Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How's Times Skimmer Doing? One Bad Sign -- NYT Can't Seem To Find Anyone To Advertise On It.

On December 2, 2009, the NYT Media Group's chief advertising officer, Denise Warren, announced the launch of "Times Skimmer,"a new NYT application designed to mirror the experience of reading the print edition -- and to showcase a "custom advertising position" for an ad that would turn up on every page.

Just one problem. The NYT can't seem to sell the ad space to anyone.

We haven't been keeping track on a daily basis, but we've noticed on several occasions recently that the primo ad space on Times Skimmer often goes to a NYT house ad.

As most readers know, running a NYT house ad is basically like saying, we couldn't get anyone to spring for the space.

It's a nice spot, too. The news release described the advertising hole as "integrated into the design to move seamlessly with the layout and navigation." Meaning that even if you switch pages, the ad comes with you.

The NYT has stuffed the print edition with house ads lately. Full-page ads offer oddball items like Grateful Dead memorabilia -- you can buy a Grateful Dead “Skeleton & Roses” limited-edition lithograph, signed by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, at the NYT store right now for only $1,495! Another recent full-page ad pushed the NYT's bizarre entry into the sale of "patent models," some for more than $1,000.

But seeing an ad for the NYT's real estate section -- right there on the front page of Times Skimmer, where the NYT probably hoped to place a Prada purse or Tag Heuer watch -- suggests just how deep this recession has cut into the NYT's ad business, including online.

Frankly, it got us depressed. We want the NYT to succeed.

By the way, we're thinking the fact that the NYT can't sell a single ad for its free Times Skimmer -- meant to be a major part of the paper's online presence -- doesn't bode well for the NYT's advertising prospects once it moves the editorial content behind a paywall next year.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NYT Tokyo-Based Business Reporter Hiroko Tabuchi Tweets Her Verdict: "Toyota Sucks!"

In a wild and entertaining series of tweets yesterday, NYT Tokyo-based business reporter Hiroko Tabuchi -- whose beat includes the unfolding scandal around the recent Toyota recall -- unleashed her frustration with the company she's covering.

Tabuchi was apparently at a press conference yesterday with the company's president, Akio Toyoda, when she let loose a Twitter tirade against the company for various abuses.

Here follows a selection of tweets from the reporter, which become progressively more agitated with Toyota's handling of certain issues, including her coffee:

• With less than 3 hours sleep, managed to haul myself onto 6 am shinkansen for #Toyota event in Nagoya. We love you Mr. Toyoda!

• ToyotaMan: We're gonna confiscate your mobile phones once we get off the bus. And you must wear our (butt-ugly) yellow Toyota hats. Whaa..?

• Me: Since we're just sitting here waiting to depart, can I go get a coffee? ToyotaMan: No. Me: I'll be back in just a minute. ToyotaMan: No.

• Back! Toyota coffee machine just recalled my coffee, said it failed a taste check so it wd make another cup. I'm dead serious, place is nuts

• Akio Toyoda took very few questions, ignored reporters incl me who tried to ask a follow-up. I'm sorry, but Toyota sucks.

Didn't the NYT send out some guidelines a while back about social media? Oh, yes. Here's part of what it said, as quoted by the "Save The Media" website in May of 2009:

Be careful not to write anything on a blog or a personal Web page that you could not write in The Times — don’t editorialize, for instance, if you work for the News Department. Anything you post online can and might be publicly disseminated, and can be twisted to be used against you by those who wish you or The Times ill — whether it’s text, photographs, or video.

We hope Twitter doesn't qualify, because we really love Tabuchi's refreshingly honest and amusing take on Toyota. They deserve her disgust. We just became followers!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Benjamin Genocchio, NYT Art Critic, Admits Lifting Language From Wikipedia Entry For Review, Calls It "Inadvertent And Unintentional."

In an email to The NYTPicker this evening, NYT art critic Benjamin Genocchio admitted that he "somehow echoed some of the language" from a Wikipedia entry in a review published on Sunday in the NYT Connecticut edition.

Gennochio wrote that he had "certainly read" the entry on Eero Saarinen, the famous 20th century architect, in preparing to review a Saarinen exhibition at Yale.

"It was certainly inadvertent and unintentional," Genocchio said.

In a post earlier today, The NYTPicker noted similarities of language and juxtaposition between a sentence in Genocchio's review and the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry.

The critic -- who is reportedly about to leave the NYT to become the editor-in-chief of Art + Auction -- added that he had also read the "vast catalog" for the exhibition and "many other sources" in getting ready to write.

But Genocchio was forthright and direct in acknowledging his mistake.

"I apologize to the readers and Wikepedia authors," Gennochio wrote.

In Genocchio's email, he denied that he had read a Yale Daily News review of the exhibit, from February, in which the earlier post noted a sentence that also echoed Genocchio's review.

Here, below, is the full text of Genocchio's email:

Dear NYTPicker
Thank you for your email.

In answer to your question I certainly read the Wikepedia entry on Saarinen (as well as the vast catalog on the artist that comes with the exhibition as well as many other sources) in preparation for the review. I did not however read the Yale Daily News. Reviewing below it would seem that in one instance I have somehow echoed some of the language from a sentence in the Wikepedia entry. It was certainly inadvertent and unintentional and I apologize to the readers and Wikepedia authors.

Thank you for your vigilance.

Benjamin Genocchio

EARLIER: Did NYT Art Critic Benjamin Genocchio Lift Language From Wikipedia For A Review? It Sure Looks That Way.

Did NYT Art Critic Benjamin Genocchio Lift Language From Wikipedia For A Review? It Sure Looks That Way.

We get fairly regular emails at The NYTPicker from readers peddling accusations against NYT reporters that relate to the copying of language and ideas from other sources. Most of them we ignore, because the similarities don't suggest anything beyond coincidence.

But an email we got yesterday from a reader -- pointing out the resemblance between a phrase in a review by soon-to-be-departing NYT art critic Benjamin Genocchio, and a line in an earlier review in the Yale Daily News -- prompted us to do a little more checking on our own.

And when we did, we found some similarity in language and juxtaposition between a paragraph of Genocchio's review -- of an Eero Saarinen reception at Yale, published in yesterday's Connecticut edition -- and the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on Saarinen, the celebrated 20th century architect. (Saarinen designed the Yale skating rink pictured above, known as the "Yale Whale.")

Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia page's first paragraph, followed by two paragraphs from Gennochio's review. We've added italics and emphasis to denote the passages in question.

From the Wikipedia entry, first paragraph:

Eero Saarinen (August 20, 1910 – September 1, 1961) was a Finnish American architect and product designer of the 20th century amous for varying his style according to the demands of the project: simple, sweeping, arching structural curves or machine-like rationalism.

From Gennochio's review, 8th & 9th paragraph:

Saarinen was widely criticized during his lifetime for having no identifiable architectural style, seemingly adapting his designs to each project....

Compare, for instance, those sensual, sweeping, arching curves of the TWA Terminal with the extreme rationalism of his many projects for American corporations...

It's that same paragraph from Gennochio's review that caught the eye of our reader, who noted a seeming similarity between it and a paragraph from the Yale Daily News review by Amir Sharif, published on February 19.

From Gennochio:

Compare, for instance, those sensual, sweeping, arching curves of the TWA Terminal with the extreme rationalism of his many projects for American corporations, like the boxlike IBM Manufacturing and Training Facility in Rochester, Minn., or the simple, rectangular CBS corporate headquarters in New York. It is hard to believe they are all by the same architect.

From the Yale Daily News:

The white model of the voluptuous Ingalls Rink is juxtaposed with plans of the irregularly angled Morse and Stiles Colleges. At another corner of the gallery the rectangular outline of the IBM corporate campus contrasts with the parabolic St. Louis Gateway Arch. It is hard to imagine that the same hands drew the sketches for all.

While these similarities strike us as worth noting, we don't think they remotely give rise to a charge of plagiarism. This seems more the apparent sin of laziness, in which a critic read over Wikipedia and then -- perhaps even unconsciously -- borrowed a phrase or two to help him make a point. The same thing may have happened with the Yale Daily News review.

We consider this the sort of offense that warrants a simple reminder to Gennochio -- and to everyone else at the NYT -- that while Wikipedia is a handy backstop for writers in need of a quick summary, it's not okay to copy from it.

Readers of the NYT have the right to expect that the paper's reporters aren't taking words or information from Wikipedia -- or anyplace else -- and putting it into the NYT.

Mediabistro reported on March 16 that Genocchio is leaving the NYT to become the editor-in-chief of Art + Auction magazine, and vice-president of editorial at Louise Blouin Media, its owner. A spokeswoman for that company told Mediabistro that the new position means that Genocchio "will no longer be contributing" to the NYT.

We've contacted the NYT and Genocchio for comment on the similarities between the review and the two pieces, and will update when we hear back.

Friday, March 26, 2010

When Did David Paterson Know About Assault Charges Against Aide? More Contradictions Emerge In NYT's Coverage Of Case.

In today's page-one NYT story on the David Paterson case, the NYT states flatly what remains unclear about the Governor's knowledge of the criminal charges made against his aide, David Johnson.

The trouble is that its latest account contradicts, in important ways, previous assertions made by NYT stories against Paterson -- with no explanation of the conflicting statements.

One of the most pivotal issues in the case -- and the one the NYT keeps flip-flopping about -- concerns when Paterson first heard about the assault charges made by Sherr-una Booker last Halloween against his top aide.

It's a crucial piece of information, because if it's demonstrated that Paterson knew of criminal accusations against his aide and tried to cover them up, he would himself face the possibility of criminal charges, including witness tampering.

In a story that appeared on February 26, the NYT reported that Paterson had "been apprised several weeks ago" of the charges of a "violent assault" against his aide. That statement was attributed to a "senior administration official."

But in more recent accounts, the NYT has hedged significantly on this allegation -- and, in fact, has never repeated that assertion about the Governor's knowledge of the facts of the case.

In a page-one story published on March 19, the NYT said only that a "former administration official said it was assumed" that Paterson knew about the criminal assault charges in January.

The NYT didn't elaborate on how "it was assumed," or by whom.

By today's story, the NYT has hedged even more significantly on this point, reporting only that "it was unclear" whether the Governor "then knew all of the details" of the case, referring to the point when he was in contact with Ms. Booker in early February.

It's a bundle of contradictory assertions that don't match up, and that the NYT doesn't acknowledge anywhere in its accounts.

If, as the NYT's anonymous "senior administration official" asserted in February, Paterson knew for "several weeks" about the nature of the charges, then Paterson would apparently be guilty of an effort to cover up a crime. If that assertion was wrong, then the nature of Paterson's involvement in the Booker case remains a murky question.

Throughout its coverage of the Paterson case, the NYT has been guilty of reporting assertions and then later dropping them without acknowledgement. For instance, the NYT's early stories reported -- with an attribution to Sherr-una Booker's lawyer, Lawrence Saftler -- that the Governor had called Booker on the day before her court hearing; later, when it was revealed that Booker called Paterson, the NYT never admitted that a key, named source of information had fed them false information.

Here are excerpts that illustrate the contradictory ways the NYT has addressed this latest matter in print, beginning in late February, shortly after the scandal broke.

"Paterson Weighs Race as Top Aide Quits in Protest," February 26, 2010:

[Paterson] also said that he became aware of the disturbing allegations involved in the case only on Wednesday. But a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, contradicted that account, saying the governor had been apprised several weeks ago.

"Paterson Loses Aide and Consults Lawyer," March 5, 2010:

They said that in her testimony for Mr. Cuomo’s inquiry, Ms. Booker spoke of how, among other concerns, Mr. Paterson had expressed worry about how she would portray the episode with Mr. Johnson to reporters.

It is not clear when the governor learned that she had accused Mr. Johnson of using violence against her.

In Ms. Booker’s testimony, she said that most of the governor’s conversations with her concerned ways to tamp down a possibly damaging newspaper article, according to the people who know her version of events. She also told the governor that she was annoyed because a reporter had contacted her about Mr. Johnson.

"A Flurry of Calls After a Paterson Aide’s Domestic Dispute," March 19, 2010:

One former official said it was assumed that Mr. Paterson knew of the dispute involving Mr. Johnson no later than early January.

"Paterson Seen With Key Role in Response to Aide’s Abuse Case," March 26, 2010:

It is also unclear if Mr. Paterson then [in early February] knew all of the details of what Ms. Booker had told the police was a violent assault on Oct. 31 in the Bronx apartment she shared with Mr. Johnson.

We consider the Paterson story legitimate and important -- and we applaud the NYT's aggressive coverage of the governor's actions. We've admired the NYT's tenacity on the case, and believe Paterson's behavior has been contradictory and elusive. He should have fired his aide, David Johnson, immediately after the first story appeared. We won't be surprised if it's eventually learned that the Governor, indeed, was involved in a criminal coverup and/or witness tampering in the case.

That said, we find the NYT's coverage at times far too eager to push allegations into print, especially on an investigative story of this magnitude. And when those charges don't remain supported by later revelations, the NYT has shown an inappropriate willingness to simply drop its assertions from stories, without acknowledging its own changing narrative to readers.

On a story as complex and important as this, the NYT owes its readers a transparent and thorough accounting of its allegations and reporting -- instead of pretending that its previous assertions about Paterson's knowledge or actions no longer exist, or apply.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Roanoke Times Editor To NYT's Bill Keller: Let Lady Gaga Do The Weather Report!

Dwayne Yancey, the senior editor of the Roanoke Times who developed that paper's TimesCast video in 2007, spent Tuesday trying to get NYT executive editor Bill Keller on the phone to discuss its curious resemblance to the NYT's own new Timescast video.

But Yancey couldn't get through.

"I tried calling you today but couldn’t get past your gatekeeper," Yancey wrote in an open letter to Keller, posted on the Roanoke paper's website late this afternoon. "Here at The Roanoke Times, the public can call our editor on her direct number; I was surprised to learn that’s not the case in New York."

Yancey's open letter includes, mostly, a critique of the NYT's Timescast.

Yancey notes the preponderance of white guys, correctly wondering why the women are all sitting in the back row of the front-page meeting. He also doubts -- correctly -- whether people really want to watch a meeting, anyway.

"Give people something they can’t get elsewhere," Yancey tells Keller.

Which is where Lady Gaga comes in.

After recalling appearances by a team of cheerleaders, a minister and Miss Virginia on the Roanoke Times's TimesCast, Yancey noted that in New York, the possibilities were limitless for an entertaining NYT TimesCast.

"Just imagine, say, Lady Gaga doing your weather forecast," Yancey wrote. "Now that would generate some traffic, and put a new face on the Old Grey Lady, don’t you think? (Umm, the Times, not Lady Gaga.)"

Now that is a great idea! Maybe.

Yancey reminds Keller to heed Bruce Springsteen's line: "“I learned more from a three-minute record than I ever learned in school.”

We still don't know what the NYT thinks about all this. Diane McNulty, the NYT's spokeswoman, wrote us an email yesterday afternoon saying she was "checking" on a response. No word since.

But we have learned that the editors of the Roanoke Times -- Carole Tarrant and Dwane Yancey -- are a pretty cool and smart bunch. We bet Keller could learn quite a bit from a conversation with them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Roanoke Times Editor Says NYT's Daily TimesCast Logo "Eeerily Similar" To Its TimesCast Logo From 2007.

Among the NYT readers most curious to watch the debut of its daily "TimesCast" video yesterday was Carole Tarrant, editor of The Roanoke Times.

That's because only a few years ago, Tarrant and her team had been responsible for a daily video on the Roanoke Times website -- coincidentally, also called TimesCast.

What surprised Tarrant most about the new webcast was the odd, remarkable similarity between the NYT's TimesCast logo and that of her paper's own daily webcast (pictured above). In a tweet earlier today, Tarrant called the two logos "eerily similar."

"Our logo -- which I can assure you we paid some high-priced marketing people to prepare (not) -- has 'Times' in black and 'Cast' in red, with the two words smooshed together," Tarrant elaborated in an email response to The NYTPicker's questions. "Theirs, uh, has the same."

Tarrant, who had earlier tweeted that the fonts were also "the same," added in a lighthearted jab: "I'm no font expert but I can tell you the font used on both is not 'Times New Roman.'"

The similarities between the two TimesCasts ends with the logo. The Roanoke version was a mostly comical look inside the paper, with narration provided by its staff in a conscious effort to amuse. One member of the newsroom staff, Seth Gitner -- now a professor of journalism at Syracuse -- referred to his TimesCast segment as "Sethual Healing."

Tarrant -- who described the Roanoke effort as "ahead of its time" -- doesn't seem to think much of the NYT's use of its daily page-one meeting as fodder for film.

"There are page-one (or what we here call "budget") meetings that we ourselves can barely stay awake through," Tarrant said. "Expecting to put that on video...and have people watch...good luck to them."

It wasn't clear from Tarrant's comments whether she had yet seen today's TimesCast, which contains an electrifying star turn by Bill Keller in the role of "Executive Editor."

We've emailed NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty for comment and will update when we hear from her.

Who Wants To Tell Michiko Kakutani That The "New Memoir" She Reviewed Today Came Out Almost Six Years Ago? No, You Tell Her.

That "new" memoir Michiko Kakutani reviews today, by the "My Beautiful Laundrette" guy? Came out almost six years ago, in September of 2004.

"Hanif Kureishi’s affecting new memoir, 'My Ear at His Heart,' ruminative and minor-key," Kakutani writes, comparing it to works by Martin Amis and V.S. Naipaul.

Nowhere in her daily NYT review does Kakutani mention the fact that the memoir has been readily available to Kureishi fans since 2004, via its British edition, published by Faber and Faber. Kakutani is reviewing the "new," American Scribner edition, but it's the same book. Who rewrites a memoir? Who besides James Frey, we mean.

Kureishi's most famous for writing the screenplay for "Laundrette" in 1985 -- it got him nominated for an Academy Award -- and then, in 1990, a first novel called "The Buddha of Suburbia." He has been a prolific, high-profile screenwriter, novelist and storyteller for most of the last quarter-century.

Good review, Michi. Next time, read the copyright page.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Want To Check The Quotation Of The Day? As Of Now, It's For Print Readers Only. NYT Quietly Pulls It Offline. (UPDATE: We Were Wrong!)

UPDATE: A couple of our alert readers have emailed us with directions to the Quotation of the Day on the NYT website.

It's in the "Today's Paper" section, of course. Why didn't we think of that? Maybe it's because we (and, we suppose, the two readers who wrote to us this week about it) don't read the "Today's Paper" section of the website. No need to, when you subscribe to the print edition of the NYT.

This doesn't quite answer the question raised by our readers, which was why the NYT stopped archiving the Quotation of the Day in its index as of last Sunday. But that's a minor matter. We were wrong.

Maybe this isn't the best time for us to ask whatever happened to the Saturday News Quiz.

OUR ORIGINAL POST, SO EVERYONE CAN SEE HOW WRONG WE WERE: What happened to the Quotation of the Day, that daily box on the contents page that culls the pithiest comment from the newspaper?

Oddly, the NYT appears to have pulled the popular print-edition feature from its website.

Don't worry. If you want to know today's Quotation of the Day, we'll tell you -- we just ran out and dropped five bucks for the paper. It's from Rachael Donadio's story from Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's apologetic letter to the Irish, released by the Vatican yesterday:

"It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."
in a letter that apologized to
people abused by clergy mem-
bers in Ireland but did not call
for disciplinary action. [6]

Although frankly, we might have gone with this one from the interview with John Cusack in the Arts & Leisure section:

"I remember very clearly being at the 1985 Super Bowl half-time show, on mushrooms."

Whatever the choice, it's been a daily part of the NYT contents page since at least 1962, which is the first year we could find it in the index.

Until March 14, 2010, that is.

That's the date the NYT stopped running the Quotation of the Day anywhere we can find on the website. And we've looked hard.

Based on our search of the NYT online index, the NYT had posted the Quotation of the Day every single day, consecutively, beginning in 1973 -- until last week.

Now, we have to admit that we've never searched for -- or noticed --- the Quotation of the Day on the website. So it's altogether possible the QOTD used to have its own button somewhere, even though we don't remember one. And wouldn't we have noticed?

Anyway, until last Sunday, the Quotation of the Day could at least be found through a NYT index search, and also through its own "Times Topics" page. But as of Monday, it was gone.

We rooted around the website for a while, looking for some explanation and/or history, and finally landed on the first Quotation of the Day we could find, from almost 48 years ago:

"I enjoyed it. I don't dance myself so I don't understand these things too well."
Premier Khrushchev at a Benny Goodman concert in Moscow.
May 31, 1962

Good start!

It doesn't make sense to remove the reliably entertaining Quotation of the Day from the website, just as the NYT prepares to put its content behind some sort of paywall.

In fact, we'd put it front-and-center on the home page -- or at least give it a button -- so that NYT readers can reach it online. It's a durable part of the paper's unique identity, and it needs to be preserved online and in its archives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Do Most Of NYT's Science Staff Doubt The Dangers of Global Warming? That's What One Prominent Science Journalist Claims.

"Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section's editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity."

That sentence was buried in the ninth paragraph of a guest blog post on the Scientific American website yesterday, by the prominent science journalist John Horgan -- where he was making the point that "not all global-warming skeptics are ignorant, irrational idiots."

Horgan, the author of the 1996 book "The End of Science," has written for numerous science publications, as well as the NYT, Time and Newsweek. His work has frequently appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

His statement is striking, given a hotly-debated perception that the NYT might have downplayed stories last fall about a series of stolen emails -- high-level correspondence among researchers that suggested, to some, a conspiracy to falsely promote theories about human influence on climate change.

At the time, the NYT's environment editor, Erica Goode, defended her staff's objectivity on the topic in an interview with public editor Clark Hoyt.

“We here at The Times are not scientists," Goode told Hoyt. "We don’t collect the data or analyze it, and so the best we can do is to give our readers a sense of what the prevailing scientific view is, based on interviews with scientists.”

But Horgan has come away from private conversations with NYT science staffers with a different point of view -- one suggesting the majority of that staff has "doubts" that global warming poses a "serious threat."

The NYTPicker contacted Horgan yesterday to ask him for further details about his conversations. In an email, he confirmed and expanded on his blog post:

Here's what I can tell you: I had dinner with a Science Times reporter a few years ago and he told me that a majority of the staff had doubts about human-induced global warming. He hadn't done a poll. This was just his impression based on conversations with colleagues. Later I ran this by a second Times reporter. He thought for a moment and then said he agreed with A's assessment. Before writing my blog post, I checked with the second reporter, and he said he stood by his statement about the staff's attitude toward global warming. Surprising, isn't it?

This isn't the first time NYT science reporters have hinted publicly at their own skepticism. In interviews with Hoyt at the time of the so-called "Climategate" email leaks, both Science Times columnist John Tierney and environment reporter Andrew C. Revkin addressed the issue:

But Revkin and Tierney both told me that, after that broad understanding among scientists, there is sharp debate over how fast the earth is warming, how much human activity is contributing and how severe the impact will be.

“Our coverage, looked at in toto, has never bought the catastrophe conclusion and always aimed to examine the potential for both overstatement and understatement,” Revkin said.

But Horgan's declarative statement -- that a majority of NYT science staffers doubt the "serious threat to humanity" of global warming -- could alter the perception that the NYT's coverage isn't shaped by the biases of its own reporters and editors.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with reporters having a subjective view of the stories they cover. NYT reporters vote in elections, and political reporters are allowed to cast a vote for -- or against -- a candidate they cover. Even the NYT's own ethics policy states that " this topic defies firm rules," though it states that "it is essential that we preserve professional detachment, free of any hint of bias."

How that's achieved, on a story as rife with conflict as global warming, is going to become an increasingly difficult and highly-charged matter in the years to come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Puff Piece About Foursquare From The NYT -- And Still, No Mention of The Paper's Business Partnership.

Thus the company, its separate business units and members of its newsrooms and editorial pages share an interest in avoiding conflicts of interest or any appearance of conflict.

-- NYT Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism

This morning, NYT published its third puff piece in five months on Foursquare, the social-networking phenomenon -- singing its praises yet again, while again forgetting to mention that the paper has been doing business with the company.

In February, the NYT's Jenna Wortham -- who wrote two of the NYT's three feature-length love sonnets directed at Foursquare -- buried the news of her paper's business partnership with Foursquare in Bits Blog entry.

Wortham reported on the blog on Febuary 9 (in an "update" to the entry, posted at 12:12 a.m.) that the Foursquare was "forging partnerships" with various media companies, including the NYT. The partnership debuted at the Winter Olympics, with Foursquare entertainment suggestions culled from the NYT's coverage -- with frequent Foursquare users earning NYT Olympics "badges."

“Going forward,” Stacy Green, public relations manager for The New York Times Company, told Wortham, ”we are looking into other ways we can work with Foursquare in New York and other markets to integrate our strong travel and entertainment content.”

Today's Foursquare homily comes yet again from Wortham, who only last October wrote a profile of the startup for the NYT's business section that made essentially the identical point to today's feature:

From today's piece, on the front page of the business section:

But now there is a different approach, one that is being popularized by Foursquare.

After firing up the Foursquare application on their phones, users see a list of nearby bars, restaurants and other places, select their location and “check in,” sending an alert to friends using the service.

This model, which may be more attractive than tracking because it gives people more choice in revealing their locations, is gathering speed in the Internet industry.

From Wortham's October 18 front-page Business Day feature:

For them, a fast-growing social networking service called Foursquare is becoming the tool of choice. A combination of friend-finder, city guide and competitive bar game, Foursquare lets users “check in” with a cellphone at a bar, restaurant or art gallery. That alerts their friends to their current location so they can drop by and say hello.

And only three weeks ago -- ten days after the NYT-Foursquare deal was announced -- metro columnist Susan Dominus delivered a paean to the service in her column, declaring:

In your own neighborhood, it’s a simple utility; farther than home, it seems to crack doors open that might otherwise be passed by, giving personality and accessibility to the surrounding blocks. To walk through the city eyeing your Foursquare tips is to realize just how little of it you ordinarily see.

Although it’s a tool of the young and hip, Foursquare also provides old-fashioned marketing opportunities for the businesses that tap into it. Show up more often than anyone at your favorite bar, checking into Foursquare each time, and suddenly you’re crowned “mayor,” maybe you’ll get a discount.

To Dominus's credit, at least her column mentioned parenthetically that the NYT "is among the companies that are working with Foursquare."

Today's NYT story should have done the same. The failure to disclose demonstrates yet another example of the blurred line between the NYT's business and editorial priorities, and a violation of the ethics rules that govern the paper's coverage -- whenever it's convenient, that is.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Worst Lede Ever? "Everything Is New In New York Save For That Which Is Old..."

"Everything is new in New York save for that which is old, and when something goes from one to the other, the transition can be sudden and surprising: a wet foal that’s suddenly distinguished and large, a horse that rides with the weight of history on its back."

--from "A Steakhouse Mellowed By Age," by Sam Sifton, page D8, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

NYT Caught In Bed With High-Priced Models!

For the last several weeks -- maybe longer -- the NYT has been involved in an expensive relationship with a group of very high-priced models.

The man supplying these models to the newspaper of record has a past history that includes accusations of sexual harassment and financial improprieties.

None of this has been disclosed by the NYT. Quite the opposite, in fact: the NYT expects its readers to support this alliance -- and even pay dearly for it.

The models in question are patent models -- tiny replicas of devices invented in the 19th century, made as part of patent applications to show what the invention would look like. They're "one of a kind" -- or as the NYT puts it, "only 'one' available."

They're for sale in NYT Store, ranging in price from $325 (for an 1876 belt-coupling) t0 $2595 (for an 1879 underground telegraph).

Usually the NYT Store sells NYT replica front pages, or Barack Obama coffee mugs. These represent true historical artifacts and once belonged to private collectors.

The store's promotional material explains that the items are "made available by the U.S. Patent Model Foundation, exclusively through The Times."

How do patent model experts feel about this?

"Frankly, I was very shocked when I found out that the NYT was promoting the sale of these models," Alan Rothschild, one of the nation's foremost collectors of patent models, and owner of Rothschild-Petersen Patent Model Museum in Syracuse, told The NYTPicker via email.

That's because the "U. S. Patent Model Foundation" --as official as it sounds -- has a shady past.

What especially troubles Rothschild -- and what bothers most people in the business when the subject of the U.S. Patent Model Foundation comes up -- involves a man named Jerry Greene.

Greene (who goes professionally by the more formal "J. Morgan Greene") has been involved with the foundation since the 1980s, when it launched a popular "Invent America" program designed to reward teenage techies.

In April of 1993, a report on ABC's 20/20 detailed numerous charges against Greene and the Foundation. The 20/20 piece included accusations of sexual harassment against Greene by six former female employees.

"There was daily, hourly screaming and yelling for reasons I couldn't figure out," Greene's former assistant, Laura Bakin, said in a complaint against her former boss, as reported in the Washington Post on April 17, 1993. "...And he would come up to me and put his face up to my ear and say, 'If you want to turn me on, you can type this for me.'"

The story went on to recount financial allegations against Greene's Patent Model Foundation, reporting that they were at times months late delivering the cash rewards -- disappointing the teenagers who had won its invention competition.

On top of that, the Post reported, the Foundation had just gotten evicted from its office for failure to pay rent.

Sounds like a great partner for the NYT to be in business with, selling toys at inflated prices -- almost like out of the back of a pickup truck.

Nowhere in the NYT advertising for the Patent Store -- and that includes a full-page house ad for the models that ran on the back of Science Times last Tuesday -- does it explain anything about its relationship with the Foundation.

These "models" make for an odd item for sale in what the NYT now freely calls the "Great Recession," in any case. The jewelry the NYT sells is in the $50 to $150 range, and most of its books and souvenirs don't approach the four-figure mark.

But what makes this especially weird is that the NYT is making a point of partnering with a man like Jerry Greene.

In 1989, Greene got Cliff Petersen -- a rich California patent-model collector -- to give 30,000 patent models and $1 million to his new "U.S. Patent Model Foundation."

Petersen gave the models to the foundation because it was "a nonprofit organization whose goal was to to set up a museum," the NYT reported.

It never happened.

Instead, by 1993 Greene had become the focus of the investigation aired on ABC's 20/20. That report detailed allegations of poor accounting practices, late payments of prizes in its "Invent America" competition -- and, of course, interviews with the numerous women who accused Greene of sexual harassment.

Greene denied the harassment charges at the time.

But in March of 1995, The Alexandria, Virginia Human Rights Commission ruled that Greene had harassed three female employees, and owed a total of $17,847 in damages.

The commission cited Greene's "inappropriate and highly offensive remarks" that included "unwelcomed touching" and "leering," according to a March 8, 1995 account in the Washington Post.

The "Invent America" program is no longer in operation. K Mart had withdrawn its sponsorship in the wake of the 20/20 investigation of Greene, according to a report in Education Week. It never revived its original media luster.

In 1997, Cliff Petersen sued to get his models back, according to Forbes Magazine. Greene countersued. Forbes reported that the results were sealed -- but that Greene was "happy with the results."

And why not? Petersen's donation helped Greene grow the Foundation into a thriving nonprofit. By 2001, Greene was pulling in a $120,000 annual salary for himself.

Greene's success would appear to derive in part from his latest endeavor: selling patent models on eBay, and at antique shows.

Forbes reported on Greene's new hobbies in December of 2006, and said Greene "claims he sells lesser pieces to help fund the foundation."

On eBay, the description of the U.S. Patent Model Foundation says it "hopes to place its collections" in museums. Whatever's left over from the sale, that is.

"He says 100 percent of his sales go to the foundation," James Davie, a patent-model collector, told Forbes, "but I'm not so sure."

Greene's response? "If anyone could do a better job with these," he said, "be my guest."

Well, fortunately for Greene, he's now got the NYT on the job.

Greene wasn't reachable for comment on this story; we'll update as soon as we hear from him.

We emailed a list of questions to Diane McNulty, the NYT's spokeswoman, early this afternoon. Still no response.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Why The Weaknesses In The NYT's Coverage of the David Paterson Story Matter.

It wasn't until May 19, 1973 -- nearly a year after the Watergate break-in, and well into the revelations that would eventually bring down a president -- that the NYT first referenced, in a meaningful way, the possible resignation of Richard Nixon.

That day, under the headline, "HAS A LOT TO DO," NYT political reporter R.W. Apple Jr. declared on page one:

The White House said today that President Nixon had no intention of resigning. Ronald L. Ziegler, the White House press secretary, made the statement in response to a torrent of questions about resignation and impeachment at his regular morning briefing.

The story ran just as nationally-televised hearings got underway before Sam Ervin's Senate Judiciary Committee. By then, Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman had resigned, and the president had fired his White House counsel, John Dean.

We went back to the Nixon coverage because we've been getting a lot of comments lately about the David Paterson story, and it made us wonder: Was the NYT, or anyone, this tough on Richard Nixon during Watergate? It wasn't until the so-called "smoking gun" was found in the summer of 1974 -- the transcript of Nixon's conversation with Dean on March 21, 1973, revealing the coverup plan -- that Nixon was forced to resign.

The truth is that Paterson has probably done something terrible, and maybe even criminal; it sure looks that way. And we acknowledge the hard work and reporting the NYT's Paterson team -- Confessore, Kocieniewski, Hakim, Dwyer, Rashbaum, Kovalevski, Peters, and others -- has put in to shedding light on this sordid part of the Paterson record.

We've been questioning the NYT's coverage of Paterson, and for one reason: we think the NYT has not demonstrated fairness in its stories about the governor. Its stories feel rushed. They're almost fully dependent on anonymous sources who surely have an interest in how this story plays out. They often change narratives without letting the reader know -- most especially in the depiction of Paterson's phone calls with Sherr-una Booker, the sequence of events at the heart of the matter.

We've seen Sherr-una Booker's lawyer -- a slip-and-fall specialist named Lawrence B. Saftler -- completely change his account of those calls without the NYT once questioning his validity as a source.

Remember, Saftler characterized the call as "about a minute," said there was nothing discussed about the impending court case, and said that Paterson told the woman, "I'm here for you." That scenario also disappeared on Friday, when the NYT offered an entirely new account of what took place -- a series of calls in which Booker and Paterson discussed the impending NYT's stories at length.

So where does that leave Saftler? The NYT doesn't say.

It's the tabloids pushing the resignation angle. We get it. The NYT is just following along. But the question has been asked and answered. It's time for the NYT to stop its incessant coverage of the effects of its stories, and to examine the record in a more definitive way.

We'd welcome a big NYT story that laid out the new, most accurate version of the narrative, for readers just joining this saga in progress. It would give the NYT a chance to figure out what is true, what isn't, and what information we don't yet know. It's time for the NYT to remind its readers why it brought this all up to begin with.

Friday, March 5, 2010

NYT Quietly Changes Yet More Facts In Paterson Narrative, Discrediting Its Own Sources -- And Itself.

In its page-one story about David Paterson today, the NYT yet again quietly added new wrinkles to its narrative of the governor's actions in the domestic violence case at the core of his troubles -- altering yet again the timeline of events, and contradicting its own previous reporting of the case.

Today's story also moved to impose an outrageous new reportorial standard on the story -- that the governor must submit to its reporters a regular update on his plans to remain in office, or else justify its speculation that he will soon resign.

"Asked by reporters if he would still be governor on Friday, he said he would; asked if he would still be governor next week, he did not respond," the NYT reported this morning.

The NYT's aggressive but at-times careless journalism -- reflecting a seeming determination to force the governor to resign before the results of the Attorney General's investigation have been announced -- has seriously diminished what should otherwise have been an investigative triumph for the NYT.

In story after story, as The NYTPicker previously reported, the NYT has failed to include the comments of Paterson and others accused by name of actions that could be construed as criminal behavior. It has repeated its regular insinuation that Paterson's February 7 phone call to Sherr-una Booker -- the woman at the heart of the scandal -- somehow directly resulted in her decision not to appear in court the next day, even though there has been no direct evidence yet presented to explain the connection between those two events.

This isn't to suggest that when the Attorney General issues his report, we won't learn that Paterson is indeed guilty of witness tampering, or worse. We believe Paterson should have fired his aide, David Johnson, as soon as he learned of his domestic violence history. We're also troubled by the NYT's accounts of Paterson's alleged use of intermediaries to contact the woman at the center of the most serious domestic-violence dispute involving his aide.

There's no question that the Paterson story is a legitimate one. We applaud the NYT for its aggressiveness in seeking to hold him accountable for his behavior.

But it has been clear from the NYTs first story focusing on the Sherr-una Booker case that we still know too little about what happened to form a full judgment of Paterson's actions. Too many facts are still missing, or contradict each other.

Paterson properly submitted to an independent investigation, and like everyone else, we anxiously await the results. If it documents that the governor improperly inserted himself into a legal proceeding, engaged in witness tampering or otherwise acted unethically or illegally, of course he should resign.

But we'd rather wait for the results of that investigation than be subjected to conflicting, confusing, and incomplete leaks to the NYT -- presumably from Paterson's opponents -- designed to insinuate guilt, not prove it.

And for the NYT to publish those leaks on a daily basis, without addressing the clear contradictions and omissions in the accounts, reflects an undue desire by the NYT to force Paterson to resign before the investigation is done.

That seems to us beneath the extraordinarily high journalistic standards of the NYT that have made it the best newspaper in America, if not the world.

In today's page-one account, the NYT reports -- nearly 750 words into the story -- that Andrew Cuomo's investigators "have been piecing together more details" about the governor's contacts with Sherr-una Booker, the woman who accused his aide of domestic abuse last Halloween.

In this new version of events, attributed to "two people with direct knowledge of her account," Paterson had "a series of conversations with Booker in an effort to control political damage from the episode."

This statement directly contradicts the NYT's own previous reporting on the governor's actions.

As recently as Tuesday, the NYT -- attributing its information to a mix of anonymous sources and Lawrence Saftler, Booker's attorney -- had been reporting that Paterson had a single conversation with Booker, lasting about a minute.

Indeed, the NYT definitively reported -- for several days' straight, and as recently as this past Monday -- that according to Booker's lawyer, the subject of the court case did not come up in the conversation, and that Paterson "had asked if the woman was all right and reassured her that 'if you need me, I’m there for you.'”

Today's new scenario -- buried deep inside a story about the fallout from Paterson's troubles -- has Paterson speaking with Booker repeatedly, mostly discussing the possible impact of NYT stories in the works on the governor.

The NYT story doesn't indicate when the conversations took place, how long they lasted, or who initiated them -- all crucial questions that bear directly on Paterson's possible guilt.

Here's what the NYT reports today, with the new information in bold:

Two people with direct knowledge of her account said Thursday that after the Feb. 7 conversation, the governor had a series of conversations with Ms. Booker in an effort to control political damage from the episode. Around that time, reporters for The New York Times were asking questions about it.

At some point during that series of conversations, Mr. Paterson mentioned the court case, according to the two people with direct knowledge.

They said that in her testimony for Mr. Cuomo’s inquiry, Ms. Booker spoke of how, among other concerns, Mr. Paterson had expressed worry about how she would portray the episode with Mr. Johnson to reporters.

It is not clear when the governor learned that she had accused Mr. Johnson of using violence against her.

In Ms. Booker’s testimony, she said that most of the governor’s conversations with her concerned ways to tamp down a possibly damaging newspaper article, according to the people who know her version of events. She also told the governor that she was annoyed because a reporter had contacted her about Mr. Johnson.

This new version of events directly contradicts the version the NYT has been reporting for days, attributed to Booker's own lawyer.

In a story last Thursday, the NYT reported:

Mr. Saftler said the conversation had nothing to do with rumors about the governor’s private life. He said, as he had on Wednesday, that the conversation lasted about a minute, that Mr. Paterson had asked if the woman was all right, and concluded by saying, “If you need me, I’m here for you.”

In other words, last week Booker's own lawyer presented one sequence of events to the NYT -- in which there was a only a single phone call between his client and the governor, with no discussion of the case -- and now, in today's NYT, "two people with direct knowledge of [Booker's] account" have presented a completely different version of them.

The fact that these two scenarios contradict each other -- meaning that one scenario simply isn't true -- isn't mentioned anywhere in today's NYT.

This contradiction strikes us as highly relevant, given that Saftler remains the NYT's sole on-the-record source of information on the governor's conversation with Booker -- and that he remains Booker's lawyer.

The NYT's ongoing coverage of the phone conversation -- or conversations -- between Booker and the governor has been the most troubling aspect of its investigation to date.

In previous stories, The NYTPicker pointed out that Saftler has been allowed to change his client's account of the phone call, without any disclosure of that change by the NYT.

The paper first quoted Booker's lawyer as having insisted that the governor called his client; later, he changed his story to say that Booker called Paterson, at the behest of an intermediary. Paterson confirmed that version. The NYT allowed Saftler to completely revise his account of the phone call, without any disclosure to readers that he had done so.

These ongoing contradictions, and the NYT's failure to focus readers' attention on them, reflects a seeming lack of concern by the NYT for the actual facts of the case. At this point, with numerous scenarios flying -- nearly all of them attributed to anonymous sources -- the NYT has failed to function effectively in making readers aware of the contradictions.

In this failure to keep its readers informed of these contradictions, the NYT has diminished its own reporting achievements on this story. It has also given careful readers reason to wonder why it seems so hell-bent on going to press with whatever latest scenario will makes David Paterson looks worse than before.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Note To Readers: We're Human.

A few commenters have taken note of a post that went up on our site briefly this morning, and then came down.

We often have stories in the works that we're considering, waiting for more information on, or debating whether to publish.

And occasionally -- because it's early in the morning and our staff doesn't really function effectively until that third Starbucks run -- somebody clicks "publish" when they're supposed to click "save" or "draft" or "delete" or whatever.

Here's the deal: we're human. We've written hundreds of posts and we're working as hard as possible to deliver a first-class professional website.

Sometimes we're going to click the wrong button. We did today. We have before. We will again.

Thanks for checking out our site. Hope you'll come back.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Integrity Breach: In Latest Paterson Scoop, NYT Accuses Press Secretary Of Calling Victim To Change Her Story, But Doesn't Give Her Chance To Comment.

"Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond."
--NYT Guidelines On Integrity

In tomorrow's latest page-one David Paterson blockbuster, the NYT reports that the governor told his press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, to call the alleged victim in a domestic violence dispute and to ask her to change her testimony -- and says Shorenstein placed the call on the governor's behalf.

That's an extraordinary charge, perhaps even representing an illegal attempt to tamper with the testimony of a witness in a court case.

But nowhere in the NYT's story -- at least in the version posted on the paper's website shortly after 10:00 pm tonight -- is the press secretary given the chance to comment on the allegation, attributed anonymously, and vaguely, to "one person who was briefed on the matter."

To not include any mention of an effort to seek comment from Shorenstein -- named in the second paragraph of the story -- reflects a clear violation of the NYT rules of integrity, and of standard journalistic practice.

Of course, a comment (or a reference to Shorenstein declining to comment) could eventually turn up in the story later this evening, or in time for the print edition -- an updating practice the NYT has used previously on the Paterson story, without informing its readers of the changes.

But to have posted such an explosive charge without a comment from Shorenstein -- or the mention of any effort by the NYT's team of reporters to seek one -- reflects a stunning violation of the paper's typically high standards.

Here's the full extent what the story says about Shorenstein:

According to one person who was briefed on the matter, Mr. Paterson instructed his press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, to ask the woman to publicly describe the episode as nonviolent, which would contradict her accounts to the police and in court....

The person briefed on the matter said that at the time of the call, Ms. Shorenstein was not aware of the severity of the alleged assault, and that she did not believe that Mr. Paterson was aware of it either. Ms. Shorenstein failed to reach the woman, who has never spoken publicly about the episode.

The NYT story does say that "Mr. Paterson's office declined to comment Monday" on this latest story. But the NYT Guidelines on Integrity clearly state that "we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages."

In other words, the comment from "Paterson's office" doesn't give Shorenstein -- clearly named as the subject of a serious charge, apart from the story's accusations against Paterson -- an appropriate chance to comment on her own behalf.

A story of this magnitude shouldn't depend on a comment from "Paterson's office" to address a serious charge against a state employee, named on the front page of the NYT.

By contrast, the other woman who figures in tonight's story -- Deneane Brown, another state employee who is identified as a friend of both Paterson and the alleged domestic-violence victim -- is given ample chance to respond directly to the NYT's allegations:

[Brown] has not responded to numerous phone calls and visits to her home. Her husband, in a brief telephone interview on Monday, said he knew nothing about the events and would not comment.

It's unclear to us why the NYT would fail to follow such a basic tenet of journalism. We'll be watching the story carefully to see if -- and/or when -- it corrects this significant slip in standards on a story of momentous significance to its readers.