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May 30, 2003
Bureau of Off-the-Cuff Advice

First Matt Welch suggested that "maybe the Grey Lady needs to open up a few more bureaus in flyover country." Then Virginia Postrel wrote that the New York Times must establish "lots of well-staffed bureaus" in order to qualify as a national newspaper.

This got me wondering: exactly how many regional bureaus does the Times in fact have? Since Welch and Postrel are apparently too low on the journalistic totem pole to employ stringers to get that information for them, I asked my own intern, Bob Greene, to dig up some facts for me.

Bob's report:

Outside of New York and New Jersey, the Times has 12 domestic news bureaus. They are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

The D.C. bureau has 30 reporters and 7 editors. The other bureaus employ around 30 reporters total.

The Times also has 26 international news bureaus.

In addition, it has about 1000 people in the news department total.

Thanks, Bob!

12 domestic news bureaus seems like plenty, but only 30 reporters? If you had 30 Jayson Blairs, then maybe, because that kid had a lot of initiative. Otherwise, they should probably hire more.

Meanwhile, if Virginia Postrel's dubious advice is really "the kind of thing they teach in business school," as she says it is, then my advice is "Skip business school." But for the record, here's Postrel:

If you are going to adopt a strategy to be a national newspaper, you must add the capabilities to be a national newspaper. That doesn't mean parachuting in reporters from Manhattan to interview a few natives and report back on their peculiar habits. It means having lots of well-staffed bureaus and, if necessary, credited stringers. It also means breaking out of a worldview that considers Manhattan normal and every other place weird. The truth is that the NYT is not a national newspaper...It assumes its readers have the prejudices of well-educated, affluent Manhattanites, and it staffs, writes, and edits accordingly. To take an apolitical example, from a national perspective, the Times business pages grossly overcover the media business. From a Manhattan perspective, that makes perfect sense. There is nothing wrong with this strategy, but it is a different strategy from the stated one of being a national paper.

I can't speak to Rick Bragg's transportations methods - but given that during his tenure at the Times he was based in Atlanta, then New Orleans, if he was parachuting in from anywhere to report his stories, it was probably not from Manhattan.

Like Bragg, Jayson Blair wasn't from Manhattan either - he grew up in Virginia. I imagine this isn't particularly uncommon at the Times, which seems to use the entire country as its farm league of talent. Are there any born-and-bred Manhattanites on its staff? Probably. But since the Times generally only hires reporters who have a few years experience under their belt elsewhere, my guess is that the newspaper's staff is much more heterogenous than Postrel gives it credit for. Maybe I can get Bob to confirm this eventually...

Postrel also implies that it's bad to hire only well-educated rich people, and here I agree with her: if the Times hired a few dozen poor dumbfucks, it'd probably be a lot more interesting to read!

But that's the only thing Postrel gets right. Ultimately, she doesn't seem to understand that there are many permutations a "national newspaper" can take. In short, the Times isn't interested in reaching every U.S. citizen. Instead, it's only interested in reaching a certain class of U.S. citizens, both in New York and across the country.

Postrel implies that good old-fashioned Americans aren't interested in all that city-folk media stuff, and therefore that the Times "grossly overcover[s] the media business." In every major city in the U.S, however, there is a class of business professionals who do care about the media business, and whose interests and attitudes correlate fairly closely with their Manhattan counterparts, and those are the readers the Times is trying to reach. That seems like a fairly obvious, fairly sound strategy, and my guess is even despite Postrel's advice, the Times will stick with it.

Posted by Greg Beato at 11:21 AM
Coalition Forces

Here's a piece by Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, in which he laments the fact that he doesn't have a Rick Bragg-style support team to help him write his columns. And I agree completely: if Henican had a few humor interns at his disposal, maybe the piece would have been funnier...

Which brings up a question, of course: what's so bad about the fact that journalism is often a collaborative enterprise?

I understand that transparency is a factor here - collaboration is not necessarily bad, some would argue, it's just that the Times, or actually Rick Bragg, was giving no indication of the collaborative efforts that went into producing Rick Bragg-bylined stories...

I guess it's probably less apparent to people who've never written for a newspaper or a magazine, but the first time you see words in an article you wrote that aren't your own, you begin to realize that bylines are fairly artificial constructs: many hands touch a piece before it's published, but convention has it that only one set of them gets explicitly acknowledged.

Newsmagazines and some newspapers often include a note at the end of pieces that says something like "With additional reporting by Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and G. Beato." But additional reporting isn't the only thing that shapes a piece: several levels of editors usually leave their mark somehow, copy editors are always determined to introduce an awkward phrase or two, fact-checkers suffer from similar compulsions, and designers make their impact known by demanding cuts of at least 1000 words because everyone knows that readers prefer white space to copy. In other words, if you really wanted to illustrate exactly who contributed what to every article, every article would have a credits list as long as a movie.

Instead of doing that, publications generally slap a single byline on a piece, and the byline goes to the person who was most heavily involved in writing the piece. With Bragg's piece, the issue seems to be: who contributed more to the piece, Bragg or the stringer?

Given the Times' actions, it seems like it believes the stringer did. But condemning Bragg for not accurately conveying how much he worked on a story doesn't mean that every time the Times used a stringer and didn't credit him or her, it was committing some grave violation of journalistic propriety. Nor would it be hypocritical for the Times to suspend Bragg for his actions (if in fact the stringer actually wrote most of the story in question), while not suspending other reporters who've used stringers in a less robust fashion.

Conclusion: hopefully, newspapers and magazines won't feel they have to mention every single person who worked on an article. That would be visually clunky. And, hopefully, newspapers and magazines won't do away with editors, stringers, and even copy editors and designers just to preserve the integrity of the solitary byline.

If they did that, then we'd have nothing but blogs, and what an unendurably miserable world that would be.

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:46 AM
May 29, 2003
Everyone Agrees: WMD Suck!

Billmon compiles a list of quotes from our Administration's fearless WMD hunters. My favorite is the last one on the list, from Paul Wolfowitz:

"For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

And here I thought the thing that everyone agreed on was that Saddam was a murderous thug who preyed on his own people and had to be stopped...

Atrios says that Billmon's list of quotes should be sent to every reporter in the country. To that, I'll add that President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Ari Fleischer, Tommy Franks, and Victoria Clarke, amongst many others, should all receive complimentary "Have You Seen Me?" Weapons of Mass Destruction t-shirts.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to purchase a t-shirt today! They make great gifts for dads, grads, commanders-in-chief, secretaries of state, neocon chin-strokers, etc.

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:44 AM
May 27, 2003
Rock Bottom

How do you know for certain when you have definitely, undeniably, unequivocally hit the low point in your 152-year publishing history? When The Artist Formerly Known As Mary Rosh denigrates your integrity: "The New York Times has suffered a major black eye with revelations that one of its reporters made up events, facts, or engaged in plagiarizism some 50 times. Yet, the Times has won praise for owning up to this problem, and in doing so may seem to have put the controversy behind it. Unfortunately, this pattern of reporting goes much deeper than the Times admits..."

(Also: "plagiarizism" is my new favorite word!)

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:54 PM
'wich Hunt

A week and a half ago, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough boasted that he and his viewers convinced MCI to dump Danny Glover as its commercial spokesperson. According to Scarborough, Glover's "extreme views" and "divisive political comments" made him unfit to serve as the public face of MCI.

And indeed, with our government awarding MCI, aka WorldCom, a $45 million contract in Iraq after the company committed accounting fraud to the tune of $11 billion, Glover seems completely miscast for the role - Hollywood liberals like him are too busy worrying about Cuba to pull off deals like that.

While Dick Cheney has yet to officially announce his new gig, MSNBC's Scarborough said that MCI told him the Glover ad campaign had "ended two weeks ago." According to Scarborough, the company will honor Glover's contract through 2004, without actually using his services.

In other words, Glover is still getting paid, and now he doesn't even have to make those stupid commercials anymore. Congratulations, Joe, that's some punishment! Will you boycott me next? I'd love to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for doing nothing...

But you have to applaud Scarborough and his minions. The economy's at Code Orange, Iraqi nuclear materials are being liberated with unsettling frequency, and even without Saddam's support, Al Qaeda is apparently still capable of blowing up innocent people. Instead of succumbing to paralysis and despair, though, the true-blue patriots of "Scarborough Country" have come together in a great show of national sacrifice and told MCI that free people set the course of phone commercial history, not Communist stooges.

Now, calling an 800-number may not seem like much of a sacrifice, but you have to remember: there are one-hour photo shop windows that get higher Nielsen ratings than "Scarborough Country" does. To convince MCI to dump Glover, Joe's viewers probably had to call up the company dozens of time each!

And, really, why turn off this powerful engine of civic engagement just when it's getting warmed up? Danny Glover is not the only celebrity spokesperson on the air these days, and for that matter, why aim such justice only at celebrities? There are plenty of unknown commercial spokespeople whose politics are a complete mystery. And just because they haven't publicly spoken out against President Bush or the United States doesn't mean they're not thinking bad thoughts. Recall the chilling words of incorrigible actorvist Tim Robbins, who revealed that lesser-known showbiz liberals have "said thank you to [him] for saying the things that they can't."

Given such knowledge, should we simply assume that, say, that smarmy blonde-haired guy in the Subway commercials is patriotically qualified to pitch the virtues of scrumptious all-American heroes like the Cold Cut Trio and the Southwest Chipotle Steak and Cheese? For quite some time now, he's been singing the praises of freshly baked bread, tangy marinara sauce, and mouth-watering slices of tender roast beef, but has he ever had one good word for President Bush? Ultimately, it's pretty obvious that all his ostensibly helpful sandwich evangelism is really just cover for the kind of thought-free baloney and treason that Hollywood has been piling onto freshly baked hypocrisy and serving to us for the last 50 years.

Hey, Subway, why don't you hold the mayo and the thinly veiled anti-Americanism? I'm going to the Congressional cafeteria for some freedom fries!

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:41 AM