Ombudsmen, the Internal Affairs officers of journalism, should be feared and respected—but mostly: feared—by their respective publications. It's their job. The New York Times' Clark Hoyt? Quickly going soft. The Washington Post's Andrew Alexander? Pussywhipped. What's happening here?
Clark Hoyt: we had a special thing going. You backhanded nonsense at the Times utilizing the casual ease most people tie their shoes with. Your August smackdown of Styles snob Cintra Wilson was inspired. Your September chin-check of shady con columnist David Pogue was brutal. July's hard-hitting breakthrough investigation of the Times' Weddings section changed the game, especially when you told their snobby, elitist "we hate The Poors" readers to shove it up their ass. And the Alessandra Stanley piece gave me a nosebleed just from reading it.
So: Why hasn't Hoyt pumped the gat since September? Granted, these are tough times for the Times, who—facing buyout after buyout of their best talent, and bleeding cash—generally: not doing so great lately. Morale's gotta be low. But there've been plenty of good chances for Hoyt to go to town.
One that comes to mind: when travel and Critical Shopper writer Mike Albo, one of the Times best bylines, was fired for going on a junket back in October. NYTPicker pointed out that Sleazy Tech Writer David Pogue probably broke a few Times rules around that time, and skulls were decidedly not cracked, while Hoyt kept his head low. And he's back again today to take to task two easy, soft targets: the Times' Complaint Box and T Magazine's conflicts of interest. It boils down to this:
1. The Complaint Box is supposed to be a Metro-esque feature for New Yorkers about issues that effect them.
2. The Complaint Box has mostly been filed by Times writers (or paid writers in general), stripping the utilitarianism from the feature.
3. The Complaint Box, in addition to being impressively self-serving, is being abused by Ethics-violating Times writers.
So, it's not just about Times writers who don't want you to piss on their trees, it's about Times writers who would like JetBlue to apologize for putting a kink in their travel plans, and it's also about Times writers who would like police officers to apologize for ticketing them. Hoyt points out Charles Delafuente, an NYT copy editor who "missed a JetBlue flight from Newark through a set of circumstances that so upset him he took the airline to small claims court, eventually settling for a partial refund." And then: wrote about it in the Complain Box.
Forget the fact that he arrived to the airport with half an hour to get to his flight. He works for the Times. Power to the...people? How 'bout this one?
After Richard Sandomir, a Times sports writer, got a parking ticket in Queens while he was going for change for the meter, he took to Complaint Box, even naming the officer. Sandomir, who describes himself as "a serial complainer," said he saw nothing wrong with it because he did not use his connection with The Times while arguing with the officer or in court, where he lost his case.
Hoyt's final target for the day is T Magazine freelance writer Suzy Buckley, who shimmied by her editor a plug of her boyfriend's Miami burger joint in a travel piece for T, in addition to having taken junkets before, which is forbidden by the Times. If you've taken a junket—and most travel writers have, because travel magazines are going out of business, and can't afford to expense high-end trips—you can't write for the Times.
Hoyt bats the three of them around, doesn't bring up Albo by name, gives a wristslap to the guilty editor of T, and ends with this:
Strapped publications no longer have travel budgets, [Buckley] said, so they let writers accept junkets, which does not mean they have to be compromised. I have sympathy for Buckley, but The Times is right to stick to the rules, and George Gustines, the managing editor of T...said he intends to tighten enforcement.
In the end, there is a bright line here. Journalists cannot use the power of The Times, or any newspaper, for what can be construed as personal purposes. It is simply wrong to look as if you are getting even with a company, or writing a plug for family or friends.
A swing and a miss. (1) The Times will make exceptions, (2) Albo was fired for this exact stuff, and it was ugly, (3) by only hiring writers who've never taken a junket, they're losing good writers and wasting money forcing themselves to expense travel stories.
Money. Which is something the Times should probably hang on to. Like their good writers they're firing who violate outdated ethics rules. As opposed to their star writers who they keep after violating ever-relevant ethics rules.
Then again, 'could be worse. Hoyt could be the Washington Post's Andrew Alexander, who tries apologizing for a Post editor that "corrected" a story identifying Public Enemy's "911 Is a Joke" as about 9/11. How? By quoting the writer whose piece was mistakenly edited, whose subsequent piece about the undeserved backlash she received was rejected for print by the Post. And that's it.
No castigating of the rejection of the piece, no taking-to-task of ignorant editors, just quotes and a soft apology from the mistaken copy-editor, which damaged the writer of the piece's rep, aside from what could've been considerable emotional damage from the hate mail something like that—especially from an African American hip hop writer—could accrue.
The error was made by veteran Post copy editor Maria Henriques. "As with any correction, I'm very sorry about it," she said.
And that's what writer Akeya Dickson gets to remember the incident by. Oh. And:
Just because newspapers are in trouble doesn't mean ombudsmen can't do, you know, their job. Instead, Andrew Alexander reads like the Washington Post's tepid Mickey Mouse, and Hoyt's filing on softball problems at the Times when we know he can hit a hard pitch. Actually, it's kinda funny: newspapers that can't report on "911 Is a Joke" correctly, when their own cops are becoming jokes in and of themselves. That's irony, right?
For the record, the song sounds like this: