the App, you'll have to start over with a monthly $1.99 subscription -- more than double the price.

Beginning last year the NYT's crossword puzzle app offered iPhone customers what seemed like a convenient and reasonably-priced means of doing the puzzle. The $9.99 one-time charge was high by the standards of iPhone apps -- most of which are free, or under $5 -- but it seemed reasonable given the quality of the product, and the unlimited access the NYT appeared to be selling.

But it turns out there wasn't anything "unlimited" about it, and in switching the price plan have annoyed many of its loyal customers -- many of whom are being told their $9.99 purchase only gets them the crossword puzzle until the end of the year. Now, for $1.99, you can buy a 30-day subscription to the NYT crossword puzzle; at the end of that, the NYT will offer customers various pricing options for a subscription renewal.

"I Paid for a Year!" reads the headline of one scathing review on the iPhone app, from a user named Timburwolf. "Ok, hold on. I bought this months ago and I remember it saying it was a subscription App. But I paid for a year and now it says my subscription is up November 1. Is that even legal?"

Other review headlines call the move "despicable!" "appalling" and a "rip off," and attack the NYT for its greed. Many of them demand a boycott of the NYT.

"The NY Times should be ashamed for their devious switcheroo," says a user named Easonia. ""I will delete [the App] and never purchase a NY Times app -- I might never buy a newsstand copy of the paper either. This is so insulting."

In only five days, the App has amassed 49 scathing iPhone reviews, all of which slam the NYT for changing the terms with no warning. All insist that the original App price made no mention of a possible subscription, and made it seem like a one-time-only charge. All have been told that their current App will expire in the next month or two.

The NYT has issued a comment to The NYTPicker that reiterates the pricing history -- first $9.99, then $5.99, and now monthly -- and explains that the reason for the change is that monthly subscriptions only became possible with the iPhone OS 3.0. It was "never unlimited," says NYT spokesperson Diane McNulty. "The price quoted was always for 2009." (For McNulty's full statement, see below.)

Several commenters dispute McNulty's assertion about the app's original time limit.

Right now, the NYT crossword puzzle App gets 1-1/2 stars out of a possible five. The NYT's newspaper app, by contrast, gets four stars out of five, with 22,194 reviews to date.

At the moment, the crossword puzzle is the only element of the NYT's website that exists behind a paywall; readers can pay $39.95 for an annual subscription, or $6.95 a month. The NYT depends on the revenue stream provided by its puzzle, which is one of the paper's most popular features.

This move reflects the NYT's need to milk as much money as possible from the puzzle -- even risking the wrath of its current customers by putting in place a subscription model that will generate far more revenue.

The crossword puzzle business on the iPhone is highly competitive; dozens of options are available, most at a lower price than the NYT. But there's little argument among aficionados that the NYT puzzle is the gold standard. Which, presumably, is why the NYT thinks it can get away with this ham-handed business move.

[UPDATE: Here's the full text of the NYT's statement from Diane McNulty, issued in response to our questions:

Initially when The New York Times crossword app was introduced on the iPhone in March of 2009, it was offered for 2009 at $9.99. Monthly subscriptions were not an option on the iPhone at the time. It was never unlimited; the price quoted was always for 2009. Those who signed up later in the year were given a discount (in June the price dropped to $5.99).

With the new OS 3.0 iPhone, the upgraded version allows for micropayments, so we launched a new version to offer subscribers more flexibility with payment options. It's true the cost has gone up, but it is still a good deal less than the price of the crosswords online, which is $39.95.

With this new version, which has keyboard and performance improvements, we are offering a 30-day ($1.99) subscription, a six-month ($9.99) subscription, or a yearly subscription option ($16.99). These purchases can quickly and easily be made through the game.

Customers who have already subscribed to The New York Times Crossword Daily 2009 will continue to be able to download daily puzzles and will continue to have access to the archive of 4,000 puzzles until the end of the year.

Beyond December 31, 2009, users can choose to purchase a 30-day, six-month or year subscription package. Regardless, users will be able to play the puzzles that originally came with the game at the initial purchase, whether they renew the subscription at the end of the year or not.

Friday, October 2, 2009

BREAKING: NYT Reports Nevada Sen. John Ensign Texted Job Opportunities For Former Aide While Driving 60 MPH In A Truck.

The NYT has obtained a photograph of Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign texting a Washington lobbying firm -- about a possible job for his former aide Douglas Hampton, with whose wife Ensign carried on an illicit affair -- while driving his truck at 60 m.p.h. on I-80, just outside of Reno. The Times story suggests the senator was behaving in a reckless mannner by not pulling off to a rest stop before placing the call.