31 July 2008

New York Times Wants to Censor and Influence Bloggers?

On Saturday, I posted about the New York Times and their coverage that same evening of the BlogHer 08 Conference in their online Fashion & Style section (The Sunday Styles section in the print version). I was particularly upset about where the paper placed the story and the overall tone of the article. I also wrote a brief letter to the editor that day that expressed my thoughts on the topic. You can read my post and my letter to the editor right here.

Yesterday, I got a phone call and an email from a New York Times editor in response to my letter, asking simply if I would please call her. So I did, about an hour later.

The contact is an editor for the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Times’ Styles section (known as the Fashion & Style section on the online version). She said she was contacting me because she wanted me to consider revising the letter I had written to the editor because they couldn’t publish it as it was. (She also mentioned that she had read my post and several others expressing similar criticism for the story and its placement).

So, naturally, I asked why. She said that my letter specifically criticized the placement of the story, which it did. But she went on to explain that the Times’ sections operate somewhat autonomously, and when one section gets a good story, they would never “give it away” to another section. She said that the section in which a story was placed was not something they “controlled”, but that it was based on which section editor got the story or whom the reporter chose to pitch.

Effectively, she told me that they wouldn’t publish my letter if it talked about the placement of the story since the section placement wasn’t “something [they] could respond to” and was something they “don’t have an answer for”. Instead, she suggested that if I framed my letter to focus instead on tone and content of the story itself, I could resubmit it to her directly for publication consideration.

What?

There’s a couple of big lessons to be learned here about proper outreach to your community, and how not to engage with bloggers.

Mistake #1
First of all, a letter to the editor is intended as an expression of opinion by the readership of a paper. A publication could reasonably edit a letter for length, but suggesting that content and intent of a letter be revised and resubmitted for the purposes of making it easier or more palatable to the paper isn’t reasonable (or ethical, in my view).

In this case, the Times didn’t want to publish my criticism of the editorial judgment because they would have then had to explain how and why stories get placed in specific sections. They also might have had to defend the content of their Style section and justify why it was a suitable place for the BlogHer story after all. So they’ve made my letter to the editor about what it does (or doesn’t do) for them, instead of about engaging and including the voice of their readers.

Lesson: When engage in dialogue with your community, you lose credibility and respect when you try to censor or influence that conversation just because you don’t like what’s being said.

Mistake #2
In our follow up correspondence after the phone call, the editor asked that, should I choose to blog again on this topic, I not reveal her name because she’s “not a higher-up in the section” and would “rather not be seen as speaking on behalf of the section in print.” However, her phone call to me was from her desk at the Times, and her email to me was from her New York Times email account. In both cases, she was clearly presenting herself as a representative of the paper whose duties, per her email to me, “include [responding] to letter writers.”

They say in journalism that nothing is ever truly off the record. The Times, however, via this editor, is asking to be exactly that.

Lesson: If you’re going to be a part of the conversation, be transparent. Own your viewpoint and speak as yourself. Otherwise, your community questions your motives and you lose their trust.

So what should they have done?

Here’s my take:

• Either chosen to publish my letter as it was, or chosen not to publish it as is their prerogative (after all, publication isn’t guaranteed). But never should their response have been to try and convince me to amend my opinion because they didn’t have a suitable response.

• Commented on my post. The editor mentioned that she’d read my blog post about it, and that gave her and the Times the perfect opportunity to engage in the conversation and contribute their perspective.

• Respected my stance rather than trying to influence it. They didn’t have to agree with me. But trying to get me to revise my letter to the editor or suggest how I should treat future blog posts tells me that they’d rather control the message than have a discussion.

Let me be clear that I think the Times, in theory, made the right move by reaching out to someone who is clearly speaking up about them, and to them. Engagement is much better than ignoring. But the question becomes what does more damage: Not responding at all, or responding and trying to influence a letter writer or blogger to amend their content?

I think the piece itself and the editor’s response to my letter underscores the lack of respect that the Times has for bloggers, their readers, and their influence within the larger media community. The overall tone of the exchange with the editor, while courteous and friendly on the surface, leads me to think that the Times not only wants to unduly influence the conversation, but that they might be taking this ill-advised approach with other bloggers, too.

This whole situation highlights an archaic and potentially damaging system that papers like the Times are using to determine where their stories run. I think they ought to be rethinking this for the sake of integrity.

So what do you think? How would you have reacted to such a request? Do you think the New York Times handled this correctly? If not, what should they have done differently and what are the lessons to be learned?

Photo by Anderson Mancini

40 comments:

Laura Pritchard said...

you go Amber! I wholeheartedly agree with you!

Jennifer Leggio said...

Overall I agree. This was a terrible approach which shows the ignorance of the editor in question. I am also starting to wonder if it was more personal agenda because she might've had her hand in this story and didn't want any public criticism. Which would make me think she shouldn't be an editor in the first place.

However, I do not think it's indicative of the Times' overall. Much like their news budgets are determined by sections at times, so are their philosophies and approaches to producing news. Right or wrong, each section editor is responsible to some degree to keeping its regular advertisers happy so they do in some ways compete for more highly read content. It's also possible that since BlogHer appeals to a niche audience, that the news editors and such did not want to include it in their sections (something I personally think is a mistake, just postulating).

I didn't see the article so I can't comment on the tone, but again I agree that this editor is way off the mark with how she communicated about this issue. Her karma, methinks, will be getting left behind as journalism continues to evolve. Kudos to you for not just sitting back on the issue.

Teeg said...

Great article once again, Amber!

I am just amazed that someone from the NYT would call and ask you to change your letter! As a blogger, could you imagine asking someone to change a comment because they think you should put different tags on a post?

I could understand their reaction if you'd said it should have been published in the Wall Street Journal or somewhere else instead of the NYT, but suggesting that all the departments of a newspaper aren't even connected enough to publish a story in the best section for it???

Does that mean that if a Style editor gets hold of an article about Obama visiting other countries, it will be published in the Style section and talk about what he wears each day and what restroom conditions are like around the world? Somehow I seriously doubt it.

Michael Becker said...

This is how letters to the editor work at big papers like the New York Times. It's not like the Podunk Tribune that can publish every single letter about cats in trees and misplaced semicolons it receives or a blog that has the infinite space afforded by the Web.

Readers expect more from Times letters than they do from other newspapers, meaning that those letters have to add something valuable to the public conversation with a minimum of exposition (i.e., explaining how the placement of stories in the Times works).

The fact that the times considered publishing your letter -- and even asked you, specifically, to edit it for publication -- rather than all the other letters this editor told you they had received testifies to your ability to nail this subject. They didn't ask you to censor you letter; they asked you to focus on the bigger issue that is more important to the public: the tone of the story.

It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship." It's only censorship when the other party has the power to change your writing without permission, and in this case, the Times has made it clear that it's not going to change your writing without you being involved in the process.

As for her asking you not to reveal her name: all I can say is so what? So some mid-level editor at the Times didn't want you to use her name specifically in a story on your blog. This is the kind of hassle that journalists, like me, run into all the time -- nobody's quotable but the chiefs. Is that a firm rule? Hell, no. She knew you were a blogger and writer before she picked up the phone. You could print her name with impunity. But that might burn your source, so to speak, meaning you never hear a word from her again. It's the game we play.

Mack Collier said...

"The fact that the times considered publishing your letter -- and even asked you, specifically, to edit it for publication -- rather than all the other letters this editor told you they had received testifies to your ability to nail this subject. They didn't ask you to censor you letter; they asked you to focus on the bigger issue that is more important to the public: the tone of the story."

So what about the issue that is important to the bloggers themselves, which is their being potentially misrepresented? Sorry but asking someone to alter their letter to the editor, especially a blogger, isn't a very good practice, IMO. The NYT's tone comes across as condescending and borderline bullying, IMO.

It's always better to attempt to ENGAGE bloggers in conversations, not shut down or influence that exchange. And I commend Amber on the even-handedness of the post and she offers great teaching examples that companies should heed when dealing with bloggers.

I Can't Keep Up said...

I don't think it is appropriate for an editor to call someone and try to influence the writing of their LTE.

Separately, clearly this journalist forgot that she was speaking with another journalist, realizing this after the fact, she asked to remain anonymous. Sure you protect your source, but the fact that she made such a call without requesting anonymity, then asked for it later makes me wonder if she should have been contacting the writer in the first place.

I don't buy the "get over it, this is how it is argument." No one expects that every letter they write is going to get published, but they do expect to be treated with respect and professionalism.

Mack Collier said...

"It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship.""

BTW, if we are indeed to focus on what the public wants and believes, then I think that the average American that submitted a letter to Letters to the Editor, would expect it to be published without an email from the paper asking for a revision before it can be published. That may indeed be what the NYT does, but again, if we are going to focus on the public, I don't think the general public would be too ok with that practice, and I think many would indeed feel that was 'censorship'.

All about where you are coming from.

John Hopkins said...

We are in this period of newspapers and bloggers competing for users attention yet still trying to work together. Sort of like two land masses colliding to form one island. Eventually it will all come together, but initially the tremors are going to be substantial.

elizs said...

This sounds like something for the NYTimes Public Editor to take on - along with the whole BlogHer coverage issue. You might try contacting him.

thePuck said...

I think that this really draws out the differences between old and new media. Transparency vs. control of image and spin-doctoring.

The demand has been there for a long time for transparent media and politics (which go hand in hand) and I think that the increasing strain the blogosphere and other social media is putting on the old media is very telling.

As the judge in that old Twilight Zone episode said: "Obsolete".

TexasBrian said...

This is called "overreacting," and it is becoming epidemic among bloggers.

It begins in the headline. I don't see where the NYT tried to "censor" the blog.

The newspaper extended the courtesy of a phone call to explain its process of how the story was placed, which most papers wouldn't even do, much less in print. You're lucky to get a response at all, much less a phone call.

You got your explanation to a much more personal degree than you would have in a print piece, so now to print a letter asking for that same explanation seems pointless. Content questions are valid, but letters asking how the newspaper works aren't so much "opinion" based as much as asking as what the ingredients are in a soft drink. It almost seems as though now you're teetering on the verge of grandstanding.

And yes, letters to the editor remain outlets of reader opinion, and newspapers have traditionally edited for length and grammar concerns, but with all of the letters coming into a paper the size of the NYT, just the fact that it wasn't immediately disregarded is a testament that you're not being "censored" or [insert First Amendment argument here].

What you call "Mistake #2" is a bizarre argument. you say that because she called you from The Times, that she shouldn't ask not to be included in the blog. Of course she called you from the NYT and used their e-mail. Was she supposed to whip out her cell phone on company time? She just didn't want to get dragged into your blog war while doing her job. She is trying to communicate to you that she isn't the one making these decisions (remember the adage, "Don't shoot the messenger"?) and would prefer not to be in the blog. That seems simple enough to me.

To ask the NYT to respond to your post is not realistic, and for you to suggest that as a solution is another thing I find just strange. They have their own publication to put out, and for you to suggest they spend manhours in the blogosphere responding to various blogs is counterproductive to their mission and a waste of their time. You have your publication; they have theirs. You chose to engage them.

I think they respected your stance by answering it with a personal phone call and answering your questions. That's more than I get from most businesses I deal with, much less a leading newspaper.

The bigger issue here is that you feel they are trying to influence you. Just from reading what you have posted, which is only one side, I can see that clearly they are telling you that they are happy to print criticism of their content, but they can't respond to the inner machinations of the newsroom. If anything, it sounds like she was trying to let you know that if you focus your letter — and what blogger doesn't need more editing? — on the more relevant issues of content that will appeal to a broader audience, you will have a better chance of seeing print.

It's the same advice a book author would get from an editor — do this so you will appeal to a broader audience.

Don't get mired in taking things so personally. It's easy to do. But in looking at the broader picture, I see someone who actually gave you tips on how to get your message out there for the masses, instead of just flushing it away, which was her right.

And that deserves a note of gratitude, not vitriol.

Amie Gillingham said...

Michael Becker said: It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship." It's only censorship when the other party has the power to change your writing without permission, and in this case, the Times has made it clear that it's not going to change your writing without you being involved in the process.

I think the point of Amber's letter has been lost on you. Her letter to the editor wasn't just a criticism of the patronizing tone of the original Blogher article; it was valid criticism of the article's placement in the Times. The fact that Amber was told outright that she is not welcome to criticize the article's placement IS a huge issue of censorship. I respect that they tried to reach out to Amber, but honestly, the NYT's method of "damage control" is worse than the original problem her LTE addressed!

Connie Reece said...

"You have your publication; they have theirs. You chose to engage them."

TexasBrian - when a New York Times editor calls you up and spends 40 minutes of company time trying to deflect criticism of their policy, SHE chooses to engage YOU. They had no obligation to print the letter and could have left it at that, then there would probably not have been a follow-up blog post.

"And that deserves a note of gratitude, not vitriol."

I would hardly call this blog post vitriol. The tone was quite civil, in my opinion.

Mack Collier said...

"The newspaper extended the courtesy of a phone call to explain its process of how the story was placed, which most papers wouldn't even do, much less in print. You're lucky to get a response at all, much less a phone call."

Wow, it's like we just slid backwards 3 years. The newspaper should WANT to contact bloggers such as Amber that are creating content about their paper. They aren't doing Amber any favors, they are doing THEMSELVES a favor.

If ANY business has bloggers that are posting about them, they should make EVERY effort to engage those bloggers and get a dialogue started with them. Attempting to shut-down or influence an interaction is the quickest way to inflame it, as we saw here. If the NYT had put aside their ego and tried to work WITH Amber to get a dialogue started, instead of adding hoops for her to jump through, then this issue would be in a completely different place right now.

I Can't Keep Up said...

You know, I don't see any vitriol in Amber's post.

What I do see is a fault line between traditional media and new media. It's great if reaching out to a blogger is a phone call asking for more information or to connect. Trying to persuade her to take a different stance, then ask her not to use her name is inappropriate. If it wasn't, why didn't the editor want their name used?

New York City's Watchdog said...

This is called "overreacting," and it is becoming epidemic among bloggers.

It begins in the headline. I don't see where the NYT tried to "censor" the blog.

-Texas Brian

I believe Texas Brian hit it on the head. This is an overreaction to "old media" reaching out, just as the initial reaction about where the NYT placed the article to begin with was an overreaction considering that in all probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business, and BlogHer does not to my knowledge have any of the influential female tech bloggers on their rosters (where is Cali Lewis, Lorrelle VanFossen, or Skellie?). Your letter and blog post remain your words on your forum... they simply asked you to perhaps refocus on the substance of the article instead of something that really is trivial and petty.

As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?

I tend to think the NYT, whether they knew it or not, put that article exactly where it belonged.

Beth Harte said...

Amber, great post! What Amber’s post does best is bring to light the archaic nature in which the newspaper industry still operates. Will it change overnight, no. But it will need to adapt eventually. We are the consumers of the NYT and we have a voice now and the NYT tried to control that voice.

JudyBright said...

It's not like manipulating facts is anything new to the Times.

And they could have responded to you; it's just that the truth would make them look horrible.

Mack Collier said...

"I believe Texas Brian hit it on the head. This is an overreaction to "old media" reaching out"

Apologies, I need to go clean Dr Pepper off my laptop screen.

Amber Naslund said...

All - wow! Thanks for the comments. Some great stuff in here, on both sides of the argument.

I will say that vitriol is the last thing I put into this post. I find it actually a bit funny that I'm supposed to be eternally grateful that *The* New York Times took time to respond to me. Yep, I'm just some blogger out there in the vast sea, this is true. And you can agree or disagree with my POV, and I think that's great. And I acknowledged that reaching out on their part was a great thing to do.

If the journalist had time to read my post and spend 40 minutes on the phone with me justifying her placement, she had time to justify it on my blog where others could respond too. I don't consider that a favor, by any stretch, nor a waste of time.

The rules of the game are changing, people. I may just be one person - one blogger, one letter writer - but that's not the point. The point is that traditional media wants everyone else to always play in their sandbox, by their rules alone.

The fact that they wanted to not focus on the "machinations of the newsroom" is exactly the point. They didn't have an answer, so they didn't want it brought up. I didn't write my letter to "appeal to an audience". I wrote it to bring to light what I think is poor editorial judgment, whether that focuses on their management policies or not. And so I chose not to alter it based on their recommendations, because it undermines exactly the issue I was trying to point out.

I appreciate all of you taking the time to share your thoughts on the issue. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Erika said...

Amber, I don't see (or read) any vitriol in your posts or criticism of the NYT's tactics. The way the game is played *is* changing, but even if it weren't, asking you to revised and resubmit a LTE is neither standard practice nor acceptable. Teeg makes a great point about a blogger asking a commenter to change their comment because it didn't match the "tone" of the blog.

If it is about engagement and communication (and once, LTE's were the only way that readers could directly respond to the press)then the request for a revision smacks of censorship and falls outside of the guidelines of editing for (objectional)content or length (for space) as many LTEs are. While the ed who contacted you did "object" to the tone of the letter, it's not in the realm of the "classic list" of objectional content.

Lightfinger said...

I read the New York Times article, and I felt is was a very poor article in the first place, irregardless to the position in the paper it occupied.

It was like going to E3, but only focusing on the 10% of the people in costume (if that much), and trying to paint the entire convention as a bunch of people who cosplay.

Because it was not an article which shows female bloggers gaining momentum (and added to the study released recently showing more women than men are on social networking sites), but portrayed female bloggers as being courted by Gucci. In a fashion section of the paper, this is appropriate. Thus, I feel there should have been two articles. The first about female bloggers and their accomplishments, and a second about the 'dealer's room' that was presented at BlogHer.

And to those of you claiming that Amber should be 'honored' by the Times, I'm sorry. That time has passed. The Times should be honored to be mentioned by Amber.

New York City's Watchdog said...

The Times should be honored to be mentioned by Amber.

Now I'm the one cleaning Mr. Pibbs off my laptop screen.

Temple Stark said...

This is why I like blogs over SM on important subjects. The issues are laid out much more clearly with a bit of room to type.

For instance, I did not realize the request to have her name not used came in a follow-up e-mail. That to me describes laying the groundwork after the building is already erected so to speak. Good .. heck even mediocre .. editors / journalists know to set the rules beforehand.

As such it is much more a judgment call as to whether it's worth it, but your justification for using her name is much stronger. If how it's laid out here is correct, of which I have no reason to doubt, the "rules of the conversation" should have come first IMHO.

---
I don't get this idea people keep repeating about this isn't the way to communicate "with a blogger" or "especially a blogger." A blogger is a reader is a member of the public. In society, some as has always been, have greater broadcast power, some can't be heard.

As it relates to this, it doesn't seem the "blogger" part of the equation has any relevance at all.

---
Amber said as a lesson to learn from this: "When engage in dialogue with your community, you lose credibility and respect when you try to censor or influence that conversation just because you don’t like what’s being said."

I can't agree that trying to influence what was being said loses you credibility or respect. Because to agree to that I would have to disagree with Amber's effort to influence the tone of this or future articles on BlogHer and their placement. Which I don't at all.

Too, I would further have to criticize this post as continuing to try and influence.

As a slight, incomplete, aside, isn't that a big chunk of what PR is all about? That's not saying good or bad, just, isn't it?

---
It's unclear to me whether this story actually made it to the printed paper by the way.

---
I especially enjoy the tone of this piece, because it is much more nuanced and, yes, generally respectful, then it sounded like it was going to be. There are certainly some things people / institutions do that are wrong. But they come in degrees of "wrongness." Fundamentally this comes down to a disagreement over where the story went in the paper, yet no "that's cool" for putting it in the paper at all.

The Style section to me means trends / what's next, though obviously it was different in the past.

The perception here, I believe, is at the root of the overall problem / discussion.


Thank you for writing this Amber.
Temple

TexasBrian said...

Not quite time to clean the screen, but it's getting there. I think the problem this time comes in the ego-check department in the concept of "new media."

I think somewhere along the way, it got accepted that anyone with a blog is a "journalist." Someone earlier even mentioned that the NYT editor was talking "journalist to journalist."

My 14-yeear-old niece likes to blog about her iPod. Is she a journalist?

I have a journalism degree, but I don't work for any media outlet. Am I a journalist?

This idea that a newspaper should engage in any sandbox other than their own is ludicrous. Create as many blogs as you like, create your own domain -- heck, create your own print product. And then expect a major daily to spend time responding to it? Seriously?

The notion that anyone with a keyboard and a blogspace is now on equal footing with the NYT is really ballsy, to say the least. To get that footing, I would say you have to get there the old fashioned way — you have to earn it.

Traditional print media may be dying, but it's not dead yet, and it's not about to be replaced by someone in Topeka with a Dell laptop and Blogspot. Sorry. There's work to be done, and it begins with a fundamental understanding of how the process works. If anything, I hope Amber took away an understanding of how the sectioning process works (i.e. how the story was placed) and not just sour grapes because the story didn't get placed where she wanted it. I trust she did.

P.S. "Vitriol" might not have been the best word choice, but creating an epically long post about the unhappiness you experienced complete with calls to action for "fixing" their "mistakes" doesn't sound like roses and sunshine to me.

Amber Naslund said...

Couple points to clarify @texasbrian:

It's not about where *I* wanted the story personally. There's been a great deal of feedback from the participants themselves and the community at large about the placement. This isn't about me, I'm just adding my voice. You can demean my place as a blogger all you like. I'm just adding to the conversation just like you are.

@Templestark you bring up a very good point about influence, so let me clarify a bit. No, inherently I don't think there's anything wrong with the practice of influence, depending on it's endgame. it's the essence of marketing, communications, and social media too. What I didn't like was the undercurrent that read (to me) like they were saying sure, your view matters, but only if we like what we read. So I'm actually very appreciative of the NYT adding their perspective, and I told the editor so both on the phone and in writing. I still don't agree with how they handled it, because I think there's a difference between influence intended to promote thinking and discussion, and influence intended to stifle and dictate. The road to hell...

And I'll go on record as saying very clearly that I *do* give the NYT a "that's cool" for running the piece in the first place. It'd be hypocritical to say that we need more and better attention for how people of all stripes are changing the landscape of communications and then skewer someone for running a story at all. BlogHer deserves coverage, and I'm grateful that they got it. But I don't subscribe to the philosophy that all press is good press.

And there's no generalization intended here. Not all traditional media is evil. Newspapers don't all suck, and they don't always get it wrong. Not every editor is misguided. I used this as a very specific and singular example, not a blanket statement. Just like blanket statements that lump bloggers into a pile of geeks with laptops. Communication and social media are not remotely black and white, and I for one am grateful to be participating in the sea change, wherever it may take us.

Mack Collier said...

"Not quite time to clean the screen, but it's getting there. I think the problem this time comes in the ego-check department in the concept of "new media.""

Funny, sounds to me like the problem is some people forgetting to check their agendas at the door.

"The notion that anyone with a keyboard and a blogspace is now on equal footing with the NYT is really ballsy, to say the least."

Case in point, no one said that any blogger is equal or better than the NYT. The point is, bloggers as a GROUP should not be ignored or talked down to. It's just bad business.

"P.S. "Vitriol" might not have been the best word choice, but creating an epically long post about the unhappiness you experienced complete with calls to action for "fixing" their "mistakes" doesn't sound like roses and sunshine to me."

IOW, how dare a lowly blogger imply that they know how to better run their business than the bad old (media) NYT?

BTW, Amber was spot-on in her evaluation, and if the NYT has a lick of sense, they'll heed her advice.

"Traditional print media may be dying, but it's not dead yet, and it's not about to be replaced by someone in Topeka with a Dell laptop and Blogspot. Sorry."

And social media isn't a fad, and isn't going anywhere. No matter how much old media and its advocates may want to think/hope otherwise.

Sorry.

New York City's Watchdog said...

@Mark Collier

Funny, sounds to me like the problem is some people forgetting to check their agendas at the door.

Once you decide that blogging is your business, you then work to brand yourself, and that is when you now have an agenda. Randomly reviewing blogs is not only an agenda, but egotistical and arrogant... which you happen to be guilty of.

Case in point, no one said that any blogger is equal or better than the NYT. The point is, bloggers as a GROUP should not be ignored or talked down to. It's just bad business.

I missed where bloggers as a GROUP were ignored. They were in fact featured. I also missed the part where the GROUP was talked down to.

IOW, how dare a lowly blogger imply that they know how to better run their business than the bad old (media) NYT?

BTW, Amber was spot-on in her evaluation, and if the NYT has a lick of sense, they'll heed her advice.


Actually, the lowly blogger can imply all that they want. The fact is the NYT piece was a positive eye opener for most, and this type of post does not serve to further bloggers. It serves to discredit us by a supposed professional regurgitating the same advice from 1997.

As for them heeding her advice, the NYT Editor did indeed reply to a properly formatted request, as opposed to a submission to the Op-Ed Letters to the Editor section. In fact, he went into quite a bit of detail to educate the masses as to both how the article ended up in that section, and what the section actually contains.

I think, she needs to heed her own advice:

Engagement is much better than ignoring.

The majority of the dissending comments in this post have been ignored. So I will repeat my initial question:

As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?

It seems Amanda is guilty of the very thing she accuses the NYT of doing... it's something she doesn't have an answer for.

On a final note, regarding Social Media, I don't think anyone says its a fad or that it isn't going somewhere. The truth is, it is going into the future... but at some point the truth that content is not king and presentation matters will reveal itself. Being on Blogspot is not a sign of being serious about what your doing. It is a sign of a glorified hobbyist.

evano said...

Good article, and I agree with your point that the NYT and mainstream media in general need to learn how to deal with this new era of two-way media. However, I'm not sure that your approach to the situation was the best one possible. You missed an opportunity to communicate by allowing yourself to become insulted, and you let that editor walk away with the impression that making your point was more important to you than having a conversation.

First of all, this editor was not the person who made the decision on where to place the article. In the same way that in a bank branch everyone who isn't a teller is a Vice President, in the newsroom pretty much anyone who isn't a reporter is an editor. Take a look at the Times' masthead (which is not the nameplate or banner which says "The New York Times" on the front page, but the listing of the people responsible for the paper.) There are many many layers of editors: executive editors, managing editors, deputy managing editors, assistant managing editors, section editors, assistant section editors, copy editors, etc. And that's for the print version. The online version has its own masthead and hierarchy, where the guy in charge of the whole thing is only an Associate Managing Editor in the Times hierarchy. The editor you spoke to and stood your ground with was not anyone with the power to do anything more than her job. She might have agreed with your point when she asked you to edit your letter -- someone agreed with it enough to propose that it be a representative of the large number of letters they received on the article. Do you think that when she hung up with you, she still felt positive about that choice?

Second, your address here is "thebrandbox.blogspot.com". If someone wrote an email to you complaining that an article on your site really belonged on "smithereens.blogspot.com", would that be a relevant comment? Would it be anything you had any control over? (A Plurk from Daniel is what brought me here.) You probably would think that the two blogs have nothing in common except for the domain. That's a given for you and anyone else familiar with the blogging environment, just the same as the rigid division between sections is a simple matter of fact in the operations of a large newspaper. If you even bothered to respond to the person who made the complaint about the article placement on the "wrong" blog, would your opinion of that person change if they refused to acknowledge the facts?

Third, you're a good writer. Your writing on their site would have been an opportunity to reach a very different audience -- most likely a larger audience. While you might not have been permitted to directly criticize the placement of the article on BlogHer in the Fashion & Style section, I believe that a skilled writer such as yourself could have expressed the point in such a way that a thoughtful reader of the letter would come away with the conclusion you intended.

Finally, if your criticism of the placement of the article was your only criticism and you chose to pursue it, you could have asked her who at the Times you could contact directly to make yourself heard. She may have suggested the Public Editor, as another commenter suggested. Or she may have suggested you contact the Executive Editor or the Managing Editor, or even the Publisher. You still can.

Amber said...

@evano you make some solid points. Let me clarify that in no way did I slam the door (or the phone, rather) on the editor. We had a very polite and rather extensive exchange, and the fact that I disagree with her approach doesn't change that. I understand she has a job she's trying to do as best as she can, but my opinion in this case is that she did it poorly. Whether they have layers and layers of people or not isn't the issue here. She was the one that responded, so I in turn am speaking directly to that. And if it begs the question of who and how those kinds of questions are handled, perhaps that's a separate issue. Not suggesting that I warrant the direct attention of the editor in chief, but if it puts this person in the unenviable position of being able to reach out but not suggest a solution other than changing my letter, that's disappointing.

And I absolutely left the door open to her for further discussion, thanked her for her viewpoints, and haven't yet ruled out the possibility of alternative channels. In fact, if I were her, I might have been the one to suggest the alternatives you pointed out in order to encourage me to explore other avenues. (She didn't).

And I'm not at all disputing the *facts* of the operations of the paper. I get it. My point is that those operations are flawed in the first place, and that's the thought that I shared with the editor. I still don't like the idea that because it's just "the way it is", I shouldn't be able to challenge that specific point in an open letter. I appreciate their interest in including my voice, but not if it's merely a message that makes it easier for them to respond. It's still their prerogative whether to publish the letter or not, I just took issue with the suggestion that I massage the letter to be "more publishable" because that waters down the point I was trying to illuminate in the first place.

I appreciate the compliment on my writing, and thank you for adding your articulate perspective to the discussion.

Mack Collier said...

"Once you decide that blogging is your business, you then work to brand yourself, and that is when you now have an agenda. Randomly reviewing blogs is not only an agenda, but egotistical and arrogant... which you happen to be guilty of."

LOL! Sorry, but I'm changing the channel back. Plenty of us make 'blogging' our 'business'. And plenty of us know what blogging can, and cannot do for other businesses. Some don't.

"I missed where bloggers as a GROUP were ignored. They were in fact featured. I also missed the part where the GROUP was talked down to."

Sticking a group of business bloggers in the fashion and style section based on gender, is a sign of condescension, and ignorance. Bet they also thought that probably less than 1% of Blog Her attendees have a blog-related business.

"As for them heeding her advice, the NYT Editor did indeed reply to a properly formatted request, as opposed to a submission to the Op-Ed Letters to the Editor section. In fact, he went into quite a bit of detail to educate the masses as to both how the article ended up in that section, and what the section actually contains.

I think, she needs to heed her own advice:

Engagement is much better than ignoring."

Speaking of which, why didn't the NYT editor, the same one that told Amber she read this blog, bother to reply and engage us here?

Any ideas?

"As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?"

And Saturn also let Blog Her attendees drive their cars before, so going by your logic above, shouldn't that suggest that this article should have run in the automotive section?

"It seems Amanda is guilty of the very thing she accuses the NYT of doing... it's something she doesn't have an answer for."

Quite fitting that you make this comment, and in the same breath forget the name of the person you are attempting to comment on.

"On a final note, regarding Social Media, I don't think anyone says its a fad or that it isn't going somewhere. The truth is, it is going into the future... but at some point the truth that content is not king and presentation matters will reveal itself. Being on Blogspot is not a sign of being serious about what your doing. It is a sign of a glorified hobbyist."

LMAO! Sorry but try as I might, I can't take anyone seriously that punctuates their 'stance' by attempting to insult someone based on their blogging platform.

But that zinger does put me back in the lead for Dr Pepper showers on the laptop ;)

New York City's Watchdog said...

LOL! Sorry, but I'm changing the channel back. Plenty of us make 'blogging' our 'business'. And plenty of us know what blogging can, and cannot do for other businesses. Some don't.

It is true, there are plenty out there, but very very few who can deliver the actual goods.

Sticking a group of business bloggers in the fashion and style section based on gender, is a sign of condescension, and ignorance. Bet they also thought that probably less than 1% of Blog Her attendees have a blog-related business.

The problem is that the BlogHer bloggers are not business bloggers. In fact, they are a variety of genres with the only common denominator being their gender. The fact they are trying to turn their blogs INTO a business does not make them qualify for the business section.

Speaking of which, why didn't the NYT editor, the same one that told Amber she read this blog, bother to reply and engage us here?

Any ideas?


I already pointed out the NYT Editor for the Style section providing an answer that was sent to him as opposed to the Opinions Editor, but since there is no information given about this "phantom Editor", I cannot hypothesis the reason other than this is a very small blip on a very large radar.

And Saturn also let Blog Her attendees drive their cars before, so going by your logic above, shouldn't that suggest that this article should have run in the automotive section?

Really? I thought it was a Chevy Tahoe. Actually it would depend on the focus of the Automotive section, which usually focuses on pricing, features, and the automotive industry. It does not focus on personal experiences with a car, but the unopinionated facts of the vehicle.

Quite fitting that you make this comment, and in the same breath forget the name of the person you are attempting to comment on.

Which was done unintentionally, and for that I do apologize, but it does go to prove my point about who Amber actually chose to address her letter to. The wrong person.

LMAO! Sorry but try as I might, I can't take anyone seriously that punctuates their 'stance' by attempting to insult someone based on their blogging platform.

But that zinger does put me back in the lead for Dr Pepper showers on the laptop ;)


Another point proven. For so called professionals to think that all blogging platforms are created equally is a huge disservice to their purported "clients" by feeding their delusions of grandeur. As mentioned previously, there are plenty of people out there who make "blogging" their "business", so you need to differentiate yourself from the others to be successful. Being on Blogspot does not do that at all. Seriously.

I truly hope you have a killer service plan for that laptop.

Mack Collier said...

"It is true, there are plenty out there, but very very few who can deliver the actual goods."

Agreed again.

"The problem is that the BlogHer bloggers are not business bloggers. In fact, they are a variety of genres with the only common denominator being their gender. The fact they are trying to turn their blogs INTO a business does not make them qualify for the business section."

And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section.

BTW I believe you claimed earlier that 'probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business'. I think I heard about a dozen people on Twitter say they were ay BlogHer, or at a BlogHer-related event. I can only think of one person from that dozen that did NOT have their own business, Jeremiah Owyang. The rest were all women with successful social media/blogging-related businesses, or they get the majority of their business from their social media strategies.

"I already pointed out the NYT Editor for the Style section providing an answer that was sent to him as opposed to the Opinions Editor, but since there is no information given about this "phantom Editor", I cannot hypothesis the reason other than this is a very small blip on a very large radar."

Must not have been too small, else why would the NYT editor be reading Amber's first post? Sounds like she took it pretty seriously.

Also sounds like she wasn't interested in discussing and engaging with the blog's readers, but wanted to attempt to have a more 'controlled' conversation with Amber via email. No biggie there, as many companies would do the same.

But on the flipside, many other companies see a chance to engage a blog's readers as an opportunity to be looked forward to.

Seems the NYT isn't among that list, at least based on this.

"Really? I thought it was a Chevy Tahoe. Actually it would depend on the focus of the Automotive section, which usually focuses on pricing, features, and the automotive industry. It does not focus on personal experiences with a car, but the unopinionated facts of the vehicle."

No it was a Saturn. Maybe the NYT article didn't mention it?

And BTW, my point was, trying to justify putting several thousand bloggers in a bucket because 20 got a JC Penny gift card is just as bad as trying to put them in another bucket cause some got to drive a Saturn.

Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible.

"Another point proven. For so called professionals to think that all blogging platforms are created equally is a huge disservice to their purported "clients" by feeding their delusions of grandeur."

LOL! And people that want to be taken seriously for their debating 'skills', usually don't throw out broad assumptions and generations like they are candy. It's always better to say 'I don't know' than make assumptions, especially when it comes to people.

Seriously.

BTW if you want to continue this, please email me as we're going in circles and Amber and her readers are no doubt being bored to death by this.

New York City's Watchdog said...

And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section.

You're absolutely right, and the fact male bloggers don't have ovaries shouldn't exclude them from the Fashion and Style section. Oh wait, it doesn't. Why was there no outcry about an article on a male blogger appearing in the section? Because no one overreacted to an imaginary slight.

BTW I believe you claimed earlier that 'probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business'. I think I heard about a dozen people on Twitter say they were ay BlogHer, or at a BlogHer-related event. I can only think of one person from that dozen that did NOT have their own business, Jeremiah Owyang. The rest were all women with successful social media/blogging-related businesses, or they get the majority of their business from their social media strategies.

I specifically said, "their blog a successful business", not "blog-related". Success is not being able to just pay for your hosting. It's paying for your mortgage too. If you only got a dozen tweets about being at BlogHer, I suggest you expand your network.

Must not have been too small, else why would the NYT editor be reading Amber's first post? Sounds like she took it pretty seriously.

Actually it sounds like she was doing her job, looking for viable letters for the Op-Ed page.

And BTW, my point was, trying to justify putting several thousand bloggers in a bucket because 20 got a JC Penny gift card is just as bad as trying to put them in another bucket cause some got to drive a Saturn.

Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible.


If the shoe fits...

LOL! And people that want to be taken seriously for their debating 'skills', usually don't throw out broad assumptions and generations like they are candy. It's always better to say 'I don't know' than make assumptions, especially when it comes to people.

Seriously.

BTW if you want to continue this, please email me as we're going in circles and Amber and her readers are no doubt being bored to death by this.


Praytell what assumption do you think I have made? The statements I have made I have been able to back up with links, and I have seen nothing of the sort from your side of the argument.

Finally, at 30+ comments (which is three times the average number for this blog), if Amber and her readers are truly bored by this conversation, then they should be smart enough to know they can always click the little red X in the corner or move on to another post.

I can understand though why you would want to take this to e-mail. Afterall...

Also sounds like she wasn't interested in discussing and engaging with the blog's readers, but wanted to attempt to have a more 'controlled' conversation with Amber via email. No biggie there, as many companies would do the same.

But on the flipside, many other companies see a chance to engage a blog's readers as an opportunity to be looked forward to.


I am more than willing to engage the blog's readers and blog author (who has so grasciously continued to ignore me), but now you obviously want to place me into more of a "controlled" conversation.

It's all good though Mack. While it is obvious we will not agree on the multi-tude of topics touched upon, I can honestly walk away knowing that at least ONE of you practices what you preach.

So for that, I thank you. If sometime in the future you decide to move on up off of Blooger and become serious about this type of thing, I'd be more than happy to help you out on the tech end.

Have a good one.

Amber said...

Please, texasbrian. I'm not ignoring you, nor anyone else for that matter.

I understand what you're trying to explain, I just disagree with you.

Yes, I think the Times made an error placing the article where they did, and that was the point of my original letter. What followed, then, was that I didn't think that just because something "was the way it was" meant that it wasn't open to criticism or questioning. Just saying "that's how things work" isn't an explanation.

I won't indulge an argument as silly as debating the platform people use for blogging being an indication of their expertise. I understand that different platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, but I'm much more focused on the topic at hand than what blog software someone is using. Bloggers from all over the web are participating in the conversation, and I for one wish not to discount them simply because of how they select their technology. Many brilliant minds that I admire have made waves with far less.

I saw and appreciated the comments on the Pop + Politics blog. I'm still saying that I'm not disputing the facts of how the story got placed where it did; the editor I spoke to explained that to me well and I'll stipulate to that being the way things are done there. But asking me not to criticize it just because it's that way is counterproductive. And yes, censorship is a dramatic word. Maybe stifling opinion is a better way to say it.

I'm sorry you don't feel like I've adequately responded to your points, but they're the same ones I've been responding to all along, and it doesn't change my opinion. And several others have managed to make incredibly valid, salient, and thought provoking points without being insulting in the process.

The editor shared with me several stories that have appeared in the same section, in hopes that I would understand that the Style section isn't frivolous. And perhaps the content isn't meant to be frivolous at all, and that's a good thing. But my response to her was then that perhaps the name of the section itself was a misnomer. Actually, several stories she sent me - one about behavioral disorders in children, one about race issues in the workplace, and one about cyberbullying - I think could have the same criticism attached; they're parked in the wrong spot.

We talked about how semantics can be a powerful influence, and in this case I think they're doing themselves a disservice to have a section called "Fashion & Style" and then populate it with more serious content. It's misleading, and I think can undermine even the Times' best intentions. I'm not alone, here. We don't have to agree about this. But what I've been chewing on is that I think my issue here may be less about "women = fashion = blogging isn't serious", but that there's a disconnect in the way papers like the times are determining how and where to place their stories, because in my mind, several other articles have fallen victim to similar misdirected placement.

I think we're going to continue seeing a lot of debate about the transition and adaptation of media practices all over, and I'm looking forward to listening and learning as well as contributing to the discussion.

TexasBrian said...

This is getting more and more interesting

@ Amber... that wasn't me... I think you were meaning to address New Your City's Watchdog, whom I have a new respect for. And I have to say, the more you write, the more I see your perspective. You are a great writer, and the more time passes and the more the arguments get aired out and explained, the more sense you make. I still don't see the point of printing your letter after you've had your questions answered, but I digress.

@ Mack. You amuse me. I think your only purpose here now is to rattle cages. Your job is to be an evangelist for blogs to promote businesses? That's nice. You believe that businesses need blogs. Great. And you think the NYT erred by not falling over Amber because she has a blog. Fine.

You think that They NYT is a business, and therefore should respond the way every other business does. But the NYT is not the Acme Widget Company, desperately looking for publicity. Yet, you lump it in with every other business. And in the next breath, you spout this wisdom:

"Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible."

Then your rhetoric really starts to get creepy. I call blatant sexism in this comment:

"And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section."

You know, the Fashion and Style section isn't called the Women's Section. It covers trends; it covers "style" in all forms, and your use of the term "social media" tells the journalist that the content is at least somewhat "social" in nature — not exactly A1 breaking news. Unless you can prove it, to say the story ran in the Style section solely because it was female-focused is pretty much defamatory on its face.

That brings me back to yesterday's point about bloggers who think they are journalists because they have a keyboard. With a blog comes responsibility and liability. That means being careful of things like libel, defamation and reckless disregard for the truth. I've seen lots of accusations thrown around about the NYT in the past few days without check. If the NYT did any of that, you can bet someone would sue. Are the bloggers still on even footing?

Amber Naslund said...

@texasbrian ACK. You're absolutely right. I meant to reference @New York City's Watchdog. My apologies to you both for the mixup.

I have to say that I don't see sexism in Mack's comment any more than I see sexism in Tricia's comment about bloggers needing a penis to be taken seriously. Gender bias is a passionate and highly subjective issue, and I think the main point is that - on the surface - parking the story in the Fashion & Style section makes it *easier* to assume gender bias simply because of the stereotypes that already exist.

And I am not by any means arguing about "equal footing", whatever that means. But I'm certainly not going to kowtow to the Times - or any other media outlet for that matter - just because they have a storied history and don't "need" the publicity. I'm really talking about basic respect. I respect the Times, I respect what they do, I respect the industry of communications in all its forms. I don't always have to love what they do or how they do it. And I personally think that, on *this* particular occasion, they threw their weight around with me for the wrong reasons. Do I expect that they're going to literally stop the presses and change their processes because of me? Maybe not. But I do think there was a different way to handle this on their part. I liked someone elses suggestion of offering other avenues for discourse. That encourages conversation, instead of stifling it.

"It covers trends; it covers "style" in all forms, and your use of the term "social media" tells the journalist that the content is at least somewhat "social" in nature — not exactly A1 breaking news."

I happen to think that social media is a crappy term, because it does just what you said - makes people assume the meat of it is frivolous. And unfortunately I didn't name it, so I have to live with it. But the reality is, whatever you call it, the practices that social media entails - community building, breaking down communication barriers, encouraging more open dialogue between companies and customers (the list goes on) - and how they're changing business are indeed breaking news. It's not about the tools, it's about how the overall dialogue is shifting.

You raise a very important point about integrity that I think has merit. I'll be the first to admit that there are bloggers out there that never bother to do any research, aren't aware of the world around them, and don't like being told any different. Mack isn't one of them, and neither am I. The reverse works too: just because I'm a blogger doesn't mean that I should get tossed into the pile with the others who use this type of platform in all the wrong ways.

I'm not all knowing, I'm not infallible. Neither is traditional media, just because some of them are big and established. I am, however, proud to be part of a community of professionals (yes, professionals) like Mack, Laura, Jennifer, Teeg, Michael, Deb, John, elizs, thePuck, amie, Connie, Beth, Judy, Erika, Lightfinger, templestark, NYCWatchdog and you who care enough about the issues at hand to raise a voice and "rattle cages". With all due respect, you and NYC's Watchdog are doing your fair share of cage rattling too. Mack is every bit as entitled to respond as you are, and I value his input.

That's what social media is about. And why I'm content to have opinions on both sides, because otherwise we're each stuck in our own little hole.

Mack Collier said...

"Your job is to be an evangelist for blogs to promote businesses? That's nice. You believe that businesses need blogs."

To be clear, I don't believe this at all. Many businesses should NOT be blogging, and many can't even if they want to. When I speak to companies, I make this point every time.

However, I believe that all businesses should know what bloggers are saying about their business, and should make every effort to respond when they can. If a company can take the time to visit a blog and read what bloggers are writing about them, they have the time to reply.

The great thing about blogs? They aren't an island. Ideas travel can travel at near-light speed in this space. For example, you claim that "But the NYT is not the Acme Widget Company, desperately looking for publicity."

But it's not about publicity, it's about respecting bloggers as a group. And let's recall that Dell once announced to the world that 'we don't respond to bloggers'. The massive backlash they received from this ONE statement from bloggers shook the company to the extent that they totally altered their approach to interacting with bloggers, and are now the poster child for using social media to engage with their customers.

Dismiss the influence of bloggers on businesses all you want.

"That brings me back to yesterday's point about bloggers who think they are journalists because they have a keyboard."

I never understood this point, BTW. I think this is more about how you THINK some bloggers view themselves. Again, JMO.

TexasBrian said...

@ Mack:

"It's about respecting bloggers as a group."

vs.

"Mass generalizations ... are not a good thing..."

Are we borg, or not? :-)

Actually, I guess what sticks in my craw about the entire undercurrent of this is the idea that blogging is being treated with a self-importance by some that it hasn't really earned yet.

Some blogs, just like some billboards, can make for great social and political change. Some e-mail blasts do the same thing, and so do some magazine ads. So do some bumper stickers.

But, just like I said the other day, print isn't dead yet, and I get the sense from some that they feel that blogs are the next big wave and everybody had better jump on board thisverydamnedminute or perish.

And I say to that — great. When it happens — when blogs take over MSM — I'll jump. Until then, for the majority of us, it's vanity press amped up, and we shouldn't let ourselves believe it for more than it us. Otherwise, we become the emperor in new clothes, 2.0.

Mack Collier said...

"Actually, I guess what sticks in my craw about the entire undercurrent of this is the idea that blogging is being treated with a self-importance by some that it hasn't really earned yet."

In whose eyes? If blogging and social media isn't that important, why did Michael Dell tell his employees to start using social media to embrace and engage its customers? Why did Ford just create a Director of Social Media, and give that person a 5-person team to head up the company's SM efforts? Why is Pepsico hiring for a similar position (unless it's been filled recently)? Why are big companies throwing all this money at something that 'hasn't really earned it yet'?

Is blogging the magic bullet that solves every businesses' problems? Of course not. But it and social media IS changing the way businesses connect with, and reach their customers.

And it's not going anywhere.

"But, just like I said the other day, print isn't dead yet, and I get the sense from some that they feel that blogs are the next big wave and everybody had better jump on board thisverydamnedminute or perish.

And I say to that — great. When it happens — when blogs take over MSM — I'll jump."

Brian I hate to point out the obvious, but who in this conversation said that print is dead?

Who said that blogs are going to take over (whatever that means) MSM?

What happened is that a several people commented that the NYT and other businesses should take blogs a bit more seriously than they do and realize the influence that the group possesses.

I think what you 'heard' was those people saying that print is dead, and that bloggers had 'taken over' MSM.

And I think this is where most of the arguing is coming from, what is being said, and what is being 'heard' isn't always the same.

31 July 2008

New York Times Wants to Censor and Influence Bloggers?

On Saturday, I posted about the New York Times and their coverage that same evening of the BlogHer 08 Conference in their online Fashion & Style section (The Sunday Styles section in the print version). I was particularly upset about where the paper placed the story and the overall tone of the article. I also wrote a brief letter to the editor that day that expressed my thoughts on the topic. You can read my post and my letter to the editor right here.

Yesterday, I got a phone call and an email from a New York Times editor in response to my letter, asking simply if I would please call her. So I did, about an hour later.

The contact is an editor for the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Times’ Styles section (known as the Fashion & Style section on the online version). She said she was contacting me because she wanted me to consider revising the letter I had written to the editor because they couldn’t publish it as it was. (She also mentioned that she had read my post and several others expressing similar criticism for the story and its placement).

So, naturally, I asked why. She said that my letter specifically criticized the placement of the story, which it did. But she went on to explain that the Times’ sections operate somewhat autonomously, and when one section gets a good story, they would never “give it away” to another section. She said that the section in which a story was placed was not something they “controlled”, but that it was based on which section editor got the story or whom the reporter chose to pitch.

Effectively, she told me that they wouldn’t publish my letter if it talked about the placement of the story since the section placement wasn’t “something [they] could respond to” and was something they “don’t have an answer for”. Instead, she suggested that if I framed my letter to focus instead on tone and content of the story itself, I could resubmit it to her directly for publication consideration.

What?

There’s a couple of big lessons to be learned here about proper outreach to your community, and how not to engage with bloggers.

Mistake #1
First of all, a letter to the editor is intended as an expression of opinion by the readership of a paper. A publication could reasonably edit a letter for length, but suggesting that content and intent of a letter be revised and resubmitted for the purposes of making it easier or more palatable to the paper isn’t reasonable (or ethical, in my view).

In this case, the Times didn’t want to publish my criticism of the editorial judgment because they would have then had to explain how and why stories get placed in specific sections. They also might have had to defend the content of their Style section and justify why it was a suitable place for the BlogHer story after all. So they’ve made my letter to the editor about what it does (or doesn’t do) for them, instead of about engaging and including the voice of their readers.

Lesson: When engage in dialogue with your community, you lose credibility and respect when you try to censor or influence that conversation just because you don’t like what’s being said.

Mistake #2
In our follow up correspondence after the phone call, the editor asked that, should I choose to blog again on this topic, I not reveal her name because she’s “not a higher-up in the section” and would “rather not be seen as speaking on behalf of the section in print.” However, her phone call to me was from her desk at the Times, and her email to me was from her New York Times email account. In both cases, she was clearly presenting herself as a representative of the paper whose duties, per her email to me, “include [responding] to letter writers.”

They say in journalism that nothing is ever truly off the record. The Times, however, via this editor, is asking to be exactly that.

Lesson: If you’re going to be a part of the conversation, be transparent. Own your viewpoint and speak as yourself. Otherwise, your community questions your motives and you lose their trust.

So what should they have done?

Here’s my take:

• Either chosen to publish my letter as it was, or chosen not to publish it as is their prerogative (after all, publication isn’t guaranteed). But never should their response have been to try and convince me to amend my opinion because they didn’t have a suitable response.

• Commented on my post. The editor mentioned that she’d read my blog post about it, and that gave her and the Times the perfect opportunity to engage in the conversation and contribute their perspective.

• Respected my stance rather than trying to influence it. They didn’t have to agree with me. But trying to get me to revise my letter to the editor or suggest how I should treat future blog posts tells me that they’d rather control the message than have a discussion.

Let me be clear that I think the Times, in theory, made the right move by reaching out to someone who is clearly speaking up about them, and to them. Engagement is much better than ignoring. But the question becomes what does more damage: Not responding at all, or responding and trying to influence a letter writer or blogger to amend their content?

I think the piece itself and the editor’s response to my letter underscores the lack of respect that the Times has for bloggers, their readers, and their influence within the larger media community. The overall tone of the exchange with the editor, while courteous and friendly on the surface, leads me to think that the Times not only wants to unduly influence the conversation, but that they might be taking this ill-advised approach with other bloggers, too.

This whole situation highlights an archaic and potentially damaging system that papers like the Times are using to determine where their stories run. I think they ought to be rethinking this for the sake of integrity.

So what do you think? How would you have reacted to such a request? Do you think the New York Times handled this correctly? If not, what should they have done differently and what are the lessons to be learned?

Photo by Anderson Mancini

40 comments:

Laura Pritchard said...

you go Amber! I wholeheartedly agree with you!

Jennifer Leggio said...

Overall I agree. This was a terrible approach which shows the ignorance of the editor in question. I am also starting to wonder if it was more personal agenda because she might've had her hand in this story and didn't want any public criticism. Which would make me think she shouldn't be an editor in the first place.

However, I do not think it's indicative of the Times' overall. Much like their news budgets are determined by sections at times, so are their philosophies and approaches to producing news. Right or wrong, each section editor is responsible to some degree to keeping its regular advertisers happy so they do in some ways compete for more highly read content. It's also possible that since BlogHer appeals to a niche audience, that the news editors and such did not want to include it in their sections (something I personally think is a mistake, just postulating).

I didn't see the article so I can't comment on the tone, but again I agree that this editor is way off the mark with how she communicated about this issue. Her karma, methinks, will be getting left behind as journalism continues to evolve. Kudos to you for not just sitting back on the issue.

Teeg said...

Great article once again, Amber!

I am just amazed that someone from the NYT would call and ask you to change your letter! As a blogger, could you imagine asking someone to change a comment because they think you should put different tags on a post?

I could understand their reaction if you'd said it should have been published in the Wall Street Journal or somewhere else instead of the NYT, but suggesting that all the departments of a newspaper aren't even connected enough to publish a story in the best section for it???

Does that mean that if a Style editor gets hold of an article about Obama visiting other countries, it will be published in the Style section and talk about what he wears each day and what restroom conditions are like around the world? Somehow I seriously doubt it.

Michael Becker said...

This is how letters to the editor work at big papers like the New York Times. It's not like the Podunk Tribune that can publish every single letter about cats in trees and misplaced semicolons it receives or a blog that has the infinite space afforded by the Web.

Readers expect more from Times letters than they do from other newspapers, meaning that those letters have to add something valuable to the public conversation with a minimum of exposition (i.e., explaining how the placement of stories in the Times works).

The fact that the times considered publishing your letter -- and even asked you, specifically, to edit it for publication -- rather than all the other letters this editor told you they had received testifies to your ability to nail this subject. They didn't ask you to censor you letter; they asked you to focus on the bigger issue that is more important to the public: the tone of the story.

It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship." It's only censorship when the other party has the power to change your writing without permission, and in this case, the Times has made it clear that it's not going to change your writing without you being involved in the process.

As for her asking you not to reveal her name: all I can say is so what? So some mid-level editor at the Times didn't want you to use her name specifically in a story on your blog. This is the kind of hassle that journalists, like me, run into all the time -- nobody's quotable but the chiefs. Is that a firm rule? Hell, no. She knew you were a blogger and writer before she picked up the phone. You could print her name with impunity. But that might burn your source, so to speak, meaning you never hear a word from her again. It's the game we play.

Mack Collier said...

"The fact that the times considered publishing your letter -- and even asked you, specifically, to edit it for publication -- rather than all the other letters this editor told you they had received testifies to your ability to nail this subject. They didn't ask you to censor you letter; they asked you to focus on the bigger issue that is more important to the public: the tone of the story."

So what about the issue that is important to the bloggers themselves, which is their being potentially misrepresented? Sorry but asking someone to alter their letter to the editor, especially a blogger, isn't a very good practice, IMO. The NYT's tone comes across as condescending and borderline bullying, IMO.

It's always better to attempt to ENGAGE bloggers in conversations, not shut down or influence that exchange. And I commend Amber on the even-handedness of the post and she offers great teaching examples that companies should heed when dealing with bloggers.

I Can't Keep Up said...

I don't think it is appropriate for an editor to call someone and try to influence the writing of their LTE.

Separately, clearly this journalist forgot that she was speaking with another journalist, realizing this after the fact, she asked to remain anonymous. Sure you protect your source, but the fact that she made such a call without requesting anonymity, then asked for it later makes me wonder if she should have been contacting the writer in the first place.

I don't buy the "get over it, this is how it is argument." No one expects that every letter they write is going to get published, but they do expect to be treated with respect and professionalism.

Mack Collier said...

"It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship.""

BTW, if we are indeed to focus on what the public wants and believes, then I think that the average American that submitted a letter to Letters to the Editor, would expect it to be published without an email from the paper asking for a revision before it can be published. That may indeed be what the NYT does, but again, if we are going to focus on the public, I don't think the general public would be too ok with that practice, and I think many would indeed feel that was 'censorship'.

All about where you are coming from.

John Hopkins said...

We are in this period of newspapers and bloggers competing for users attention yet still trying to work together. Sort of like two land masses colliding to form one island. Eventually it will all come together, but initially the tremors are going to be substantial.

elizs said...

This sounds like something for the NYTimes Public Editor to take on - along with the whole BlogHer coverage issue. You might try contacting him.

thePuck said...

I think that this really draws out the differences between old and new media. Transparency vs. control of image and spin-doctoring.

The demand has been there for a long time for transparent media and politics (which go hand in hand) and I think that the increasing strain the blogosphere and other social media is putting on the old media is very telling.

As the judge in that old Twilight Zone episode said: "Obsolete".

TexasBrian said...

This is called "overreacting," and it is becoming epidemic among bloggers.

It begins in the headline. I don't see where the NYT tried to "censor" the blog.

The newspaper extended the courtesy of a phone call to explain its process of how the story was placed, which most papers wouldn't even do, much less in print. You're lucky to get a response at all, much less a phone call.

You got your explanation to a much more personal degree than you would have in a print piece, so now to print a letter asking for that same explanation seems pointless. Content questions are valid, but letters asking how the newspaper works aren't so much "opinion" based as much as asking as what the ingredients are in a soft drink. It almost seems as though now you're teetering on the verge of grandstanding.

And yes, letters to the editor remain outlets of reader opinion, and newspapers have traditionally edited for length and grammar concerns, but with all of the letters coming into a paper the size of the NYT, just the fact that it wasn't immediately disregarded is a testament that you're not being "censored" or [insert First Amendment argument here].

What you call "Mistake #2" is a bizarre argument. you say that because she called you from The Times, that she shouldn't ask not to be included in the blog. Of course she called you from the NYT and used their e-mail. Was she supposed to whip out her cell phone on company time? She just didn't want to get dragged into your blog war while doing her job. She is trying to communicate to you that she isn't the one making these decisions (remember the adage, "Don't shoot the messenger"?) and would prefer not to be in the blog. That seems simple enough to me.

To ask the NYT to respond to your post is not realistic, and for you to suggest that as a solution is another thing I find just strange. They have their own publication to put out, and for you to suggest they spend manhours in the blogosphere responding to various blogs is counterproductive to their mission and a waste of their time. You have your publication; they have theirs. You chose to engage them.

I think they respected your stance by answering it with a personal phone call and answering your questions. That's more than I get from most businesses I deal with, much less a leading newspaper.

The bigger issue here is that you feel they are trying to influence you. Just from reading what you have posted, which is only one side, I can see that clearly they are telling you that they are happy to print criticism of their content, but they can't respond to the inner machinations of the newsroom. If anything, it sounds like she was trying to let you know that if you focus your letter — and what blogger doesn't need more editing? — on the more relevant issues of content that will appeal to a broader audience, you will have a better chance of seeing print.

It's the same advice a book author would get from an editor — do this so you will appeal to a broader audience.

Don't get mired in taking things so personally. It's easy to do. But in looking at the broader picture, I see someone who actually gave you tips on how to get your message out there for the masses, instead of just flushing it away, which was her right.

And that deserves a note of gratitude, not vitriol.

Amie Gillingham said...

Michael Becker said: It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship." It's only censorship when the other party has the power to change your writing without permission, and in this case, the Times has made it clear that it's not going to change your writing without you being involved in the process.

I think the point of Amber's letter has been lost on you. Her letter to the editor wasn't just a criticism of the patronizing tone of the original Blogher article; it was valid criticism of the article's placement in the Times. The fact that Amber was told outright that she is not welcome to criticize the article's placement IS a huge issue of censorship. I respect that they tried to reach out to Amber, but honestly, the NYT's method of "damage control" is worse than the original problem her LTE addressed!

Connie Reece said...

"You have your publication; they have theirs. You chose to engage them."

TexasBrian - when a New York Times editor calls you up and spends 40 minutes of company time trying to deflect criticism of their policy, SHE chooses to engage YOU. They had no obligation to print the letter and could have left it at that, then there would probably not have been a follow-up blog post.

"And that deserves a note of gratitude, not vitriol."

I would hardly call this blog post vitriol. The tone was quite civil, in my opinion.

Mack Collier said...

"The newspaper extended the courtesy of a phone call to explain its process of how the story was placed, which most papers wouldn't even do, much less in print. You're lucky to get a response at all, much less a phone call."

Wow, it's like we just slid backwards 3 years. The newspaper should WANT to contact bloggers such as Amber that are creating content about their paper. They aren't doing Amber any favors, they are doing THEMSELVES a favor.

If ANY business has bloggers that are posting about them, they should make EVERY effort to engage those bloggers and get a dialogue started with them. Attempting to shut-down or influence an interaction is the quickest way to inflame it, as we saw here. If the NYT had put aside their ego and tried to work WITH Amber to get a dialogue started, instead of adding hoops for her to jump through, then this issue would be in a completely different place right now.

I Can't Keep Up said...

You know, I don't see any vitriol in Amber's post.

What I do see is a fault line between traditional media and new media. It's great if reaching out to a blogger is a phone call asking for more information or to connect. Trying to persuade her to take a different stance, then ask her not to use her name is inappropriate. If it wasn't, why didn't the editor want their name used?

New York City's Watchdog said...

This is called "overreacting," and it is becoming epidemic among bloggers.

It begins in the headline. I don't see where the NYT tried to "censor" the blog.

-Texas Brian

I believe Texas Brian hit it on the head. This is an overreaction to "old media" reaching out, just as the initial reaction about where the NYT placed the article to begin with was an overreaction considering that in all probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business, and BlogHer does not to my knowledge have any of the influential female tech bloggers on their rosters (where is Cali Lewis, Lorrelle VanFossen, or Skellie?). Your letter and blog post remain your words on your forum... they simply asked you to perhaps refocus on the substance of the article instead of something that really is trivial and petty.

As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?

I tend to think the NYT, whether they knew it or not, put that article exactly where it belonged.

Beth Harte said...

Amber, great post! What Amber’s post does best is bring to light the archaic nature in which the newspaper industry still operates. Will it change overnight, no. But it will need to adapt eventually. We are the consumers of the NYT and we have a voice now and the NYT tried to control that voice.

JudyBright said...

It's not like manipulating facts is anything new to the Times.

And they could have responded to you; it's just that the truth would make them look horrible.

Mack Collier said...

"I believe Texas Brian hit it on the head. This is an overreaction to "old media" reaching out"

Apologies, I need to go clean Dr Pepper off my laptop screen.

Amber Naslund said...

All - wow! Thanks for the comments. Some great stuff in here, on both sides of the argument.

I will say that vitriol is the last thing I put into this post. I find it actually a bit funny that I'm supposed to be eternally grateful that *The* New York Times took time to respond to me. Yep, I'm just some blogger out there in the vast sea, this is true. And you can agree or disagree with my POV, and I think that's great. And I acknowledged that reaching out on their part was a great thing to do.

If the journalist had time to read my post and spend 40 minutes on the phone with me justifying her placement, she had time to justify it on my blog where others could respond too. I don't consider that a favor, by any stretch, nor a waste of time.

The rules of the game are changing, people. I may just be one person - one blogger, one letter writer - but that's not the point. The point is that traditional media wants everyone else to always play in their sandbox, by their rules alone.

The fact that they wanted to not focus on the "machinations of the newsroom" is exactly the point. They didn't have an answer, so they didn't want it brought up. I didn't write my letter to "appeal to an audience". I wrote it to bring to light what I think is poor editorial judgment, whether that focuses on their management policies or not. And so I chose not to alter it based on their recommendations, because it undermines exactly the issue I was trying to point out.

I appreciate all of you taking the time to share your thoughts on the issue. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Erika said...

Amber, I don't see (or read) any vitriol in your posts or criticism of the NYT's tactics. The way the game is played *is* changing, but even if it weren't, asking you to revised and resubmit a LTE is neither standard practice nor acceptable. Teeg makes a great point about a blogger asking a commenter to change their comment because it didn't match the "tone" of the blog.

If it is about engagement and communication (and once, LTE's were the only way that readers could directly respond to the press)then the request for a revision smacks of censorship and falls outside of the guidelines of editing for (objectional)content or length (for space) as many LTEs are. While the ed who contacted you did "object" to the tone of the letter, it's not in the realm of the "classic list" of objectional content.

Lightfinger said...

I read the New York Times article, and I felt is was a very poor article in the first place, irregardless to the position in the paper it occupied.

It was like going to E3, but only focusing on the 10% of the people in costume (if that much), and trying to paint the entire convention as a bunch of people who cosplay.

Because it was not an article which shows female bloggers gaining momentum (and added to the study released recently showing more women than men are on social networking sites), but portrayed female bloggers as being courted by Gucci. In a fashion section of the paper, this is appropriate. Thus, I feel there should have been two articles. The first about female bloggers and their accomplishments, and a second about the 'dealer's room' that was presented at BlogHer.

And to those of you claiming that Amber should be 'honored' by the Times, I'm sorry. That time has passed. The Times should be honored to be mentioned by Amber.

New York City's Watchdog said...

The Times should be honored to be mentioned by Amber.

Now I'm the one cleaning Mr. Pibbs off my laptop screen.

Temple Stark said...

This is why I like blogs over SM on important subjects. The issues are laid out much more clearly with a bit of room to type.

For instance, I did not realize the request to have her name not used came in a follow-up e-mail. That to me describes laying the groundwork after the building is already erected so to speak. Good .. heck even mediocre .. editors / journalists know to set the rules beforehand.

As such it is much more a judgment call as to whether it's worth it, but your justification for using her name is much stronger. If how it's laid out here is correct, of which I have no reason to doubt, the "rules of the conversation" should have come first IMHO.

---
I don't get this idea people keep repeating about this isn't the way to communicate "with a blogger" or "especially a blogger." A blogger is a reader is a member of the public. In society, some as has always been, have greater broadcast power, some can't be heard.

As it relates to this, it doesn't seem the "blogger" part of the equation has any relevance at all.

---
Amber said as a lesson to learn from this: "When engage in dialogue with your community, you lose credibility and respect when you try to censor or influence that conversation just because you don’t like what’s being said."

I can't agree that trying to influence what was being said loses you credibility or respect. Because to agree to that I would have to disagree with Amber's effort to influence the tone of this or future articles on BlogHer and their placement. Which I don't at all.

Too, I would further have to criticize this post as continuing to try and influence.

As a slight, incomplete, aside, isn't that a big chunk of what PR is all about? That's not saying good or bad, just, isn't it?

---
It's unclear to me whether this story actually made it to the printed paper by the way.

---
I especially enjoy the tone of this piece, because it is much more nuanced and, yes, generally respectful, then it sounded like it was going to be. There are certainly some things people / institutions do that are wrong. But they come in degrees of "wrongness." Fundamentally this comes down to a disagreement over where the story went in the paper, yet no "that's cool" for putting it in the paper at all.

The Style section to me means trends / what's next, though obviously it was different in the past.

The perception here, I believe, is at the root of the overall problem / discussion.


Thank you for writing this Amber.
Temple

TexasBrian said...

Not quite time to clean the screen, but it's getting there. I think the problem this time comes in the ego-check department in the concept of "new media."

I think somewhere along the way, it got accepted that anyone with a blog is a "journalist." Someone earlier even mentioned that the NYT editor was talking "journalist to journalist."

My 14-yeear-old niece likes to blog about her iPod. Is she a journalist?

I have a journalism degree, but I don't work for any media outlet. Am I a journalist?

This idea that a newspaper should engage in any sandbox other than their own is ludicrous. Create as many blogs as you like, create your own domain -- heck, create your own print product. And then expect a major daily to spend time responding to it? Seriously?

The notion that anyone with a keyboard and a blogspace is now on equal footing with the NYT is really ballsy, to say the least. To get that footing, I would say you have to get there the old fashioned way — you have to earn it.

Traditional print media may be dying, but it's not dead yet, and it's not about to be replaced by someone in Topeka with a Dell laptop and Blogspot. Sorry. There's work to be done, and it begins with a fundamental understanding of how the process works. If anything, I hope Amber took away an understanding of how the sectioning process works (i.e. how the story was placed) and not just sour grapes because the story didn't get placed where she wanted it. I trust she did.

P.S. "Vitriol" might not have been the best word choice, but creating an epically long post about the unhappiness you experienced complete with calls to action for "fixing" their "mistakes" doesn't sound like roses and sunshine to me.

Amber Naslund said...

Couple points to clarify @texasbrian:

It's not about where *I* wanted the story personally. There's been a great deal of feedback from the participants themselves and the community at large about the placement. This isn't about me, I'm just adding my voice. You can demean my place as a blogger all you like. I'm just adding to the conversation just like you are.

@Templestark you bring up a very good point about influence, so let me clarify a bit. No, inherently I don't think there's anything wrong with the practice of influence, depending on it's endgame. it's the essence of marketing, communications, and social media too. What I didn't like was the undercurrent that read (to me) like they were saying sure, your view matters, but only if we like what we read. So I'm actually very appreciative of the NYT adding their perspective, and I told the editor so both on the phone and in writing. I still don't agree with how they handled it, because I think there's a difference between influence intended to promote thinking and discussion, and influence intended to stifle and dictate. The road to hell...

And I'll go on record as saying very clearly that I *do* give the NYT a "that's cool" for running the piece in the first place. It'd be hypocritical to say that we need more and better attention for how people of all stripes are changing the landscape of communications and then skewer someone for running a story at all. BlogHer deserves coverage, and I'm grateful that they got it. But I don't subscribe to the philosophy that all press is good press.

And there's no generalization intended here. Not all traditional media is evil. Newspapers don't all suck, and they don't always get it wrong. Not every editor is misguided. I used this as a very specific and singular example, not a blanket statement. Just like blanket statements that lump bloggers into a pile of geeks with laptops. Communication and social media are not remotely black and white, and I for one am grateful to be participating in the sea change, wherever it may take us.

Mack Collier said...

"Not quite time to clean the screen, but it's getting there. I think the problem this time comes in the ego-check department in the concept of "new media.""

Funny, sounds to me like the problem is some people forgetting to check their agendas at the door.

"The notion that anyone with a keyboard and a blogspace is now on equal footing with the NYT is really ballsy, to say the least."

Case in point, no one said that any blogger is equal or better than the NYT. The point is, bloggers as a GROUP should not be ignored or talked down to. It's just bad business.

"P.S. "Vitriol" might not have been the best word choice, but creating an epically long post about the unhappiness you experienced complete with calls to action for "fixing" their "mistakes" doesn't sound like roses and sunshine to me."

IOW, how dare a lowly blogger imply that they know how to better run their business than the bad old (media) NYT?

BTW, Amber was spot-on in her evaluation, and if the NYT has a lick of sense, they'll heed her advice.

"Traditional print media may be dying, but it's not dead yet, and it's not about to be replaced by someone in Topeka with a Dell laptop and Blogspot. Sorry."

And social media isn't a fad, and isn't going anywhere. No matter how much old media and its advocates may want to think/hope otherwise.

Sorry.

New York City's Watchdog said...

@Mark Collier

Funny, sounds to me like the problem is some people forgetting to check their agendas at the door.

Once you decide that blogging is your business, you then work to brand yourself, and that is when you now have an agenda. Randomly reviewing blogs is not only an agenda, but egotistical and arrogant... which you happen to be guilty of.

Case in point, no one said that any blogger is equal or better than the NYT. The point is, bloggers as a GROUP should not be ignored or talked down to. It's just bad business.

I missed where bloggers as a GROUP were ignored. They were in fact featured. I also missed the part where the GROUP was talked down to.

IOW, how dare a lowly blogger imply that they know how to better run their business than the bad old (media) NYT?

BTW, Amber was spot-on in her evaluation, and if the NYT has a lick of sense, they'll heed her advice.


Actually, the lowly blogger can imply all that they want. The fact is the NYT piece was a positive eye opener for most, and this type of post does not serve to further bloggers. It serves to discredit us by a supposed professional regurgitating the same advice from 1997.

As for them heeding her advice, the NYT Editor did indeed reply to a properly formatted request, as opposed to a submission to the Op-Ed Letters to the Editor section. In fact, he went into quite a bit of detail to educate the masses as to both how the article ended up in that section, and what the section actually contains.

I think, she needs to heed her own advice:

Engagement is much better than ignoring.

The majority of the dissending comments in this post have been ignored. So I will repeat my initial question:

As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?

It seems Amanda is guilty of the very thing she accuses the NYT of doing... it's something she doesn't have an answer for.

On a final note, regarding Social Media, I don't think anyone says its a fad or that it isn't going somewhere. The truth is, it is going into the future... but at some point the truth that content is not king and presentation matters will reveal itself. Being on Blogspot is not a sign of being serious about what your doing. It is a sign of a glorified hobbyist.

evano said...

Good article, and I agree with your point that the NYT and mainstream media in general need to learn how to deal with this new era of two-way media. However, I'm not sure that your approach to the situation was the best one possible. You missed an opportunity to communicate by allowing yourself to become insulted, and you let that editor walk away with the impression that making your point was more important to you than having a conversation.

First of all, this editor was not the person who made the decision on where to place the article. In the same way that in a bank branch everyone who isn't a teller is a Vice President, in the newsroom pretty much anyone who isn't a reporter is an editor. Take a look at the Times' masthead (which is not the nameplate or banner which says "The New York Times" on the front page, but the listing of the people responsible for the paper.) There are many many layers of editors: executive editors, managing editors, deputy managing editors, assistant managing editors, section editors, assistant section editors, copy editors, etc. And that's for the print version. The online version has its own masthead and hierarchy, where the guy in charge of the whole thing is only an Associate Managing Editor in the Times hierarchy. The editor you spoke to and stood your ground with was not anyone with the power to do anything more than her job. She might have agreed with your point when she asked you to edit your letter -- someone agreed with it enough to propose that it be a representative of the large number of letters they received on the article. Do you think that when she hung up with you, she still felt positive about that choice?

Second, your address here is "thebrandbox.blogspot.com". If someone wrote an email to you complaining that an article on your site really belonged on "smithereens.blogspot.com", would that be a relevant comment? Would it be anything you had any control over? (A Plurk from Daniel is what brought me here.) You probably would think that the two blogs have nothing in common except for the domain. That's a given for you and anyone else familiar with the blogging environment, just the same as the rigid division between sections is a simple matter of fact in the operations of a large newspaper. If you even bothered to respond to the person who made the complaint about the article placement on the "wrong" blog, would your opinion of that person change if they refused to acknowledge the facts?

Third, you're a good writer. Your writing on their site would have been an opportunity to reach a very different audience -- most likely a larger audience. While you might not have been permitted to directly criticize the placement of the article on BlogHer in the Fashion & Style section, I believe that a skilled writer such as yourself could have expressed the point in such a way that a thoughtful reader of the letter would come away with the conclusion you intended.

Finally, if your criticism of the placement of the article was your only criticism and you chose to pursue it, you could have asked her who at the Times you could contact directly to make yourself heard. She may have suggested the Public Editor, as another commenter suggested. Or she may have suggested you contact the Executive Editor or the Managing Editor, or even the Publisher. You still can.

Amber said...

@evano you make some solid points. Let me clarify that in no way did I slam the door (or the phone, rather) on the editor. We had a very polite and rather extensive exchange, and the fact that I disagree with her approach doesn't change that. I understand she has a job she's trying to do as best as she can, but my opinion in this case is that she did it poorly. Whether they have layers and layers of people or not isn't the issue here. She was the one that responded, so I in turn am speaking directly to that. And if it begs the question of who and how those kinds of questions are handled, perhaps that's a separate issue. Not suggesting that I warrant the direct attention of the editor in chief, but if it puts this person in the unenviable position of being able to reach out but not suggest a solution other than changing my letter, that's disappointing.

And I absolutely left the door open to her for further discussion, thanked her for her viewpoints, and haven't yet ruled out the possibility of alternative channels. In fact, if I were her, I might have been the one to suggest the alternatives you pointed out in order to encourage me to explore other avenues. (She didn't).

And I'm not at all disputing the *facts* of the operations of the paper. I get it. My point is that those operations are flawed in the first place, and that's the thought that I shared with the editor. I still don't like the idea that because it's just "the way it is", I shouldn't be able to challenge that specific point in an open letter. I appreciate their interest in including my voice, but not if it's merely a message that makes it easier for them to respond. It's still their prerogative whether to publish the letter or not, I just took issue with the suggestion that I massage the letter to be "more publishable" because that waters down the point I was trying to illuminate in the first place.

I appreciate the compliment on my writing, and thank you for adding your articulate perspective to the discussion.

Mack Collier said...

"Once you decide that blogging is your business, you then work to brand yourself, and that is when you now have an agenda. Randomly reviewing blogs is not only an agenda, but egotistical and arrogant... which you happen to be guilty of."

LOL! Sorry, but I'm changing the channel back. Plenty of us make 'blogging' our 'business'. And plenty of us know what blogging can, and cannot do for other businesses. Some don't.

"I missed where bloggers as a GROUP were ignored. They were in fact featured. I also missed the part where the GROUP was talked down to."

Sticking a group of business bloggers in the fashion and style section based on gender, is a sign of condescension, and ignorance. Bet they also thought that probably less than 1% of Blog Her attendees have a blog-related business.

"As for them heeding her advice, the NYT Editor did indeed reply to a properly formatted request, as opposed to a submission to the Op-Ed Letters to the Editor section. In fact, he went into quite a bit of detail to educate the masses as to both how the article ended up in that section, and what the section actually contains.

I think, she needs to heed her own advice:

Engagement is much better than ignoring."

Speaking of which, why didn't the NYT editor, the same one that told Amber she read this blog, bother to reply and engage us here?

Any ideas?

"As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?"

And Saturn also let Blog Her attendees drive their cars before, so going by your logic above, shouldn't that suggest that this article should have run in the automotive section?

"It seems Amanda is guilty of the very thing she accuses the NYT of doing... it's something she doesn't have an answer for."

Quite fitting that you make this comment, and in the same breath forget the name of the person you are attempting to comment on.

"On a final note, regarding Social Media, I don't think anyone says its a fad or that it isn't going somewhere. The truth is, it is going into the future... but at some point the truth that content is not king and presentation matters will reveal itself. Being on Blogspot is not a sign of being serious about what your doing. It is a sign of a glorified hobbyist."

LMAO! Sorry but try as I might, I can't take anyone seriously that punctuates their 'stance' by attempting to insult someone based on their blogging platform.

But that zinger does put me back in the lead for Dr Pepper showers on the laptop ;)

New York City's Watchdog said...

LOL! Sorry, but I'm changing the channel back. Plenty of us make 'blogging' our 'business'. And plenty of us know what blogging can, and cannot do for other businesses. Some don't.

It is true, there are plenty out there, but very very few who can deliver the actual goods.

Sticking a group of business bloggers in the fashion and style section based on gender, is a sign of condescension, and ignorance. Bet they also thought that probably less than 1% of Blog Her attendees have a blog-related business.

The problem is that the BlogHer bloggers are not business bloggers. In fact, they are a variety of genres with the only common denominator being their gender. The fact they are trying to turn their blogs INTO a business does not make them qualify for the business section.

Speaking of which, why didn't the NYT editor, the same one that told Amber she read this blog, bother to reply and engage us here?

Any ideas?


I already pointed out the NYT Editor for the Style section providing an answer that was sent to him as opposed to the Opinions Editor, but since there is no information given about this "phantom Editor", I cannot hypothesis the reason other than this is a very small blip on a very large radar.

And Saturn also let Blog Her attendees drive their cars before, so going by your logic above, shouldn't that suggest that this article should have run in the automotive section?

Really? I thought it was a Chevy Tahoe. Actually it would depend on the focus of the Automotive section, which usually focuses on pricing, features, and the automotive industry. It does not focus on personal experiences with a car, but the unopinionated facts of the vehicle.

Quite fitting that you make this comment, and in the same breath forget the name of the person you are attempting to comment on.

Which was done unintentionally, and for that I do apologize, but it does go to prove my point about who Amber actually chose to address her letter to. The wrong person.

LMAO! Sorry but try as I might, I can't take anyone seriously that punctuates their 'stance' by attempting to insult someone based on their blogging platform.

But that zinger does put me back in the lead for Dr Pepper showers on the laptop ;)


Another point proven. For so called professionals to think that all blogging platforms are created equally is a huge disservice to their purported "clients" by feeding their delusions of grandeur. As mentioned previously, there are plenty of people out there who make "blogging" their "business", so you need to differentiate yourself from the others to be successful. Being on Blogspot does not do that at all. Seriously.

I truly hope you have a killer service plan for that laptop.

Mack Collier said...

"It is true, there are plenty out there, but very very few who can deliver the actual goods."

Agreed again.

"The problem is that the BlogHer bloggers are not business bloggers. In fact, they are a variety of genres with the only common denominator being their gender. The fact they are trying to turn their blogs INTO a business does not make them qualify for the business section."

And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section.

BTW I believe you claimed earlier that 'probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business'. I think I heard about a dozen people on Twitter say they were ay BlogHer, or at a BlogHer-related event. I can only think of one person from that dozen that did NOT have their own business, Jeremiah Owyang. The rest were all women with successful social media/blogging-related businesses, or they get the majority of their business from their social media strategies.

"I already pointed out the NYT Editor for the Style section providing an answer that was sent to him as opposed to the Opinions Editor, but since there is no information given about this "phantom Editor", I cannot hypothesis the reason other than this is a very small blip on a very large radar."

Must not have been too small, else why would the NYT editor be reading Amber's first post? Sounds like she took it pretty seriously.

Also sounds like she wasn't interested in discussing and engaging with the blog's readers, but wanted to attempt to have a more 'controlled' conversation with Amber via email. No biggie there, as many companies would do the same.

But on the flipside, many other companies see a chance to engage a blog's readers as an opportunity to be looked forward to.

Seems the NYT isn't among that list, at least based on this.

"Really? I thought it was a Chevy Tahoe. Actually it would depend on the focus of the Automotive section, which usually focuses on pricing, features, and the automotive industry. It does not focus on personal experiences with a car, but the unopinionated facts of the vehicle."

No it was a Saturn. Maybe the NYT article didn't mention it?

And BTW, my point was, trying to justify putting several thousand bloggers in a bucket because 20 got a JC Penny gift card is just as bad as trying to put them in another bucket cause some got to drive a Saturn.

Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible.

"Another point proven. For so called professionals to think that all blogging platforms are created equally is a huge disservice to their purported "clients" by feeding their delusions of grandeur."

LOL! And people that want to be taken seriously for their debating 'skills', usually don't throw out broad assumptions and generations like they are candy. It's always better to say 'I don't know' than make assumptions, especially when it comes to people.

Seriously.

BTW if you want to continue this, please email me as we're going in circles and Amber and her readers are no doubt being bored to death by this.

New York City's Watchdog said...

And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section.

You're absolutely right, and the fact male bloggers don't have ovaries shouldn't exclude them from the Fashion and Style section. Oh wait, it doesn't. Why was there no outcry about an article on a male blogger appearing in the section? Because no one overreacted to an imaginary slight.

BTW I believe you claimed earlier that 'probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business'. I think I heard about a dozen people on Twitter say they were ay BlogHer, or at a BlogHer-related event. I can only think of one person from that dozen that did NOT have their own business, Jeremiah Owyang. The rest were all women with successful social media/blogging-related businesses, or they get the majority of their business from their social media strategies.

I specifically said, "their blog a successful business", not "blog-related". Success is not being able to just pay for your hosting. It's paying for your mortgage too. If you only got a dozen tweets about being at BlogHer, I suggest you expand your network.

Must not have been too small, else why would the NYT editor be reading Amber's first post? Sounds like she took it pretty seriously.

Actually it sounds like she was doing her job, looking for viable letters for the Op-Ed page.

And BTW, my point was, trying to justify putting several thousand bloggers in a bucket because 20 got a JC Penny gift card is just as bad as trying to put them in another bucket cause some got to drive a Saturn.

Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible.


If the shoe fits...

LOL! And people that want to be taken seriously for their debating 'skills', usually don't throw out broad assumptions and generations like they are candy. It's always better to say 'I don't know' than make assumptions, especially when it comes to people.

Seriously.

BTW if you want to continue this, please email me as we're going in circles and Amber and her readers are no doubt being bored to death by this.


Praytell what assumption do you think I have made? The statements I have made I have been able to back up with links, and I have seen nothing of the sort from your side of the argument.

Finally, at 30+ comments (which is three times the average number for this blog), if Amber and her readers are truly bored by this conversation, then they should be smart enough to know they can always click the little red X in the corner or move on to another post.

I can understand though why you would want to take this to e-mail. Afterall...

Also sounds like she wasn't interested in discussing and engaging with the blog's readers, but wanted to attempt to have a more 'controlled' conversation with Amber via email. No biggie there, as many companies would do the same.

But on the flipside, many other companies see a chance to engage a blog's readers as an opportunity to be looked forward to.


I am more than willing to engage the blog's readers and blog author (who has so grasciously continued to ignore me), but now you obviously want to place me into more of a "controlled" conversation.

It's all good though Mack. While it is obvious we will not agree on the multi-tude of topics touched upon, I can honestly walk away knowing that at least ONE of you practices what you preach.

So for that, I thank you. If sometime in the future you decide to move on up off of Blooger and become serious about this type of thing, I'd be more than happy to help you out on the tech end.

Have a good one.

Amber said...

Please, texasbrian. I'm not ignoring you, nor anyone else for that matter.

I understand what you're trying to explain, I just disagree with you.

Yes, I think the Times made an error placing the article where they did, and that was the point of my original letter. What followed, then, was that I didn't think that just because something "was the way it was" meant that it wasn't open to criticism or questioning. Just saying "that's how things work" isn't an explanation.

I won't indulge an argument as silly as debating the platform people use for blogging being an indication of their expertise. I understand that different platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, but I'm much more focused on the topic at hand than what blog software someone is using. Bloggers from all over the web are participating in the conversation, and I for one wish not to discount them simply because of how they select their technology. Many brilliant minds that I admire have made waves with far less.

I saw and appreciated the comments on the Pop + Politics blog. I'm still saying that I'm not disputing the facts of how the story got placed where it did; the editor I spoke to explained that to me well and I'll stipulate to that being the way things are done there. But asking me not to criticize it just because it's that way is counterproductive. And yes, censorship is a dramatic word. Maybe stifling opinion is a better way to say it.

I'm sorry you don't feel like I've adequately responded to your points, but they're the same ones I've been responding to all along, and it doesn't change my opinion. And several others have managed to make incredibly valid, salient, and thought provoking points without being insulting in the process.

The editor shared with me several stories that have appeared in the same section, in hopes that I would understand that the Style section isn't frivolous. And perhaps the content isn't meant to be frivolous at all, and that's a good thing. But my response to her was then that perhaps the name of the section itself was a misnomer. Actually, several stories she sent me - one about behavioral disorders in children, one about race issues in the workplace, and one about cyberbullying - I think could have the same criticism attached; they're parked in the wrong spot.

We talked about how semantics can be a powerful influence, and in this case I think they're doing themselves a disservice to have a section called "Fashion & Style" and then populate it with more serious content. It's misleading, and I think can undermine even the Times' best intentions. I'm not alone, here. We don't have to agree about this. But what I've been chewing on is that I think my issue here may be less about "women = fashion = blogging isn't serious", but that there's a disconnect in the way papers like the times are determining how and where to place their stories, because in my mind, several other articles have fallen victim to similar misdirected placement.

I think we're going to continue seeing a lot of debate about the transition and adaptation of media practices all over, and I'm looking forward to listening and learning as well as contributing to the discussion.

TexasBrian said...

This is getting more and more interesting

@ Amber... that wasn't me... I think you were meaning to address New Your City's Watchdog, whom I have a new respect for. And I have to say, the more you write, the more I see your perspective. You are a great writer, and the more time passes and the more the arguments get aired out and explained, the more sense you make. I still don't see the point of printing your letter after you've had your questions answered, but I digress.

@ Mack. You amuse me. I think your only purpose here now is to rattle cages. Your job is to be an evangelist for blogs to promote businesses? That's nice. You believe that businesses need blogs. Great. And you think the NYT erred by not falling over Amber because she has a blog. Fine.

You think that They NYT is a business, and therefore should respond the way every other business does. But the NYT is not the Acme Widget Company, desperately looking for publicity. Yet, you lump it in with every other business. And in the next breath, you spout this wisdom:

"Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible."

Then your rhetoric really starts to get creepy. I call blatant sexism in this comment:

"And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section."

You know, the Fashion and Style section isn't called the Women's Section. It covers trends; it covers "style" in all forms, and your use of the term "social media" tells the journalist that the content is at least somewhat "social" in nature — not exactly A1 breaking news. Unless you can prove it, to say the story ran in the Style section solely because it was female-focused is pretty much defamatory on its face.

That brings me back to yesterday's point about bloggers who think they are journalists because they have a keyboard. With a blog comes responsibility and liability. That means being careful of things like libel, defamation and reckless disregard for the truth. I've seen lots of accusations thrown around about the NYT in the past few days without check. If the NYT did any of that, you can bet someone would sue. Are the bloggers still on even footing?

Amber Naslund said...

@texasbrian ACK. You're absolutely right. I meant to reference @New York City's Watchdog. My apologies to you both for the mixup.

I have to say that I don't see sexism in Mack's comment any more than I see sexism in Tricia's comment about bloggers needing a penis to be taken seriously. Gender bias is a passionate and highly subjective issue, and I think the main point is that - on the surface - parking the story in the Fashion & Style section makes it *easier* to assume gender bias simply because of the stereotypes that already exist.

And I am not by any means arguing about "equal footing", whatever that means. But I'm certainly not going to kowtow to the Times - or any other media outlet for that matter - just because they have a storied history and don't "need" the publicity. I'm really talking about basic respect. I respect the Times, I respect what they do, I respect the industry of communications in all its forms. I don't always have to love what they do or how they do it. And I personally think that, on *this* particular occasion, they threw their weight around with me for the wrong reasons. Do I expect that they're going to literally stop the presses and change their processes because of me? Maybe not. But I do think there was a different way to handle this on their part. I liked someone elses suggestion of offering other avenues for discourse. That encourages conversation, instead of stifling it.

"It covers trends; it covers "style" in all forms, and your use of the term "social media" tells the journalist that the content is at least somewhat "social" in nature — not exactly A1 breaking news."

I happen to think that social media is a crappy term, because it does just what you said - makes people assume the meat of it is frivolous. And unfortunately I didn't name it, so I have to live with it. But the reality is, whatever you call it, the practices that social media entails - community building, breaking down communication barriers, encouraging more open dialogue between companies and customers (the list goes on) - and how they're changing business are indeed breaking news. It's not about the tools, it's about how the overall dialogue is shifting.

You raise a very important point about integrity that I think has merit. I'll be the first to admit that there are bloggers out there that never bother to do any research, aren't aware of the world around them, and don't like being told any different. Mack isn't one of them, and neither am I. The reverse works too: just because I'm a blogger doesn't mean that I should get tossed into the pile with the others who use this type of platform in all the wrong ways.

I'm not all knowing, I'm not infallible. Neither is traditional media, just because some of them are big and established. I am, however, proud to be part of a community of professionals (yes, professionals) like Mack, Laura, Jennifer, Teeg, Michael, Deb, John, elizs, thePuck, amie, Connie, Beth, Judy, Erika, Lightfinger, templestark, NYCWatchdog and you who care enough about the issues at hand to raise a voice and "rattle cages". With all due respect, you and NYC's Watchdog are doing your fair share of cage rattling too. Mack is every bit as entitled to respond as you are, and I value his input.

That's what social media is about. And why I'm content to have opinions on both sides, because otherwise we're each stuck in our own little hole.

Mack Collier said...

"Your job is to be an evangelist for blogs to promote businesses? That's nice. You believe that businesses need blogs."

To be clear, I don't believe this at all. Many businesses should NOT be blogging, and many can't even if they want to. When I speak to companies, I make this point every time.

However, I believe that all businesses should know what bloggers are saying about their business, and should make every effort to respond when they can. If a company can take the time to visit a blog and read what bloggers are writing about them, they have the time to reply.

The great thing about blogs? They aren't an island. Ideas travel can travel at near-light speed in this space. For example, you claim that "But the NYT is not the Acme Widget Company, desperately looking for publicity."

But it's not about publicity, it's about respecting bloggers as a group. And let's recall that Dell once announced to the world that 'we don't respond to bloggers'. The massive backlash they received from this ONE statement from bloggers shook the company to the extent that they totally altered their approach to interacting with bloggers, and are now the poster child for using social media to engage with their customers.

Dismiss the influence of bloggers on businesses all you want.

"That brings me back to yesterday's point about bloggers who think they are journalists because they have a keyboard."

I never understood this point, BTW. I think this is more about how you THINK some bloggers view themselves. Again, JMO.

TexasBrian said...

@ Mack:

"It's about respecting bloggers as a group."

vs.

"Mass generalizations ... are not a good thing..."

Are we borg, or not? :-)

Actually, I guess what sticks in my craw about the entire undercurrent of this is the idea that blogging is being treated with a self-importance by some that it hasn't really earned yet.

Some blogs, just like some billboards, can make for great social and political change. Some e-mail blasts do the same thing, and so do some magazine ads. So do some bumper stickers.

But, just like I said the other day, print isn't dead yet, and I get the sense from some that they feel that blogs are the next big wave and everybody had better jump on board thisverydamnedminute or perish.

And I say to that — great. When it happens — when blogs take over MSM — I'll jump. Until then, for the majority of us, it's vanity press amped up, and we shouldn't let ourselves believe it for more than it us. Otherwise, we become the emperor in new clothes, 2.0.

Mack Collier said...

"Actually, I guess what sticks in my craw about the entire undercurrent of this is the idea that blogging is being treated with a self-importance by some that it hasn't really earned yet."

In whose eyes? If blogging and social media isn't that important, why did Michael Dell tell his employees to start using social media to embrace and engage its customers? Why did Ford just create a Director of Social Media, and give that person a 5-person team to head up the company's SM efforts? Why is Pepsico hiring for a similar position (unless it's been filled recently)? Why are big companies throwing all this money at something that 'hasn't really earned it yet'?

Is blogging the magic bullet that solves every businesses' problems? Of course not. But it and social media IS changing the way businesses connect with, and reach their customers.

And it's not going anywhere.

"But, just like I said the other day, print isn't dead yet, and I get the sense from some that they feel that blogs are the next big wave and everybody had better jump on board thisverydamnedminute or perish.

And I say to that — great. When it happens — when blogs take over MSM — I'll jump."

Brian I hate to point out the obvious, but who in this conversation said that print is dead?

Who said that blogs are going to take over (whatever that means) MSM?

What happened is that a several people commented that the NYT and other businesses should take blogs a bit more seriously than they do and realize the influence that the group possesses.

I think what you 'heard' was those people saying that print is dead, and that bloggers had 'taken over' MSM.

And I think this is where most of the arguing is coming from, what is being said, and what is being 'heard' isn't always the same.

31 July 2008

New York Times Wants to Censor and Influence Bloggers?

On Saturday, I posted about the New York Times and their coverage that same evening of the BlogHer 08 Conference in their online Fashion & Style section (The Sunday Styles section in the print version). I was particularly upset about where the paper placed the story and the overall tone of the article. I also wrote a brief letter to the editor that day that expressed my thoughts on the topic. You can read my post and my letter to the editor right here.

Yesterday, I got a phone call and an email from a New York Times editor in response to my letter, asking simply if I would please call her. So I did, about an hour later.

The contact is an editor for the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Times’ Styles section (known as the Fashion & Style section on the online version). She said she was contacting me because she wanted me to consider revising the letter I had written to the editor because they couldn’t publish it as it was. (She also mentioned that she had read my post and several others expressing similar criticism for the story and its placement).

So, naturally, I asked why. She said that my letter specifically criticized the placement of the story, which it did. But she went on to explain that the Times’ sections operate somewhat autonomously, and when one section gets a good story, they would never “give it away” to another section. She said that the section in which a story was placed was not something they “controlled”, but that it was based on which section editor got the story or whom the reporter chose to pitch.

Effectively, she told me that they wouldn’t publish my letter if it talked about the placement of the story since the section placement wasn’t “something [they] could respond to” and was something they “don’t have an answer for”. Instead, she suggested that if I framed my letter to focus instead on tone and content of the story itself, I could resubmit it to her directly for publication consideration.

What?

There’s a couple of big lessons to be learned here about proper outreach to your community, and how not to engage with bloggers.

Mistake #1
First of all, a letter to the editor is intended as an expression of opinion by the readership of a paper. A publication could reasonably edit a letter for length, but suggesting that content and intent of a letter be revised and resubmitted for the purposes of making it easier or more palatable to the paper isn’t reasonable (or ethical, in my view).

In this case, the Times didn’t want to publish my criticism of the editorial judgment because they would have then had to explain how and why stories get placed in specific sections. They also might have had to defend the content of their Style section and justify why it was a suitable place for the BlogHer story after all. So they’ve made my letter to the editor about what it does (or doesn’t do) for them, instead of about engaging and including the voice of their readers.

Lesson: When engage in dialogue with your community, you lose credibility and respect when you try to censor or influence that conversation just because you don’t like what’s being said.

Mistake #2
In our follow up correspondence after the phone call, the editor asked that, should I choose to blog again on this topic, I not reveal her name because she’s “not a higher-up in the section” and would “rather not be seen as speaking on behalf of the section in print.” However, her phone call to me was from her desk at the Times, and her email to me was from her New York Times email account. In both cases, she was clearly presenting herself as a representative of the paper whose duties, per her email to me, “include [responding] to letter writers.”

They say in journalism that nothing is ever truly off the record. The Times, however, via this editor, is asking to be exactly that.

Lesson: If you’re going to be a part of the conversation, be transparent. Own your viewpoint and speak as yourself. Otherwise, your community questions your motives and you lose their trust.

So what should they have done?

Here’s my take:

• Either chosen to publish my letter as it was, or chosen not to publish it as is their prerogative (after all, publication isn’t guaranteed). But never should their response have been to try and convince me to amend my opinion because they didn’t have a suitable response.

• Commented on my post. The editor mentioned that she’d read my blog post about it, and that gave her and the Times the perfect opportunity to engage in the conversation and contribute their perspective.

• Respected my stance rather than trying to influence it. They didn’t have to agree with me. But trying to get me to revise my letter to the editor or suggest how I should treat future blog posts tells me that they’d rather control the message than have a discussion.

Let me be clear that I think the Times, in theory, made the right move by reaching out to someone who is clearly speaking up about them, and to them. Engagement is much better than ignoring. But the question becomes what does more damage: Not responding at all, or responding and trying to influence a letter writer or blogger to amend their content?

I think the piece itself and the editor’s response to my letter underscores the lack of respect that the Times has for bloggers, their readers, and their influence within the larger media community. The overall tone of the exchange with the editor, while courteous and friendly on the surface, leads me to think that the Times not only wants to unduly influence the conversation, but that they might be taking this ill-advised approach with other bloggers, too.

This whole situation highlights an archaic and potentially damaging system that papers like the Times are using to determine where their stories run. I think they ought to be rethinking this for the sake of integrity.

So what do you think? How would you have reacted to such a request? Do you think the New York Times handled this correctly? If not, what should they have done differently and what are the lessons to be learned?

Photo by Anderson Mancini

40 comments:

Laura Pritchard said...

you go Amber! I wholeheartedly agree with you!

Jennifer Leggio said...

Overall I agree. This was a terrible approach which shows the ignorance of the editor in question. I am also starting to wonder if it was more personal agenda because she might've had her hand in this story and didn't want any public criticism. Which would make me think she shouldn't be an editor in the first place.

However, I do not think it's indicative of the Times' overall. Much like their news budgets are determined by sections at times, so are their philosophies and approaches to producing news. Right or wrong, each section editor is responsible to some degree to keeping its regular advertisers happy so they do in some ways compete for more highly read content. It's also possible that since BlogHer appeals to a niche audience, that the news editors and such did not want to include it in their sections (something I personally think is a mistake, just postulating).

I didn't see the article so I can't comment on the tone, but again I agree that this editor is way off the mark with how she communicated about this issue. Her karma, methinks, will be getting left behind as journalism continues to evolve. Kudos to you for not just sitting back on the issue.

Teeg said...

Great article once again, Amber!

I am just amazed that someone from the NYT would call and ask you to change your letter! As a blogger, could you imagine asking someone to change a comment because they think you should put different tags on a post?

I could understand their reaction if you'd said it should have been published in the Wall Street Journal or somewhere else instead of the NYT, but suggesting that all the departments of a newspaper aren't even connected enough to publish a story in the best section for it???

Does that mean that if a Style editor gets hold of an article about Obama visiting other countries, it will be published in the Style section and talk about what he wears each day and what restroom conditions are like around the world? Somehow I seriously doubt it.

Michael Becker said...

This is how letters to the editor work at big papers like the New York Times. It's not like the Podunk Tribune that can publish every single letter about cats in trees and misplaced semicolons it receives or a blog that has the infinite space afforded by the Web.

Readers expect more from Times letters than they do from other newspapers, meaning that those letters have to add something valuable to the public conversation with a minimum of exposition (i.e., explaining how the placement of stories in the Times works).

The fact that the times considered publishing your letter -- and even asked you, specifically, to edit it for publication -- rather than all the other letters this editor told you they had received testifies to your ability to nail this subject. They didn't ask you to censor you letter; they asked you to focus on the bigger issue that is more important to the public: the tone of the story.

It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship." It's only censorship when the other party has the power to change your writing without permission, and in this case, the Times has made it clear that it's not going to change your writing without you being involved in the process.

As for her asking you not to reveal her name: all I can say is so what? So some mid-level editor at the Times didn't want you to use her name specifically in a story on your blog. This is the kind of hassle that journalists, like me, run into all the time -- nobody's quotable but the chiefs. Is that a firm rule? Hell, no. She knew you were a blogger and writer before she picked up the phone. You could print her name with impunity. But that might burn your source, so to speak, meaning you never hear a word from her again. It's the game we play.

Mack Collier said...

"The fact that the times considered publishing your letter -- and even asked you, specifically, to edit it for publication -- rather than all the other letters this editor told you they had received testifies to your ability to nail this subject. They didn't ask you to censor you letter; they asked you to focus on the bigger issue that is more important to the public: the tone of the story."

So what about the issue that is important to the bloggers themselves, which is their being potentially misrepresented? Sorry but asking someone to alter their letter to the editor, especially a blogger, isn't a very good practice, IMO. The NYT's tone comes across as condescending and borderline bullying, IMO.

It's always better to attempt to ENGAGE bloggers in conversations, not shut down or influence that exchange. And I commend Amber on the even-handedness of the post and she offers great teaching examples that companies should heed when dealing with bloggers.

I Can't Keep Up said...

I don't think it is appropriate for an editor to call someone and try to influence the writing of their LTE.

Separately, clearly this journalist forgot that she was speaking with another journalist, realizing this after the fact, she asked to remain anonymous. Sure you protect your source, but the fact that she made such a call without requesting anonymity, then asked for it later makes me wonder if she should have been contacting the writer in the first place.

I don't buy the "get over it, this is how it is argument." No one expects that every letter they write is going to get published, but they do expect to be treated with respect and professionalism.

Mack Collier said...

"It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship.""

BTW, if we are indeed to focus on what the public wants and believes, then I think that the average American that submitted a letter to Letters to the Editor, would expect it to be published without an email from the paper asking for a revision before it can be published. That may indeed be what the NYT does, but again, if we are going to focus on the public, I don't think the general public would be too ok with that practice, and I think many would indeed feel that was 'censorship'.

All about where you are coming from.

John Hopkins said...

We are in this period of newspapers and bloggers competing for users attention yet still trying to work together. Sort of like two land masses colliding to form one island. Eventually it will all come together, but initially the tremors are going to be substantial.

elizs said...

This sounds like something for the NYTimes Public Editor to take on - along with the whole BlogHer coverage issue. You might try contacting him.

thePuck said...

I think that this really draws out the differences between old and new media. Transparency vs. control of image and spin-doctoring.

The demand has been there for a long time for transparent media and politics (which go hand in hand) and I think that the increasing strain the blogosphere and other social media is putting on the old media is very telling.

As the judge in that old Twilight Zone episode said: "Obsolete".

TexasBrian said...

This is called "overreacting," and it is becoming epidemic among bloggers.

It begins in the headline. I don't see where the NYT tried to "censor" the blog.

The newspaper extended the courtesy of a phone call to explain its process of how the story was placed, which most papers wouldn't even do, much less in print. You're lucky to get a response at all, much less a phone call.

You got your explanation to a much more personal degree than you would have in a print piece, so now to print a letter asking for that same explanation seems pointless. Content questions are valid, but letters asking how the newspaper works aren't so much "opinion" based as much as asking as what the ingredients are in a soft drink. It almost seems as though now you're teetering on the verge of grandstanding.

And yes, letters to the editor remain outlets of reader opinion, and newspapers have traditionally edited for length and grammar concerns, but with all of the letters coming into a paper the size of the NYT, just the fact that it wasn't immediately disregarded is a testament that you're not being "censored" or [insert First Amendment argument here].

What you call "Mistake #2" is a bizarre argument. you say that because she called you from The Times, that she shouldn't ask not to be included in the blog. Of course she called you from the NYT and used their e-mail. Was she supposed to whip out her cell phone on company time? She just didn't want to get dragged into your blog war while doing her job. She is trying to communicate to you that she isn't the one making these decisions (remember the adage, "Don't shoot the messenger"?) and would prefer not to be in the blog. That seems simple enough to me.

To ask the NYT to respond to your post is not realistic, and for you to suggest that as a solution is another thing I find just strange. They have their own publication to put out, and for you to suggest they spend manhours in the blogosphere responding to various blogs is counterproductive to their mission and a waste of their time. You have your publication; they have theirs. You chose to engage them.

I think they respected your stance by answering it with a personal phone call and answering your questions. That's more than I get from most businesses I deal with, much less a leading newspaper.

The bigger issue here is that you feel they are trying to influence you. Just from reading what you have posted, which is only one side, I can see that clearly they are telling you that they are happy to print criticism of their content, but they can't respond to the inner machinations of the newsroom. If anything, it sounds like she was trying to let you know that if you focus your letter — and what blogger doesn't need more editing? — on the more relevant issues of content that will appeal to a broader audience, you will have a better chance of seeing print.

It's the same advice a book author would get from an editor — do this so you will appeal to a broader audience.

Don't get mired in taking things so personally. It's easy to do. But in looking at the broader picture, I see someone who actually gave you tips on how to get your message out there for the masses, instead of just flushing it away, which was her right.

And that deserves a note of gratitude, not vitriol.

Amie Gillingham said...

Michael Becker said: It's a shame that any time someone is asked to revise writing on a subject they feel passionately about, the first instinct is to call it "censorship." It's only censorship when the other party has the power to change your writing without permission, and in this case, the Times has made it clear that it's not going to change your writing without you being involved in the process.

I think the point of Amber's letter has been lost on you. Her letter to the editor wasn't just a criticism of the patronizing tone of the original Blogher article; it was valid criticism of the article's placement in the Times. The fact that Amber was told outright that she is not welcome to criticize the article's placement IS a huge issue of censorship. I respect that they tried to reach out to Amber, but honestly, the NYT's method of "damage control" is worse than the original problem her LTE addressed!

Connie Reece said...

"You have your publication; they have theirs. You chose to engage them."

TexasBrian - when a New York Times editor calls you up and spends 40 minutes of company time trying to deflect criticism of their policy, SHE chooses to engage YOU. They had no obligation to print the letter and could have left it at that, then there would probably not have been a follow-up blog post.

"And that deserves a note of gratitude, not vitriol."

I would hardly call this blog post vitriol. The tone was quite civil, in my opinion.

Mack Collier said...

"The newspaper extended the courtesy of a phone call to explain its process of how the story was placed, which most papers wouldn't even do, much less in print. You're lucky to get a response at all, much less a phone call."

Wow, it's like we just slid backwards 3 years. The newspaper should WANT to contact bloggers such as Amber that are creating content about their paper. They aren't doing Amber any favors, they are doing THEMSELVES a favor.

If ANY business has bloggers that are posting about them, they should make EVERY effort to engage those bloggers and get a dialogue started with them. Attempting to shut-down or influence an interaction is the quickest way to inflame it, as we saw here. If the NYT had put aside their ego and tried to work WITH Amber to get a dialogue started, instead of adding hoops for her to jump through, then this issue would be in a completely different place right now.

I Can't Keep Up said...

You know, I don't see any vitriol in Amber's post.

What I do see is a fault line between traditional media and new media. It's great if reaching out to a blogger is a phone call asking for more information or to connect. Trying to persuade her to take a different stance, then ask her not to use her name is inappropriate. If it wasn't, why didn't the editor want their name used?

New York City's Watchdog said...

This is called "overreacting," and it is becoming epidemic among bloggers.

It begins in the headline. I don't see where the NYT tried to "censor" the blog.

-Texas Brian

I believe Texas Brian hit it on the head. This is an overreaction to "old media" reaching out, just as the initial reaction about where the NYT placed the article to begin with was an overreaction considering that in all probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business, and BlogHer does not to my knowledge have any of the influential female tech bloggers on their rosters (where is Cali Lewis, Lorrelle VanFossen, or Skellie?). Your letter and blog post remain your words on your forum... they simply asked you to perhaps refocus on the substance of the article instead of something that really is trivial and petty.

As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?

I tend to think the NYT, whether they knew it or not, put that article exactly where it belonged.

Beth Harte said...

Amber, great post! What Amber’s post does best is bring to light the archaic nature in which the newspaper industry still operates. Will it change overnight, no. But it will need to adapt eventually. We are the consumers of the NYT and we have a voice now and the NYT tried to control that voice.

JudyBright said...

It's not like manipulating facts is anything new to the Times.

And they could have responded to you; it's just that the truth would make them look horrible.

Mack Collier said...

"I believe Texas Brian hit it on the head. This is an overreaction to "old media" reaching out"

Apologies, I need to go clean Dr Pepper off my laptop screen.

Amber Naslund said...

All - wow! Thanks for the comments. Some great stuff in here, on both sides of the argument.

I will say that vitriol is the last thing I put into this post. I find it actually a bit funny that I'm supposed to be eternally grateful that *The* New York Times took time to respond to me. Yep, I'm just some blogger out there in the vast sea, this is true. And you can agree or disagree with my POV, and I think that's great. And I acknowledged that reaching out on their part was a great thing to do.

If the journalist had time to read my post and spend 40 minutes on the phone with me justifying her placement, she had time to justify it on my blog where others could respond too. I don't consider that a favor, by any stretch, nor a waste of time.

The rules of the game are changing, people. I may just be one person - one blogger, one letter writer - but that's not the point. The point is that traditional media wants everyone else to always play in their sandbox, by their rules alone.

The fact that they wanted to not focus on the "machinations of the newsroom" is exactly the point. They didn't have an answer, so they didn't want it brought up. I didn't write my letter to "appeal to an audience". I wrote it to bring to light what I think is poor editorial judgment, whether that focuses on their management policies or not. And so I chose not to alter it based on their recommendations, because it undermines exactly the issue I was trying to point out.

I appreciate all of you taking the time to share your thoughts on the issue. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Erika said...

Amber, I don't see (or read) any vitriol in your posts or criticism of the NYT's tactics. The way the game is played *is* changing, but even if it weren't, asking you to revised and resubmit a LTE is neither standard practice nor acceptable. Teeg makes a great point about a blogger asking a commenter to change their comment because it didn't match the "tone" of the blog.

If it is about engagement and communication (and once, LTE's were the only way that readers could directly respond to the press)then the request for a revision smacks of censorship and falls outside of the guidelines of editing for (objectional)content or length (for space) as many LTEs are. While the ed who contacted you did "object" to the tone of the letter, it's not in the realm of the "classic list" of objectional content.

Lightfinger said...

I read the New York Times article, and I felt is was a very poor article in the first place, irregardless to the position in the paper it occupied.

It was like going to E3, but only focusing on the 10% of the people in costume (if that much), and trying to paint the entire convention as a bunch of people who cosplay.

Because it was not an article which shows female bloggers gaining momentum (and added to the study released recently showing more women than men are on social networking sites), but portrayed female bloggers as being courted by Gucci. In a fashion section of the paper, this is appropriate. Thus, I feel there should have been two articles. The first about female bloggers and their accomplishments, and a second about the 'dealer's room' that was presented at BlogHer.

And to those of you claiming that Amber should be 'honored' by the Times, I'm sorry. That time has passed. The Times should be honored to be mentioned by Amber.

New York City's Watchdog said...

The Times should be honored to be mentioned by Amber.

Now I'm the one cleaning Mr. Pibbs off my laptop screen.

Temple Stark said...

This is why I like blogs over SM on important subjects. The issues are laid out much more clearly with a bit of room to type.

For instance, I did not realize the request to have her name not used came in a follow-up e-mail. That to me describes laying the groundwork after the building is already erected so to speak. Good .. heck even mediocre .. editors / journalists know to set the rules beforehand.

As such it is much more a judgment call as to whether it's worth it, but your justification for using her name is much stronger. If how it's laid out here is correct, of which I have no reason to doubt, the "rules of the conversation" should have come first IMHO.

---
I don't get this idea people keep repeating about this isn't the way to communicate "with a blogger" or "especially a blogger." A blogger is a reader is a member of the public. In society, some as has always been, have greater broadcast power, some can't be heard.

As it relates to this, it doesn't seem the "blogger" part of the equation has any relevance at all.

---
Amber said as a lesson to learn from this: "When engage in dialogue with your community, you lose credibility and respect when you try to censor or influence that conversation just because you don’t like what’s being said."

I can't agree that trying to influence what was being said loses you credibility or respect. Because to agree to that I would have to disagree with Amber's effort to influence the tone of this or future articles on BlogHer and their placement. Which I don't at all.

Too, I would further have to criticize this post as continuing to try and influence.

As a slight, incomplete, aside, isn't that a big chunk of what PR is all about? That's not saying good or bad, just, isn't it?

---
It's unclear to me whether this story actually made it to the printed paper by the way.

---
I especially enjoy the tone of this piece, because it is much more nuanced and, yes, generally respectful, then it sounded like it was going to be. There are certainly some things people / institutions do that are wrong. But they come in degrees of "wrongness." Fundamentally this comes down to a disagreement over where the story went in the paper, yet no "that's cool" for putting it in the paper at all.

The Style section to me means trends / what's next, though obviously it was different in the past.

The perception here, I believe, is at the root of the overall problem / discussion.


Thank you for writing this Amber.
Temple

TexasBrian said...

Not quite time to clean the screen, but it's getting there. I think the problem this time comes in the ego-check department in the concept of "new media."

I think somewhere along the way, it got accepted that anyone with a blog is a "journalist." Someone earlier even mentioned that the NYT editor was talking "journalist to journalist."

My 14-yeear-old niece likes to blog about her iPod. Is she a journalist?

I have a journalism degree, but I don't work for any media outlet. Am I a journalist?

This idea that a newspaper should engage in any sandbox other than their own is ludicrous. Create as many blogs as you like, create your own domain -- heck, create your own print product. And then expect a major daily to spend time responding to it? Seriously?

The notion that anyone with a keyboard and a blogspace is now on equal footing with the NYT is really ballsy, to say the least. To get that footing, I would say you have to get there the old fashioned way — you have to earn it.

Traditional print media may be dying, but it's not dead yet, and it's not about to be replaced by someone in Topeka with a Dell laptop and Blogspot. Sorry. There's work to be done, and it begins with a fundamental understanding of how the process works. If anything, I hope Amber took away an understanding of how the sectioning process works (i.e. how the story was placed) and not just sour grapes because the story didn't get placed where she wanted it. I trust she did.

P.S. "Vitriol" might not have been the best word choice, but creating an epically long post about the unhappiness you experienced complete with calls to action for "fixing" their "mistakes" doesn't sound like roses and sunshine to me.

Amber Naslund said...

Couple points to clarify @texasbrian:

It's not about where *I* wanted the story personally. There's been a great deal of feedback from the participants themselves and the community at large about the placement. This isn't about me, I'm just adding my voice. You can demean my place as a blogger all you like. I'm just adding to the conversation just like you are.

@Templestark you bring up a very good point about influence, so let me clarify a bit. No, inherently I don't think there's anything wrong with the practice of influence, depending on it's endgame. it's the essence of marketing, communications, and social media too. What I didn't like was the undercurrent that read (to me) like they were saying sure, your view matters, but only if we like what we read. So I'm actually very appreciative of the NYT adding their perspective, and I told the editor so both on the phone and in writing. I still don't agree with how they handled it, because I think there's a difference between influence intended to promote thinking and discussion, and influence intended to stifle and dictate. The road to hell...

And I'll go on record as saying very clearly that I *do* give the NYT a "that's cool" for running the piece in the first place. It'd be hypocritical to say that we need more and better attention for how people of all stripes are changing the landscape of communications and then skewer someone for running a story at all. BlogHer deserves coverage, and I'm grateful that they got it. But I don't subscribe to the philosophy that all press is good press.

And there's no generalization intended here. Not all traditional media is evil. Newspapers don't all suck, and they don't always get it wrong. Not every editor is misguided. I used this as a very specific and singular example, not a blanket statement. Just like blanket statements that lump bloggers into a pile of geeks with laptops. Communication and social media are not remotely black and white, and I for one am grateful to be participating in the sea change, wherever it may take us.

Mack Collier said...

"Not quite time to clean the screen, but it's getting there. I think the problem this time comes in the ego-check department in the concept of "new media.""

Funny, sounds to me like the problem is some people forgetting to check their agendas at the door.

"The notion that anyone with a keyboard and a blogspace is now on equal footing with the NYT is really ballsy, to say the least."

Case in point, no one said that any blogger is equal or better than the NYT. The point is, bloggers as a GROUP should not be ignored or talked down to. It's just bad business.

"P.S. "Vitriol" might not have been the best word choice, but creating an epically long post about the unhappiness you experienced complete with calls to action for "fixing" their "mistakes" doesn't sound like roses and sunshine to me."

IOW, how dare a lowly blogger imply that they know how to better run their business than the bad old (media) NYT?

BTW, Amber was spot-on in her evaluation, and if the NYT has a lick of sense, they'll heed her advice.

"Traditional print media may be dying, but it's not dead yet, and it's not about to be replaced by someone in Topeka with a Dell laptop and Blogspot. Sorry."

And social media isn't a fad, and isn't going anywhere. No matter how much old media and its advocates may want to think/hope otherwise.

Sorry.

New York City's Watchdog said...

@Mark Collier

Funny, sounds to me like the problem is some people forgetting to check their agendas at the door.

Once you decide that blogging is your business, you then work to brand yourself, and that is when you now have an agenda. Randomly reviewing blogs is not only an agenda, but egotistical and arrogant... which you happen to be guilty of.

Case in point, no one said that any blogger is equal or better than the NYT. The point is, bloggers as a GROUP should not be ignored or talked down to. It's just bad business.

I missed where bloggers as a GROUP were ignored. They were in fact featured. I also missed the part where the GROUP was talked down to.

IOW, how dare a lowly blogger imply that they know how to better run their business than the bad old (media) NYT?

BTW, Amber was spot-on in her evaluation, and if the NYT has a lick of sense, they'll heed her advice.


Actually, the lowly blogger can imply all that they want. The fact is the NYT piece was a positive eye opener for most, and this type of post does not serve to further bloggers. It serves to discredit us by a supposed professional regurgitating the same advice from 1997.

As for them heeding her advice, the NYT Editor did indeed reply to a properly formatted request, as opposed to a submission to the Op-Ed Letters to the Editor section. In fact, he went into quite a bit of detail to educate the masses as to both how the article ended up in that section, and what the section actually contains.

I think, she needs to heed her own advice:

Engagement is much better than ignoring.

The majority of the dissending comments in this post have been ignored. So I will repeat my initial question:

As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?

It seems Amanda is guilty of the very thing she accuses the NYT of doing... it's something she doesn't have an answer for.

On a final note, regarding Social Media, I don't think anyone says its a fad or that it isn't going somewhere. The truth is, it is going into the future... but at some point the truth that content is not king and presentation matters will reveal itself. Being on Blogspot is not a sign of being serious about what your doing. It is a sign of a glorified hobbyist.

evano said...

Good article, and I agree with your point that the NYT and mainstream media in general need to learn how to deal with this new era of two-way media. However, I'm not sure that your approach to the situation was the best one possible. You missed an opportunity to communicate by allowing yourself to become insulted, and you let that editor walk away with the impression that making your point was more important to you than having a conversation.

First of all, this editor was not the person who made the decision on where to place the article. In the same way that in a bank branch everyone who isn't a teller is a Vice President, in the newsroom pretty much anyone who isn't a reporter is an editor. Take a look at the Times' masthead (which is not the nameplate or banner which says "The New York Times" on the front page, but the listing of the people responsible for the paper.) There are many many layers of editors: executive editors, managing editors, deputy managing editors, assistant managing editors, section editors, assistant section editors, copy editors, etc. And that's for the print version. The online version has its own masthead and hierarchy, where the guy in charge of the whole thing is only an Associate Managing Editor in the Times hierarchy. The editor you spoke to and stood your ground with was not anyone with the power to do anything more than her job. She might have agreed with your point when she asked you to edit your letter -- someone agreed with it enough to propose that it be a representative of the large number of letters they received on the article. Do you think that when she hung up with you, she still felt positive about that choice?

Second, your address here is "thebrandbox.blogspot.com". If someone wrote an email to you complaining that an article on your site really belonged on "smithereens.blogspot.com", would that be a relevant comment? Would it be anything you had any control over? (A Plurk from Daniel is what brought me here.) You probably would think that the two blogs have nothing in common except for the domain. That's a given for you and anyone else familiar with the blogging environment, just the same as the rigid division between sections is a simple matter of fact in the operations of a large newspaper. If you even bothered to respond to the person who made the complaint about the article placement on the "wrong" blog, would your opinion of that person change if they refused to acknowledge the facts?

Third, you're a good writer. Your writing on their site would have been an opportunity to reach a very different audience -- most likely a larger audience. While you might not have been permitted to directly criticize the placement of the article on BlogHer in the Fashion & Style section, I believe that a skilled writer such as yourself could have expressed the point in such a way that a thoughtful reader of the letter would come away with the conclusion you intended.

Finally, if your criticism of the placement of the article was your only criticism and you chose to pursue it, you could have asked her who at the Times you could contact directly to make yourself heard. She may have suggested the Public Editor, as another commenter suggested. Or she may have suggested you contact the Executive Editor or the Managing Editor, or even the Publisher. You still can.

Amber said...

@evano you make some solid points. Let me clarify that in no way did I slam the door (or the phone, rather) on the editor. We had a very polite and rather extensive exchange, and the fact that I disagree with her approach doesn't change that. I understand she has a job she's trying to do as best as she can, but my opinion in this case is that she did it poorly. Whether they have layers and layers of people or not isn't the issue here. She was the one that responded, so I in turn am speaking directly to that. And if it begs the question of who and how those kinds of questions are handled, perhaps that's a separate issue. Not suggesting that I warrant the direct attention of the editor in chief, but if it puts this person in the unenviable position of being able to reach out but not suggest a solution other than changing my letter, that's disappointing.

And I absolutely left the door open to her for further discussion, thanked her for her viewpoints, and haven't yet ruled out the possibility of alternative channels. In fact, if I were her, I might have been the one to suggest the alternatives you pointed out in order to encourage me to explore other avenues. (She didn't).

And I'm not at all disputing the *facts* of the operations of the paper. I get it. My point is that those operations are flawed in the first place, and that's the thought that I shared with the editor. I still don't like the idea that because it's just "the way it is", I shouldn't be able to challenge that specific point in an open letter. I appreciate their interest in including my voice, but not if it's merely a message that makes it easier for them to respond. It's still their prerogative whether to publish the letter or not, I just took issue with the suggestion that I massage the letter to be "more publishable" because that waters down the point I was trying to illuminate in the first place.

I appreciate the compliment on my writing, and thank you for adding your articulate perspective to the discussion.

Mack Collier said...

"Once you decide that blogging is your business, you then work to brand yourself, and that is when you now have an agenda. Randomly reviewing blogs is not only an agenda, but egotistical and arrogant... which you happen to be guilty of."

LOL! Sorry, but I'm changing the channel back. Plenty of us make 'blogging' our 'business'. And plenty of us know what blogging can, and cannot do for other businesses. Some don't.

"I missed where bloggers as a GROUP were ignored. They were in fact featured. I also missed the part where the GROUP was talked down to."

Sticking a group of business bloggers in the fashion and style section based on gender, is a sign of condescension, and ignorance. Bet they also thought that probably less than 1% of Blog Her attendees have a blog-related business.

"As for them heeding her advice, the NYT Editor did indeed reply to a properly formatted request, as opposed to a submission to the Op-Ed Letters to the Editor section. In fact, he went into quite a bit of detail to educate the masses as to both how the article ended up in that section, and what the section actually contains.

I think, she needs to heed her own advice:

Engagement is much better than ignoring."

Speaking of which, why didn't the NYT editor, the same one that told Amber she read this blog, bother to reply and engage us here?

Any ideas?

"As for the NYT trying to influence bloggers... did they give bloggers a $500 gift card to their new line of home furnishings the same way that JCPenney did for 20 members of BlogHer? Is the NYT really wrong for placing them in the Style & Fashion section as you claim?"

And Saturn also let Blog Her attendees drive their cars before, so going by your logic above, shouldn't that suggest that this article should have run in the automotive section?

"It seems Amanda is guilty of the very thing she accuses the NYT of doing... it's something she doesn't have an answer for."

Quite fitting that you make this comment, and in the same breath forget the name of the person you are attempting to comment on.

"On a final note, regarding Social Media, I don't think anyone says its a fad or that it isn't going somewhere. The truth is, it is going into the future... but at some point the truth that content is not king and presentation matters will reveal itself. Being on Blogspot is not a sign of being serious about what your doing. It is a sign of a glorified hobbyist."

LMAO! Sorry but try as I might, I can't take anyone seriously that punctuates their 'stance' by attempting to insult someone based on their blogging platform.

But that zinger does put me back in the lead for Dr Pepper showers on the laptop ;)

New York City's Watchdog said...

LOL! Sorry, but I'm changing the channel back. Plenty of us make 'blogging' our 'business'. And plenty of us know what blogging can, and cannot do for other businesses. Some don't.

It is true, there are plenty out there, but very very few who can deliver the actual goods.

Sticking a group of business bloggers in the fashion and style section based on gender, is a sign of condescension, and ignorance. Bet they also thought that probably less than 1% of Blog Her attendees have a blog-related business.

The problem is that the BlogHer bloggers are not business bloggers. In fact, they are a variety of genres with the only common denominator being their gender. The fact they are trying to turn their blogs INTO a business does not make them qualify for the business section.

Speaking of which, why didn't the NYT editor, the same one that told Amber she read this blog, bother to reply and engage us here?

Any ideas?


I already pointed out the NYT Editor for the Style section providing an answer that was sent to him as opposed to the Opinions Editor, but since there is no information given about this "phantom Editor", I cannot hypothesis the reason other than this is a very small blip on a very large radar.

And Saturn also let Blog Her attendees drive their cars before, so going by your logic above, shouldn't that suggest that this article should have run in the automotive section?

Really? I thought it was a Chevy Tahoe. Actually it would depend on the focus of the Automotive section, which usually focuses on pricing, features, and the automotive industry. It does not focus on personal experiences with a car, but the unopinionated facts of the vehicle.

Quite fitting that you make this comment, and in the same breath forget the name of the person you are attempting to comment on.

Which was done unintentionally, and for that I do apologize, but it does go to prove my point about who Amber actually chose to address her letter to. The wrong person.

LMAO! Sorry but try as I might, I can't take anyone seriously that punctuates their 'stance' by attempting to insult someone based on their blogging platform.

But that zinger does put me back in the lead for Dr Pepper showers on the laptop ;)


Another point proven. For so called professionals to think that all blogging platforms are created equally is a huge disservice to their purported "clients" by feeding their delusions of grandeur. As mentioned previously, there are plenty of people out there who make "blogging" their "business", so you need to differentiate yourself from the others to be successful. Being on Blogspot does not do that at all. Seriously.

I truly hope you have a killer service plan for that laptop.

Mack Collier said...

"It is true, there are plenty out there, but very very few who can deliver the actual goods."

Agreed again.

"The problem is that the BlogHer bloggers are not business bloggers. In fact, they are a variety of genres with the only common denominator being their gender. The fact they are trying to turn their blogs INTO a business does not make them qualify for the business section."

And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section.

BTW I believe you claimed earlier that 'probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business'. I think I heard about a dozen people on Twitter say they were ay BlogHer, or at a BlogHer-related event. I can only think of one person from that dozen that did NOT have their own business, Jeremiah Owyang. The rest were all women with successful social media/blogging-related businesses, or they get the majority of their business from their social media strategies.

"I already pointed out the NYT Editor for the Style section providing an answer that was sent to him as opposed to the Opinions Editor, but since there is no information given about this "phantom Editor", I cannot hypothesis the reason other than this is a very small blip on a very large radar."

Must not have been too small, else why would the NYT editor be reading Amber's first post? Sounds like she took it pretty seriously.

Also sounds like she wasn't interested in discussing and engaging with the blog's readers, but wanted to attempt to have a more 'controlled' conversation with Amber via email. No biggie there, as many companies would do the same.

But on the flipside, many other companies see a chance to engage a blog's readers as an opportunity to be looked forward to.

Seems the NYT isn't among that list, at least based on this.

"Really? I thought it was a Chevy Tahoe. Actually it would depend on the focus of the Automotive section, which usually focuses on pricing, features, and the automotive industry. It does not focus on personal experiences with a car, but the unopinionated facts of the vehicle."

No it was a Saturn. Maybe the NYT article didn't mention it?

And BTW, my point was, trying to justify putting several thousand bloggers in a bucket because 20 got a JC Penny gift card is just as bad as trying to put them in another bucket cause some got to drive a Saturn.

Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible.

"Another point proven. For so called professionals to think that all blogging platforms are created equally is a huge disservice to their purported "clients" by feeding their delusions of grandeur."

LOL! And people that want to be taken seriously for their debating 'skills', usually don't throw out broad assumptions and generations like they are candy. It's always better to say 'I don't know' than make assumptions, especially when it comes to people.

Seriously.

BTW if you want to continue this, please email me as we're going in circles and Amber and her readers are no doubt being bored to death by this.

New York City's Watchdog said...

And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section.

You're absolutely right, and the fact male bloggers don't have ovaries shouldn't exclude them from the Fashion and Style section. Oh wait, it doesn't. Why was there no outcry about an article on a male blogger appearing in the section? Because no one overreacted to an imaginary slight.

BTW I believe you claimed earlier that 'probability less than 1% of the BlogHer members can consider their blog a successful business'. I think I heard about a dozen people on Twitter say they were ay BlogHer, or at a BlogHer-related event. I can only think of one person from that dozen that did NOT have their own business, Jeremiah Owyang. The rest were all women with successful social media/blogging-related businesses, or they get the majority of their business from their social media strategies.

I specifically said, "their blog a successful business", not "blog-related". Success is not being able to just pay for your hosting. It's paying for your mortgage too. If you only got a dozen tweets about being at BlogHer, I suggest you expand your network.

Must not have been too small, else why would the NYT editor be reading Amber's first post? Sounds like she took it pretty seriously.

Actually it sounds like she was doing her job, looking for viable letters for the Op-Ed page.

And BTW, my point was, trying to justify putting several thousand bloggers in a bucket because 20 got a JC Penny gift card is just as bad as trying to put them in another bucket cause some got to drive a Saturn.

Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible.


If the shoe fits...

LOL! And people that want to be taken seriously for their debating 'skills', usually don't throw out broad assumptions and generations like they are candy. It's always better to say 'I don't know' than make assumptions, especially when it comes to people.

Seriously.

BTW if you want to continue this, please email me as we're going in circles and Amber and her readers are no doubt being bored to death by this.


Praytell what assumption do you think I have made? The statements I have made I have been able to back up with links, and I have seen nothing of the sort from your side of the argument.

Finally, at 30+ comments (which is three times the average number for this blog), if Amber and her readers are truly bored by this conversation, then they should be smart enough to know they can always click the little red X in the corner or move on to another post.

I can understand though why you would want to take this to e-mail. Afterall...

Also sounds like she wasn't interested in discussing and engaging with the blog's readers, but wanted to attempt to have a more 'controlled' conversation with Amber via email. No biggie there, as many companies would do the same.

But on the flipside, many other companies see a chance to engage a blog's readers as an opportunity to be looked forward to.


I am more than willing to engage the blog's readers and blog author (who has so grasciously continued to ignore me), but now you obviously want to place me into more of a "controlled" conversation.

It's all good though Mack. While it is obvious we will not agree on the multi-tude of topics touched upon, I can honestly walk away knowing that at least ONE of you practices what you preach.

So for that, I thank you. If sometime in the future you decide to move on up off of Blooger and become serious about this type of thing, I'd be more than happy to help you out on the tech end.

Have a good one.

Amber said...

Please, texasbrian. I'm not ignoring you, nor anyone else for that matter.

I understand what you're trying to explain, I just disagree with you.

Yes, I think the Times made an error placing the article where they did, and that was the point of my original letter. What followed, then, was that I didn't think that just because something "was the way it was" meant that it wasn't open to criticism or questioning. Just saying "that's how things work" isn't an explanation.

I won't indulge an argument as silly as debating the platform people use for blogging being an indication of their expertise. I understand that different platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, but I'm much more focused on the topic at hand than what blog software someone is using. Bloggers from all over the web are participating in the conversation, and I for one wish not to discount them simply because of how they select their technology. Many brilliant minds that I admire have made waves with far less.

I saw and appreciated the comments on the Pop + Politics blog. I'm still saying that I'm not disputing the facts of how the story got placed where it did; the editor I spoke to explained that to me well and I'll stipulate to that being the way things are done there. But asking me not to criticize it just because it's that way is counterproductive. And yes, censorship is a dramatic word. Maybe stifling opinion is a better way to say it.

I'm sorry you don't feel like I've adequately responded to your points, but they're the same ones I've been responding to all along, and it doesn't change my opinion. And several others have managed to make incredibly valid, salient, and thought provoking points without being insulting in the process.

The editor shared with me several stories that have appeared in the same section, in hopes that I would understand that the Style section isn't frivolous. And perhaps the content isn't meant to be frivolous at all, and that's a good thing. But my response to her was then that perhaps the name of the section itself was a misnomer. Actually, several stories she sent me - one about behavioral disorders in children, one about race issues in the workplace, and one about cyberbullying - I think could have the same criticism attached; they're parked in the wrong spot.

We talked about how semantics can be a powerful influence, and in this case I think they're doing themselves a disservice to have a section called "Fashion & Style" and then populate it with more serious content. It's misleading, and I think can undermine even the Times' best intentions. I'm not alone, here. We don't have to agree about this. But what I've been chewing on is that I think my issue here may be less about "women = fashion = blogging isn't serious", but that there's a disconnect in the way papers like the times are determining how and where to place their stories, because in my mind, several other articles have fallen victim to similar misdirected placement.

I think we're going to continue seeing a lot of debate about the transition and adaptation of media practices all over, and I'm looking forward to listening and learning as well as contributing to the discussion.

TexasBrian said...

This is getting more and more interesting

@ Amber... that wasn't me... I think you were meaning to address New Your City's Watchdog, whom I have a new respect for. And I have to say, the more you write, the more I see your perspective. You are a great writer, and the more time passes and the more the arguments get aired out and explained, the more sense you make. I still don't see the point of printing your letter after you've had your questions answered, but I digress.

@ Mack. You amuse me. I think your only purpose here now is to rattle cages. Your job is to be an evangelist for blogs to promote businesses? That's nice. You believe that businesses need blogs. Great. And you think the NYT erred by not falling over Amber because she has a blog. Fine.

You think that They NYT is a business, and therefore should respond the way every other business does. But the NYT is not the Acme Widget Company, desperately looking for publicity. Yet, you lump it in with every other business. And in the next breath, you spout this wisdom:

"Mass generalizations, blind assumptions and stereotypes are not a good thing, and intellectual shortcuts that we should all strive to avoid whenever possible."

Then your rhetoric really starts to get creepy. I call blatant sexism in this comment:

"And the fact that they have ovaries doesn't qualify them for the Fashion and Style section."

You know, the Fashion and Style section isn't called the Women's Section. It covers trends; it covers "style" in all forms, and your use of the term "social media" tells the journalist that the content is at least somewhat "social" in nature — not exactly A1 breaking news. Unless you can prove it, to say the story ran in the Style section solely because it was female-focused is pretty much defamatory on its face.

That brings me back to yesterday's point about bloggers who think they are journalists because they have a keyboard. With a blog comes responsibility and liability. That means being careful of things like libel, defamation and reckless disregard for the truth. I've seen lots of accusations thrown around about the NYT in the past few days without check. If the NYT did any of that, you can bet someone would sue. Are the bloggers still on even footing?

Amber Naslund said...

@texasbrian ACK. You're absolutely right. I meant to reference @New York City's Watchdog. My apologies to you both for the mixup.

I have to say that I don't see sexism in Mack's comment any more than I see sexism in Tricia's comment about bloggers needing a penis to be taken seriously. Gender bias is a passionate and highly subjective issue, and I think the main point is that - on the surface - parking the story in the Fashion & Style section makes it *easier* to assume gender bias simply because of the stereotypes that already exist.

And I am not by any means arguing about "equal footing", whatever that means. But I'm certainly not going to kowtow to the Times - or any other media outlet for that matter - just because they have a storied history and don't "need" the publicity. I'm really talking about basic respect. I respect the Times, I respect what they do, I respect the industry of communications in all its forms. I don't always have to love what they do or how they do it. And I personally think that, on *this* particular occasion, they threw their weight around with me for the wrong reasons. Do I expect that they're going to literally stop the presses and change their processes because of me? Maybe not. But I do think there was a different way to handle this on their part. I liked someone elses suggestion of offering other avenues for discourse. That encourages conversation, instead of stifling it.

"It covers trends; it covers "style" in all forms, and your use of the term "social media" tells the journalist that the content is at least somewhat "social" in nature — not exactly A1 breaking news."

I happen to think that social media is a crappy term, because it does just what you said - makes people assume the meat of it is frivolous. And unfortunately I didn't name it, so I have to live with it. But the reality is, whatever you call it, the practices that social media entails - community building, breaking down communication barriers, encouraging more open dialogue between companies and customers (the list goes on) - and how they're changing business are indeed breaking news. It's not about the tools, it's about how the overall dialogue is shifting.

You raise a very important point about integrity that I think has merit. I'll be the first to admit that there are bloggers out there that never bother to do any research, aren't aware of the world around them, and don't like being told any different. Mack isn't one of them, and neither am I. The reverse works too: just because I'm a blogger doesn't mean that I should get tossed into the pile with the others who use this type of platform in all the wrong ways.

I'm not all knowing, I'm not infallible. Neither is traditional media, just because some of them are big and established. I am, however, proud to be part of a community of professionals (yes, professionals) like Mack, Laura, Jennifer, Teeg, Michael, Deb, John, elizs, thePuck, amie, Connie, Beth, Judy, Erika, Lightfinger, templestark, NYCWatchdog and you who care enough about the issues at hand to raise a voice and "rattle cages". With all due respect, you and NYC's Watchdog are doing your fair share of cage rattling too. Mack is every bit as entitled to respond as you are, and I value his input.

That's what social media is about. And why I'm content to have opinions on both sides, because otherwise we're each stuck in our own little hole.

Mack Collier said...

"Your job is to be an evangelist for blogs to promote businesses? That's nice. You believe that businesses need blogs."

To be clear, I don't believe this at all. Many businesses should NOT be blogging, and many can't even if they want to. When I speak to companies, I make this point every time.

However, I believe that all businesses should know what bloggers are saying about their business, and should make every effort to respond when they can. If a company can take the time to visit a blog and read what bloggers are writing about them, they have the time to reply.

The great thing about blogs? They aren't an island. Ideas travel can travel at near-light speed in this space. For example, you claim that "But the NYT is not the Acme Widget Company, desperately looking for publicity."

But it's not about publicity, it's about respecting bloggers as a group. And let's recall that Dell once announced to the world that 'we don't respond to bloggers'. The massive backlash they received from this ONE statement from bloggers shook the company to the extent that they totally altered their approach to interacting with bloggers, and are now the poster child for using social media to engage with their customers.

Dismiss the influence of bloggers on businesses all you want.

"That brings me back to yesterday's point about bloggers who think they are journalists because they have a keyboard."

I never understood this point, BTW. I think this is more about how you THINK some bloggers view themselves. Again, JMO.

TexasBrian said...

@ Mack:

"It's about respecting bloggers as a group."

vs.

"Mass generalizations ... are not a good thing..."

Are we borg, or not? :-)

Actually, I guess what sticks in my craw about the entire undercurrent of this is the idea that blogging is being treated with a self-importance by some that it hasn't really earned yet.

Some blogs, just like some billboards, can make for great social and political change. Some e-mail blasts do the same thing, and so do some magazine ads. So do some bumper stickers.

But, just like I said the other day, print isn't dead yet, and I get the sense from some that they feel that blogs are the next big wave and everybody had better jump on board thisverydamnedminute or perish.

And I say to that — great. When it happens — when blogs take over MSM — I'll jump. Until then, for the majority of us, it's vanity press amped up, and we shouldn't let ourselves believe it for more than it us. Otherwise, we become the emperor in new clothes, 2.0.

Mack Collier said...

"Actually, I guess what sticks in my craw about the entire undercurrent of this is the idea that blogging is being treated with a self-importance by some that it hasn't really earned yet."

In whose eyes? If blogging and social media isn't that important, why did Michael Dell tell his employees to start using social media to embrace and engage its customers? Why did Ford just create a Director of Social Media, and give that person a 5-person team to head up the company's SM efforts? Why is Pepsico hiring for a similar position (unless it's been filled recently)? Why are big companies throwing all this money at something that 'hasn't really earned it yet'?

Is blogging the magic bullet that solves every businesses' problems? Of course not. But it and social media IS changing the way businesses connect with, and reach their customers.

And it's not going anywhere.

"But, just like I said the other day, print isn't dead yet, and I get the sense from some that they feel that blogs are the next big wave and everybody had better jump on board thisverydamnedminute or perish.

And I say to that — great. When it happens — when blogs take over MSM — I'll jump."

Brian I hate to point out the obvious, but who in this conversation said that print is dead?

Who said that blogs are going to take over (whatever that means) MSM?

What happened is that a several people commented that the NYT and other businesses should take blogs a bit more seriously than they do and realize the influence that the group possesses.

I think what you 'heard' was those people saying that print is dead, and that bloggers had 'taken over' MSM.

And I think this is where most of the arguing is coming from, what is being said, and what is being 'heard' isn't always the same.