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.