JCL Blog

Borker is a Bad Guy - Is This News?

The mainstream media, lead by the venerable brand of the New York Times, and new media are all abuzz about a bad person on the Internet.  There have always been bad people on the Internet, and Borker is hardly the worst.  There are bad people in the offline world too.  This is not news.

The most disappointing thing in all of this is that the editor at the NY Times did not do what an editor should have done and said:

If you only have one person to site, it is not fair to draw the generalization that Google's search results can be gamed by bad people inflaming customers with their bad behavior.


You cannot do a story about Google if you do not have a response from Google.  The whole article is about Google.

I hope the next time the New York Times gets a story like this the editor stops it and tells the reporter to go get a job in the tabloids.

I have not put links in this story on purpose.  If you have somehow missed this whole episode, consider yourself lucky.

NY Times One Liners

There are just too many good one line quotes in the New York Times today.  Here are my favorites with links to the articles:

Dowd:  "W. never sweated the small stuff. Unfortunately, he didn’t much sweat the big stuff either." Article.

Friedman: "we won the lottery five times in a row — and that’s just the attempts we know about. " Article.

Rich:  "It means that Obama can make a comeback, but only if he figures out what he has to come back from and where he has to go." Article.

Kristof: "From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent." Article.

Lohr:  "I.B.M. and Apple can be viewed as the yin and the yang of high-tech innovation, as two companies with more in common than is generally understood."  Article.

Moss:  "And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture..."  Article

Happy reading.

Anonymous Sources: The NY Times Encourages Bad Behavior

Is it just me or is the use of unnamed anonymous sources increasing?  I guess it is not so much the fact that their names are withheld, but that the circumstances surrounding their wish for anonymity are freely disclosed and problematic.  The type I find the most disturbing are the direct references to sources who acknowledge breaching other legal agreements to which they have freely entered into.  

Here is an example from today's NY Times:

One person at the Department of Justice, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the situation publicly, said that the...

A person from the Department of Justice no less!  Either the person is authorized or not.  This is not a case where we need a whistle blower inside the Department of Justice.  The subject of the article is Google and it is not even about a conflict inside the Justice Department about how to handle the issue.

Here is a link to the official NY Times policy about anonymous sources.  Where the paper acknowledges that people may be skeptical of anonymous sources:

In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading

True, but a how about the readers who think the NY Times is encouraging people to violate, participating in the violation of, or portraying as acceptable the violation of other legal obligations.

Here is a post to the NY Times Freakonomics Blog about the matter where Ian Ayres exposes the paper's role in the misappropriation of other people's property.

But newspapers routinely grant anonymity to employees who misappropriate employer information. Often times these grants are given to sources who could be legitimately fired or disciplined for violating their fiduciary duty to their employer. The sources who steal — I mean misappropriate — employer information aren’t willing to directly disclose because they know they could be fired for the disclosure.

Here is a post to the NY Times Bits blog where a source is quoted in violation of a non disclosure agreement.

A senior editor of a major magazine publishing empire working on an internal corporate project, and speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a nondisclosure agreement, told me...

Sure, the non disclosure agreement may have said that you can disclose this sensitive and proprietary information to the press but just not with your name attached, but I have never seen an NDA like that.  

Here is a post from the NY Times public editor about this from a year ago.  There is no mention of this business of encouraging people to break other legal agreements where there is clearly no societal greater good to be gained.

The New York Times and other leading papers should stop this practice.  Not only is the Times turning itself into a publisher of press releases by doing so, but they are reinforcing a growing societal norm that fiduciary responsibility or non disclosure agreements have no weight or meaning.

My Current Thinking About Wall Street

After thinking and reading about this issue for some months now I have settled on the following set of conclusions:

  •  The stakes are very high so we can expect the financial sector to continue to attract the smartest, most self assured, and most self centered people.
  • Knowing that the participants are motivated almost entirely by personal gain, it is probably not fair to call them corrupt -- until they take positions in government.  Yesterday's action by the SEC vs Goldman Sachs puts an interesting twist on this one.
  • The relative size of the finance and insurance industries to the rest of our economy is an important macro measure of economic health.  Finance and insurance certainly must be in the single digits, and 5% would be a good goal.

 Other Reading

Krugman in March 2009

NY Times this week about potential reforms

NY Times today about SEC vs Goldman Sachs

Why We Need Editors

The first time I saw it I thought it was one of those funny flukey things that just happens every so often.  Then I came back the next day and it was still there!  The number 1 most emailed article on the New York Times web site was about how much detergent to put in your dishwasher.  It is a good thing we are not in charge of picking the stories that go above the fold.  Digg does a better job but not by much.  Their top 3 today are:

Let's hope that as we recreate the news business we figure avoid crowd sourcing the selection of the most meaningful content.

New York Times Death Watch

I love the New York Times.  It has been my newspaper of choice for many years.  I used to pay $50 per month for 7 days a week home delivery, but in the past few years my travel schedule caused me to cut my subscription to Sundays only which is $30 per month.   For a while I also read it on my Kindle for $13 a month (in addition).  But when I broke my Kindle I had to cancel that.  I was crazy enough to buy one of those, but not two.  I also love the NY Times Reader – which is free to all subscribers.

All of this is to say that when the NY Times puts up its paywall in 2011 – I will clearly pay whatever it costs.   However, the increased revenue from me and others NY Times fans like me will not save the paper and the decline will start.  The only question is how long it will take for them to reverse the policy – I for one cannot imagine them riding the thing all of the way into the ground.

The big question for me is will they ride it down far enough to lose the columnists.  Here is the sequence of events that I see:

1)      Paywall up (now to include the NY Times Bloggers too):  Sometime in 2011.

2)      Readership down, revenues up:  Hard to dispute this, there is no way a paywall will increase readership and it will generate some revenue.

3)      Print readership down, online readership down:  There is no way the paywall will cause me to go back to daily delivery of the print edition – and if they are not getting it from me, they are not getting it from anyone.  At the same time everyone who now links to stories will stop doing that because they don’t want to send their readers to a subscription page.  I never link to WSJ stories for this reason.

4)      Advertising revenue down:  As soon as the advertisers realize they are reaching fewer people, they will stop advertising, or stop paying as much to advertise.

5)      Columnists defect:  To me the NY Times is Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, and sometimes Frank Rich – who knows why he gets twice the column inches of the others – but that is a story for another day.  Columnists want to be in the conversation.  Once behind the paywall they will be removed from the debate.  The times will have even less money so even if the columnists would stay for more money, the NY Times will not be able to pay it.

6)      Columnists go, I go.

The timing of this will be very interesting.  Who knows what contractual obligations the columnists have, but if I were the publisher of the Post, or the LA Times, or any other paper, I would be talking to these incredible assets right now – and they probably are.