Tuesday, February 9, 2010

NYTPicker Blog Focuses on New York Times Foibles, Errors and Conflicts

For good or bad, blogs -- and free blogging platforms -- have given a voice to a new crop of citizen journalists that focus on everything from the environment to the media. I have become obsessed with reading the NYTPicker blog, written by a group of anonymous journalists who write daily about the good, the bad and the ugly at the Gray Lady.

What makes it so interesting is that they're right about things far more than they're wrong. The Feb. 7 post reports in detail about how the New York Times is handling its coverage on the unfolding Toyota recall scandal. "But what these stories have failed to show is that the NYT been consistently late to report on details of the unfolding scandal," according to the NYTPicker. The blog also details how the New York Times' coverage -- published later than other news outlets -- seems very similar to stories published earlier by the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The Jan. 31 blog post outlines how a "puff piece" Sunday New York Times profile by Andrew Martin on "Richard Eitelberg, the founder and president of Hartsko, a company that lends money to small businesses to tide them over on pending purchase orders," was missing one important fact -- that the subject had pled guilty in May 2003 to felony charges of computer intrusion. "Did Martin had access to information about the case of 'USA vs. Eitelberg' -- which pops up as the lead item in a Google search of 'Richard Eitelberg' -- and choose not to include it, or did the reporter simply fail to adequately research his profile subject? There's been no comment yet from New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty and New York Times business editor Larry Ingrassia to NYTPicker on the story.

But the New York Times did respond to a Dec. 27 post that blasted regular freelance contributor Prof. Mary Tripsas, a business-management expert and member of the Harvard Business School faculty. Tripsas, who studies and writes about customer innovation, wrote a glowing piece on 3M on that very topic. The problem was, noted NYTPicker, Tripsas didn't mention that she and other researchers were flown to St. Paul, Minn., for a visit and picked up the tab on their travel and accommodations, which violates the newspaper's rules. NYTPicker's Jan. 3 post reported that Tripsas was fired, with New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt writing a column calling the situation "an embarrassment" and acknowledging NYTPicker's revelation. The newspaper also issued an editor's note about the situation.

But I also like the fact that NYTPicker is ready to admit when it's wrong, which happened in a Jan. 20 post about the New York Times pay meter story. It will also praise New York Times reporters on their good work, which was the case on the paper's coverage of Haiti in a Jan. 15 post.

The New York Times, like most newspapers, has had to carry out layoffs on the editorial side as it tries to balance keeping its place as one of the world's premier newspapers against the face of continued drops in advertising. It's inevitable that things will fall through the cracks at newspapers, and wecan be sure that blogs like NYTPicker -- unheard of only five years ago, will continue to grow and expand their watchdog role.

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