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New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane asked this morning “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

Reaction to the post came fast. I asked Brisbane if he was surprised by what people were tweeting. His response:

I have to say I did not expect that so many people would interpret me to have asked only: should The Times print the truth and fact-check? Of course, The Times should print the truth, when it can be found, and
fact-check.

What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question. To illustrate the difficulty, the first example I cited involved whether Clarence Thomas “misunderstood” the financial disclosure form when he failed to include his wife’s income. No doubt, many people doubt that he “misunderstood” but to rebut this as false would be difficult indeed, requiring knowledge of Mr. Thomas’s thinking. I was also hoping to stimulate a discussion about the difficulty of selecting which “facts” to rebut, facts being troublesome things that seem to shift depending on the beholder’s perspective. Many readers, in my view, would be skeptical whether The Times would always take a fair-minded approach to rebutting
the right “facts.”

I often get very well-reasoned complaints and questions from readers, but in this case a lot of people responded to a question I was not asking.

* Should the Times be a truth vigilante?
* Yes, NYT should definitely be a truth vigilante
* Props to Brisbane for bringing the issue to the fore
*
NEW: Brisbane updates his post on the Times website

New York Times Co. completed the sale of its Regional Media Group newspapers to Halifax Media today.

A tipster writes: “I did some rummaging around online and found NYT / Halifax’s SEC filing. Most interesting thing I found:”

c) The Purchaser further agrees that it will not engage in any action within 90 days following the Closing that will create any obligation or liability under WARN to any Business Employee or Transferred Employee, including terminating in excess of 49 Transferred Employees at any single or combined site of employment, less the number of Business Employees terminated by any Seller at any such single or combined site of employment, other than for cause, in the 90-day period prior to the Closing.

Here is the memo from Halifax Media’s CEO:

Halifax Employees,

This afternoon Halifax Media Group concluded the purchase of the New York Times Regional Media Group. More details will be available later, but I wanted to let you know our company is now five times larger than it was yesterday. This strategic acquisition not only increases the size of the company, but also increases the opportunities for networking and career advancement.

Thank you for all the hard work. Here’s to a great 2012!

Michael Redding
Chief Executive Officer
michael.redding@halifaxmediagroup.com

Halifax Media Group
901 Sixth St, Daytona Beach, FL 32117
HalifaxMediaGroup.com

An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.

Twilight Sparkle

New York Times corrections, December 30

I asked Amy Harmon, author of “Navigating Love and Autism,” about the correction that’s gone viral. Her story:

My little pony problem came to our attention through multiple channels. One was a call to the reader comment line, prompting the clerk who checks those messages to send this email to an editor who handles corrections:

–From the story “Navigating Love and Autism” by Amy Harmon, 12/26

On page 6 of the web version there is a “nerdy intellectual character” referenced from the My Little Pony TV series named Fluttershy. A reader seems quite convinced that the character Twilight Sparkle fits that description more so than Fluttershy.

That is all.

When I got the email, with a request to check it out, I had just spoken to the young woman in my story, Kirsten Lindsmith, about the mix-up. Kirsten did not formally request a correction — it came up as we debriefed on the broader response to the story. But the passage was clearly unsettling for someone with her penchant for both Ponies and accuracy. (In a way it looked like SHE had been confused, which I worried would cause other pony devotees in her online forums to give her grief.) I had also received email from a reader that was generally positive — he had autism too, and hoped to have a romantic life of his own, he said — but which pointed me to the Wiki pages for Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. “I hope this will help you to understand,” he wrote.

Amy Harmon

Yes, I knew the correction was funny, on some level. We even tried, a little bit, to maximize its entertainment value in the way we worded it. The editor who helped me did predict that it would earn a place in the correction hall of fame. But I have to say I’ve been surprised at the extent of the reaction, especially the comments – well-meaning as they are — that imply we went above and beyond in making it. “Perhaps the reporter has undiagnosed Asperger’s,’’ someone wrote in a Facebook comment forwarded to me by an amused friend.

The Times’ rule is, we correct anything that is wrong, no matter how small or seemingly silly. And I don’t know any of my colleagues who would want to do differently. I hate to get any detail wrong, and when I do, I often have a moment of fantasizing about just letting it slip. But as I sat there that morning, kicking myself for a relatively small mistake that marred a story I had poured my heart into, it seemed so much worse to let it stand. Not correcting it would have undermined the credibility of the other 5,011 words of the story – at least for “My Little Pony” fans. And I think we have seen now that they are not an obsessive subculture to be taken lightly.

Another part of the Times’ corrections policy, which arose after the awfulness of Jayson Blair, is that each correction is entered in a tracking system that includes who was responsible, and an explanation of how the error came to be.

So in case you were wondering, it was my fault, and this is what happened:

Fluttershy

I was accompanying Kirsten to school, taking notes on my laptop as she drove. She was listening to music on her iPod known to Pony fans as “dubtrot,” — a take-off on “dubstep,’’ get it? – in which fans remix songs and dialogue from the show with electronic dance music. Anyway. The song features Fluttershy exclaiming “yay,’’ which I wrote down. Then Kirsten told me that in the Pony universe, the seasons do not change on their own. She talked animatedly about one episode in which the ponies do “winter wrap-up,’’ bringing back the birds that had migrated, clearing away the clouds.

I remember thinking the manual season-changing was a metaphor for people with autism, for whom the social interactions that come naturally to many of us have to be consciously learned. (This seemed way too tortured when it came time to write.) Twilight Sparkle had a big role in that episode, and it was then that our conversation then shifted to her nerdy intellectual personality. But I never wrote down her name. I did run the sentence I ended up with by Kirsten, but it was one of a million things I was checking with her over the course of several drafts, largely by email. I failed to adequately flag it, and she was understandably focused on the other details, many of them deeply personal, that she was choosing to share.

I truly regret the error.

Amy

* The best New York Times correction ever





A few days ago, the New York Times guild invited its members to post messages to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Only a few journalists have bothered to do that so far. Here are a few things they’re telling the boss:

I feel that the gap between what Janet Robinson will be leaving with, and what we are being offered, is simply wrong.

This is the moment for you to step up, to show we’re not merely anonymous numbers, that you care for our well-being, the same way we care for the integrity, and well-being of this great newspaper.

The disconnect between the praise lavished upon us and the dismissive treatment we have experienced in negotiations has reached grotesque proportions.

*Read more New York Times staffers’ quotes

The History Channel is airing “Page One: Inside the New York Times” at 6 p.m. ET on New Year’s Eve. (It can also be streamed on Netflix.) Filmmaker Andrew Rossi answers a few of my questions about the documentary and Michael Kinsley’s negative review.

What were your expectations for Page One when you started filming? I see that your domestic gross as of 10/16 was $1,067,028. Is that the most current figure?

Yes, that is the most current figure.

When I first started shooting “Page One: Inside The New York Times” I didn’t have a clear sense of whether the film would ultimately scale beyond a small core audience of NYT followers and those interested in journalism to even warrant a theatrical release at all, although of course I hoped it would. So the fact that the film ended up grossing over $1M (which is the holy grail for independent docs, much as $100M is for studio films), was thrilling. That being said, with partners like Participant Media and Magnolia Pictures on board, there were initially comparisons to movies like “Food Inc.” and “Waiting For Superman,” which had spectacular grosses of $4.4M and $6.4M respectively.

My personal assessment is that the excoriating Michael Kinsley review which appeared in the New York Times probably cut our box office in half, at least. The conventional wisdom is that if a small indie doesn’t get a strong review in the Times, it’s an uphill battle at the box office. So to have a Times review which actually instructs its readers to not see the film but to see another one made in the 1940’s instead, well… you do the math.

All in all, ending up with $1M is a real testament to the strong word of mouth for the picture and Magnolia and Participant’s efforts to get the film out there; they did an amazing job. But I think it’s likely that a large swath of Times lovers stayed home because of that astonishing Kinsley review.

Andrew Rossi

How is “Page One” doing in DVD/digital download sales/rentals?

We haven’t gotten an accounting statement yet from activity on Itunes and other on-demand platforms, but the feedback on Twitter from people streaming has been phenomenal.

I asked Rossi about Michael Kinsley’s review, which ran in the Times and said the paper “deserves a better movie.”

Overall the critical response to the film has been very positive; in fact, we were nominated for a “Critic’s Choice” Award for best documentary, among other honors. So to say that Kinsley’s review was an abberation would be an understatement. Many of the people who have commented to me about the review, several of whom work at the Times itself, have described the review as “shameful.” Michael Kinsley may be a Rhodes Scholar, but he’s not a film critic, and the idea that he is objective when it comes to the subject of the New York Times and journalism is preposterous. He would have been a great candidate to write an editorial about the movie, but as a reviewer, not so much.

The truth is that there are several factual errors and misleading statements in Kinsley’s review, even beyond it’s imbalanced attack on the movie as a creative work. The Times chose to run only one of the ten or more corrections that we submitted, which was also upsetting. Specifically, my initial response was shock and finally sadness, not just for all those who put so much work into making the film, but actually for the Times itself. Don’t get me wrong – there’s been credible criticism about the film’s structure, and I appreciate the negative insights as well as the praise. Yes, a multi-pronged narrative with literary digressions pivoting from one subject or protagonist to another is difficult to pull off and not for everyone. But Kinsley’s review is a contrarian rant that doesn’t shed any light. It’s a takedown, which doesn’t live up to the Times’ own standards.

* Earlier: “I turned out to be completely wrong” about the film, says NYTer

The New York Post calls yesterday’s New York Times email screwup “a comedy of errors” and once again uses its nearly decade-old photo of publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sporting a black eye. (A few other uses: In 2009, for story about the Sulzberger clan’s financial woes; and in 2007, to accompany a story about the paper killing TimesSelect.)

NYTer Michael Roston tweets: Why yes, New York Post, I bet your readership really does consider our Wed. e-mail fuck-up to be front page news

The story behind the black eye: Sulzberger was the victim of a bike-by punching, according to an April 21, 2002, Associated Press story.

Recalling when New York Post fell for Heywood Jablome: Romenesko reader Randy Dotinga reminded me yesterday of my 2001 story about “a priceless howler” in the Post (second item): the tabloid ran a man-in-street quote from 41-year-old Manhattan real estate agent who identified himself as Heywood Jablome.

In other Times news, Cornell professor Daniel Schwarz, who says he’s had “a lifelong love affair with the New York Times,” is coming out with a book titled “EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009.” Ann Marie Martin writes:

Dan told me he conducted about 45 interviews starting in 2004 and continuing into 2008 when he began to write the book. Then he went back in 2010 “for a retrospective view.”

“I interviewed every living executive editor of the Times,” he said, “as well as a good number of the masthead figures and a good number of the section editors.”

Along with a good overview of the Times’ history and recent past, Dan focuses on an issue facing all newspapers in the digital age: Will there still be a print edition in 10 to 15 years?

Read more about Schwarz’s book, which comes out in March.

“The New York Times has decided to get out of the podcast business,” listeners of The Caucus podcast were told last week.

That’s not exactly right, I’m told.

“Yes, we’re re-evaluating our podcast schedule for the coming year,” a Times spokeswoman tells me. “Some will continue, but many will be discontinued. Among those that will continue: Book Review, Science Times and the Front Page.”

John Geddes, managing editor for operations, says in a statement:

We’ve been producing podcasts for more than eight years. We’ve learned a lot by doing them and many have a loyal following. But a recent assessment of where the newsroom puts its resources came to the conclusion that there may be other venues and programs that may be more advantageous in connecting with our audience.

Boston Globe editor Marty Baron says in a tweet that his paper dropped podcasts years ago. “Big time commitment, little gain,” he writes.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

“If Arthur Sulzberger were named Arthur Smith there is no way that he would be running New York Times Co., or any other publicly traded company for that matter,” writes Jonathan Berr. “His track record for shareholders is that bad.” Two years ago, John Koblin named Sulzberger “the media mensch of the year,” citing his support for the news side of the operation. Would the Times publisher get that award in 2011?

*The case against Arthur Sulzberger at New York Times

Janet Robinson

Last night I tweeted and posted on my Facebook wall the Reuters story about departing New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson receiving a $15 million-plus exit package. My Facebook wall quickly filled with friends’ reactions:

Ahhh, finally a woman receiving a huge package upon departure.

Pretty amazing when you figure they are probably going to lay off some reporters because of this.

Some reporters? And designers, photogs and editors.

To paraphrase the line from “Broadcast News”: Well, I hope she dies soon.

And copy editors, and proofreaders and fact-checkers and interns. Holy crap.

Context – departing Gannett exec Craig Dubow’s severance/benefits was something like $37M. And he axed waaaay more journalism jobs than the NYT.

DISGUSTING.

That is a lot of hush money. Somebody needs to find out what she’s being hushed up about.

Read More

New York Guild president Bill O’Meara tells me that the $4.5 million one-year consulting fee for departing New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson “was a surprise to us as it was to our members” and “they’re not happy about that when the company is still demanding major givebacks, including a freeze in the pension plan.”

“They’re offering basically no raises and lots of cutbacks. They want people to work a longer work week with no increase in compensation.”

The Times contract expired on March 30, “and we have not had serious negotiations for months now. Our last official bargaining session was in June.”

The union chief adds that subcommittees have been meeting with the Times, and “there has been progress on smaller issues.”

(I have asked the Times to comment. UPDATE: “We will decline comment,” says a spokesman.)

UPDATE: Another union has criticized the consulting fee:

Press release

New York Times Workers Blast Janet Robinson’s $4.5m “Golden Parachute”

While Robinson Is Getting a Huge Pay-out, The Times Demands That Middle-Class Workers Take a Pay Cut

Do As We Say, Not as We Do: Editorial Board Calls for Restraint on CEO Pay as Robinson Makes Millions

New York, NY – A union representing workers who prepare the New York Times for delivery today called on the Times to reconsider its $4.5 million golden parachute for Janet Robinson, the Times CEO who announced her retirement yesterday. The payment, ostensibly for a year of consulting, comes as the Times is calling for a pay cut for middle class Times workers.

Arthur DeIanni, President of the Allied Printing Trades Council of NY and of New York Mailers’ Union Local 6 issued the following statement:

“The Times likes to slam CEO excess, until they are the ones doing it. It is offensive to the hard-working men and women who make sure the Times is ready for delivery to millions of people throughout the NYC metropolitan region that the board of the Times would give Janet Robinson a $4.5 million golden parachute while offering a 26% pay cut to middle-class Times workers.

“The Times management should listen to its editorial board, which has criticized skyrocketing CEO pay, saying: ‘It is clear that C.E.O. pay has skyrocketed while workers’ pay has stagnated; it is also clear that skewed pay and rising income inequality correlate to bubbles and crashes.’

“We remain willing to sit down and discuss a reasonable settlement to this labor dispute. Hopefully, Times management can take a relatively small part of Robinson’s golden parachute and use it to pay middle-class Times workers a fair wage.”

I remember how some journalists were outraged in 2004 when Tribune paid retiring Publishing division president Jack Fuller a one-year consulting fee of $618,000. On Thursday, the New York Times Co. disclosed that retiring CEO Janet Robinson will get $4.5 million for a year’s worth of consulting. || Here’s what some of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers said about that:

The company’s stock price drops from around $50 a share to around $7 a share while you are CEO, and $4.5M in one year is your reward?

Revolting. Remember the Boston Globe’s union concessions a few years back, which went to feed the dual Robinson-Sulzberger maw? OCCUPY.

Vomit inducing.

And how much did the paper lose over that 7 years?

Given the current state of the industry and the many fine reporters, editors and others whose jobs have been cut in recent years, this is just disgusting.

The 1% takes care of the 1%.