That’s Times, spelled T-I-M-E-S

September 17th, 2006 → 10:39 am @

It’s been twenty years since Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter founded the late, great Spy magazine, and since then, it’s not as if Andersen’s been a shrinking violet. He was the editor in chief of New York. He co-founded He’s been a columnist for Time and The New Yorker.

And he’s currently a columnist for New York, hosts “Studio 360” for Public Radio International, and has a novel coming out inthe spring.

You’d think that, with this resume, there’d be someone at the Times — if not the writer, then a story editor, and if not a story editor, a copy editor — who knows that Andersen doesn’t spell his name with an ‘o,’ as in ‘Anderson.’ And yet in a story in today’s Style section about the just-launched Good magazine,” there’s this quote:

“I was really surprised at how much I wanted to read it, and how good it looked on a first glance of a first issue,” said Kurt Anderson, a former editor and founder of magazines, including Spy and Inside.Com. “First issues aren’t necessarily great, but I was impressed by how it looked, the writers they got to write. It’s an interesting idea. Lord knows if they can make a go of it commercially.”

A quick online search shows the Times has made this mistake at least eight times since Andersen founded Spy. Still, he shouldn’t feel too badly: as recently April, the Times was still getting the name of the paper’s founding family, the Ochs-Sulzbergers, wrong. And they’ve only owned the paper for 110 years.

Post Categories: Kurt Andersen & New York Times

Don’t tell me nothing about nothing

September 14th, 2006 → 7:56 am @

For two or three years now, I’ve found myself using the verb “freckled” to descibe a series of marks on someone’s body, or a landscape, or a building; just this week, I described a woman’s body as being “freckled with cigarette burns.” I had no recollection of where or why I first started using this construction…at least until this week, when I happened to be reading through “Jimmy’s World,” Janet Cooke’s made-up story about an eight-year-old heroin addict that won a Pulitzer in 1980. Cooke, a writer possessed of an occasional flair for imagery even if she was a bit deficient in the honesty department, used this exact construction to describe Jimmy’s arms as being “freckled” with track marks. I must have picked this up three years ago, when I was writing about Jayson Blair and other journalistic scandals.

My nod of the cap was accidental; many others are intentional. You could fill a library with the books that are run through with homages to Moby Dick. You practically need a reference book to appreciate fully “Ulysses” or Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and that would have a whole section on the ways in which Pynchon specifically alluded to Joyce. Jonathan Coe’s “The Winshaw Legacy, or, What a Carve Up” draws explicitly from the 1962 movie of the same name, and the text of his book contains numerous in-jokes that 99% of readers will never get: sentences, phrases, descriptions drawn from other sources. (Coe has a term for this; unfortunately, my copy of “Winshaw” was borrowed and had not yet been returned; that’s why I hate lending out books.)

In today’s Times, Motoko Rich has an article on the front page of the Arts section titled, “Who’s This Guy Dylan Borrowing From Henry Timrod?” Dylan is, of course, Bob; Timrod is a 19th century Civil War poet. The nut graf: “It seems that many of the lyrics on that album [Dylan’s just-released “Modern Times”]…bear some strong echoes to the poems of Timrod.” To wit, Dylan’s “When the Deal Goes Down”: “More frailer than the flowers / These precious hours.” Nimrod’s “Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night”: “A round of precious hours / Oh! here, where in the summer noon I based / And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers.” There are a handful of other examples as well — in “Spirit On the Water” and “Workingman’s Blues” — but even in their totality, they don’t account for many of the lyrics on the album. (Rich doesn’t acknowledge the allusion to the Grateful Dead, a band with which Dylan toured, in the song’s title. “Deal,” in fact, has a line — “Don’t you let that deal go down” — that seems to be an allusion to the old folk song of the same name. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Dylan to refer to a song that referred to a song in order to comment ever-so-obliquely on a past brouhaha. But more about that in the next graf.)

This isn’t the first time fans have found striking similarities between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and the words of other writers. (Oops: that’s actually Rich’s line.) Three years ago, the Wall Street Journal published a scolding article comparing passages from Dylan’s “Love and Theft” to Japanese writer Junichi Saga’s gangster novel, “Confessions of a Yakuza.” The “Yakusa” story became a mini-contretemps, with more than a few headline writers borrowing from Dylan’s oevre for inspiration (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Well There Ain’t No Use to Sit and Wonder Why”).

There’s a small chance, at least in the Timrod case, that Timrod’s phrase simply lodged in Dylan’s mind, something that’s happened to both my mother and me. (My mom once realized a line from one of her poems came from a short story she’d read nearly twenty years earlier.) It’s more likely that Dylan was purposefully nodding to Timrod, a sly tip of the cap that only the select few — 19th century Civil War buffs and poetry junkies — would even have a chance of picking up on in. (The letters for “Nimrod” are contained within “Modern Times,” which, coincidentally, is the title of a Charlie Chaplin classic. From the Civil War poet to an ironic artist’s statement on modernization to perhaps the most important folk artist of the 20th century…) Rich, to her and the Times‘s credit, doesn’t overplay her story (although the article does bring up the talentless plagiarizer Kaavya Viswanathan); let’s hope the rest of the media world follows suit.

Post Categories: Bob Dylan & New York Times & Plagiarism

The rest of the Times takes a cue from Murray, tells sources they’d better talk

September 10th, 2006 → 10:31 am @

Good old Murray Chass has a history of smacking sources when they dare not talk to him. Thankfully, that’s not usually the case in the rest of The New York Times.

Usually, but not always. In an article printed Thursday titled “Perils and Pleasures of a Walk Down Memory Lane,” a fluff piece explores people’s fascination with and attachment to their childhood homes. Former senator (and vice presidential candidate) John Edwards is writing a book on the subject; Edwards, deciding he didn’t have any desire (or obligation) to help the Times sell papers but he did have an obligation to his publisher to promote his book, decided he’d hold off on talking to the paper about his book until his it was actually published.

The nerve! In a completely gratuitious dig, Elizabeth Olson and Christopher Mason — because a story on childhood homes certainly needs more than one reporter — write, “Mr. Edwards declined to be interviewed further because he wants to save his remarks to coincide with his book’s publication in November.” Was there any need to include this sentence? Absolutely not — not a single reader would have read the story and wondered why, in a piece larded with anecdotes about Goldie Hawn breaking into her old home, there were only a couple of quotes from Edwards. But they’ll notice now that the Times thinks Edwards is being crassly commercial.

Post Categories: John Edwards & Murray Chass & New York Times

Hi. My name’s Murray. I’m addicted to writing about the Red Sox.

September 8th, 2006 → 9:33 am @

There are many joys of living in New York. The Village Vanguard is half a block away from my apartment. The Shake Shack is within walking distance. The subways run all night. The mayor doesn’t mumble.

There’s also the Times. Most of the time, I count myself as lucky that the Times is the newspaper delivered to my door (er, lobby) every morning.

When I see Murray Chass’s byline, it is not one of those days.

Today, Chass has column about the Marlins. Sort of: the headline is “Raves for the Daffy Marlins, Gibes for the Red Sox.” It’s not surprising that Chass — the man who recently acknowledged that, for him, a labor negotiation without a work stoppage was akin to a baseball season with the World Series (never mind that a work stoppage would actually result in a baseball season without a World Series) — can’t manage a column about the Marlins’ run towards the playoffs without starting off with some digs at the Jeff Loria/Joe Girardi situation. It’s also not surprising that Chass appears incapable of writing anything without it turning into a rant about how much the Sox suck ass; Chass, after all, is the guy who wrote that for the Sox to truly overcome the Yankees, they had to win the AL East…ALCS humilation be damned.

But even Chass seems to be treading dangerously towards white whale territory. Times folks (and I know a fair number of them) are almost universally embarrassed by Chass’s jeremiads. It’s time to stop being embarrassed; this is a man who needs an intervention. Addiction is never pretty, and it’s time for the Times to stop acting as an enabler. Step in and support the poor guy. He’s crying out for help.

Post Categories: Murray Chass & New York Times

Dave Zinczenko on his ripped abs, ability to make two ‘Today’ show appearances in the course of six paragraphs

September 5th, 2006 → 8:50 am @

“[Men’s Health editor] David Zinczenko is making his 17th appearance on the ‘Today’ show, this time opposite Steve Schirripa — who plays Bobby Bacala on ‘The Sopranos’ — on the subject of ‘heavy men.’ Heavy as in large, overweight and lacking any evidence of abs, quads or tone. …

“Mr. Zinczenko (pronounced zinn-ZENK-oh) has made a career out of doling out advice to men, helping them muddle through their post-metrosexual worries about their guts, their athletic prowess and their health.

“His prime vehicle is Men’s Health, a magazine with a circulation of almost 1.8 million — up by more than 100,000 from when he took over in 2000 — that has won readers and awards for its well-researched articles about men’s lives.

“From that success has come the appearances on the ‘Today’ show, where he is frequently trotted out (19 times and counting) as the spokesman for Everyman, combining cheerful quotability with extensive data culled in the interest of getting to know ‘Him.'”

— “Who’s the Man? Dave
by Erica Kinetz
The New York Times
September 3, 2006

(I know: the opening anecdote must have occured some time ago, and since then, Zinczenko must have graced “Today” two more times. But you’d think a news-gathering operation with more than 1,000 journalists could figure out some way to get this point across without causing head-scratching confusion.)

Post Categories: New York Times

Context is everything: The Supreme Court, the Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times

August 31st, 2006 → 10:31 am @

I’m not someone who gets off on slagging the MSM (or mainstream media, for those of you who don’t spend your days trolling sites dedicated to dissing the press). But there’s one area in which I think the press consistently falls short: providing context for the facts and figures cited in their articles. Two recent examples from The New York Times:

* In yesterday’s paper, Linda Greenhouse, the Times‘s Supreme Court reporter, wrote an article titled “Women Suddenly Scarce Among Justices’ Clerks.” Greenhouse describes a one-year decline in the number of female clerks on the Court. “In interviews, two of the justices, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer, suggested that the sharp drop in women among the clerkship ranks reflected a random variation in the applicant pool,” Greenhouse writes. To prove that this explanation isn’t cutting it in the legal community, she writes, “But outside the court, those who care about what goes on inside are thirsting for more than statistical randomness as an explanation. A post on one popular legal Web site, the Volokh Conspiracy, asked, ‘Why so few women Supreme Court clerks?’ and drew 135 comments during a single week in July.”

I guess 135 comments sounds like a lot, but earlier this month I got more than 50 comments on one post in about 24 hours, and I’m not running what amounts to a water-cooler site for lawyers and law students around the country. Were these 135 comments made up of a dozen or so people posting a dozen times each? Were the posts attributing the one-year drop to any particular cause, or were they, as Breyer, Souter, and at least some of the relevant data indicated, just a random fluctuation? (Ruth Bader Ginsberg has noted this year’s decline in at least one speech, but declined to discuss her thoughts on the matter with Greenhouse.) Readers of the article will never know. Greenhouse’s piece was presented as a front-page news story (printed under the rubric “Supreme Court Memo”), but, with the Volokh Conspiracy comment board the only example of any actual debate or discussion, it looks more like an op-ed written by a reporter with a history of political activism: In 1989, Greenhouse participated in a Pro-Choice rally (in violation of Times policy) and in a recent speech, she described crying at a Simon & Garfunkel concert because the war in Iraq had convinced her that her generation was “mak[ing] the same mistakes” in running the country that previous generations had made. The Times has drawn fire in recent years for pushing agendas in its news pages. Without any context, this has the appearance of another example of that type of reporting.

* Another story, printed earlier this month, also relies on Interweb-based stats and also presents them in a vacuum. In an article detailing the resignation of the top two editors of the Columbia Journalism Review‘s daily website after budget cuts and a change in direction, Kit Seelye writes, “In 2005, received an honorable mention from the National Press Club in the category of ‘distinguished contribution’ to online journalism. It now receives nearly 500,000 page views a month, Mr. Lovelady, [one of the editors,] said, up 30 percent from the beginning of the year.”

Again, 500,000 page views sounds impressive at first blush, but what does that number really mean? A little poking around shows that it means Columbia Journalism School Dean Nick Lemann was arguably right to focus the magazine’s limited resources elsewhere. In August, I had 300,000 page views…and I don’t have a paid staff of writers and editors, a connection to an Ivy League university, or any type of marketing or advertising. A handful of sites in the Gawker media empire are regularly topping 350,000 page views a day, according to proprieter Nick Denton’s personal website.*

I’ve argued before that statistics can be used to prove almost anything. The Times has one of the most sophisticated news-gathering operations in the world, and its manpower and resources allow it to cover stories in more depth and with more nuance than the vast majority of media outlets out there. It wouldn’t take much to throw in some context with those figures (and it would make sense for the Times to be extra-careful about the appearance of reporters using the news pages as a forum for their political views). When the media is under attack from so many quarters, it’s crucial places like the Times do absolutely everything it can to show readers it deserves their attention and trust. This would be a good — and cheap — place to start.

* This section initially read: “A handful of sites in the Gawker media empire were regularly topping 350,000 page views a day back in September 2004. (That appears to be the last month that Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s proprietor, posted data on daily web traffic.)” The site traffic figures posted on Denton’s site are actually live; he posted the blog entry in which he began putting up page view figures in 2004.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times

Murray Chass: Reality is not my friend

August 8th, 2006 → 11:00 am @

On those days in which Murray Chass isn’t whining about the fact that George Steinbrenner won’t talk to him, he’s apparently trying to see if anyone at The New York Times is paying attention to anything he writes.

Take today’s piece on the Red Sox. As far as I can tell, the point is that the Red Sox should have a “commanding” lead in the AL East. Why? Because the Yankees have been “bruised and bloodied,” while the Red Sox, “until catcher Jason Varitek had knee surgery last week, had not dealt with the extended absence of an everyday player.” Which is true…so long as you don’t count center and right fielders as everyday players: Coco Crisp landed on the DL on April 11, and Trot Nixon has been out of commission with a strained right bicep since late last month. (Wily Mo Pena, the team’s fourth outfielder, was also on the DL for about three weeks earlier this year.) Still, at least the Sox have had a healthy pitching staff…except for Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Lenny DiNardo, Tim Wakefield, David Wells, and Matt Clement, all of whom are on or have been on the DL. (Clement and DiNardo are both on the 60-day list, while Wells has been on the 15-day list three separate times already.) In fact, the Red Sox have put a player on the DL 15 times thus far this year, compared to 11 for the Yankees.

This kind of fact-challenged pique is Chass’s specialty. Almost exactly a year ago, he directed his whining toward Carlos Delgado, who had the nerve to sign with a team other than the Mets after the 2004 season; that piece was headlined “Delgado Gets an E-3 for Picking the Marlins.” “The man made a mistake,” Chass wrote. “It’s that simple. Carlos Delgado said in January that he signed with Florida rather than the Mets because he thought the Marlins had a better chance of going to the World Series. He thought wrong.” On September 15, about a month after Chass’s column ran, the Marlins were .5 games behind the wild-card leaders and 6.5 games ahead of the Mets. (A Marlins collapse in the season’s final two weeks meant the teams ended up with identical 83-79 records, 7 games back of the division-winning Braves and 5.5 games behind the wild-card winning Astros. Using WARP, Delgado was worth about three more wins than the collection of folks the Mets had manning first…which still wouldn’t have been enough to propel the Mets into the playoffs.)

Any columnist can state the obvious, so Chass shouldn’t be knocked for telling us that teams would be better with a a two-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger winner closing in on 400 home runs than without him: “[Delgado’s] bat would have looked good in the middle of the Mets’ batting order. And with his bat absent from the Florida lineup, the Marlins might have had an offensive shortage.” And it’s a columnist’s perogative to ignore his pre-season predictions while chastising players for theirs. (Last year, Chass had the Twins winning the AL Central and the World Series-winning White Sox coming in third; he picked the wild-card winning, NL champion Astros to come in fourth in the NL Central. This year, he ranked the Detroit Tigers behind the Twins, White Sox, and Indians in the AL Central.)

Chass can, however, be knocked for ignoring reality. Columnists at the Times are given lots of latitude (most the time, anyway). At what point do columns that are contradicted by facts become an issue? Keep reading the paper’s sports section to find out…

Post Categories: Murray Chass & New York Times & Sports Reporters