A Free Lesson on e-Publishing for The New York Times, And/Or: Things That Are Not News

23 Dec

I’m feeling generous & in the holiday spirit so let’s just say blogs – and best practices that evolved from them – didn’t achieve any real popularity until 2006.  Even if I temper my already low, low expectations from the MSM and specifically the New York Times, 4+ years is a LONG time to apparently be in the media business without picking-up on prevailing trends in that business, like in-line citation of source material, for example.  Whereas blogs and the more forward-thinking members of the 4th Estate understand that when you mention an article, like this one, you don’t link to your own site, you like to the article or website of the subject of said article.  The NYT has this really annoying, hypocritical habit of mentioning something or someone, yet the hyperlink goes not to the web presence of said thing/person, but to an internal index of articles on that topic/person.  Bloomberg does the same thing, but I don’t see them abuse it nearly as much as the NYT does, and let’s be honest, more often than not, Bloomberg has much better internal information than does the Grey Lady.

If we’re talking about computer programs that “read” text found in news and attempt to gauge sentiment and initiate trades based on that analysis, why not mention some of the products or talk about how this is hardly news?  I recall reading several articles over the past 5+ years on this subject, and Reuters has offered such services since at least 2007, as I learned with a 20-second google search.  Even if we’re to compare apples to apples (insofar as such a comparison is even possible with the NYT on one side), FT/Alphaville touched-upon this topic 11 months ago!  Putting aside how painfully the NYT coverage ignores their ignorance/laziness for a second, I want to look back at this particularly annoying paragraph from the NYT article that illustrates, quite clearly, just how badly the NYT just doesn’t get it, “it” being web-publishing best practices:

Tech-savvy traders have been scraping data out of new reports, press releases and corporate Web sites for years. But new, linguistics-based software goes well beyond that. News agencies like Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters have adopted the idea, offering services that supposedly help their Wall Street customers sift through news automatically.

The hyperlink for “Thomson Reuters” goes to http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/thomson-reuters-corporation/index.html?inline=nyt-org, which looks like this:

Perhaps this is a bad example, as that NYT page about Thomson Reuters is likely a decent resource for readers totally and ignorantly unfamiliar with one of the largest news and data providers on the planet…a faux pas for which there’s really little excuse, especially for anyone who’s ever visited Times Square in New York City…

Thomson Reuters, never heard of him...

The NYT (and other MSM business sections’) management inexplicably still has this mostly-deluded idea that they need to keep eyeballs within the nyt.com domain – and certainly never ever under ANY circumstances send eyeballs to competitors – at all costs, even if it means delivering an inferior product, in this case, an article that could have been made significantly better with a few hyperlinks pointing to other websites/articles.

This is not news, nor, unfortunately, is this the most egregious example of the NYT’s utter lack of understanding of how this whole internet thing works.  Remember this, when popular object of my scorn Gretchen Morgenson proclaimed that Greece’s troubles were caused by CDS instead of FX Swaps?.  Even worse, the link in her article on CDS pointed – no surprise – to NYT’s internal page “about Credit Default Swaps,” which even in an updated version, reads as if it was written by monkeys.  Honestly, linking to Wikipedia would be a significant improvement!  Like several orders of magnitude better!  (On a side note I have to thank Gretchen, because that is the most popular post on this website!)

The point is, ladies & gentlemen, that even lowly bloggers like myself understand that best practices dictate when you mention someone/something, you link to it.  Period.  This is a simple evolution of those annoying MLA (etc) documentation standards we were all forced to use growing-up, and the rationale is the same: if you say something, back it up.  This is ESPECIALLY true when the author is not a subject-matter expert (even tangentially), but a journalist, and the subject matter at hand isn’t common knowledge, as is the case here.

I find it painfully hypocritical that the NYT (and many of its employees who hold themselves in such high esteem) claim(s) to uphold the highest journalistic standards, yet routinely and consistently makes a mockery of them.  As several journalist friends/acquaintances are keen to remind me, not every reader or viewer is an expert; on the contrary, a significant number are closer to laymen than professionals, and thus articles & television segments are published/produced with that in mind.  Fine, but there is a vast and serious difference between “dumbing it down” to appeal to/inform a wider audience and speaking with authority without actually having any.

I’m certain defenders of traditional journalism, its standards, practices, and conventions will immediately reply that there are several experts quoted in the article.  Big freaking deal.  That isn’t good enough any more.  I can easily claim to and convince several journalists that I’m an expert in several fields with which I’m only moderately familiar.  If you want to establish someone as a subject matter expert, throw in a link to their website.  For example, this article quoted a man for whom I have the utmost respect but did him a disservice by introducing him poorly and incompletely and worse, not linking to his complete bio, which is – guess what – readily available here, on his website, where readers could – had the NYT linked to it – read about Roger’s qualifications and credibility instead of taking the NYT’s abridged word for it.

“It is an arms race,” said Roger Ehrenberg, managing partner at IA Ventures, an investment firm specializing in young companies, speaking of some of the new technologies that help traders identify events first and interpret them.

Ironically, there’s another arms race going on, and its between thick-headed traditional media types and those who adapt to a shifting landscape, who understand that old paradigms are dead or dying, who embrace the ability of the Web to help them (or us, I should say) better-inform readers than ever-before.  Some people get it*.  Alas, it appears not many of them have much sway at the New York Times.

*An curious phenomenon, considering the recent expansion of the Sorkin-edited Dealbook, which while far from perfect in respect to the issues discussed above, is far ahead of the “regular” articles on the NYT website.


2 Responses to “A Free Lesson on e-Publishing for The New York Times, And/Or: Things That Are Not News”

  1. panic_panic_ December 23, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    I understand where you’re coming from regarding the nod towards Sorkin – however, he’s (or rather his portion of NYT.COM) one of, if not the biggest offender in terms of the practices listed above.

    His team is constantly stealing data, HF letters, and overall financial gossip from DB, ZH, BI, and even fucking gawker. Most of the time, the data “he’s” pulling is never credited to its source.

    In short, I understand that you’re not explicitly discussing stolen content but rather efficient use of an electronic medium. What I will say, however, is that financial reporting is MOST beneficial when linking to secondary sources, particularly when the content has been blatantly stolen.

    • Anal_yst December 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

      Excellent point that I should have discussed in further depth, the footnote was just to acknowledge that while Dealbook snakes alot of stuff from other websites sans attribution, at least they link to outside sites sometimes. You’re right, the bad probably outweighs the good though…

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