It was either that or run a bed and breakfast

October 28th, 2006 → 12:13 pm @

“Mr. Jensen, who had previously rejected an offer of The Village Voice’s editor inn chief position, said that he had been offered the new position this week. One of his initial duties will be to hire Web designers and employees for the expanded Web sites of the 17 newspapers owned by the company.” (Emphasis added)

— “Village Voice Stalwart Resigns in Latest Post-Merger Shake-up
The New York Times
October 28. 2006

Post Categories: New York Times

She sure as hell blew her cover on that one

October 26th, 2006 → 5:58 pm @

“And then there is the matter of which friends to include and which to leave out — a problem that plagued Nancy Pinckert, and her husband, Byron, 56, both architects, when they chose nine people to join them last month for a luxurious three-night hotel stay at the Calistoga Ranch in the Napa Valley, complete with minibus transportation to wine and olive-oil tastings and dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.

Ms. Pinckert, whose 50th birthday the trip celebrated, said she was careful not to mention it to friends she didn’t invite. ‘We thought about explaining why we couldn’t ask them,’ she said. ‘But no matter how you try to position it, people feel rejected.'”

— “A Deluxe Vacation, Your Friends Included
by Shivani Vora
The New York Times
October 26, 2006

Post Categories: New York Times

Jack Shafer has a point. To a point.

October 26th, 2006 → 11:05 am @

On Monday, Slate’s Jack Shafer, (and here’s the standard caveat/suck-up included in the vast majority of stories press critics write about other press critics) — who’s somewhere between a friend and an acquaintance and is a reporter and writer I greatly admire — (now I can commence my criticism) took his trademark orneriness and applied it to the recent hand-wringing about media cutbacks.

Jack makes a couple of good points, such as:

* “[J]ournalists don’t want you to know this, but thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to hunt down a story, capture it, and bring it back to the presses for printing. A middle-school student sitting at a Web terminal has more raw reportorial power at his fingertips than the best reporter working at the New York Times had in, say, 1975. The teenager can’t command an undersecretary of defense to return his phone call as the Times guy can, but thanks to Google he can harvest news stories and background information that would take the 1975 model journalist days to collect.”


* “It’s hard to sympathize with the woe-is-us crowd of journalists when you learn that the number of full-timers employed by U.S. news-media organizations today has increased by almost 70 percent compared with 1971, according to The American Journalist in the 21st Century. The book doesn’t even include in its census the new jobs in online newsrooms or at the business-wire upstart Bloomberg News.”

(I’d be curious to know more about that study. Does it include staffers at the magazines that have sprouted since 1971? Because I’d be surprised if the Star (or Maxim) is the type of journalism the so-called hang-wringers are referring to.)

But Shafer completely misses the boat here:

* “The idea that a newsroom should employ X hundred staffers because it has traditionally employed X hundred staffers ignores the changes technology has made in the news market. For instance, Tribune critics denounce it for cutting the foreign bureaus at the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, which it owns. But should every metropolitan newspaper* keep its Moscow or Jerusalem bureaus when readers can click to Web coverage from the New York Times and the international press, especially when many of those papers are losing circulation? Something’s got to give.”

The (admittedly excessive) extension of that logic is that every story only needs to be covered by one outlet;** the past several years have shown the extent to which that’s not true. The best-known example of this is Knight-Ridder’s coverage of the WMD situation in Iraq (coverage which Shafer has praised). When the Times, among many other outlets, was accepting the Bush administration’s WMD rationale for war, Knight Ridder led the pack in uncovering the extent to which this wasn’t true. (Earlier this year, most of K-R was bought by McClatchy.) There are plenty of other stories the designated big-kid-on-the-block has missed over the years, from Watergate on; thank goodness other, redundent outlets have been there to pick up the slack. Foreign reporting is incredibly expensive; in fact, it’s essentially a subsidized part of any news operation. (Brief digression: the fact that the Times‘s public editor spent a column debating whether this was acceptable shows the extent to which the public editor position has become a joke.) But it’s also necessary (and will only become more so in an increasingly interconnected world); in fact, as Times editor Bill Keller has said (and I’m paraphrasing here), it’s this type of reporting that comprises news outlets core mission.

I’ve worked at a daily paper, and lord knows there’s lots of deadweight at virtually every daily in the country. (That’s just as true at many weeklies; I’ve oftentimes been confused by just what the hell people do all the time.) The fact that so many newspaper employees are guild members makes the shedding of this deadweight incredibly difficult, and it’s the guy who’s been collecting a steady paycheck while writing an occasional brief (or online column) that’s the least likely to accept a buyout. (Why take a lump sum when you can get paid for doing next to nothing?) Judiciously culling staffs — when judicial culling is possible — can only be a good thing. But foreign bureaus and investigative reporting is precisely where this culling shouldn’t occur. We need three U.S. reporters covering Moscow a lot more than we need three covering the local school board, but it’s the Moscow reporter who’s more likely to see his job disappear even if it’s those school board reporters who are more likely to be phoning it in.***

* This is a bit disingenuous. Neither Newsday nor the Sun is an example of the type of “every metropolitan newspaper” Shafer’s trying to evoke with this phrase, the argument here isn’t whether the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Kansas City Star should have a fully staffer contingent of international reporters.

** I fully realize Jack is not suggesting a national team of reporters with everyone covering one subject and sending those dispatches out to the rest of the country; I’m trying to make a point here.

*** Please: no hate mail from school board reporters. I’ve covered school boards. A lot of local reporters are great. Etc etc.

Post Categories: Jack Shafer & Media reporting & New York Times

Times really dumb and really smart…all at the same time!

October 10th, 2006 → 10:26 am @

It’s no secret that I like pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of assorted Times articles; as any media observer knows, I’m far from the only person who sees a certain amount of obstinate boneheadedness in the Times. (A humorous aside: the Times couldn’t even spell the name of the author of that story’s name correctly.)

Yesterday’s Times contained another doozy: Laura Holson’s shockingly incredulous story on Warner Bros. The thesis is pretty much summed up in the story’s hed: “After Big Flops, Warner Hopes for ‘Sleeper’ Hit in Smaller Films.” Here’s the evidence to support that thesis:

* Warner Bros. has had some unexpected flops from “conventional choices” that seemed “safe from the start.” One prominent example is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water.” Why any M. Night project would be called “safe” — he’s never reached the artistic or box office success he had with “The Sixth Sense” and has become increasingly ridiculed in Hollywood and among critics — is beyond me. What’s more, “Lady”‘s premise is laughingly indulgent: Shyamalan decided to spent $100 million or so filming a fairy tale he wrote for his daughter in which a superintendent saves a young woman from a pool…except said woman turns out to be a character from a bedtime story. Safe, indeed.

* The studio has “successfully paired offbeat directors with mainstream projects. Tim Burton, for instance, was not an obvious choice to direct ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ nor was Johnny Depp an obvious star.” It’s unclear what we’re supposed to take from this — I assume Burton is an “offbeat” director, but in what world is “Charlie in the Chocolate Factory” a mainstream project? What’s more, Burton has directed his share of mainstream successes, like, say, the first three Batman movies. And it’s hard to think of a more obvious pairing for a “Charlie” movie than Burton and Depp, who famously teamed up in “Edward Scissorhands.”

* Now Warner is dependent on hoping that “smaller, riskier films” succeed…smaller, riskier films like Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” It’s “smaller,” I guess, because it only cost $90 million, and ‘riskier’ because Scorses, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up to make a gangster film is an obvious case of box office poison.

But for every head-slapping mess, the Times has more than its share of brilliant, holy-shit, page-turning gems. The Arts and Business sections are both as good as I ever remember them being. And there’ve been a number of pieces I’ve clipped as of late for no reason other than I want to make sure I have a chance to read them again. Take this Sunday’s story on post-traumatic stress in elephants and what it can tell researchers about human behavior. Or Joe Sharkey’s first-person account about flying over the Amazon in a corporate jet and getting clipped by a Boeing 737. (Unfortunately, I waited too long to post this and now you need to have a Times Insider account or pay to read it.) For the past several days, the Times has been running a series on “how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government,” and unlike some of the paper’s we-want-a-Pulitzer-multiparters, this one is a worthwhile (even necessary) and fascinating series that few papers have the resources or the brainpower to pull off. Finally, in today’s paper, there’s an amazing story about a suburban high school teacher wh0 serially seduced her male students. (And I do mean amazing: the teacher married one student, had his child, and then seduced that child’s friends.)

EDIT: Burton, of course, only directed the first two Batmans…the good ones, with Michael Keaton.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times

Reality bites: The Times ain’t gonna let no stinkin’ facts get in the way of a story

October 8th, 2006 → 10:21 am @

“[M]omentum going into the playoffs means nothing, right? Wrong. … Since 1950, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and the 1974 Oakland Athletics are the only other teams to win the World Series despite finishing the season with a sub-.500 record over their final 30 games. But they had records only slightly under .500, finishing at 14-16. …

So playing well at the end of the season is important. It not only increases the chances that a team will make the playoffs, it also increases the chances it will reach its ultimate goal. …

Playing well at the end of the season may even be more important than playing well over the entire season. World Series champions had a higher winning percentage (.622) over their final 30 games than they did over the entire season (an average of .606). This is not true for World Series runners-up. World Series runners-up win at a clip of .610 over the entire season and over their final 30 games.”

Success in September is the Key to Winning in October
by Martin B. Schmidt
New York Times
October 8, 2006

2006 Playoff Teams and Their Records Over the Season’s Final 30 Games
New York Yankess: 18-12
Detroit Tigers: 13-17
Tigers Win Series, 3-1

Minnesota Twins: 19-11
Oakland A’s: 17-13
A’s Win Series, 3-0

Los Angeles Dodgers: 18-12
New York Mets: 15-15
Mets Win Series, 3-0

San Diego Padres: 21-9
St. Louis Cardinals: 13-17
Cardinals Win Series, 3-1

So, to review: in all four of this year’s Division Series, the team with the worse record over the final 30 regular season games won. The Twins, with the best record in the AL over the season’s last month (and a day), were swept. The Padres, with a .700 winning percentage and the best record in all of baseball over that same period, lost in four games to a team that played .433 ball. Of the four teams in the LCS, two had losing records in September and one (the Mets) went .500…and they only managed that by sweeping the last place Washington Nationals during the season’s final series.

But this must be an anomaly, right? Not in this millenium. The team with the worse record over the season’s final 30 games has won four of the last six World Series: the 18-12 White Sox beat the 19-11 Astros last year; the 21-9 Angels beat the 22-8 Giants in 2002; the 15-15 Diamondbacks beat the 19-10-1 Yankees in 2001; and the 12-18 Yankees beat the 16-14 Mets in 2000.

Yeah, success in September sure does seem to be the key to winning in October.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times & Sports Reporters

Framing the debate

September 22nd, 2006 → 12:14 pm @

Earlier today, the Huffington Post put up an interview with press critic, Committee to Protect Journalists co-founder, and New York Review of Books contributor Michael Massing. It’s a long, interesting piece; I don’t always agree with Massing, but I’m (almost) always interested in what he has to say.

But one of Massing’s answers particularly bothered me. When asked about the political pressures today’s media outlets need to deal with — pressures that are both very real and very frightening — Massing says, “If you look at The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times – probably our three top newspapers – it’s pretty extraordinary what they’ve been running. The New York Times has in some ways become the voice of the opposition in this country. Day after day, I’ve been looking at the Times and have been struck by how much they’ve been willing to run stories exposing incompetence and wrongdoing and documenting things that have been going wrong around the world.”

First off, it’s incredible (and incredibly upsetting) that coverage of politics has devolved to the point where people are struck by the extent to which the media is doing its job. Just as troubling is the way in which Massing frames this coverage: as the “voice of the opposition.” This is language that is (and should be) used to describe a political party not in power. It’s precisely this type of language that gives ammunition to politicians (in this instance, the Bush administration) who want to paint negative coverage as fundamentally stemming from a ideological divide (the NY liberal elite versus the politicians that represent the hoi polloi). Exposing incompetence and wrongdoing, documenting problems in the world — that doesn’t mean the Times (or any other outlet, for that matter), is the voice of the opposition, it means the paper is doing its job: ferreting out the truths that the politicians, business leaders, etc., want to hide from the public. Massing is right to say this important work is under attack, but when he uses language that makes it sound like it’s the voice of the opposition and not the voice of a free press that’s being muzzled, he must be warming Karl Rove’s heart.

Post Categories: Media reporting & Michael Massing & New York Times

Murray Chass: Facts are not my friends.

September 19th, 2006 → 11:24 am @

Poor Murray Chass. The Red Sox aren’t playing the Yankees again this season, thereby depriving him of his favorite subject; that means that he’ll have to write completely nonsensical columns about other subjects.

Like the Mets! In today’s column, written the morning after the Mets clinched their first division championship since 1988, Chass manages to find a raincloud in the midst of the Champagne celebrations. “When is losing good for business?” Chass asks in the lead of his piece. “When the Mets are on the verge of clinching their first division title since 1988 and their fans buy tickets hoping to be at the game when they do.” The Mets, Chass claims, “sold more than 10,000 extra tickets for last night’s game at Shea Stadium because they had lost all three weekend games in Pittsburgh and still needed one victory to wrap up first place in the National League East.” (Chass actually implied the team might have considered losing some more games in order to sell some more tickets: “No one can blame the Mets for trying to make a few extra bucks.”)

Wow: 10,000 extra tickets. That is impressive. It also seems to have absolutely no relation to reality. Last night’s attendance was 46,729; in Chass-land, that means the Mets sell only around 36,000 tickets on nights when the team is not on the verge of clinching their division. In fact, in the entire second half of the season, the Mets’ home attendance has dipped below 45,000 only nine times, has been under 40,000 thrice, and under 35,000 only once (August 18 versus Colorado).

This completely made up piece of information transitions into an extended riff on the Mets’ problems with left-handed pitching (“Now that they are there, though, the Mets have to deal with a slice of reality. They have recently had trouble beating left-handed pitchers”) before explaining why the losses against lefthanders actually have nothing to do with the opposing teams’ starters (“According to Elias Sports Bureau, in the 25 games started by right-handers before last night, the Mets’ starting pitchers had a 3.74 earned run average. … In the 19 games that left-handers started, the Mets’ starting pitchers had a 7.18 E.R.A.”).

I think I finally have the formula down: Start out with an incorrect anecdote; awkwardly transition to a totally seperate subject; then explain why the reader should ignore everything just written about said seperate subject. (At least the Times seems to realize Chass isn’t going to lure new readers to the paper; under the paper’s Times Select program, some of the paper’s columnists are put behind a wall, necessitating on-line readers to pay for the columns separately. As you can see from the front of the Sports Section, Harvey Araton is one of those columnists today; Murray Chass is not.)

EDIT: Even Chass’s colleagues at the Times seem to be refuting his claims of 10,000 extra tickets being sold. As Jack Curry wrote in yesterday’s paper, the Mets had sold 40,000 tickets for Monday’s game as of Sunday night; it appears as if about 2,000 of these were sold after the Mets lost to the Pirates, which would mean the most ticket sales could have increased is 8,000. This, of course, doesn’t take into account Mets’ normal day-of-game sale numbers, which could be 500 or could be 8,000; we’ll never know, which isn’t surprising: the Times has a track record of not providing context when it’s needed to make sense of a story.

Post Categories: Murray Chass & New York Times