First, two things:
1) Generally speaking, I like the New York Times. And I read it mostly online.
2) I’m also generally inclined to applaud traditional media organizations when they use the web in intelligent ways—particularly since most of them don’t.
New York’s cover story this week is killing me. It’s titled “The Renegades at the New York Times,” and it’s entirely about the fact that the NYT has a website with all the functionality you’d expect from a reasonably sophisticated web staff. (It’s written by Emily Nussbaum, a frequent and generally astute observer of geek culture, and previously a writer in that capacity for … the New York Times. I don’t know if that really drove the story, but in my experience, ex-and-current Times people are more obsessed with the Times than… well, anyone. And more likely to overstate its importance.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that the Times has blogs, knows what Facebook is, etc. But are expectations for traditional media institutions so abysmally low that they should be roundly patted on the back for understanding the basics of web culture and implementing the corresponding applications?
And the piece is really over-the-top in that respect. Renegades? Seriously? I love David Carr’s Carpetbagger videos, but if that’s your baseline for what you consider innovation, you’re setting the bar pretty low. If the Times had *invented* Twitter, it would be one thing. But pretending they’re web pioneers because their 2004-graduate web staffers suggest that reporters should have Twitter accounts and actually use them is really bending over backwards to exaggerate the extent to which this is unusual.
Here’s something else—a description of the impetus behind the digital/print merger:
The proposal was to create a newsroom: a group of developers-slash-journalists, or journalists-slash-developers, who would work on long-term, medium-term, short-term journalism—everything from elections to NFL penalties to kind of the stuff you see in the Word Train.” This team would “cut across all the desks,” providing a corrective to the maddening old system, in which each innovation required months for permissions and design. The new system elevated coders into full-fledged members of the Times—deputized to collaborate with reporters and editors, not merely to serve their needs.
Again: backpatting for circumventing an inefficient cumbersome system of the Times’ own making. At any normal digital media property “cutting across all desks” would be standard. But the Times gets applauded for avoiding its own bureaucracy.
Funnily, this reminds me of reaction to an article published a few weeks ago wherein Karl Rove and George Bush were competing to see who read the most books. There was an appalling undercurrent of approval—oh, he does read! How admirable!—when it should be taken for granted that the President of the United States reads heavily and regularly.
And if he doesn’t, he’s not doing his job and we’re probably all fucked.
Same here, really. The Times has one of the best newspaper sites out there, but it’s a tallest dwarf distinction.
So when the Times invents the next Digg or YouTube—something that actually changes the way people consume and filter media, or at the very least the way in which media is produced—I’ll stomach 3000 words about it. Until then, I don’t want to read an interminable piece about how web staffers at the NYT are actually doing their jobs, as if this were wildly unexpected.