Friday Mailbag: Photos, Corrections, Raids and Notebooks

Should The Times have run a gruesome photo of a woman injured in the London terror attack? And did a video of a drug raid need to be set to autoplay?

Comments: 49

  1. At first I was surprised that no reporter was sent to the St. Patrick's Day parade. But I guess it would have been a waste of his time considering that the New York section keeps shrinking, so there'd be no room for a story. Just as there seems to be no room to cover the ever unfolding shenanigans in Albany. (See Frederic U. Dicker's Twitter feed if you want a sense of what is going on up there.)
    Now the space is even smaller since the editors moved the daily Corrections column from Page 2 to hide out in the back of the paper in the metro section, gobbling up even more space.
    PS:Regarding the Massey piece, the paper should have acknowledged they had no one at the parade even though they made the point of commenting on someone who WAS there.

  2. While acknowledging reader's views, the end result is always the same. The NYT sticks by its original plan of reporting. All in all, adding more insult to the way readers are treated.

    I specifically agree with Sam in Nassau's p.s. regarding a Times reporter commenting on a political candidate's (Mayoral hopeful Paul Massey) demeanor at an event not even attended by Times reporters. Just disgraceful.

  3. Autoplay can be disabled in Chrome, Firefox, Safari and probably Windows, which I don't use.

    Check Settings, or find extensions to turn it off.

  4. TA: "Check Settings, or find extensions to turn it off."

    In Firefox, it's not that simple. Start with a web search for "disable autoplay firefox".

    More to the point, the Times should not be forcing users to work around the Times's own stupid user interface decisions. A newspaper web site should NEVER have videos that autoplay.

  5. Actually, Chrome's most recent update (55) removed the old way to disable autoplay using settings.

  6. Chrome only blocks autoplay for technologies that Chrome recognizes.

    There are a number of video technologies that get past Chrome's controlled.

  7. Sorry, I meant that comment for your other post today.

    Will re-post it.

  8. Sorry, this was the right place. Excuse my haste.

  9. PE: "That’s a helpful definition of the Notebook, and an ideal category ..."

    Corbett should write a glossary and ensure that articles have links to the definitions. The definitions should also be added to the stylebook.

    BTW, the article's metadata says that the article is "news":

    genre News
    tone news

    And the metadata says that "Diplomatic Notebook" is the "column-name".

    Technical details from the web page source:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/world/asia/rex-tillerson-media-access...

  10. For Corbet, it seemed, standards are fungible, to be reinterpreted on the whim of the day.

    It is also ironic that the Masthead Editor for Standards rarele gives Ms, Spayed a straight answer, preferring instead to give a wandering, remarkably bureaucratic and "nuanced" that leaves the reader in a greater fog Tha before.

    If the Times isn't willing to live by the standards they set for themselves, hey could save a fair chunk of change by doing away with them and the somewhat meaningless postion of Masthead Editor to standards.

  11. PE: "That’s a helpful definition of the Notebook, and an ideal category ..."

    Corbett should write a glossary and ensure that articles have links to the definitions. The definitions should also be added to the stylebook.

    BTW, the article's metadata says that the article is "news":

    genre News
    tone news

    And the metadata says that "Diplomatic Notebook" is the "column-name".

    Technical details from the web page source:

    meta name="genre" itemprop="genre" content="News"
    meta name="tone" content="news" id="article-tone"
    meta name="col" content="Diplomatic Notebook" id="column-name"

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/world/asia/rex-tillerson-media-access...

  12. I'm glad that the exec. director Gauss is willing to admit that autoplaying video is viewed as a "powerful promotional tool". I disagree, however with both Gauss and Spayd when they claim that the video was an essential part of the story. For those remaining readers who are fully literate, the text was perfectly adequate. Furthermore, it seems to me that whoever has made the policy that autoplaying video is at any time acceptable is also a promotional tool.

  13. Good one, Jim!

  14. The public editor (or is ih her assistant Evan Gershkovich? It's not clear what input Liz Spayd actually has in this Friday column) once again brings up a graphic photograph in The Times. But Spayd has objected to graphic photos in the past, and Times readers have explained to her why they are often important to the public's understanding of events. One of the most important photographs in history was that of a young Vietnamese girl running naked down a path, her clothes having been burned off by napalm dropped by an American bomber, and her skin terribly burned. That photo helped galvanize public opposition to the war.

    But according to Spayd, such photos shouldn't be permitted in The Times if they are "particularly gruesome." Sometimes, Ms Spayd, events are "particularly gruesome," and the public needs to see it to understand it.

    You need to understand that.

  15. Sean: "... It's not clear what input Liz Spayd actually has in this Friday column) ..."

    It's clear to me. The paragraphs beginning with "The public editor’s take:" are obviously the PE's contributions. Presumably, the PE could suggest or spike a topic, but why would that matter? Most journalism is collaborative anyway.

  16. I find the Public Editor's role in the Friday column murky, as well. Apparently Mr. Gershkovich "surfaces" feedback that has come in. Whatever that means. It gives me no pleasure to become the curmudgeon who complains of word usage in the Times, but for the love of God, please don't adopt corporate-speech. Surface" is not a transitive verb!

    Also, knock it off with the auto-play. This isn't 1995. Whatever the motivation, whatever the topic, auto-play is simply obnoxious.

  17. AAM: 'Surface" is not a transitive verb!'

    Yes it is: "The workers surfaced the road with asphalt."

    As for your intended point, the transitive use of "surface" in the sense to which you object is documented in the American Heritage Dictionary:

    "surface: v.tr. ... 3. To make known; expose or reveal: 'the first news report that surfaced the allegations'."
    https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=surface

    And here is the Times using "surface" in that sense:

    "We’ll share can’t-miss Times stories from the week and surface some gems you might have overlooked."

    17 Great Stories That Have Nothing to Do With Politics
    By ANNA DUBENKO and MICHELLE L. DOZOIS
    MARCH 24, 2017
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/briefing/new-cloud-type-chuck-berry-j...

  18. It seems to me that a better label can and should be found for the genre "Diplomatic Notebook" or "Reporter's Notebook". Something along the lines of "Reporter's Analysis" or 'Reporter's Take". Those would also give more accurate credit to a reporter like David Sanger who indeed has deep knowledge of his subject area. I just went back and reread this particular article. It seems to me less of an Op Ed per se and somewhat akin to the articles we see in the Health or Science sections reporting the generally accepted research findings with various experts quoted supporting (or sometimes questioning) the thesis presented.

  19. One has to question whether the Public Editor's office is truly reflecting the concerns of readers contacting her office in this "Friday Mailbag" column. Once again, see Spayd's conservative bias showing through in the issues she chooses to highlight. One issue she deals with is the negative light shown by The Times on the likely conservative Republican candidate for mayor of New York. Another is a critical column on Trump's secretary of state Rex Tillerson's attempts to leave the press corps behind when he traveled to Asia; it was a major break with practices of decades.

    What is not dealt with in this column is pointed criticism of her by many readers and the highly respected media watchdog Media Matters of her playing into the hands of right-wing racist provocateurs. What is left out is any follow-up to the revelation of The Times' plans to change the appearance of The Times based on "individual preferences" of readers. Though Spayd published a response by a Times executive on this, there was not a word advocating for readers who vociferously objected to the plan.

    This "Friday Mailbag" column appears to reveal Spayd's practice of ignoring major complaints by readers in favor of narrow issues that the public editor's narrow concerns. If that's the case, it represents a betrayal of the fundamental concept of how the public editor is supposed to function.

  20. I can see why the liberal can't agree with Ms. Spayed remark on the Republican candidate an Sec of State Tillerson's remarks about the press. If it isn't a full-time, throated condemnation, it isn't​ acceptable​.

    However, I think her marks were factually correct and a reasonable assessment of the situations as they evolved.

    The article was seriously​ flawed factually
    and of the misleading nature that has seemed to have infected the Times coverage of those with whom they disagree.

  21. "Though Spayd published a response by a Times executive on this, there was not a word advocating for readers who vociferously objected to the plan."

    Yes, it was framed as "question and answer." I wasn't one of the ones objecting vociferously to the "personalization" thing, but I did object to the usual patronizing way the objections were handled. Spayd basically said, "Oh, you have questions? Wait a moment, I'll go get one of the executives to explain it to you." Very depressing.

  22. Owl, I am no fan of the Sanger article on Tillerson, which I view as a opinion piece on the front page, but please fill in specifics of how "it was flawed factually."
    What Sanger failed to state explicitly, but should have, is that without using the American press, the Secretary of State is abdicating the narrative to the foreign press, which is a seriously flawed stategy.
    This is actually of a part with the Trump administration showing marked preference for fringe advocacy sites calling themselves news outlets. If he is going to limit himself to one member of the press, why not pick the State Department beat writer from the Wall Street Journal? Doubtless he has connections there.
    But Sanger couldn't get through the piece without anonymous sourcing, of course.
    "As a senior South Korean official told me after Mr. Tillerson’s meeting, 'there are South Korean politicians'- including one or two who could become president after a snap election next month — 'who may find the Chinese approach preferable to the risk of a conflict.'"
    I am no fan of "notebooks" or "news analysis" as a convenient rubric by which the Times plants reportorial opinion on page 1, instead of on the opinion page. This kind of article would be much more appropriate as part of "The Sunday Review." Spayd gives predictably weak criticism. There are very few readers sharply cognizant of those oblique headers. And didn't Andy Rosenthal insist to Times Insider that there is an absolute separation of news & opinion?

  23. I suppose the shocked--shocked!--posters never look at the tens of thousands of shell-shocked refugees in bombed-out cities. Such hypocrscy! This is NEWS. This is the WORLD! THIS IS REALITY!
    This reminds one of a Jane Austin time.

  24. I have to agree with this. The outrage occurs when the victim whose face is shown (or who is otherwise identifiable) is usually when the person is white and western in appearance, and Times readers can picture themselves aghast at seeing the image of their mother or sister or brother lying bloodied on the ground. When it's photos of brown skinned people (refugees, victims of military conflicts or natural disasters), it's usually accepted as "depicting the horrors of war" or "necessary for people to understand" the terrible situation.

  25. The attack was news. It's perfectly legitimate to show the graphic photos. As for the woman's dignity, I wouldn't speculate on what she was thinking, but that may have been the last thing on her mind at the moment. What purpose is served by blurring her identity? That would be the illegitimate editing of an important news photo. Perhaps taking a picture at a different angle to avoid showing her face would be a solution, if that were possible. If she were dead and her relatives had not been notified, that might be a different story, and she might have died later, but that's not something that can be determined in the heat of the moment. It's an important story that illuminates something about the world that we must know, and it must be publicized, graphic details and all. Countless photos have shown, and won prizes for, the dead of war, people leaping from windows, terrorist attacks and such. You can argue about the public's right to know, but there's no disputing the public's need to know.

    Having said that, I do object to some wording, in the headline and this post. When I worked in newsrooms, which was long before modern life and media became so vulgar, editors admonished me on such stories never to use terms like "mowed down" or "plowed through." They're human beings, not fields or machine-gun targets.

  26. Can't quite agree with your last point ... phrases like "mowed down" or "plowed through" are used precisely BECAUSE the human beings in question are being treated like they were fields or something else not-human.

  27. I wish the Times allowed you to disable autoplay permanently -- I often open several articles from the homepage into separate tabs, and it's very jarring to have several videos start playing at once. Not to mention that I'm often in a situation where I don't want to listen to audio--either at work, in public, or at home. I have zero interest in watching videos ever, and I wish the Times would focus on the actual articles.

  28. The mark of the truly desperate website is anything playing automatically whenever someone links to it. This tells me that the website operators have no idea if they'll be working there in six months, and many of the places I noticed doing this are indeed gone already.
    The news that the coastal progressive old-media is economically unsteady is the oldest tech news of all, right after ''Mr. Ford wants all of these painted black.''

  29. Perfectly stated. Unfortunately, recent discussions here suggest that the NYTimes is proceeding with autoplay. Marketers probably want to chase an audience of smartphone readers who have an attention span of aboug 5 seconds.

  30. Autoplay elements are fine as long as the reader has the option to turn them off.

    This is one element of the "pushing" of the news that I would like to see banned by the Times.

    There are those of us in the world who have health issues with flickering images with flickering images in our peripheral vision. The reactions can be uncomfortable and, potentially, serious and debilitating.

    I remind the Times and their technical gurus that the Times is a newspaper, not a pop or rock concert.

    As for the photo selection issue, the pay answer of a "robust discussion" to ever issue that the Public Editor brings to senior staff has become both trite and suspicious.

    What do they really mean when they use those self-serving bring buzz words.?

    And why does the Public Editor allow them to hide behind the term so often?

  31. Every week, this is a harder exercise. It is astonishing how little Times' management, & its alleged readers' representative, understand/give credence to Times' readers & their concerns.
    Nancy Gauss rationalizes autoplay on SWAT raids because "we want to lead with our best material." This right after she praised longtime Timesman Kevin Sack. Holy cognitive dissonance, Batman! I'm a longtime admirer of Sack's work, and so must be the masthead (un)worthies, or they wouldn't have given him such a consequential long form piece, right? But Gauss seems to think that their best material is a video? Way to carelessly disparage a veteran reporter, Nancy. Further, she's wrong. I did not watch the video, & the piece stood well on Sack's words alone. But here is a higher up in Times management trying to rationalize forcing video on its READERS. If your best material is video, perhaps you should be in television rather than newspapers? It is becoming a recurring theme that the Times seeks to arrogantly decide what readers want or need, all feedback to the contrary notwithstanding.
    Then there was the picture if the woman injured in the London terrorist attack. This has been bandied about here before. While I do come down on the side of publishing, I am shocked & dismayed by Spayd's clumsy word choice:
    "This image was particularly gruesome because the woman’s face, tilted toward the camera, made her plainly identifiable." Gruesome BECAUSE the woman was identifiable, not due to her injuries?

  32. Yeah, the editors' replies are usually just boiler-plate, blather. I'm sure they find it a tiresome exercise, dealing with Liz Spayd, and they just increasingly blow her off with prepackaged sound bites. This for instance:

    "Video is becoming an increasingly critical part of our news report. From the 2015 Paris terror attacks to this week’s deadly rampage in London, edited video can enhance our audience’s grasp of complex events. Our readers more clearly understand what we’re writing about if they see it themselves, especially when it is evidence of an event."

    What can one say to this, other than "No kidding? We get that that is why you publish videos."

    '"This image was particularly gruesome because the woman’s face, tilted toward the camera, made her plainly identifiable." Gruesome BECAUSE the woman was identifiable, not due to her injuries?'

    That's just that pesky editing problem again. A copy editor would have certainly pointed out to the author that no image is gruesome because a person's face is identifiable; that simply makes no sense. If you have this level of editing, you get authors to back up, slow down, and be sure they're saying just what they mean to say before the thing is rushed to press and someone (usually quite a number of someones) cries foul, threatens lawsuits, etc., and you have a lot less insult, offense, reputation for sloppiness, tactlessness, and worse.

  33. There were two gruesome photos from the London attack: the first one showed a person lying supine with legs apart while being attended to by EMTs and the second showed a person lying on his/her side in a pool of blood, presumably dead, with no apparent medical attention and police and others milling about. The photo showing the woman's face at least provided hope of another survivor.

    I eventually gave up on the online edition of The Times showing autoplay of the police raid. It reminded me too much of the awful story of the police in suburban Maryland who broke into a local official's home (wrongly suspecting him of being a drug dealer), treated the official and his wife abusively, and killed both of their dogs. The dogs were running AWAY from the police when they were shot. I know some people may feel who cares about dogs but it bothers me to read of animal abuse.

  34. I don't care what the story is. There should NEVER be autoplay on the landing site. You don't know where your readers are when they are accessing the site, and it may be someplace where the audio portion of the video is intrusive. It should be the reader's choice whether or not to view and hear the videos.

  35. Re "Reporter's Notebook," there are too many of these cute names, and they are too un-specific, for readers to be expected to keep track of exactly what they are trying to imply about the content of the piece. Please keep in mind most of us read more than one publication. I still have to wrack my brain to figure out what is "The Upshot," "First Draft," "Open," "Room for Debate," or dozens of other cryptic blog, opinion, and other sectional titles. Are we supposed to remember what the difference is between "Reporter's Notebook" and "Taking Note"? I shouldn't have to try to analyze what clever allusion the editors are trying to make before I even start reading the piece.

    (This became worse in recent years with the trend to use one-word titles: "Lens," "Open," "Well" ..." sorry but this is not intelligible.)

  36. Wendell Jamieson, the metro editor, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

    Yep. I certainly think that having the people who make the mistakes decide whether they were mistakes after all is a good way to go. Heck, it oughta give you lots of insight into Donald Trump's way of doing things.

  37. Read The Wired: "The Times Claws it's Way to the Future."
    This so clearly EXPLAINS why all of the changes are happening and wind go away, regardless of how many posts from readers bemoan the fact. You are beating a dead horse. The past Times is now a journalistic relic.

  38. You know they're desperate for rebuttal when they go to Phil "Like the Groundhog" Corbett, the "editor for standards" (a name that reminds me of the Ministry of Truth). Every time, he turns in a full throated defense of the times.

  39. Nancy Gauss, like a lot of the editors who write explanations of their choices, needs to lose the adjectives or at least find another word besides "powerful."

    And readers can decide if Sack's reporting is "powerful" or not. I feel like Gauss is trying to sell me undercoating for my car.

  40. '... another word besides "powerful."'

    Gauss used "powerful" three times and "autoplay" only once. That disparity confirms my impression that Gauss doesn't really care what readers think about autoplay.

  41. In the current version of Chrome, there is no standard setting that will disable autoplay. I went through all the layers of settings, and I did an extensive Google search. There is an extension that attempts to Disable HTML5 Autoplay but it has very mixed reviews. If someone knows a way to reliably disable the irritating autoplay junk on The Times website using Chrome, please post your method. Thanks!

  42. Autoplay can be set by its host to be optional and I think every news site to which I pay money should allow me, not some staffer, determine if and when I wish to observe the video. I cannot complain about the free news sites that insist on full-on autoplay for the free news I am hoping to read, but no excuse exists technologically for me not to have the choice on pay-wall sites. The companies to which I pay money owe me that.

  43. A recent article by the learned Peter Wehner on religion stirred fearful-sounding, angry responses from religion-haters who have the most immature concept of any possible Creator that I have yet seen.

    To read the more venomous comments, you are convinced that Allah/Buddha/Jesus/YHWH is only concerned with the comforts of people in this life. He/She is only there to heal sick folks or prevent hunger and no one dares even mention the possibility of a next life.
    The objects of these commenters' derision know that this is only the first act in a long story. But would the infuriated haters of all faiths suffer a debilitating medical event if forced to actually hear this timeline explained to them?

  44. I object to auto-play of video on your website and many others (including CNN). The choice should be mine, not yours.

  45. The editors who responded to Ms. Spayd (or Mr. Gershkovich) entirely missed the point of most complaints, and one wonders if was a deliberate form of obfuscation. The picture of the injured woman was offensive not because of her injuries but because the photographer, and those who bought his picture, invaded her privacy in the most blatant manner possible. Just look at the expression on her face -- if there was ever a "get away and leave me alone" plea this was one. The autoplay films increasingly used aren't there to "help readers understand" (most of us can read English prose, thank you) but to drag your attention away from reading something else. This the tactics of the clickbait site, and I for one wish the Times wouldn't turn their design over to the nasty little people who design those.

  46. Need shouldn't be sanitized.

  47. Neal: "... the photographer, and those who bought his picture, invaded her privacy in the most blatant manner possible."

    The photo credit says "Toby Melville/Reuters". Melville is a Reuters photographer who happened to be at the bridge that day:

    "Melville immediately phoned the emergency services and decided to go to nearby St Thomas's Hospital to alert doctors about the injured man. He climbed the steps to reach the bridge above, and that's when he saw other injured women lying on the pavement."

    Witnessing the London attack
    by Toby Melville
    https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/witnessing-the-london-attack
    (Caution: Graphic images of victims of a terrorist attack.)

  48. Clickbaiting is the misbegotten child of the public relations industry and the numbers racket operators.

  49. I my memory is correct there was a LIVE VIDEO
    brodcast from the Airport where family members of the Lockerbie
    Tragedy were informed that the flight had "fallen out of the sky"
    and there were no survivors.

    One lady collapsed from the news and began to wail.

    The News Camera drew in closer and caught every moment of her agony.

    I thought that was despicable and had I been at the Airport I would have
    done all I could to prevent the filming of such personal sorrow.

    I think the victims in London and elsewhere deserve their own private
    space from the Media and Cell Phones.

    It still does say: "All the News Fit to Print"

    On the New York Times Masthead.

    I would hope that was still true.