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Saturday, August 02, 2008

*You* are on the record. *I* am not.

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: The rules of journalism don't apply to journalists!

A reader sent me a link about the New York Times' placement of a story about the money, fame and influence female bloggers have. Apparently the Times believes that this sort of story belongs in a section called "Fashion and Style". You see, anything women do belongs in the Style section. Not in Business or Technology, even if the story is about the business of technology.

I'm not saying that Style is a lesser section than the others, but the placement does seem a bit odd to me.

I'm not the only one. Amber Naslund wrote a letter to the editor complaining about it:

I’m so disappointed that you managed to completely undermine the professional, hardworking group at BlogHer by parking that article on your “Fashion & Style” page. Why not Business? Technology? These women are changing the face of technology and the online world, and you’re parking them off in a trivial corner instead of among the gamechanging minds of Web 2.0 where they belong.

This is exactly why glass ceilings exist. Way to take a legitimate, amazingly powerful event for professionals and treat it as “aw, how cute!”.

Shame on you.

And that probably would have been the end of it.

Until the Times decided it didn't like what Amber had said. An editor contacted her and asked her to change the letter. Apparently, the Times believes it doesn't have an answer for her. They can't respond to questions about placement, because stories are placed wherever they are pitched.


This is interesting, because it's only half true. I do believe that stories are placed where they're pitched, because this is common in the industry. For example, if I'm freelancing to CBC and pitch a story to Definitely Not The Opera, it won't air on Quirks and Quarks even if it's about science. The shows have separate producers and don't usually give stories away to each other. I assume the Times has a similar setup.

Now, was that hard to explain? Does it look like the sort of thing that doesn't have an answer? I'm trying to imagine what would happen if someone told the Times there wasn't an answer for whatever question their reporter had posed. I'm betting the issue wouldn't just go away.

It gets better.

The editor also asked Amber not to reveal her name, because she's not a higher-up and doesn't speak for the section.


You have probably already grasped the silliness of this, but let me spell it out more clearly: A representative of the New York Times has asked a member of the public to change its criticism of the paper, and then asked for anonymity because she is not an official spokesperson.


I hear a lot of complaints from reporters that people won't go on the record for their stories. They don't WANT to talk to the guy at the top; they want to talk to the employee who really has all of the dirt. And they want to talk to that person in a casual way at the grocery store, so he doesn't realise he's being interviewed. Well, that describes the news industry better than any other.

What a bunch of hypocrites.


Anonymous said...

Plainly ridiculous. I cannot believe it to be honest.

I am not a fan of the idea of Blogher at all - but the placing of this article (and what a patronising article it is!!)and the subsequent discussions are unbelievable.

Hope you are having a good summer anyway.

scribe said...

At the daily where I freelance and used to work full-time, they just got rid of a 2-yr-old Sat. insert called Twist that was geared to women. It was stupid and patronizing and every story that would have been in the business or news section of any other big-city daily, ended up in Twist. Every thinking woman I know hated it, so this story really hit a nerve.

Aurelia said...

Oh lord, I get it now. I actually think BlogHer is cool and really wanted to go, but I was pretty appalled at the NYTimes.

But now I'm more appalled at the Tech section editor in light of the fact that he didn't originally assign a reporter to go.

And the whole "don't reveal my name thing"---what a joke!

Megan said...

You'd think it would be the sort of thing Technology would just automatically cover, wouldn't you? It's a big conference for a huge network of writers. A major daily like the Times should be covering it with staff reporters, not waiting for freelancers to pitch it to Style.

I understand why the freelancer would pitch there. You build up a relationship with an editor and go for the easy sale. I can't fault the writer for pitching it to Style.

The snarky tone of the story is a different matter, but that's a post for another day.

Amber Naslund said...

Hi Megan, thanks for posting this! I've sure had some interesting feedback since my posts, but I'm still baffled about the whole "that's the way it works so we can't have you questioning it" thing. But, don't quote me on that. ;)

Thanks for adding your take to the discussion!


Megan said...

The media can't take their own medicine. Just one of many reasons they are quickly losing credibility.

It's sad, really. They have an important role in our society.