But no mention is made of this seemingly relevant credential: Colburn is, in fact, a public-relations executive who works for the cell phone industry -- and specifically, has recently represented a company that makes cell-phone software for data transmission.
In Wortham's story, Colburn is portrayed as a typical American mom who uses her iPhone "constantly" for data transmission. She even rates a photograph, showing her lounging on the family couch with her cell phone, and her 12-year-old daughter nearby.
But she's not that typical, given her close ties to the wireless industry. And the vague title that Wortham gives her -- "marketing consultant" -- isn't even accurate.
Until recently, Colburn worked at a firm called EmergePR, and now has her own public relations firm, called LCPR, short for Liza Colburn Public Relations. She can call herself whatever she wants, but that makes her a publicist.
At Emerge, where she worked until earlier this year, Colburn handled media relations for a company called Red Bend Software, which manages data applications on cell phones -- which is precisely the focus of Wortham's story yesterday.
In fact, here's a link to a recent press release from Colburn, reporting that Red Bend's reach now extended to 680 million mobile devices. The release coincided with this year's CTIA wireless convention. What's CTIA? It's the wireless industry trade association that Wortham cites as the primary source for her story's thesis!
We've observed multitudes of these corner-cutting "anecdotes" in the NYT, and sometimes we don't even bother to report them. But this one struck us as a flagrant example of the laziness that seems to befall some NYT reporters when it comes to covering trends -- and significant because of the impact of the story.
Wortham ought to have reached out for a lead anecdote beyond the world of industry publicists, whose interests are directly served by her story. In this case, a publicist for a company that makes wireless software has a direct interest in a NYT article that reports on increased use of cell phones for data transmission.
Public-relations professionals are a necessary part of journalism, but they don't belong as anecdotal ledes for stories that promote their businesses.
Beyond that, reporters shouldn't camouflage the biases of their sources by calling them things like "marketing consultant," which may be technically accurate, but coyly distracts from the truth.