Reviews | The New York Times’ obsession with itself

Defying the journalistic maxim that journalists should never be the story, “The Story Behind the Story” frequently chronicles the mundane mechanics of assembling the Times. Recently, space presented a first-person play by a Times reporter on how she got her story on the things people are lining up for these days; how his book reviewer read and commented on Prince Harry’s Spare in one day; how his reporter found sources for an article on young people and personal finance; how his reporter covered the recent 5.6 magnitude earthquake in West Java; inside commentary on newspaper crossword; a profile of the newspaper’s photography department; and a profile of a food-truck owner selling on the street outside the Times‘ desks.

On other days, the feature hosts Q&As with reporters in which they regurgitate the facts they’ve already conveyed in published articles about classified documents, Ticketmaster, and the recent German coup plot. (Some of these Q&As are duplicated from the Times‘ ‘The Daily’ podcast.) Then there were retrospectives on the influence of the newspaper’s ‘Snow Fall’ feature from 10 years ago and a history of the guestbook at Times Headquarter. It would be one thing if any of these pieces broke new ground or were great reads, but they don’t and they aren’t. Most of the day’s entries have this quality that passes for preview when applied to podcasts. The reading experience is like soaking your brain in brackish well water. Maybe no one has ever attacked these columns because no one ever reads them.

The feature swells with such distraught self-esteem on some days it’s reminiscent of old New Republic Editor Michael Kinsley’s joking response to a colleague who asked him to concoct a magazine title that would appeal to the hardcore New Republic readers. Kinsley’s land was New Republic World: the magazine for readers of the New Republic. By giving the Times readers re-tasting pieces they’ve read before, the journal fulfills the ouroboros design envisioned by Kinsley.

In theory, a lawsuit Times feature that critically examined log output could be beneficial for both Times readers and journalists. At a time when radical transparency is all the rage and the need to demystify journalism to skeptical audiences has never been greater, “The Story Behind the Story” could be an essential campaign to read the Times. But in its current form, the project is far from fulfilling a real function. It is unworthy of an institution like the Times.

In theory, an enterprising editor could raise the standards and demand work as worthy of interest as others. Times stories. In fact, the document has a recent tradition of critical self-reflection. For 14 years the newspaper hosted the column of the public publisher who, with varying success, x-rayed and beat Times‘ blanket. But the paper spiked the soul-searching exercise in 2017, with editor Arthur Sulzberger Jr. proposing that social media “watchdogs” and “internet readers” could fill the void left by the company’s departure. public publisher.

Even after the defeat of the public publisher, the paper still ran its barbed media column, started by the late David Carr and continued by Jim Rutenberg and Ben Smith, which occasionally made headlines. Times his subject. But the newspaper has yet to replace Smith, who left about a year ago for his Semafor company, which means that almost the only place in the Times to read on the Times is that soft, accommodating characteristic that denies its writers the freedom to be fully honest about how their stories come together. Believe me, reader, sometimes the process can be very ugly. Other times, as we saw in the Times feature attests, it’s as exciting as going shopping.

Correctly reconstructed, the Times Insider function could take over created by public publisher fund and Smith’s failed replacement. If the newspaper’s true purpose is to reveal ‘who we are and what we do’ and provide ‘a behind-the-scenes look at how our journalism comes together’, ‘The Story Behind the Story’ could do just that. by engaging in the Maoist self – exercises in criticism that confess the paper’s mistakes and blunders and expose the paper’s case against its critics.

You could successfully argue that complaining about the misuse of a valuable Times Perching print at a time when most people are using paper in its online incarnation is an unnecessary complaint. But feature placement aside, you’re still left with the reality that the world’s largest newspaper thinks running a protracted, onanist PR campaign for itself is a good use of its reporters’ time and of his readers. The first question in any act of journalism is: Does the story matter? The second is, who cares? In the case of “The Story Behind the Story”, the answers are “no” and “no one”.


Public Editor Daniel Okrent was, by far, the best of the Times’ public editors. Get its columns collected, Public Editor #1, for $4.50 on Abebooks. Send brackish well water to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are honored at this time. My Twitter the stream needs a public editor. My Mastodon account marked my Job account of death. My RSS feed the blankets himself with the printed version of the Times for his naps


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