Remember Mike Albo? He's the freelancer who broke The New York Times' convoluted travel writer rules and had his column axed. Now, Mary Tripsas, who pens the Times' "Prototype" column, has made a similar misstep. Will she be fired, too?
In today's column, Tripsas waxes ecstatic about about the 3M Company's "innovation center," which helps their customers provide input in the design process. Cool! Except NYTPicker has learned that Tripsas and other "innovation researchers" were flown to the center last month—airfare and accommodations gratis. Imagine the infamous Thrillist junket with less booze and more whiteboards.
This is not kosher with Times freelancer rules, which state:
In connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources.
Clearly, 3M was a "potential news source" at the time they flew Tripsas out to their Innovation Chocolate Factory, since they became a current news source in today's column. But Tripsas, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School, is trying to work the "In connection with their work for us" clause into a loophole, according to NYTPicker:
"I am a professor who does research on innovation and, in fact 3M was not aware of my recent NYT affiliation when they invited me," Prof. Tripsas told The NYTPicker via email. "As a professor, I am sometimes invited to speak to companies about innovation, and it is not unusual for the company to reimburse travel expenses, so 3M did pay for my hotel and airfare. I did not inform the New York Times of that since I viewed the visit as a speaking engagement that was part of my broader academic research. "
See, it had nothing to do with the Times!
Even giving Tripsas the benefit of the doubt in assuming that 3M—a company at the forefront of corporate innovation—didn't know she wrote a column in the Times about corporate innovation, it's hard to believe that her 3M piece was in no way inspired by her tour of 3M. Unless 3M is so innovative as to have devised a memory-erasing machine which allowed Tripsas to forget everything she witnessed that day. (Which, they ought to roll that out right now for all the people who made the mistake of seeing "Sherlock Holmes.")
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.
It's pretty easy to see the tit-for-tat that "could be construed" from Tripsas columnar 3M lovefest coming right after her 3M junket.
Granted, the Times freelancer rules are so complicated even Times editors misunderstood them. But after finally figuring out which rules he broke, the Times came down hard on Mike Albo, the impoverished travel writer who just wanted to hang out in Jamaica and have a personal butler and free booze all paid for by JetBlue.
If the Times doesn't axe Tripsas' column we are blaming two things:
1) Tripsas' fancy job at Harvard.
2) Times editors being a bunch of hypocritical hypocrites.
REMEMBER MIKE ALBO:
(Mike Albo Memorial T-Shirt™ Courtesy of Foster E. Kamer)