Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Habits, curiosity, elitism

In journalism on 7 Mar 2018 at 2:56 pm

Dean Baquet, courtesy Joi Ito from Cambridge, MA, USA (Dean Baquet) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet speak to a gathering arranged by the Brown Institute of Media Innovations at Stanford. Baquet is as important as any single figure in the journalism world, so it was comforting to hear that he has the same challenges that I face every day. The differences are just a matter of scale.

He indicated the same fiery competitive streak that marks journalists of a certain age. He talked about the paywall (saying it saved the New York Times) and how staff’s use of Twitter sometimes gives him heartburn. He admitted to just filling the paper with whatever he could get back in the halcyon days, when so many more ads were printed in newspapers. He seemed like a great boss who had a deep understanding and appreciation for work of journalists.

Three takeaways:

  1. Perhaps the most interesting admission he made dealt with the struggle between “bedrock principles and things that are just habits.” He was talking about the (perhaps) inexorable evolution from print to digital formats. He began by saying that he wakes up to read the New York Times on his phone. He wants to get the experience that most of his readers get. Then he looks at the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal’s digital offerings, all before settling into the print NYT. It was a good reminder that the newspaper isn’t the end result or the most-perfect product in our portfolio. Then he started in on the inverted pyramid. No, Dean, please not the sainted pyramid! Yes, the pyramid, the very foundation of every journalism writing text for decades up until about 1995 or so. Baquet pointed out that the purpose of the pyramid was to get as much important stuff as possible high in a story because the bottom was apt to be sliced with an X-acto knife before the story was run through the waxer… Well, no one is sticking words to a board with wax and cutting them off with knives these days, and there is no need to cut off the bottom of a story that runs online either. If the stilted prose of the pyramid is merely a habit, what else might we change to benefit readers? For instance, our newspaper comes out on Wednesday. Why is that? Whatever the original reason, now it is simply force of habit and we should explore whether it makes sense to change.

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New publisher, old responsibilities

In journalism on 5 Jan 2018 at 11:01 am
The following is the text of an email sent to Wick Communications publishers and the board of directors earlier this week.
Like the newspapers under the Wick Communications banner, the venerable New York Times is largely a family affair. If you think Wick newspapers have deep roots, consider that Adolph Ochs purchased the struggling big-city newspaper in 1896 — three years before the birth of Wick Founder Milton I. Wick. This week, the tradition continued when Ochs’ great-great-grandson took over for his father as publisher of the Times.

Upon that auspicious occasion, this week that new publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, penned an open letter to customers of the world’s most important journalistic factory. It was a spirited and inspiring declaration that the industry standard-bearer would continue to lead the way. You can read it here. Wick CEO Francis Wick suggested that I might address it and that is why you are reading these words.

Sulzberger’s message is important to those of us in the trenches in places like New Iberia, La., and Montrose, Colo. We don’t cover a sprawling metropolis and we aren’t sending reporters to the ends of the earth, but we are fully engaged in the war at home. In 2018, it is not hyperbole to say journalism and the values underlying the First Amendment are under attack. Sulzberger put it like this:

There was a reason freedom of speech and freedom of the press were placed first among our essential rights. Our founders understood that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to hold power to account were prerequisites for a successful democracy. But a dangerous confluence of forces is threatening the press’s central role in helping people understand and engage with the world around them.”  …

He goes on to note what you already know. The business model that promoted an unwavering free press is, well, wavering. In Sierra Vista and Green Valley and Ontario, we, too, must find new ways to tell the stories of a new world. We will continue to reflect our communities with ink on paper, but we will also get better with audio and video, we will seek interactive solutions-oriented journalism that will literally leap off the page and into living rooms, classrooms and community rooms. We will host important meetings aimed and sharing and solving our communities’ most pressing problems, and we will deftly share our stories and our successes through ever-evolving social media. Storytelling like that has a value.

To me, Sulzberger’s nut graph is this: “The Times will hold itself to the highest standards of independence, rigor and fairness — because we believe trust is the most precious asset we have. The Times will do all of this without fear or favor — because we believe truth should be pursued wherever it leads.

Trust. Truth. Fairness. Independence. Rigor. Let these be words to live by in 2018.







I love the NYT redesign

In Design on 3 Mar 2017 at 9:13 am


I love the newly redesigned A2 and A3 in the New York Times so much that I dropped the paper and sat down to tap this out. If you are looking for a constructive way to fill space when your AP contract runs out, read on. This is it.

The idea, according to a note that appeared on the day the new look was unveiled, was to provide a “a quick and engaging roundup” of what is found in the Times that day.

Page 2, at least today, includes the masthead, a table of contents, a “This Date in History” pulled from past editions, and a 400-word column called “Inside the Times,” which tells some inside baseball.

Page 3 is one-paragraph summaries of inside stories, a quote of the day, a look at the most viewed stories online, something called “spotlight” that might be a couple paragraphs about something you posted on Facebook with a photo, and a small bite called “Here to help.” It is a tip riffing off something in the news. (Today, it’s a suggestion that you watch the film classic “All about Eve” in advance of a new television series about the acrimony between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.)

I could do something like this for our paper in an hour. Once the template was in place, I could paginate it in 45 minutes (because I’m slow.) … Read the rest of this entry »

What we are missing

In Media on 25 Mar 2016 at 8:49 am

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This is not a post about Donald Trump. This is a discussion about us, and the things we’ve been getting wrong.

David Brooks is making me write this. Well, not exactly. But my ruminations were spawned by his column last week, headlined, “No, not Trump, not ever.” As you might surmise from a headline like that, Brooks – an unabashed conservative who often explains the virtue in Republican positions – is not enamored with Trump.

Which is neither here nor there, and not why I’m writing this. It’s not the headline that stopped me, but rather something buried in the column:

… many in the media, especially me, did not understand how (Trump voters) would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.

There it is. The rare admission that beltway journalists from from polite society are not well connected with the folks about whom they are endlessly squawking. The esteemed prognosticator Nate Silver made a similar acknowledgment recently when he called the Bernie Sanders’ Michigan victory an epic defeat for pollsters. … Read the rest of this entry »

Covering Google

In journalism on 4 Feb 2016 at 4:15 pm

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This week, The New York Times Insider featured reporter Conor Dougherty and his hunt for Larry Page. Dougherty is the NYT reporter assigned to cover Google, and people like company CEO Page.

The headline sort of says it all: “Try to interview Google’s cofounder. It’s emasculating.”

Today’s tech giants, companies like Google and Apple, are dedicated to sharing information, often information about you and I for which these companies pay nothing. Yet, they are some of the most closed ecosystems on the planet. Tech execs are famous for making maids sign non-disclosure agreements. They have state-of-the-art security and reporters rarely if ever really get a glimpse of what truly goes on behind the website. The New York Times asked to interview Page more than 18 months ago and is still waiting for an answer.

Being in Google’s figurative backyard, we run into this a bit at the Half Moon Bay Review. Recently, we wanted to interview Liv Wu. She is the director of something called the Google Teaching Kitchen. I’d like to ask her what that is, but she is sworn to secrecy. Even though she is a “local” who lives near the Review, was once a newspaper reporter like me and we were specifically guided to her with her email and phone number by a publicist. We wanted to ask her about her completely non-Google work as a member of a committee putting on a local festival.

Such requests had to go through Google, we were told. So we chose someone else to feature.

I mention all this because today’s business titans are more inaccessible than ever before. They rarely consent to interviews with journalists, preferring to issue their own unchallenged statements via social media. It’s so much easier that way. None of those pesky questions. … Read the rest of this entry »

Virtual reality changes everything

In Innovation on 12 Nov 2015 at 6:23 pm


The New York Times completely rocked my world on the morning of Nov. 8. I waddled to the driveway, cup of joe in hand, and picked up the thick wad of newspaper that always greets me on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t until I got inside and unwrapped the thing that I noticed the cardboard box.

What’s this?

It turned out to be a virtual reality machine, for lack of a better term. The result of a partnership with Google, the box unfolded to form something that looked a lot like the Viewmaster from my childhood. A sheet that came with it instructed me to download the NYTVR app on my cellphone. After that, I clicked a link to a video – a 10-minute documentary really. I put the phone in the cardboard and …

There is really no way to describe the experience, but here goes: The New York Times, through a phone app and a piece of cardboard, transported me to war-torn Africa, a Syrian refugee camp and into the ravaged Ukraine. I was alongside three of the 30 million children worldwide who have been displaced by war.

I will never think of video or news the same way again. Period. Here’s the Times announcement.

Of course, I knew about virtual reality. I was vaguely aware that it was being used for gaming and all sorts of training purposes. It seemed to require big, bulky headsets, fancy cameras and who knew what all. It just didn’t seem like something I would be interested in. And I wasn’t alone. … Read the rest of this entry »

Body image and the press

In journalism on 16 Jul 2015 at 12:56 pm

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Boy, did The New York Times step into a swamp with what I at first thought a fairly benign story on Serena Williams, female athletes and body image.

The story quoted several professional tennis players who said they refused to lift weights and work on greater strength training necessary to combat the juggernaut that is Williams. Williams, of course, is perhaps greatest tennis player of all time. She has a famously powerful build and it’s easy to assume that build has something to do with the power she generates. So why don’t her competitors take steps to increase their own power through weight-training and so on?

It turns out that at least some of them are afraid they will lose their girlish figures. That is quite a statement from enlightened professional women in the year 2015.

The Times story appeared below the fold, buried in sports. It wasn’t a long story. It felt kind of perfunctory, to me. The response was vitriolic, however.

Hundreds of readers took the newspaper to task for failing to challenge the stereotypes or that a female athlete should be some kind of delicate flower. … Read the rest of this entry »

He didn’t take crap

In Writing on 20 Feb 2015 at 9:49 am

We lost one of the greats when New York Times media writer David Carr died over the weekend. I guess, given his obvious frail condition and history of personal abuse, I’m not surprised by his untimely death. But I am really, really sorry to hear of it.

There was a time when newspaper newsrooms were filled with characters like Carr. Jimmy Breslin, Hunter Thompson, Jim Murray, Molly Ivins – these were people who “stomped the terra,” has Lord Buckley put it. They did not take crap; they gave it. They believed in the power of their news organization and they used the bully pulpit afforded them to full effect.

For the sake of our business, I hope Carr wasn’t the last of the breed.

His was a story of redemption. His memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read. It chronicles his time as a crack addict and alcoholic on the streets of Minnesota and his subsequent rise to become one of the leading lights of New York journalism. In the book, he writes of his nadir – leaving his young daughters in the car, in the winter cold, for hours on end, while he went into a crack house to get high. “I decided that my teeny twin girls would be safe, that God would look after them while I did not,” he wrote. By the grace of god, those girls, now in their 30s, lived to deliver their father’s eulogy on Tuesday.

Carr didn’t suffer fools, including himself. A passage from the book:

If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story? What if instead I wrote that I was a recovered addict who obtained sole custody of my twin girls, got us off welfare and raised them by myself, even though I had a little touch of cancer? Now we’re talking. Both are equally true, but as a member of a self-interpreting species, one that fights to keep disharmony at a remove, I’m inclined to mention my tenderhearted attentions as a single parent before I get around to the fact that I hit their mother when we were together. We tell ourselves that we lie to protect others, but the self usually comes out looking damn good in the process. …
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What do you slug your story?

In journalism on 28 Nov 2014 at 11:31 am

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In the Times Insider last week (it’s a premium online deal and behind a paywall), New York Times Assistant News Editor Kyle Massey explained the thinking behind the slugs used by the newspaper of record.

Slugs, of course, are the file names used in the editorial department of news organizations everywhere. A story about a deadly shooting in Roanoke Rapids or Lake Havasu might be slugged MURDER. In general we try to use slugs that are brief and to the point and not easily confused with other stories.

The term “slug” harkens back to earlier print days, when characters were strung together in cold-type sticks or in single lines for Linotype machines. Those individual lines of type were called “slugs” and that term apparently appealed to editors who quickly adopted it.

We all have various conventions for slugs. Massey reveals that, at the Times, stories about the president are slugged either OBAMA or PREXY, the later being the habit used by the newspaper’s international desk. Country names are only used as slugs by the international desk.

I sometimes worry that a slug like CITY COUNCIL will cause production to incorrectly pull up the wrong CITY COUNCIL story. There are surely hundreds of old ones on our server. For that reason, I slug my next opinion piece “EDITORIAL FOR 12-3” and so on. But we don’t always do that. … Read the rest of this entry »

‘It’s about individual stories’

In journalism on 9 Oct 2014 at 12:55 pm


I was over the moon when my daughter asked if I would cart her and a friend to The Castro Theater in San Francisco to hear Nicholas Kristof speak. I mean, can it get any better than that for an old newspaper editor? For one night at least, my teenager was interested enough in the intersection of global politics and journalism to risk being seen with her father on the streets of the big city.

I am a great admirer of Kristof. The New York Times columnist has earned two Pulitzer Prizes. His reporting from Africa and Asia and others corner of the world has shed light on problems that can use all the illumination they can get. It is some kind of collective international hypnosis that allows us to sleep at night amid genocide, sex trafficking, child soldiers and myriad other unthinkable maladies worrying our world.

On Tuesday night, Kristof spoke of the moral duty of journalists to report on the big stuff that almost by definition isn’t news simply because it isn’t new. He mentioned a UNICEF report noting that 17,000 children under the age of 5 die of preventable diseases every single day. He told us when he was writing about a true humanitarian crisis in Darfur in 2004, during which nearly a half a million people were killed, New York City was fixated instead on a pair of red-tailed hawks. Someone removed their nest from a tony Manhattan residence, sparking, Wikipedia says, an international outcry and a series of impassioned protests organized by New York City Audubon Society and the Central Park birding community. (In case you are wondering, Mary Tyler Moore protested the removal of the nest, not genocide in Africa.) … Read the rest of this entry »