Media reporters are missing the story of NYT buyouts, BuzzFeed editor argues

BuzzFeed | Capital

"There's been no real glimpse inside the newsroom, no sense of what the rank and file are feeling, no temperature-taking," Doree Shafrir writes in a critique of coverage of the New York Times buyouts. Shafrir sees plenty of coverage of buyout-takers, but not enough about the crucible in which their departures were forged. It's a piece of long-overdue media criticism criticism.

Media reporting has itself changed: The pressure to be first has only gotten more intense, and often that breaking of news, particularly in media, is taking place on Twitter. And for a young reporter, what used to be the rewards of the media beat — getting to know everyone in media very quickly, often because they're calling you up to yell at you, and then gaining their respect, and then eventually moving on — seem less vital in the age of the at-reply.

Joe Pompeo writes about working alongside Shafrir at The New York Observer:

Back then...there were three editors for the media columns (Capital co-founder Tom McGeveran—who also happens to be editing this post—Alexandra Jacobs, and Hillary Frey); a separate media editor for the web (Matt Haber) who also blogged all day long as well as writing features; a print media reporter (John Koblin); a TV news reporter (Felix Gillette); a digital-media reporter (Gillian Reagan, now Capital's public editor); a publishing reporter (Leon Neyfakh); other general reporters like Shafrir who would contribute media coverage when needed or when they had a great story idea; and a small army of interns who could usually be counted on to do news briefs or buttonhole media figures at events when Koblin's Off the Record column, Haber's blog or The Transom had a hole to fill.

That glorious headcount may have vanished (much in the same way as the Observer's last few editors) but both Shafrir and Pompeo land delicately on what the problem with this profession may be: Not so much fewer reporters, but perhaps fewer editors pushing us to make sense of the string we're jostling one another to gather, publish and tweet first.

The competition to get a Marty Baron memo up first is intense -- believe me -- but there's a lot more oxygen available to anyone who wants to engage in the kind of Kremlinology that helps readers understand the plates moving below the fault lines out of which personnel moves and business strategies erupt.

That job has been outsourced to media critics who can take a high-altitude view, like Jack Shafer and David Carr -- and Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who in explaining what some of the Times' departing editors did at the paper provided a solid, navel-gazing look at what their exits might mean to the paper. She weaves a quote from an extremely iterative Poynter blog post into a narrative about what's happening at the paper, a publication that -- if traffic numbers and Twitter mentions are any indication -- has an outsized hold on the attention spans of this blog's readers.

Sullivan's account is an internal one, so it probably wouldn't satisfy Shafrir's longing for more independent reporting, but as Pompeo reports, social media has made some Times employees media reporters, too (here's a picture of Jim Roberts' boots at that party, for instance): "One wonders if the teary newsroom scene isn't a better Storify than an Observer piece for the front page, the following Wednesday," he writes.

How we cover media now may reflect news coverage at large: There's a huge incentive to break news and much less incentive to follow. Which is a story best left to media reporters jawing on Twitter:

Previously: New York Times begins goodbyes to departing staffers | New York Times departures continue | Jill Abramson to staff: ‘We had to layoff far fewer people than we anticipated’ | New York Times’ Pilhofer: ‘There’s a lot of institutional memory walking out the door’ | Abramson: Layoffs may follow if buyouts don’t ‘reach the savings we need’
  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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