Sunday, January 08, 2012

Front page ads hiding as news stories at the New York Times

The New York Times has now fully blurred its news reporting roles and its and its reporters' commercial forays into book publishing.

Some time ago, I raised this issue with regard to an advertisement for a Times book presented as an article about Bernard Madoff.

Now, we see it again.  A front page story by Times reporter Jodi Kantor about Michelle Obama contains this paragraph:

But interviews with more than 30 current and former aides, as well as some of the first couple’s closest friends, conducted for “The Obamas,” a new book, show that she has been an unrecognized force in her husband’s administration and that her story has been one first of struggle, then turnaround and greater fulfillment.
And, at the end of the article, we have this tag line:

This article was adapted from “The Obamas,” by Jodi Kantor, which will be published Tuesday by Little, Brown & Company.

Indeed, the whole article is just a teaser for the book, for it can scarcely be considered front page news.  Since when does a reporter get to publish a self-referential story based on his or her book?  Since when does a newspaper permit this kind of commercial use of a front page story, whether for its own profitability or that of its reporters?


Paul Levy said...

From facebook:

Abigail:n Wow, Paul. Jeez. You are so right.

Carey: I dunno -- Newspapers often run excerpts, and I think of it as win-win: True, it's publicity for the book, but it also means you and I don't have to buy the book because we've already gotten a bunch of it for free. The Times figures it's Times-caliber reporting by one of their own, and there's full disclosure on the fact of the book. I actually feel grateful for the distillation -- kind of like a book review....?

Leo: The Times still has the best reporting around.

@MarkGraban said...

From Twitter:

They have been running political ads disguised as front page news for a long time.

Elaine Schattner said...

I agree that the story is problematic. But the more I read, the more I'm convinced there's no such thing as objectivity in news. Really it's just a question of how up-front people are about their biases and conflicts of interest.

Michael Pahre said...

There is nothing unusual about having book excerpts published in advance in a news source, such as a newspaper or magazine.

But they are usually either tagged as such at the top of the story or appear as an op-ed. For the latter, see, e.g., the op-ed excerpts the WSJ published from the Tiger Mother.

Paul Levy said...

Yes, I know that it is not unusual to have excerpts published, but I believe it is improper to do so when the author is employed by the newspaper, or when the book is published by that newspaper. In short, doing so inevitably creates the impression that the book is given preferential treatment because of the financial advantage to that newspaper publisher, not because of the newsworthiness of the excerpt.

PJ Geraghty said...

I agree about the impropriety, but the Washington Post has done this for Woodward for years.