The New York Times does not want you to text and drive. Does not! The paper has been running a series all summer called “Driven to Distraction” about the dangers of texting while at the wheel, and I swear it feels like every time I click on the homepage there is a new story about it. I live in New York so texting while driving is less of a concern for me safety-wise than, say, texting while walking across the intersection of Canal and Broadway every morning. Yet, no doubt it’s a serious problem nation-wide and should absolutely be highlighted. But my goodness, this certainly feels like someone over there is taking it to an extreme. Health Care bill series anyone?
Like so many media brands, Gannett’s Westchester, New York paper The Journal News is undergoing a massive restructuring. But besides economic woes, things are anything but typical at the Journal, as noted in David Carr’s report in today’s New York Times: journalists work in an “Information Center” instead of a newsroom and are organized by “topics” instead of beats. And when it comes to layoffs, all 288 employees were shown the door. Then they were told they could each reapply for one of 218 “redefined” positions.
Not unlike the current McKinsey evaluations at Conde Nast, staff in the news and advertising wings had to prove their worth, but instead of the standard cherry-picked cuts, at the Journal everyone had to claw their way back to employment by assuring the job reapers, in part, about their new media skills.
An anonymous re-hired worker merely called the day “unreal,” but at least one of the less fortunate casualties was indignant, if a little ignorant: “How is the fact that I don’t have a Twitter or Facebook account relevant to what I do?” he wondered. He went on to blame his firing partly on not doing “a good enough job of hiding my disgust,” sounding uncomfortably like the veteran Kansas City journalist who bitterly (and unsuccessfully) applied for non-journalism jobs after having his pay cut.
In Carr’s eyes, Gannett’s business moves are notable because they represent a corporate shift toward futuristic local news coverage in which journalists are asked to do more, on a variety of new media platforms, for the same pay. But perhaps more interesting is the response from experienced professionals who continue to reject technology and the way the job is trending. It comes off sounding, for lack of a better word, crotchety. As Carr writes, “Anybody who leaves journalism right now will probably not find a way back in.” But for anyone who plans on staying, it would probably behoove them to fire up their laptops and act accordingly.
Investigative reporting is often trotted out in defense of newspapers — without their newsrooms, who will go about the expensive and important work of digging up stories that don’t fall into reporters’ laps?
But with plummeting ad sales and shrinking newsrooms (not to mention print space), newspapers are not the bastions of investigative reportage that they once were, except in the minds of nostalgic mainstream media diehards. The good news, however, is that old-school outlets like the Times are fostering mutually beneficial relationships with independent, non-profit investigative teams — like Pro Publica.
Exhibit A: This weekend’s New York Times Magazine cover story about the horror at Memorial Medical Center in Uptown New Orleans by Sheri Fink.
Gerald Marzorati, assistant managing editor and editor of the Times Magazine, estimated in a “Talk to the Times” feature that the story cost nearly $400,000 to produce — between years of reporting and lawyering and a year of editing. But the Times received it for free from Pro Publica, where Fink works now. Fink also worked on the story as a fellow for the Kaiser Family Foundation and as a freelancer.
Though the various foundations may have picked up the tab for the reporting, the story still cost the Times money to edit and print, of course. The Times has printed four Pro Publica stories before, but this is the first to appear in the magazine, according to Editor and Publisher. And why not? The Times exists to publish all the news that’s fit to print — we’re all in trouble if that only includes the cheap news. Investigative reporting is expensive work…and it’s not like the Times has extra cash to kick around these days. Seems like joining forces with upstart non-profits like Pro Publica is a perfect solution — and the product is magnificent.
Fink carefully unwraps the scene at Memorial Medical Center in Uptown New Orleans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The reporter, an M.D. herself, explores the desperation and exhaustion that led doctors at the hospital to inject some patients with drugs to hasten their death and turn away others who could have been helped.
By Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Ewing Cook was physically and mentally exhausted, filthy and forlorn. A 61-year-old pulmonary specialist, he’d had his semi-automatic Beretta strapped to him since he heard on Monday that a nurse was raped while walking her dog near the hospital (a hospital official denies that this happened). Cook had had two heart attacks and could not help transport patients in the heat.
That afternoon, Cook stood on the emergency-room ramp and caught sight of a mattress floating up Napoleon Avenue. On it lay an emaciated black woman, with several young men propelling her through the fetid water. “The hospital is closed,” someone shouted. “We’re not accepting anybody.”
Isbell searched for Robichaux, her boss. “What is going on?” she asked, frantic. “Are they going to do something to our patients?”
“Yes, they are,” Isbell remembers Robichaux, in tears, saying. “Our patients aren’t going to be evacuated. They aren’t going to leave.” As the LifeCare administrators cleared the floor of all but a few senior staff members, Robichaux sent Isbell to the back staircase to make sure nobody re-entered. It was quiet there, and Isbell sat alone, drained and upset. Isbell said she thought about her patients, remembering with guilt a promise she made to the daughter of one of her favorites, Alice Hutzler, a 90-year-old woman who came to LifeCare for treatment of bedsores and pneumonia. Isbell fondly called her Miss Alice and had told Hutzler’s daughter that she would take good care of her mother. Now Isbell prayed that help would come before Hutzler and her other patients died.
The Nieman Lab followed up with Marzorati, who clarified that $400,000 is the amount that it would have cost if the story were executed entirely by Times staffers. Man, those were the days.
Fink discusses her reportage with Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism:
Two days ago Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan got his hands on a leaked email from the executive VP of PR giant Burson-Marsteller to it staff suggesting they use Mark Penn’s (yes that Mark Penn) latest column on the subject of “glamorous camping” as a way to get new clients in the industry. Mark Penn happens to be the CEO of Burson-Marsteller.
Yesterday, after the story made the media rounds, the Wall Street Journal responded:
“Mark has assured us that through our conversations that he’s complied with his conflict of interest policy. He does not have any glamping clients nor did they target them before the column appeared…Obviously when you have a contributor, they use a column to market themselves. Clearly what was done is not something that we liked. But we’re pretty sure that it’s going to stop.”
But it didn’t stop there. Today the New York Times (with the briefest of nods to Gawker’s involvement) decided to get on board:
The e-mail message was first made public by Gawker.com on Wednesday. In a statement, Mr. Penn, who declined to be interviewed, said that he had not seen the message until after it was sent, and that “nothing was done nor likely to be done as a result of it.” He said that none of the companies mentioned in his column were Burson-Marsteller clients.
“I had no business motive in writing it whatsoever,” he said. But, he added, “We will continue to distribute the columns to friends and clients alike, and assured The Journal they will not be tied to any specific marketing efforts.”
Journal executives said that Mr. Penn had assured them that he had did not know in advance about the attempt to leverage his column into new business, and that it would not happen again.
Robert H. Christie, a spokesman for The Journal, said, “the reality is that freelancers do use their columns as ways of marketing themselves.” When asked whether The Journal was comfortable with that practice, and specifically with Burson-Marsteller’s actions, he declined to respond.
There is a couple of points to note here. First, Gawker has been increasingly commanding the attention of the MSM these days. And second, the NYT would make for a great blogger (or the end of journalism as we know it, depending)! This entire 665 word article is based on a piece originally reported by Gawker, and all Gawker got out of it is one lousy sentence of attribution.
It’s not your imagination, newspapers are getting smaller. I bought the Sunday Times this weekend for the first time in ages — primarily because I wanted an actual copy of the Nicholas Kristoff-woman’s rights themed Sunday magazine — and it was positively thin; I actually double-checked all the sections were intact before purchasing. However there’s nothing like cold hard numbers to bring the dire reality home. The AP filed this report yesterday about another severe slump in ad sales.
Newspapers’ financial woes worsened in the second quarter as advertising sales shrank by 29 percent, leaving publishers with $2.8 billion less revenue than they had at the same time last year.
It’s the deepest downturn yet during a three-year free fall in advertising revenue — newspapers’ main source of income. The magnitude of the industry’s advertising losses have intensified in each of the last 12 quarters.
The numbers released Thursday by the Newspaper Association of America weren’t a shock, given the dramatic erosion mirrored the advertising losses that the largest U.S. newspaper publishers already had reported for the April-June period.
Still, the statistics served as a stark reminder of the crisis facing newspapers as they try to cope with a brutal recession and advertising trends that have shifted more marketing dollars to the Internet.
We all love those long-form magazine articles, the meat-and-potatoes pieces that address the big issues.
When you're not in a rush, reading such a lengthy article -- it can be anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000 words, believe it or not -- can be a revelation.
"I didn't know that," you might say to yourself.
With such length, you might suspect that the article took a lot of time to produce. That's probably true.
What you might not know is how much it cost.
Gerald Marzorati, assistant managing editor at The New York Times and editor of The Times Magazine, recently answered reader questions about the inner workings of the magazine he produces.
Some of his answers might surprise you.
Addressing a question about the viability of long-form journalism in an era of rapidly narrowing attention spans, Marzorati explains that the price of a cover story for the Times magazine costs more than twice the price of the average American home:
Long-form journalism is expensive: The Magazine is publishing a 13,000-word piece on Sunday (it will be up online earlier) that we did in partnership with ProPublica, the independent, not-for-profit newsroom. One of ProPublica's editors and I did a back-of-the-envelop calculation yesterday of what the total cost of the piece actually was, figuring in several years of reporting and nearly a year of editing. Estimate: $400,000.
That piece, "The Deadly Choices at Memorial," is about the poor healthcare decisions that arose in the Hurricane Katrina crisis in Louisiana in 2006.
Jon Stahl highlights the important points of Marzorati's Q&A session:
- A cover story can cost several hundred thousand dollars;
- A cover story can take years to produce;
- Long-form journalism actually get more pageviews online than their shorter counterparts.
Most people probably have no idea of the costs of such articles. And the debate rages on -- even within the journalism community -- about whether articles of such length can be effective online.
But next time you read that article in a magazine -- followed by another one, and another one, until you get to the back cover -- think about the $5 it cost you on the newsstand.
In her column today, Maureen Dowd writes about cowardly Internet bullies — all those bloggers out there who say the meanest stuff, and are seldom called to task for it. “On the Internet,” she writes, “it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.”
Granted, Dowd puts her name on everything she writes. But the whole ‘cowardly not constructive thing’ — not so much.
• Just last weekend MauDo went after Anna Wintour. Alright, maybe she was more interested in celebrating the “sacred monster,” but some of her jabs cut pretty deep: “Behind those bangs and dark glasses, is Anna human? Or did she tie Hermès scarves together and make a daring escape from District 9 in a getaway car driven by Oscar de la Renta?” Ouch.
• Dowd is a big fan of pet names (usually objectionable ones). Hence headlines like “Will Hillzilla Crush Obambi?”
• John Edwards got his share of smack from Dowd after his $400 haircut in a column called “Running with Scissors.” We haven’t reached the point,” she writes, “where we can handle a green-tea-soy-latte-drinking, self-tanning-sea-salt-mango-body-wrapping, Norah-Jones-listening, yoga-toning chief executive.”
• NYT public editor Clark Hoyt included Dowd’s attacks on politicians in a column called “Pantsuits and the Presidency,” responding to readers’ complaints about the Times‘ slanted political coverage. A thick slice of those comments revolved around mean Maureen Dowd was:
But Dowd’s columns about Clinton’s campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband … She often refers to Barack Obama as “Obambi” and has said he has a “feminine” management style. But the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton — in 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1 — left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed, even though, as Dowd noted, she is a columnist who is paid not to be objective.
Photo: Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press via Salon.