How Many Days Does It Take a New York Times Reporter to Get Five Usable Quotes From a Flailing Mogul?

Three! That's how many days Times reporter Geraldine Fabrikant—one half of the duo behind today's sympathy-for-the-rich piece about the decline of the super-wealthy—spent hanging out in New Mexico with deflated multimillionaire John McAfee. Why are newspapers dying, again?

The Times story was a wide-angle look at the effect of the recession on extremely rich people, gathering data, analysis from experts, and anecdotes to make the rather obvious case that when the stock market crashes, rich people lose money, and that when rich people lose money, they have less of it to spend. The human side of the story is represented by McAfee, a software entrepreneur who dramatically downsized his lavish spending in the wake of the crash.

McAfee's tale was an important thread to the story, but it was by no means a profile. He was merely used to illustrate their larger point—he was quoted five times in the 2,800-word piece. Which is why we were astonished to read, in McAfee's response to the many commenters on the Times' Economix blog who were critical of his woe-is-me posturing, that Fabrikant spent three days with him in New Mexico:

Much of what Geraldine and I discussed during her three days in New Mexico and numerous phone calls did not make it into the story, most specifically: my attitude toward my own actions.

That's three days of expense-account hotels, expense-account meals, expense-account rental cars, all in order to get five quotes. We know that the quotes-to-days metric is overly reductive, but it's not like the story is chock full of highly textured and nuanced descriptions of things that you had to be there to see. There are many good reasons that newspapers have enormous newsgathering costs. This is not one of them.