The NYT’s Blogophobia

By Reuters Staff
March 22, 2009

What’s with the sudden blogophobia at the NYT? Between Craig Whitney’s astonishingly tone-deaf memo on how to write a blog, and the legal department’s heavy-handed nastygram trying to shut down Apartment Therapy, it seems that one of the most web-savvy media companies in the world has finally reached the point at which it reckons that the web-savvy types can’t be entrusted with the website any more, and the grownups need to step in and screw everything up.

Here’s Whitney:

Blogs on the news side of NYTimes.com are not the personal, private blogs of the contributors, but blogs of Times employees, whose reputations depend on readers’ trust in their impartiality…
As in print, our headlines on analysis should try to capture the debate rather than taking sides in it. (One recent lapse: ‘Amazon Plays Dumb in Sales Tax Debate.’)

Yes, this is the blogs they’re talking about. That was a great headline, on a great blog entry: it should have been getting plaudits, not brickbats. The whole concept of "impartiality" is problematic enough in a straight news story; trying to maintain it on a blog does rather defeat the purpose of setting up the blogs in the first place. And does the NYT really want its editors to deliberately make the blog headlines as boring as possible?

As for the DMCA takedown notice, here’s Apartment Therapy’s Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan:

What is so surprising about this is that we’ve heard NOTHING from them at all about this, and would not only have complied with their request if they’d asked us, but we’d also have liked to discuss how we could work WITH them in the best way, continuing to cover them and drive traffic. This is totally indirect and out of the blue…
This also seems to signal a bit of a war by the Times on blogs in general, as we can’t be the only ones. By going after the host and bypassing the sites, they have chosen to threaten someone who is hardly responsible and asking them to put pressure on us.

The details aren’t clear — Maxwell didn’t post the notice itself. But the gist seems to be that the NYT was upset about Apartment Therapy using its images in blog entries linking back to the NYT. Which is something which can nearly always be worked out with a friendly email; there’s no excuse for reaching straight for the nuclear option of sending DMCA notices to a website’s hosting service.

On the web, it’s pretty important not to needlessly piss off the people who drive you traffic; it’s also pretty important to stand out with interesting and provocative content. The NYT used to grok this, and I’m sure that its web team still does. But clearly someone higher up has decided to start fixing a site that isn’t broken. I fear for the consequences.

Reprinted from Portfolio.com

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