Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NYT Spokesman Tells NYTPicker To "Call Me Bob," Then Tells NYTPicker Not To Call.

After 17 months of cooperation on dozens of stories, The NYT has declared in a statement that it will no longer answer any questions from The NYTPicker.

Responding to The NYTPicker's latest email to the NYT -- in advance of our most recent post on the paper's health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt -- we got this statement from Robert Christie, the paper's new senior vice president of corporate communications:

“It is the policy of The New York Times not to respond to bloggers or journalists who refuse to identify themselves and/or their affiliation.”

This statement from Christie followed a series of emails in which Christie asked, twice, for us to "identify yourself to me," and jovially asked us to "call me Bob."

The NYTPicker didn't accede to Christie's first request. Instead we noted that the NYT's previous communications chief, Catherine Mathis -- along with numerous NYT reporters and editors -- have regularly replied to questions from The NYTPicker ever since the website began in November of 2008.

The Christie correspondence came in the wake of The NYTPicker's Sunday post, reporting extensively on Reinhardt's stock holdings in the health care industry, and outside income from his position on several health-care industry corporate boards.

That income violates the NYT's strict ethics guidelines governing the outside income and activities of staffers and freelancers, a policy that has led to dismissals of at least three freelancers in recent months.

The NYTPicker first wrote to Christie on Saturday afternoon, nearly 14 hours before posting our story, seeking the NYT's comment.

Below, we're reprinting the latest round of emails with Christie, leading to the NYT policy statement he issued late Tuesday afternoon:


Anonymous said...

I would have more sympathy for the NYTPicker if the NYTPicker held him/her/them selves up to the same standards as they hold the NYT. Anonymity is fine with me and even part of the fun, but the NYTPicker routinely complains about reporters who use anonymous sources. And then NYTPicker deletes posts and maybe even edits them afterwards. The NYT can't do that.

NYTwit said...

Perhaps the NYT should stop accepting tips from anonymous sources. You know, in the interests of consistency.

Roberto said...

It's win-win for the Times.

NYTPicker is interested in holding the Times accountable for its actions; the Times has shown itself to be somewhat reluctant to be held accountable.

This saves the PR department (and presumably the executive management that signs off) the trouble of crafting responses to ethical lapses, plagiarisms, etc. that even the Times's own public editor fails to find convincing.

Dear Bob (and Anonymous): as you undoubtedly know, anonymity allows people to say things they might otherwise be punished by their employers for saying. NYTPicker could comprise Times employees. It could comprise past employees. It could comprise future employees. It almost certainly comprises people who work within the very small New York City media world.

You can stand with Richard Nixon on this; I'm with NYTPicker, which represents the interested readers to whom (Sulzbergers aside) the New York Times really belongs.

Anonymous said...

Roberto, well said. As regards retaliation against employees for whistle blowing, well, it's against the law. And retaliation against non-employees and stonewalling legitimate queries that affect the reading public and the integrity of the media---let's just that is not very becoming of the New York Times.

Anonymous said...

From the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists:

Be Accountable

Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Journalists should:

— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Anonymous said...

Maybe that code is a big reason why The Times is not a big deal in the SPJ and vice versa.

Just look at the stumbling over these first years with the ombudsman. If Abe Raskin couldn't persuade them . . .

Anonymous said...

NYTPicker holds NYT accountable for disclosures/openness. NYTPicker should be accountable and make disclosures of its own.

NYTPicker is run by David Blum who formerly worked at The Times and has history with some of the people he writes on (yawn).


lesdmd said...

Perhaps "Bob" would stop selectively hiding behind arbitrarily enforced policy and be willing to respond to some of the questions you raise if they come from "non-anonymous me"; a long time paying subscriber to the N.Y. Times. I suspect there are other readers who feel a compunction to share our feelings with Mr. Christie.
Might you be willing to publish his email address in the interests of better communication and full disclosure?

Anonymous said...

Shameful that they won't respond to anything anymore.
I wonder if they have told the newsroom not to respond to any emails from nytpicker.

Sam said...

I'm surprised they cooperated with you at all. Maybe it's time to put up (and lose the anonymity) or shut up.

Anonymous said...

Why is it time "to put up or shut up"? It's obvious that this blog has gotten under their skin. And their responses seldom really amounted to much more than humorous non-answers.

Those who can't deal with the anonymity should feel free to look elsewhere. There are no doubt many who will remain.

Roberto said...

I imagine many if not most of the readers of this blog are journalists or former journalists. I made a brief stop there, but have spent nearly all of my career on Bob's side of the table (though I've bought the patches and am trying to kick the habit).

I have always thought was a PR man's job was to advise his (or her) client, but to stay in the shadows. I have been asked many times by journalists for a statement on behalf of a client, and given some reluctantly (though I've known the 'messaging far better than anyone, having written it), but those of you who are journalists know there are not too many things of less interest than having to quote "a spokesperson".

I've always seen the job of 'corporate communications' as to help (sometimes dimwitted or monomaniacal) executives "stay on message", but to allow them to deliver the message(s) themselves (even if intensive media training is required, and even if that training does not yield quite the hoped-for results).

It would be a shame if the Times's executive management has decided to hide behind new front man 'Bob' Christie (who I imagine is the one who has decided NYTPicker is a minor annoyance that is sufficiently far from the mainstream that it can be safely ignored).

Anonymous said...

I think there is abolsutely no contradiction between 1) the fact that I love reading your posts and am completely comfortable with the fact that much of your work is based on anonymous sources and 2) that as a corporate communicator (oy, just the thought!) I would never respond to an anonymous inquiry.

You have proven your reliability over time by your work, regardless of its mysterious provenance.

As a corporate communicator, I see no reason why I should answer any question when I have no idea with whom I am speaking.

What is impossibly arrogant is the emphasis on blogs in the Times policy. I hope that they are refusing to answer questions from mystery people and that they are not implying that a blog, when identified, deserves less attention and response.

BobH said...

The only surprise here is that the NYT has been gracious enough to cooperate in the past. I can't imagine many other companies responding to an anonymous coward with an obvious ax to grind.

Your repeated calls for the Times to be open and honest are laughable.

Anonymous said...

There is a rather large difference between using an "anonymous" source in print, while knowing who that anonymous source actually is but not identifying them in the paper, and just engaging in a dialogue with an anonymous entity. If you don't want to identify yourself, fine and dandy, but don't hold it against the other side if they don't want to talk to you as a result.

Roberto said...

I disagree with the Anonymous above BobH. A response to NYTPicker is not a response to an anonymous query; it's a response to a media outlet.

Organizations don't respond to individual reporters; they respond to those reporters' employers in order to reach readers/viewers. Organizations that are worried about being misquoted, or being quoted out of context, can and do insist on recording their communications.

At this point, I think (and others have agreed above) NYTPicker has established itself as a credible entity (except, of course, to the haters), and the Times can and should be communicating with it as a means of communicating with NYTPicker's audience (which presumably by now includes every media reporter on earth with an interest in the Times).

The Economist's reporting is anonymous (to us readers, though I grant its reporters identify themselves to interview subjects), and that anonymity makes no difference to readers. And Jayson Blair, had he done any actual reporting, would have identified himself as a New York Times reporter.

What matters is credibility (which the market, i.e. we readers, decides) and the information. Protecting oneself against libel is part and parcel of the communicator's job and anonymity has nothing to do with it.