Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

A New York Times home run, piggyback journalism, and hospital TV ads

Steven Brill
Apr 16, 2013 10:55 UTC

1.   The Times hits a home run in the Bronx:

This item comes under the category of stories I loved seeing. On Sunday the New York Times did a front pager (continued on two full pages inside) by veteran reporter William Glaberson on the collapse of the criminal courts in the Bronx that was about as close to perfection in execution and impact as journalism can get.

Glaberson’s chronicle of epic incompetence and sheer laziness among the judges, prosecutors and just about everyone else mixed mountains of impressive data (endless delays, startlingly low conviction rates) with the kind of personal stories that give the data indelible meaning: A murder defendant who was held in jail for nearly four years before being acquitted recounts how court officers, lawyers and prosecutors would be “laughing and giggling” while they scheduled postponement after postponement, ignoring him so completely that he “felt almost invisible inside the courtroom.” There’s a running narrative, artfully sprinkled in italics throughout the piece, of the agony of the family of a murdered bodega proprietor that is forced to wait five years for the accused killer to come to trial, only to have to face a new trial later this year because stale evidence and the witnesses’ foggy memories resulted in a hung jury.

When a reporter uncovers almost unbelievable data about a system failing, he’s doing a terrific job. When he then ties it this way to real people, he creates a reading experience that is unforgettable. Imagine igniting water cooler conversation about the Bronx criminal justice system rather than Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. Glaberson did that.

Everything about the piece shows the Times running on all cylinders. The front page photo – of crowds of frustrated witnesses, family members, and prospective jurors waiting to go through under-manned security checkpoints at the entrance to the courthouse – is emblematic of what goes on inside. The chart on the jump page that uses Glaberson’s stopwatch record of how long court was actually in session versus how much time was lost to the judge or lawyers being late or taking breaks or going to lunch or leaving early was a home run, too. The sub-headlines – “Routine Lateness,” “Delay As A Strategy,” “Trouble On The Bench” – all pack the right punch.

The only element missing was how Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, whose multi-dimensional incompetence is demonstrated in almost every other paragraph, has kept getting reelected to the point where, at 24 years, he’s the longest serving of New York’s five county prosecutors. I hope Glaberson will get to that. His Sunday story was introduced as the first in a series; yesterday’s second part zeroed in on another key player – a defense lawyer – who has perfected the art of delaying trials while the judges and the prosecutors DA Johnson supervises do nothing to stop him.

The New York Times becomes a video force

Steven Brill
Dec 6, 2011 13:43 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

1. The New York Times Goes Video:

Three different story ideas are prompted by the hours of interviews former Penn State assistant football coach and accused child molester Jerry Sandusky gave to the New York Times’ Jo Becker that resulted in a front-page Times story on Saturday.

First, by Saturday night I was seeing video clips of Becker’s interview on NBC, which credited the Times. This means Becker, a highly-regarded, hard-nosed print reporter, brought a video crew with her to make her Times report a multimedia event – which it was, with great impact, on the Times’ website. This left NBC’s Michael Isikoff, himself a print refuge from Newsweek, narrating a story on the Evening News on Saturday night using audio from Becker’s interview and the Times’ branded video package.

This, in itself, is a big media story. The Times‘ website, which now charges non-subscribers and is attracting hundreds of thousands of paying customers, is becoming an increasingly robust 24/7 multimedia platform. What are the prospects of the Times dispatching video crews more regularly to tape important on-the-record interviews? How will that change the reporter’s interview style and methods? (It sure would change mine, because it shifts the atmosphere and rhythm of an interview.) How might this affect the media chase to corral hard-to-get, high-profile figures for interviews? Might some feel better making their TV debut with a Times reporter than a conventional TV reporter? Leaving aside questions about their decision to talk to the press at all, it could be that Sandusky and his lawyer believed that by agreeing to this forum, they were minimizing the dangers of “gotcha” questions or of having sound bites taken out of context.

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