Sunday, January 3, 2010

UPDATE: NYT Fires Columnist After NYTPicker Uncovers Ethics Breach. Public Editor Clark Hoyt Calls Situation "An Embarrassment" To NYT.

Mary Tripsas, the Harvard business school professor who wrote a positive column about a 3M customer innovation center after taking an all-expense-paid trip from the company to see it, has been fired from her column by the NYT.

The ethics breach by Tripsas was first reported by The NYTPicker last Sunday, the day the puff-piece column appeared in the NYT's Sunday Business section. It had been Tripsas's fifth "Prototype" column for the section.

NYT editors and NYT spokesperson Abbe Serphos ignored repeated requests for comment from The NYTPicker this week about the Tripsas column. The news of her dismissal comes in Public Editor Clark Hoyt's column today. Hoyt also reports that the NYT has "parted company" with freelancer Joshua Robinson after learning that he was using his NYT connection to get free airline tickets.

The NYT has also published an Editor's Note in its Sunday editions, acknowledging Tripsas's violation of NYT ethics rules and saying that had the NYT known of her acceptance of travel and hotel expenses from 3M, it would have not have published the column:

The Prototype column last Sunday, about customer innovation centers, reported on a program at the 3M Company’s headquarters in St. Paul and described the company as being “at the forefront of a movement” in which corporations meet face to face with customers to elicit feedback. After the column was published, The Times learned that 3M had provided travel and accommodations for the freelance writer during a visit to the company’s headquarters in November.

Times policy prohibits reporters from accepting such expenses or other payment from companies they cover. Had the editors known of the circumstances of the trip, the column would not have been published in that form.

In Hoyt's column, Tripsas acknowledges to the Public Editor that she didn't adequately read the NYT's freelance guidelines that spell out the paper's ethics rules.

"I should have," Tripsas told Hoyt.

NYT standards editor Philip Corbett told Hoyt that "we haven't done enough" to ensure compliance with the rules by NYT freelancers, who contribute significantly to the paper.

Hoyt also reviewed the dismissal of Mike Albo, one of the paper's "Critical Shopper" columnists, who was fired in November for accepting a junket to Jamaica that didn't directly relate to his column, but that nevertheless broke the NYT's rules.

In his Sunday column, Hoyt admitted that "the system is not working well: these cases keep coming up with dismaying frequency."

Hoyt attributed the problem in part to the fact that the system is "so elaborate — written booklet, written contract, written questionnaire — that editors take false comfort and neglect the most important element: constant conversation with freelancers over every assignment about the paper’s expectations."

Hoyt's column neglects to mention of the ongoing ethical issues raised by the travel schedule of David Pogue, the NYT's technology columnist, who frequently accepts free plane tickets and accommodations from corporations the NYT covers.

Pogue, also a freelance NYT contributor, is one of the paper's most valuable assets. That may have something to do with the fact that while Albo and Tripsas have lost their jobs, Pogue continues to keep his gig while traveling the country -- courtesy of corporations who pay him to speak at retreats and confabs, identifying himself as a NYT columnist. It's a double standard that NYT has yet to address.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Should Prof. Tripsas have been allowed to write about Lexar Media (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/business/04proto.html) given that she is a former board member (http://www.lexar.com/newsroom/press/press_04_29_03.html)?

pogueNYT said...

"Pogue continues to keep his gig while traveling the country -- courtesy of corporations who pay him to speak at retreats and confabs"

As usual, David, you're straining to make a point without the truth to back you up.

I spoke 30 times in 2009.

One of them was for a corporation--ONE. It was Raytheon. And that was an engagement that had been individually approved by my editors.

(As part of the Times crackdown on this issue, ALL of my speaking engagements must be individually approved. It's been this way since June.)

The remaining 29 were for educational and non-profit outfits. Examples:Florida Virtual Schools; eCollege; Cleveland Town Hall speaker series; FOSE (government training); Society for Technical Communication; CT Librarians' Association; CUNY; Educomm; MBL (Woods Hole); Memorial Sloan Kettering; Syracuse University.

Ooooh, look at Pogue jetting around the country for big corporations!!

You just have no idea what you're talking about.

Happy new year!

--Pogue

I am not Star Jones said...

maybe pogueNYT -- the point is that you should not be allowed to speak to a corporations while doing your Times column.

As a news consumer, I want professional journalists and news outlets to make these decisions so I can feel the information I'm receiving hasn't been compromised by other considerations.

Silly of me, right?

Here's the thing -- I don't want to have to start lumping the Times in the same category of TMZ.com and the National Enquirer and maybe you from your perch can do something to help avoid that.

Barth said...

Pogue NYT: If Times management approved your speaking to Raytheon with them paying your expenses, they should at least prevent you from writing about Raytheon.

If you are writing manuals which Apple uses in its commercial endeavors, you ought not to write about Apple, at least without a disclosure that you have accepted fees from them.

I do not see how Times readers can accept your analysis of various products, without some consideration of who pays you and who does not.

What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

I think Robinson's inflating himself is more of an issue.

But Pogue's list of "educational outfits"--eCollege is certainly a for-profit enterprise, as is Florida Virtual Schools. Does he donate his time to non-profit gigs? Most likely, no. His position at the NYT is why he gets these lucrative speaking engagements.

Edward Champion said...

Here's the pertinent clause from the New York Times's ethical guidelines: "Staff members should be sensitive to the appearance of partiality when they address groups that might figure in their coverage, especially if the setting might suggest a close relationship to the sponsoring group."

Unfortunately, in the examples he has kindly offered to us, Mr. Pogue has proven quite careless in his partiality. It might have helped if Mr. Pogue had actually investigated or researched the entities he was speaking to before accepting the invitations and the honorariums.

To be clear on this:

eCollege is a division of Pearson PLC, a London education and media conglomerate that specializes in making educational software.

Ergo, a corporation.

FOSE is run by the 1105 Government Information Group, part of 1105 Media, Inc., whose California corporate record you can find here:

http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/corpdata/ShowAllList?QueryCorpNumber=C2973110

Ergo, a corporation.

The Society for Technical Communication is a for-profit New York corporation. Here's a link to the bylaws:

https://www.stc.org/PDF_Files/bylaws.pdf

Ergo, a corporation.

The Educomm conference is run by the Professional Media Group You can search here for the limited liability company record from the Connecticut Commercial Recording Division:

http://www.concord-sots.ct.gov/CONCORD/online?eid=99&sn=InquiryServlet

While an LLC is slightly different from a corporation under Connecticut law, it's safe to say that the structure here is far from nonprofit.

So that makes three for-profit corporations and an LLC in a pear tree. That squarely puts the corporations in the plural and confirms the NYTPicker's allegations. But thank you for playing, Mr. Pogue.

By the way, who's David? I understand that the New York Times rather embarrassingly had to retract wrongly calling out David Blum as the man behind NYTPicker.

http://www.observer.com/2009/media/nytpicker-revealed-then-not-0

Anonymous said...

It is not just the donor corporation that should not be written about. It should include competitors. For example, how can anyone work for Apple and be objective in covering competitors like Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard, etc.?

Maybe the writer should just set up a bidding board to sell coverage to the highest payer.

Anonymous said...

Nowhere in Hoyt's column does he assert that Robinson received free airline tickets using his NYT connections. According to the column, Robinson pitched the airline magazines and suggested free airfare in lieu of a cash payment for his work. That hardly sounds egregious (more like barter)...but in any case, there is nothing to indicate that Robinson ever received free airfare.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately all educational operations are corporations. The folks up in Cambridge, MA call themselves the "Harvard Corporation." Pogue's alma mater call themselves the "Yale Corporation." Moreover, these corporations have billions in assets, more than any corporation for which I've worked. They control some of the most important biotech research and hold some of the patents for the next generation of drugs. It's all well and good to leave a loophole for education operations, but the line between the plutocrats and the tweed jacket set is increasingly blurry.

Many of the places that hired Pogue sounds pretty nice to me. I'm sure the editors are thinking about all of these details now that everyone's started scrutinizing Mr. Pogue so closely.

I wish I could come up with a good rule of thumb for the NY Times, but I'm not sure that I can. I wish the editors well. It's not an easy job splitting these hairs.

Anonymous said...

"As usual, David,..."

Does this mean that David Pogue knows the identity of NYTPicker?

pogueNYT said...

Edward Champion writes:

"Mr. Pogue has proven quite careless in his partiality. It might have helped if Mr. Pogue had actually investigated or researched the entities he was speaking to before accepting the invitations and the honorariums."

Actually, not. Edward (and other commenters) miss a key point here: the Times DOES NOT prohibit staffers from speaking to corporations in general!

The rule is this: "Staff members should be sensitive to the appearance of partiality when they address groups *that might figure in their coverage.*"

In other words, you can't accept payment for speaking at a company I MIGHT WRITE ABOUT (or its competitors). So Raytheon is fine--I have never written about Raytheon, and never will.

All those training and educational outfits I listed are fine, too. I don't write about them, and won't write about them. They do not represent violations of the Times ethics guidelines, and they do not support the Nytpicker's allegations at all.

(Besides, use common sense. How would it affect my reviews of electronics If I spoke for some educational group--for-profit or not?)

Finally, Anonymous writes: "How can anyone work for Apple and be objective in covering competitors like Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard, etc.?"

You couldn't! That's why I don't work for Apple or any of its competitors, and have never accepted money or anything of value from them.

If you, dear readers, have any further concerns on this topic, I welcome a discussion with you by email: pogue@nytmes.com.

--Pogue

Anonymous said...

Virginia Postrel is my hero.
I also feel the NYT rules are nonsensical and overly strict.
As a freelancer, I do not get the benefits of staffers. And those benefits are mighty good, including health insurance and union protection. I am also prohibited from writing for competing publications. If the NYT doesn't want me to write for the competition, they can add me to the staff. Otherwise, it is my right to make a living and provide for my family any way I choose. The NYT or any such institution has a right to reasonably restrict and govern the behavior of staffers, but not of freelancers.

Anonymous said...

I find it hilarious that the NYTPicker continues time and time again to smear David Pogue.

Its like there is some reference in every second or third post. I guess that gets the page-views (I mean, they posted about his comments on Twitter)?

If NYT perused someone to these lengths on such flimsy interpretation of facts I think NYTPicker would be all over it like a fat chick on ice-cream.

Pot call kettle something-or-other.

So David/NYTPicker, please your itemized conflict-of-interest case against Mr. Pogue. Let him rebut or concede and then lets see who has come out on top.

My money is on Mr. Pogue.

Daniel R.

Francis Bernard said...

Even if Pogue indirectly accepted rewards from one of corporations whose products he reviews, he would make up for the reward by providing a positive writeup.

So, he's not wasting anyone's money. As for his credibility, esp. among the circuits that keep inviting him, it rests on the predictable continuity of his courteous coverage.

And he has exempted himself time and again from the overly strict requirements of the label journalist, so as a non-journalist for the Times, he provides readers with unpaid insider-blessed advertisement for Apple products. This saves the times from the appearance of its content as commercials, and, pleases Apple.

Raytheon does have some pretty outstanding technology, but it is not the kind that would make sense to 'advertise' to times readers' demographic. Their niche market is more like a handful, but maybe Pogue can smuggle out some goodies next time.

Anonymous said...

David, if that's what you respond to, we'd rather put our money on those who put their money on Pogue were he ice-cream. He does sound paranoid, like he 'has' to pander to these gigs, like if he doesn't he'd go down like a CEO or a badass record exec, or a travelling pancreas...

Anonymous said...

Pogue may not have a direct contract with Apple, but he surely has a vested interest in its well being with his series of "Missing Manuals."

And he still identifies himself on a par with Dowd, Friedman, Rich and Krugman:

"Pogue's Pages The Web's richest resource about New York Times Columnist, Missing Manual publisher, and Emmy-winning CBS news correspondent, David Pogue Photo of David Pogue
Bio, Photos, & Speaking

Books

Columns

Pogue Unplugged

Contact David
Welcome to Pogue's Pages!
Here you'll find every conceivable shred of information about my columns and books, along with just enough pictures, words, and links to satisfy the next person who asks me, "Do you have a Web site?"
Catch me on CNBC

Tune in to "Power Lunch" on CNBC, every Thursday at about 1:45 pm. There you'll see me almost every week, with my usual goofy take on tech. (The same segment will also become my regular Times video later that day.)
New PBS NOVA Miniseries

Dec. 19, 2009

I'm hosting a four-part PBS NOVA miniseries to air next fall. One of the producers has been blogging my experiences during our shooting...thought you might like to read this entry about my ride in a demolition derby a couple weeks ago!
Cool Techno-Gifts on CBS Sunday Morning!

Dec. 19, 2009

This Sunday, December 20, "CBS Sunday Morning" will air my brief but amusing segment on cool techno-gifts for the holidays, as I don a Santa Suit to portray Techno-Claus! The show airs 9-10:30 am Eastern; I don't know where my segment will appear in the broadcast."

Edward Champion said...

Mr. Pogue: Thanks again for your comments. As Clark Hoyt observed in a September 5, 2009 column, you gave Snow Leopard a positive review when you had two Missing Manuals on the OS available for pre-order. In other words, you had a vested financial interest in whether Snow Leopard sold or not. The disclosure was appended to your review AFTER you were called out by Hoyt and Larry Ingrassia, when the conflict of interest should have been featured before.

Please explain why this is any different from Mary Tripskas taking money from 3M. You may very well perceive O'Reilly as a middleman or "an independent book publisher," and view the difference as indirect. But the problem here is that if you are taking money to write a how-to manual about Snow Leopard in one place and ostensibly "reviewing" it in another place, then this is a conflict of interest. Because your Snow Leopard review violates the appearance of partiality that we're all discussing here.

I have pointed out the corporate origins of the "educational and non-profit outfits" that you have spoken to, thereby debunking your claim that you only spoke before one corporation during the entirety of 2009. Understanding where corporate connections are is a first step towards improvement, but you seem unwilling or unable to perceive these "outfits" as the for-profit corporations that they are. Your statement of ethics, posted in September, is a good start. I just don't understand why you cannot perceive your outside speaking activities as careless or partial, and why they might be of concern towards those who care very much about journalistic ethics. Partiality does not have to be expressed through a direct corporate connection. There are numerous indirect connections -- the kind that lobbyists use to buy off politicians. Furthermore, what if Raytheon, which is a major American defense contractor, were to commit some flagrant violation against civil and digital liberties? Because you've accepted Raytheon's money, your opinion has now been purchased. You can't speak out against them.

Again, I thank you for attempting to clarify your stance and for expressing some awareness of these issues. The double standard being objected to is not necessarily your decision, but that of your superiors. (Some greater transparency from you concerning the 50 speaking engagements in 2009 would probably help to transform the conversation into more of a constructive discourse.) But do you truly not understand why this would be of concern to some of us?

Incredibly Fat Man said...

Pogue clearly shouldn't be allowed to write about himself because he clearly has a vested interested in seeing himself succeed. Also, he should be allowed to write about writing, since he clearly has a vested interest in seeing the medium succeed. Oh oh, and he also should be allowed to talk about New York at all because he clearly has a vested interest in the city not being abandoned.

Seriously guys, can you step back and look at the massive hoops you're jumping through to try and a validate your slander/libel? Uncovering hidden ties to a corporation is a useful service. Blaring on and on about things his bosses know about and approve of is just a way of puffing yourself up and trying to create problems where there are none.

Craig said...

NYTPicker is (are) obviously neither unintelligent nor unobservant, but cowardly. Why should anybody at The New York Times respond to anonymous criticism? Doing so is no different from accepting and publishing anonymous quotes without knowing who provided them, something which NYTPicker would find ethically and journalisticaly unacceptable.
Get a pair and tell us who you are.
Craig R. Whitney

THE NYTPICKER said...

Mr. Whitney,

First of all, thanks for reading the site, and for your comment.

Your analogy is wrong -- being anonymous isn't the same as quoting an anonymous source without knowing its identity. WE know who we are, in the same way that a reporter knows who his/her anonymous sources are.

If readers choose to doubt our reporting because we're anonymous, so be it. But after more than 500 posts our track record for accuracy has been very high, and our readers seem to value the work we do enough to return, day after day. We're grateful for that, and do everything we can to report accurately and retain their trust.

Anonymous said...

So the former standards editor of the New York Times is now leaving juvenile comments on websites? That says it all.