Curating NYT long-form a good idea, just not for the public editor

About 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane announced that his assistant would start curating the Times’ best long-form journalism each day, posting links to @NYTlongreads. A couple of hours and three long-form stories later, the curation ended.

“My assistant and I had this idea that it would be a worthwhile reader service to pluck the longer, more in-depth stories and tweet them,” Brisbane said in a phone interview. “It was a short and perhaps happy experiment.”

As it turned out, it was a pretty good idea, and it’s been on the back burner awhile in the Times newsroom. In short order, Sasha Koren, who oversees social media and community for the Times, emailed Brisbane to tell him that the newsroom had considered providing the same service, with that exact Twitter handle. Staffing issues have kept the team from acting on the idea so far, Koren told me.

Koren said she told Brisbane she was concerned that the account would have similar branding as other Times Twitter accounts, which are run by the newsroom, but this one would be handled by the public editor.

We “thought there would be confusion between what the newsroom does and what the public editor does,” she said. “I’m sure there is confusion already about his role anyway, so we had a very cordial conversation and he seemed to agree.”

An example of that confusion followed Brisbane’s announcement that he wouldn’t be curating the stories: “Can you please share with us the best longform journalism in the NYT each day anyway? (And aren’t you the NYT?),” responded one user.

Brisbane said that he considered tweeting the stories from his own account, @ThePublicEditor, but he decided that could pose a conflict in case he had to assess one of those stories as public editor.

“I as public editor can’t always predict when issues will arise about a given story,” he said. “It didnt seem like a sound idea to put out these in-depth stories under my own account name.”

Regardless of what account he used, I asked, wouldn’t the conflict remain if he were overseeing it? “I felt there was a separation created there” with a separate account, he said, although he acknowledged that some people may not see it that way.

Another complication: the @NYTlongreads name itself. Longreads founder Mark Armstrong told me by email that the company prefers that others not use “Longreads” in their Twitter account names to avoid brand confusion. (The company encourages use of the #longreads hashtag.)

But once the naming issues are worked out, we think it’s a great service and we’re excited to continue working closely with the Times, just as we always have. We hope things are back up and running soon.

@NYTlongreads quickly gained several hundred followers — it’s now at about 640. “If anything,” Koren said, “we learned that there is an appetite for this type of curation.”

Wednesday afternoon, Times Associate Managing Editor Jim Schachter reminded me that the Times experimented with showcasing long-form work last summer.

We found out a few interesting things from the experiment. First, our big, narrative takeouts don’t get overlooked when they’re first published. The analytics showed they were consistently among the most-read stories on publication – so it wasn’t apparent who we were serving by resurfacing them at the end of the week. Second, the Longreads community does a pretty good job of highlighting our big stories without any goading by us.

As Sasha indicated, we know we haven’t exhausted smart thinking about this subject. But it certainly isn’t turf we’ve ignored.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Koren’s position at the Times.

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  • Poynter

    @MyaLewis:disqus and @Reykjavik:disqus , I see your point. I think Jim Schachter’s comment addresses some of this, but I’ll ask Sasha to tell you herself.

    Steve Myers

  • Mya Lewis

    Steve, I really wish you’d dug into the point that @Reykjavik:disqus makes here when you talked this over with Sasha Koren.
    Why on earth is Koren’s group taking months and years to do this, when (as the public editor showed), it would barely take a few minutes per day?

  • Anonymous

    I agree

    I also think it is an artificial conflict to think that because a public editor might be commenting on a piece that he then shouldn’t be making it easier for people to learn about it in the first place.

  • Reykjavik

    This is an excellent example of what’s wrong with the American news business. This is an idea that takes all of 10 minutes to implement and probably only a bit more each day to administer. Why does it take days (or weeks or months) to get something like this off the ground? In a newsroom with more than 1,000 journalists (they’re all working THAT hard?). I can understand why the Newsroom would want to keep this under their control, however — it’s bit of an odd fit with the Public Editor’s mission.

    (And as for Longreads wanting to reserve that name, it’s wishful thinking — it’s not as if they invented the term.)