Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NBC's Brian Williams Declares NYT's "Discovery" of Brooklyn As Media Story Of 2010. "It's Like Marrakesh," He Says.

NBC News anchorman Brian Williams has declared the NYT's "discovery of Brooklyn" as the media story of 2010.

"There are young men and women wearing ironic glass frames on the streets," Williams said incredulously last Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," remarking on some of the NYT's more notable Brooklyn finds. "They are making grilled cheese sandwiches in the streets."

Williams's brilliant comic tirade at the NYT's expense came in response to Joe Scarborough's statement that he believed the iPad to be the media sensation of the year.

We've transcribed Williams's reply, and the rest of his riff, but you're better off just watching the short YouTube video clip:

WILLIAMS: It’s pretty slick. I am rarely without mine. I, however, am going to go a bit differently. I thnk the media story of the year, in 2010, was the NYT’s discovery of Brooklyn. Once a day, there’s a story about all the riches offered in that borough. There are young men and women wearing ironic glass frames on the streets. There are open air markets, like trading posts in the early Chippewa tribe, where you can make beads at home and then trade them for someone to come over and start a small fire in your apartment that you share with nine others. Artisinal cheeses. For sale, on the streets of an entire American borough. It’s been fascinating to watch the paper venture over the bridge. Venture through the tunnel. Go out to the outer reaches. The outer boroughs of the city. All different sections of the paper.

SCARBOROUGH: I want to get this down for Harold Ford. We’re going to take the subway over there.

WILLIAMS: They are making grilled cheese sandwiches in the streets. There are roving wagons that will make you a – Brooklyn. Yes….it’s just a fantastic….it’s like Marrakesh over there.

SCARBOROUGH: Who is the Lewis & Clark of the New York Times to discover Brooklyn?

WILLIAMS: I’m too busy reading content to notice bylines. I’m leaving here to get to an artisanal market that just opened up today. It’s a flash artisanal market. The newest thing.

"Spider-Man" Director Julie Taymor Withdraws From NYT's Arts & Leisure Weekend. Is She Mad At NYT? We Would Be.

It turns out the NYT's Arts & Leisure Weekend's one sure-fire newsmaking event -- a January 8 conversation between "Spider-Man" director Julie Taymor and NYT theater reporter Patrick Healy -- has been quietly cancelled.

Without making any public announcement, the NYT sent a refund notice yesterday to ticket-holders already going to the session. But it's still listed on the front page of its online schedule -- it doesn't even rate a red "cancelled" banner over the listing -- and when you click to buy tickets, the site says only: "The chosen event is not available for sale at this time. Please choose a different event."

Translation: it ain't happening, folks. And we all know why. It has to do with the mess that is "Spider-Man," and maybe even the aggressive way the NYT has been covering the story.

From the beginning, Healy's coverage of the production has poked at its high cost, its shifting start dates, its lack of adequate investment, and its dangers.

Starting in October -- when an actor named Kevin Aubin was injured during a demonstration of the show's special effects -- Healy has kept up the heat on Taymor and "Spider-Man." The NYT's Dave Itzkoff broke the news of the December 20 accident that left actor Christopher Tierney in the hospital with multiple injuries.

In a daring stunt of its own, the next morning NYT posted on its website 8 seconds of terrifying amateur video of the accident -- likely to become a veritable Zapruder film in the annals of this troubled production.

That can't have made anyone happy.

The show's opening has been moved to Febuary 7. Meanwhile it has been jammed for previews, despite widespread criticism of Taymor -- who Broadway actor Adam Pascal said should be brought up on assault charges. NYT commenters have been nearly unanimous in their attacks on the show and its director.

We wrote to Healy twice about the cancelled event; still no reply.

We did reach Rick Miramontez, the publicity agent for "Spider-Man," who referred our questions to Taymor's own publicity agents.

We asked Miramontez via email if either Taymor or the producers of "Spider-Man" are satisfied with the NYT's coverage.

"Please ask us next week," Miramontez replied, cryptically.

Meanwhile, don't despair. Some $30 tickets are still available to see Gail Collins interview Katie Couric.

UPDATE: About three hours after we posted this story, NYT arts reporter Dave Itzkoff posted about Taymor's withdrawal from the event on the NYT's Arts Beat blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday NYT Book Reviewer Accidently Attributes P.J. O'Rourke Quote To...Frederich Nietzsche?!

It's an easy mistake. Mixing up 19th century German philosophers and late 20th Century satirists.

Dani Shapiro did it this morning in her Sunday NYT Book Review critique of Poser: My Life In Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer. It's a memoir shaped around the author's favorite yoga positions. Here's the second paragraph of Shapiro's review:

This dark enchantment with the joys, rigors and travails of building a family life is at the center of this fine first memoir, and it’s heartening to see a serious female writer take such a risky step into territory where writers of literary ambition fear to tread, lest they be dismissed as trivial. Bills, laundry, cooking, breast-feeding, baby sitters, holidays, aging parents — my favorite curmudgeon, Nietzsche, put it this way: “Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper.”

It's that last line that caught a NYTPicker reader off guard. Our emailer didn't recall Nietzsche making many, you know, home decorating references in his essays. (Although in fact the controversial philosopher did publish a book called The Gay Science.) So we all looked it up and discovered some misinformation on the web. Apparently a lot of quote books wrongly give the nod to Nietzsche on this one.

Our reader found the actual words in a 1994 book by P.J. O'Rourke called Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book For Rude People. On page 19, O'Rourke wrote:

To be a mannerly and courteous person you want only a few things from your real family: dignity, breeding, and piles of money. That's all anyone has ever wanted from a family. But all anyone gets from most families is love. And family love has nothing to do with "true love." Family love is messy, clinging, and of annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper.

We've emailed O'Rourke and Shapiro for comment. Nietzsche is dead.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The First Annual NYTPicker Christmas Poem. (With Apologies To Roger Angell.)

Fair readers, hi! It’s almost Christmas morn
And for those not browsing media porn
We thought we’d bring you holiday rhymes
That sync up to the New York Times!

For starters, let’s properly celebrate
With the sterling Nate Silver, and his blog Five-Three-Eight;
He’s new, he’s smart, and well, kinda hunky
As opposed to, say, Detroit’s Nick Bunkley.

To the newsroom! There’s still time for one very last tango;
A three-way with Brian Stelter and (of course) Tim Arango.
And who’s that reading out-of-town clips?
Oh wait, we know – that’s where Dan Barry sits!

Next, quickly, a pit stop in the comfy confines
Of Verlyn Klinkenborg and Francis X. Clines.
Then we’ll deck Trish Hall with boughs of holly!
Maybe she’ll recommend us to replace Tom Jolly.

It’s the end of the year, so let’s stick a fork in
The bloviation of Andrew Ross Sorkin
Instead, let's make some more room on the show
For the numbers machine that is Charles M. Blow.

To Tim O’Brien, we say a hearty hasta la vista!
(Don’t tell him, but we prefer Judy Battista.)
We’ll miss David Shipley, the lord of op-ed;
Can’t we get rid of Paul Krugman instead?

And now, all, a round of he’s-a-jolly-good-fella
To the haircut in chief, the comely Bill Keller
You too, Jill! Come now, wipe off that pout
Bill let you blog about your little dog Scout.

Lest you think this poem is getting too petty
Here’s a tip of our hat to the great Mark Mazzetti!
Between Bruni and Sifton, it’s Frank by a nose
But we’re kind of in awe of Sam’s purply prose.

For tugging at heartstrings, there’s the dynamic duo
Of Susan Dominus and the great Michael Luo
But if it’s humor you hanker for, we have to admit
That nothing beats Maureen Dowd in a snit.

Other kudos include a tip of our sombrero
To Marc Lacey and, of course, Senor Simon Romero.
And here’s a statement that requires no correction;
Alessandra Stanley, you’re TV’s greatest confection!

As long as it’s writers whose gifts we’re exhorting
Here’s to Sam Dolnick for his metro reporting!
And if any athlete, anywhere, is doing bad shit
You can safely be certain it’s known to Mike Schmidt.

To all New York Times reporters posted near war,
We say thank you and godspeed, and nothing at all more.
To Hugo Lindgren, we wish good luck with his rag
You know, the still-curious NYT Mag.

The log’s in the fire, the paper’s ready to burn;
We’re caught up with Nocera and the fair Morgenstern.
We’ve remembered the neediest, and helped out a few
And so now, we say Merry Christmas to you!

Love, The NYTPicker

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bogus! On Page One, NYT Pulitzer Prize Winner Matt Richtel Delivers Phony Email-In-Decline Trend Story.

Does winning a Pulitzer Prize exempt you from properly doing your job at the NYT?

That appears to be the case with Matt Richtel's bogus page-one "trend" story this morning that declares email in "decline" -- a bastion for the "old fogey" who hasn't discovered the joys of text. He emphatically states -- with no reporting to support it -- that online chats and text messaging are "threatening to eclipse email, much as they have already superseded phone calls."

Richtel "proves" his point with the following evidence:

-- Interviews with two young women -- a 17-year-old named Lena Jenny, and a 26-year-old named Katie Bird Hunter -- who say they prefer the speed and convenience of texting.

This is only the most obvious, not the most damning example of Richtel's laziness. But it's clearly not thorough or representative reporting to quote two people as proof of a trend -- especially since neither example suggests that they have given up email in favor of other means to communicate.

But since Richtel's thesis focuses largely on, as he puts it, the "Lenas of the world" -- without making it at all clear what makes Lena a trend --the lack of additional Lenas is a bit disturbing. In the story, Lena calls email "so lame" but doesn't deny using it. And Richtel ends his story on a 23-year-old who complains about the poor grammar in text messages, and continues to use email.

So where's the trend? Where's the reporting? As George Carlin would say: nowhere, mon frere.

-- A reference to a comScore study showing that unique visitors to "major email sites like Yahoo and Hotmail are in steady decline."

Steady decline? Richtel himself notes that visits "peaked" in 2009 and "have since slid." A one-year decline cannot by any stretch of the journalistic imagination be called "steady."

In any case, Richtel also points out that Gmail use is up. So what are the overall statistics that might prove -- or disprove -- his thesis? He doesn't disclose them. A search of the comScore website, with an extensive digest of press releases, didn't reveal the source of Richtel's information, and the hyperlink in the story takes the reader only to the NYT's index of comScore-related stories.

-- An interview with a professor of communications at Rutgers, James E. Katz, who has been a NYT go-to academic for quotes about technology shifts in recent years.

It turns out Katz has been quoted 70 different times by a multitude of NYT reporters in the last decade -- including in 16 different stories by Richtel since 2004. Like the famed Syracuse University quotemeister Robert Thompson, Katz helpfully delivers pithy quotes to bogus trendspotters like Richtel, on deadline.

In their first conversation in August of 2004, Katz offered Richtel the requisite expert quote he needed for a story about the possible listing of cell-phone numbers.

''People would love to be able to contact each other,'' Katz told Richtel. ''But they are very reluctant to be reached.'' Huh?

In today's story, Katz said that email is "painful" for young people. "It doesn't suit their social intensity," he says. Painful? Seriously?

Aside from the story's multiple reportorial weaknesses, Richtel's writing also suffers from laziness unbecoming of the NYT's front page. Consider this embarrassing lede:

Signs you’re an old fogey: You still watch movies on a VCR, listen to vinyl records and shoot photos on film.

And you enjoy using e-mail.

It's usually a bad sign for a trend story when the reporter can't dredge up a worthy anecdote for the lede, and instead is forced to fall back on this sort of hackneyed prose to make a point.

Richtel has worked at the NYT since 2000, and won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting this year for the 2009 series "Driven To Distraction," about the dangers of texting while driving. He has also written a mystery novel, and until recently published a regular daily cartoon strip.

We've contacted Richtel to get his comment on today's story. Based on his apparent poor effort, we wonder if maybe Richtel's a little distracted, too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Daddy Dearest: NYT's Deborah Solomon Reveals Odd Obsession With Fathers As Role Models, And Mothers As Nags.

In tomorrow's "Questions For" interview in the NYT Magazine, Deborah Solomon tosses Columbia physicist Brian Greene this seeming softball: "What did your dad do for a living?"

A reasonable question, perhaps -- until you remember that this is 2010, and that working mothers have been a prominent presence in American society for longer than the 53-year-old Solomon has been alive.

But over the course of Solomon's decade-long role as the NYT's official weekly interlocutor, she has never -- not once -- asked a subject a direct question about a mother's choice of career.

By contrast, Solomon has on numerous occasions asked people about their fathers' professions, with the unspoken presumption that the mother's occupation is somehow irrelevant to the topic. Beyond that, Solomon's father-oriented questions reveal an almost-obsessive fascination with the role of fathers and fatherhood -- with her questions about mothers often implying a peripheral, nagging role in child development.

For example, in tomorrow's Greene interview, Solomon follows up her straightforward question about his father's career with a flip refererence to mothers' outsize expectations for their children's success:

"And what about your mom? Does she expect you to win a Nobel Prize soon?"

To Greene's credit, he ignores Solomon's snide question, and quickly notes that his mother is "something of a real estate mogul." (He does obediently buy into Solomon's sardonic view of mothers, by noting that his mom wishes he'd become a doctor.)

Typically, Solomon acts as though her interview subjects' mothers don't work, and only function as nagging annoyances. She underscores her obsession with a consistent curiosity about how men see ther own roles as fathers, or what impact fathers' jobs had on the careers of the celebrated people she interviews.

Solomon's questions about mothers tend to go in an edgier direction, sometimes implying that moms didn't know best. Consider this one-two punch from her May 2010 interview with Martha Stewart: "Where does your ambition come from? Did you have a critical mom?"

Ditto this dismissive query from her May 2009 interview with Senator Arlen Specter:

"This article is scheduled to appear on Mother's Day," Solomon noted to the Pennsylvania Republican. "Is there anything to be said about your mother?"

Solomon seems to see mothers as bothers and scolds, rather than role models. Check out this pointed jab from Solomon's September 2010 session with rocker Phil Collins:

"The cover of your new album is a photograph of you as a teenage drummer," Solomon observed, then inquired: "Did your mother tell you when you played the drums that you were giving her a headache?

Or the time she noted to rocker Eminem that "even your mother sued you for defamation." Or when she asked blogger Mickey Kaus during his his recent campaign for the Senate, "Does your mom approve of your Senate bid?"

Meanwhile, dads continue their noble role in their children's lives -- often presented by Solomon as simple statements of fact. "Your Greek immigrant dad ran an all-night diner in Kearney, Neb.," she reminded financier Peter Peterson. "We should mention that your dad is R. Crumb, a reclusive and revered figure who was a founder of the underground-comics movement in San Francisco in the ’60s," she genuflected at artist Sophie Crumb.

Sometimes, Solomon's fascination with dads sometimes comes off as nothing short of rude. "Where is your dad these days?" she asked basketball star Shaquille O'Neal this past August. No mention of the mom who raised O'Neal, even though she's alive and well, and writing her memoirs.

We've emailed Solomon for comment. But we know, on the face of it, that in a society where women -- like Solomon -- have long held jobs as distinguished and important as men, her failure to ask her subjects about their mothers' careers and influence is narrow-minded and bizarre.

UPDATE: In what turns out to be an bizarre coincidence -- or no coincidence at all -- Solomon herself wrote an essay called "Daddy Dearest" in The New Criterion in 1988, which revealed quite a bit about her own father issues.

"Fathers never know how they'll be remembered by their scribbling children," Solomon wrote at the outset of the piece, ostensibly a review of two memoirs by women artists about their fathers. Solomon wrote in great detail about the effect of their fathers' accomplishments and expectations, and how they played out in their daughters' lives.

In the end, Solomon appears to be troubled by the attacks perpetrated by the two authors -- Musa Mayer and Eleanor Munro -- on their dads. She refers to Mayer's memoir as a "serpent's tooth of a book" devoted to her relationship with her father, the painter Philip Guston.

"[A]ll this becomes mere backdrop to the baroque spectacle of Mayer’s struggle for her father’s approval and affection," Solomon writes. "The point of Night Studio is not to illumine the artist’s achievements but to catalogue the sufferings of Guston fille." Solomon acknowledges that Guston was, as his daughter notes, preoccupied with his work, but then notes, "what artist isn't?"

The Eleanor Munro memoir came in for similar attack by Solomon, who saw it as another example of a daughter unfairly resenting the effect of her father's success on her own creativity. Solomon bristles at the suggestion that Munro's father did anything wrong:

“Our father’s work and taste set us apart,” [Munro] smugly notes, speaking for herself and her siblings. Eleven pages later, she visits the home of a high-school classmate in Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb. The fathers there, com pared to her own, “did not come down hard on ideas they disagreed with, having none of their own.” This is an offensive statement, and it reminded me of something Delmore Schwartz once said: there’s nothing so great about ideas; taxi drivers have them, too.

We're still sorting through our sense of the meaning in all this. It's clear that Solomon has an unusually exalted view of fathers and their importance -- to the point where mothers barely merit a mention. It's also clear that Solomon sees successful fathers as unfairly blamed for their children's problems.

Our problem with all of this isn't, as one commenter suggests, that we want to enforce some politically correct approach to questions in Solomon's column. It's that we believe that mothers -- whatever they do to occupy their time -- merit a mention in her efforts to understand the people she interviews.

Whether it's changing diapers or the world, mothers seem worthier of Solomon's attention than she seems willing to offer -- which is almost no attention at all.

Seriously? NYT's Knicks Reporter Slams Spike Lee's Courtside Fashions, Declaring: "Jerseys Aren't A Good Look."

Criticizing Spike Lee for wearing a basketball jersey at a Knicks games strikes us as sort of like attacking Anna Wintour for turning up in an Armani suit at Fashion Week.

And yet NYT Knicks beat reporter Jonathan Abrams took to Twitter late last night -- after the Knicks got blown out at the Garden by the Miami Heat -- to admonish the Knicks' number-one fan for wearing a traditional blue-and-orange Knicks number-six jersey to the game.

"Nothing against Spike," Abrams tweeted, "but jerseys aren't a good look for a grown man unless you're playing in your own."

Hmmm. Has Abrams not noticed that thousands of grown men show up at Madison Square Garden in jerseys every home game? Or, for that matter, everywhere basketball is played? Does he not realize that men don't wear jerseys to impress the ladies with their sartorial taste?

And does he not realize that to Knicks fans, the director of "Do The Right Thing" is a legendary, larger than life hero? Dude, you don't diss Spike Lee.

Lee goes to nearly every home Knicks game and sits (it's more of a crouch, really) in his customary courtside seat opposite the Knicks bench, wildly cheering on team members in his unofficial capacity as Knicks cheerleader and mascot. Knicks fans love Lee's crazed devotion to the team, who before this season had been on a decade-long slide into the NBA basement.

In return, Lee can wear jerseys to a Knicks game anytime he wants, and he will look awesome in it. End of story.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Slobber Alert: NYT's Steve Lohr Puckers Up For Jeffrey Immelt GE Wet Kiss In Sunday Business.

Last Sunday, the NYT Sunday Business section published a Pulitzer-worthy classic on its cover -- David Segal's epic, brilliant journey into the madness and manipulations of Vitaly Borker and his DecorMyEyes website scam.

But this week -- to borrow the language of the virtual GE press release it published as a cover story today -- it's "back to basics" for a NYT section more notable for its flackery than its scoops. Too often, its columns promote products, its interviews push personalities, and its cover stories depend more on exclusive access than investigative muscle.

That's the story behind this week's wet kiss. In 3,690 words, longtime NYT business reporter Steve Lohr manages to reward one of America's most battered corporations, GE, with the chance to resurrect itself -- simply, it seems, as payback for the chance to interview Jeffrey Immelt, its struggling CEO.

As anyone who follows the business world knows, GE took a major beating in the 2008 economic meltdown, having pinned its future on its GE Capital financial services unit. That resource fell apart in 2008, as the credit crisis left GE reeling.

Suddenly, a company that once seemed a bedrock of American capitalism and success appeared to be on the ropes -- so much so that the NYT's own best business columnist, Joe Nocera, had to take to print to assure readers last year that GE would survive.

After laying out its litany of huge missteps, Nocera declared in a March 2009 column: "Can you see now why investors no longer feel they can trust General Electric?" Nocera insisted that the company needed to "open the kimono and disclose its assets and how it values them."

But now, 18 months later, Lohr has fallen prey to that classic corporate gambit -- access to the CEO for an "exclusive" interview, and a guided tour of exactly what the company wants the public to see, and nothing else.

Beyond that, Lohr excluded from his epic piece the most recent -- and damaging -- public-relations blow to the company's reputation: Thursday's revelation that GE borrowed $16 billion from the Federal Reserve in the fall of 2008, well before anyone realized the depth of troubles with the company's credit.

And as if to underscore Lohr's omission, today's "Fair Game" column by NYT Pulitzer Prize winner Gretchen Morgenson, "So That's Where The Money Went" -- on the same Sunday Business front page -- purports to look at the recipients of the Fed's loans, yet also leaves GE off the list of lucky borrowers. Instead, she puts her spotlight on the usual suspects like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch.

There has been no mention of GE's access to billions in bailout funds anywhere else in the NYT this week, for that matter. A Thursday page-one story by Sewell Chan and Jo Craven McGinty didn't disclose the GE billions, either.

It was reported, instead, by former NYT investigative reporter Jeff Gerth on the ProPublica website -- Gerth noting that GE took the bailout billions "even as the blue-ribbon company enjoyed the highest credit rating available at the time."

Why no update of Lohr's story to include this relevant information? The answer is simple: it would have gone against his thesis, which, to paraphrase George Santayana, is that those who forget the past are...better off.

Instead, Lohr engages in some of the most egregious examples of corporate flackery to have turned up in the NYT's pages in a long time.

Here are just a few examples of language Lohr uses to cast GE and its CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, in a positive light, presumably part of the transaction for managed access that accounts for the interview, Lohr's visit to a GE factory, and five giant photos portraying Immelt and his workers as hopeful, endearing folk emerging from a financial mess not of their making.

The story quotes Immelt at epic length, frequently without qualification or question, and often permitting him to lapse into coporate doublespeak with references to things like "aspirational" goals. When Immelt acknowledges the company's colossal errors under his leadership, Lohr says he does so "candidly." All but three people quoted in the story are friends, present or former employees of GE -- including factory workers who offered their we-love-GE soundbites with all the candor of a worker being watched by the PR machine that arranged the interviews.

A sampler, beginning with Lohr's saccharine summary of Immelt's broad strategy to return GE to dominance:

Having skirted disaster, G.E. is recovering gradually these days. Its finance unit is on the mend, with the size of its debts and troubled loans trending downward. Mind you, middling recoveries are a relative matter at G.E. After all, the company remains a colossus on track to deliver profits of more than $10 billion on sales of about $150 billion this year. But investors are used to getting more from G.E., which earned $22 billion on revenue of $173 billion in 2007. So G.E. has revamped its strategy in the wake of the financial crisis. Its heritage of industrial innovation reaches back to Thomas Edison and the incandescent light bulb, and with that legacy in mind, G.E. is going back to basics.

Then a few words of sympathy for the beleaguered CEO:

Mr. Immelt and his advisers had plenty of company in missing the gathering storm...

Mr. Immelt is backing his words with actions...

On to Immelt's strategy, and how well it's already working:

About 1,000 miles from corporate headquarters, inside a gleaming new plant that is the result of a $100 million, three-year investment, G.E.’s back-to-basics strategy is on display....It is an industrial symphony of materials science, high-tech machinery and hand craftsmanship.

Next, a few positive quotes from people whose paychecks Immelt signs:

Audra Harris, 36, left a job as a machine operator at a commercial roofing manufacturer to come to the G.E. plant. In her first months, Ms. Harris says she initially found the team approach “very challenging,” but adapted quickly. "Here you get to make a lot of decisions," she says....

Steve Lentz, 55, who had worked in a printing factory and a bottling factory before joining G.E, says the large investment in a high-tech facility proved that the company had a long-term commitment. "I figured I could wrap up my career here,” he says. “At other places, you don’t know when the shoe will drop."....

Back to Immelt, who thinks GE's doing a pretty good job, if he says so himself:

Being nuanced in foreign markets, [Immelt] says, is a skill that "I think we’re pretty good at."....

“It’s about using the scale of G.E., the majesty of the company, to drive growth and change,” [Immelt] says...

More GE employees weigh in with praise for the boss:

Mr. Immelt, according to Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at G.E., is constantly scouting for opportunity. “He says, ‘Hey, I think there’s something here,’ ” Ms. Comstock says. “Let’s see what we can do.” When he gets excited, teams are dispatched to assess markets, products and research and technology trends, typically in a few weeks or less...

But wait! Apparently, sometimes Immelt has to make a tough decision or two:

Occasionally, Mr. Immelt just issues an order. After a trip to Brazil in January, he became convinced that the country was rapidly advancing in technology and that G.E. should place a research lab there. When he returned to the United States, he told Mr. Little, as Mr. Immelt recalls, “Hey dude, you’re going to put a global research center in Brazil. Pick a good place.” Last month, G.E. announced it would build a research center in Rio de Janeiro....

Leadership by fiat when done in moderation, Mr. Immelt says, can drive change and set a course. “I think that if you run a big company, you’ve got to four or five times a year, just say, ‘Hey team, look, here’s where we’re going,’ ” he says. “If you do it 10 times, nobody wants to work for you. If you do it zero times, you have anarchy....

Things are going to turn out pretty well for GE. Maybe. Assuming this happens and that happens and something else happens, that is:

The near-term prospects for G.E.’s stock seem to depend, if not on financial engineering, then at least on financial moves that might lift the dividend back toward its pre-crisis levels. The sale to Comcast could bring $8 billion in cash. And negotiating with Mr. Buffett to buy back his $3 billion in preferred stock, which pays a 10 percent dividend, could free up $300 million in yearly fees. Those steps could clear the way to raising the dividend and making the stock fetching again for investors...

In the end, Immelt thinks it's all going work out just fine for GE:

For his part, Mr. Immelt is an optimist. “We’re going to be one of the companies that comes out of the crisis stronger than we went in,” he says. “I think that is something that is ultimately going to be good for employees and investors.”

Fortunately for Immelt, Steve Lohr seems to think so, too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NYT Vs. NYU! Pulitzer-Winning Reporter Declares War On Journalism Prof Over Lack of Cinammon At Starbucks.

It seemed innocuous enough to us -- or to anyone who has searched for cinnamon to top off an overpriced latte at America's most annoying foamagerie.

Except maybe to NYT Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Don Van Natta Jr.

At around 10:00 pm last night, Adam Penenberg, an NYU journalism professor, turned to Twitter to file a 140-character complaint against everybody's favorite retail punching bag, Starbucks.

"Dear @Starbucks," Penenberg wrote. "At $4+ a grande cappuccino, you should never run out of cinnamon or cocoa powder, yet many of your NY locations do. #cmon."

Just moments later, Van Natta -- who follows Penenberg on Twitter -- fired off this reply:

If you whine here about nonsense-- like no cinnamon at @Starbucks -- you get unfollowed. Adios, @Penenberg.

At which point, apparently, Van Natta deleted Penenberg from his Twitter "follow" list.

Ouch! Seems like an outsize response to a fairly standard Twitter feed, especially given the fact that Penenberg is also a respected investigative journalist -- famous, in fact, for having exposed the fabrications of Stephen Glass at The New Republic while a reporter for Forbes. Penenberg has written books on social media and business, and and has taught at NYU journalism school for several years.

Van Natta's excision of Penenberg from his Twitter feed seems especially odd, considering his own constant use of Twitter -- he posts several times a day -- to file his own offhand comments.

Here's a recent Van Natta sampler:

My World Cup predictions: Spain/Portugal 2018, Australia 2022.

Why does @KingJames still call himself "King of Akron?" Is there a South Beach club named Akron?

This #Knicks team is almost as cool as Clyde Frazier.

Barring last min glitch Gruden is happening. Yeah!!!!!!!

Those examples were provided by Penenberg, who told The NYTPicker he was baffled a bit by Van Natta's quick, harsh response.

"It's all so silly and I don't know what set him off," Penenberg wrote us in reply to our questions. "If you check out my tweetstream you'll note that I don't usually blather on about the lack of cinnamon at Starbucks. Then again, it's Twitter, not Charlie Rose."

After citing the examples of Van Natta's own oddball tweets, Penenberg added: "Nothing wrong with that, of course. Although by the standard Van Natta set for me, I'd recommend he immediately stop following himself, just to be consistent."

Penenberg noted on Twitter -- shortly after the Van Natta pronouncement -- that he sees the NYT as being unduly sensitive to outside criticism. He elaborated on that point to The NYTPicker.

"When I said it's typical of the Times I was recalling the way the Times sometimes responds to critical coverage--like stories by Michael Hirshhorn in the Atlantic, Mark [Bowden] in Vanity Fair, and others."

Penenberg then provided a link to what he described as NYT executive editor Bill Keller's "acidic comments" re Bowden's profile of Arthur Sulzberger.

"Some in Times management also don't take kindly to having the paper's online business strategies questioned," Penenberg went on. "As both a fan and critic, I'd like to see the Times act with greater class. Times' management should be able to handle criticism better, not act so thin-skinned. Van Natta's off-his-meds behavior reminded me of that."

Van Natta hasn't yet responded to a request for comment from The NYTPicker.