What's in a handful of words?: On page A2 of this morning's hard-copy New York Times, senior news assistant Hannah Wulkan describes a meeting which was held this past spring.
A few years back, the New York Times' pages A2 and A3 were officially "reimagined." Page A2 became the page on which the Times attempts to persuade Times readers to be impressed with the Times.
Despite her title as senior assistant, Wulkan's a bit of a youngster. She prepped at Deerfield, then graduated from Brandeis in 2016.
On line, Wulkan's page A2 report appears at the Times Insider site. The report begins like this:
WULKAN (8/22/19): This spring, a group of editors sat in a white-walled conference room at The New York Times, throwing out ideas.A group of Times editors threw out ideas? History tells us that nothing good can come from such an event.
In yesterday morning's report, we reviewed the three pages of blather which resulted when politics editor Patrick Healy got an idea last spring. According to Wulkan, some Times insiders gathered at roughly the same time and began throwing out ideas!
What emerged from the editors' meeting? After all the ideas had been discarded, they ended up with this:
WULKAN (continuing directly): The 60th anniversary of the day that Hawaii became a state was coming up. The editors, part of a team that tells stories through The Times’s vast photo archive in a project called Past Tense, wanted to highlight images from across America.For reasons which go unexplained, the editors "wanted to find an interesting way" to tell a basically pointless anniversary story.
They also wanted to find an interesting way to tell the story.
If they ran a slide show, readers might lose interest after clicking through a few photographs. A long article with a running list of photos could lose readers well before they made it to Wyoming. They wanted it to be engaging.
Hawaii had been a state for almost sixty years? Stating the obvious, there was no reason to think that any reader would take much interest in this basically pointless fact.
Apparently understanding this point, the editors reportedly scrambled for ways keep readers from "losing interest."
Wulkan never explains why these Times insiders wanted to bother with this project at all. Eventually, though, they forged a plan, and the field hands fell to their labors:
WULKAN (continuing directly): The final idea, published this week, is a quiz that presents photos pulled from The Times’s archives from all 50 states and invites readers to identify each location. The project would take several months to complete and involve more than 20 people from around the newsroom.Finally, a New York Times "audience director" came up with a plan!
Each page of the quiz shows the photo alongside a question with clues, such as “A fleet of blimps rises over the Goodyear Airdock in this Midwestern state.” If readers spend a long time on the page, another hint, like “The state is also the birthplace of seven U.S. presidents and home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” flies into frame. Once the quiz-taker makes a guess, a paragraph with information about the photo and state appears.
“I wanted this to be a moment where readers in every single state can have a look back at their own history,” said Lauren Reddy, the audience director for special projects, who first suggested the quiz.
More than twenty hands from around the newsroom fell to work on the project; it took several months to complete. Here on our own spartan campus, idealistic young analysts roared as Reddy's plan was described.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Times subscribers would get to enjoy the massive great fun of a quiz! And so cool! If a reader spent too long on any one question, a hint would appear to help him or her out, supplementing some initial clues!
Audience, let's review:
According to Wulkan, more than twenty Times staffers worked on this photo quiz project. The project took months to complete.
As a result of those months of effort, the audience can now enjoy a quiz which features a photo from each of the fifty states. Having noted this fact, might we take a moment to discuss a project the New York Times hasn't yet undertaken?
Below, you see the remarkable OECD data we showed you yesterday afternoon. To date, editors haven't sat in a white-walled conference room, discussing ways to present and explore the remarkable state of affairs defined by these puzzling statistics:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018One of those numbers is not like the others. Where the heck is all that missing money going?
United States: $10,586
United Kingdom: $4070
(South) Korea: $3192
That missing money lies at the heart of our stagnant wages, our federal deficits and our failure to provide universal coverage. So where the heck is that money going? Is money being looted?
At the endlessly fatuous New York Times, editors and "audience directors" don't seem to care about that.
Editors sit in mahoganied rooms trying to devise amusing Hawaii-based photo quiz games. They assign their droogs to spend several months laboring on the project.
They fill three pages of the paper with analyses of the songs the top ten candidates play at their campaign events. They even create an astounding site where they help readers figure out how to select a book if the readers have decided that they want to read one.
This has been the culture of the New York Times forever. Years ago, on the Sunday before a White House election, editors even let their highest-profile columnist start a column like this, headline included:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel PrettyIt was the seventh column Dowd had built around Candidate Gore's imagined obsession with his troubling bald spot. This is the type of work which has come from the fatuous world of the Times.
I feel stunning
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .
O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.
If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour.
The fact that these events can take place in plain sight is an anthropological matter. It's a fact about the moral and intellectual horizons of our floundering, self-impressed species and our own self-impressed tribe.
On Monday, August 11, executive editor Dean Baquet held a New York Times staff meeting. As far as we know, Baquet is a thoroughly decent person. We'll quickly say that, in our view, he expressed some sound ideas at this meeting.
A transcript of this meeting leaked; you can review it here. During that meeting with his staff, Baquet discussed the appropriate journalistic use of certain familiar key words.
Setting aside the weighty yet amusing topic we'd originally planned to pursue, we'll review that discussion tomorrow.
Liar, racist, murder, slur? What's in a handful of words?
Tomorrow: What's in a handful of words?