This afternoon, in a scene plucked from one of my work-related anxiety dreams, New York Times reporters Nick Corasaniti, Maggie Haberman, and Thomas Kaplan pitched stories to politics editor Carolyn Ryan on Facebook Live while thousands of people watched it happen.
It’s a testament to how game these reporters are that when, at about one minute and 35 seconds in, Ryan says (in front of thousands of viewers), “I’m just not feeling it” about Corasaniti’s idea for a story about political advertising, the reporter does not slap himself in the face and say, “I’m just dreaming this. If I know I’m dreaming, I will wake up.”
This is all to say that streaming a pitch meeting on Facebook Live is a decently brave move, especially since half-baked story ideas that haven’t been subject to fact-checking or strenuous research are a pillar of pitch meetings. It’s customary in pitch meetings for editors to ask follow-up questions of writers to suss out whether the stories they’re pitching have legs, and we see that happen in this video. About four minutes into the live stream, Haberman and Kaplan pitch a story about the possibility of a third-party candidate for president, Gary Johnson, and his likely VP choice, Bill Weld. Weld, Haberman opines, might make a third-party ticket more palatable for voters, but he’s a bit of a loose cannon who said some things to Haberman that she calls “intense.”
Ryan wants an example. “He ‘hears the glass crunching on Kristallnacht’ when he thinks about Trump rounding up 11 million immigrants and deporting them,” says Haberman. Ryan asks if that was on the record and Haberman says, yes, “Not only on the record, but unsolicited.”
Ok, but what if the answer had been no? What if that hadn’t been on the record, and the Times published it anyway, in the form of a Facebook Live video?
Haberman goes on to paraphrase a few quotes from sources, which is something the Times would never openly allow in a reported piece. The problem here is that Facebook is, of course, a media platform, and this video is reporting whether the Times sees it that way or not.
One of two things is going on here. Either the Times didn’t think this through, since pitches are never as airtight as the reported stories that result from them are, and the Times risked accidentally broadcasting incorrect or off-the-record information—or we’re not really watching a pitch meeting.
We get the answer pretty quickly. At about 3 minutes, 57 seconds, Ryan asks Corasiniti, of that same story about political advertising, “Has this story been edited?” He answers that yes, it has, and it’s with the copy department and will be ready to go in the next two hours or so. These are stories that seem, basically, as though they’re already done.
And indeed, Haberman and Kaplan’s article on Weld went live on the Times website basically around the time the live stream began. Maybe that’s why the whole exchange feels a little, well, rehearsed. What we’re seeing here isn’t writers pitching fresh ideas to their editors, but the Times pitching us the idea of watching writers pitch their editors.
Oh, what was that? What’s the second problem? Oh, right. The second problem is that it’s boring.