paper trail

The trials of the Times

Philip Roth

In a rare move for him, the New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet has harshly criticized a story the paper ran on Wednesday, which detailed Gay Talese’s online trials after he made some unfortunate remarks about women journalists at a conference. Baquet takes issue with a Talese quote in the article in which he used the word “duplicitous” to describe Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Times journalist to whom Talese had reportedly made another insensitive comment. Baquet writes, “Yesterday’s story was flawed and Nikole was treated unfairly. But this incident is larger than the exchange between her and Gay Talese. Too often, we are clumsy in handling issues of race and gender and this story was another unfortunate example.” The publication’s public editor concurs: “To put it simply, the story about Gay Talese that went online Wednesday wasn’t ready for prime time.”

In the Harvard Business Review, John Geraci describes another Times misstep, namely, the “resounding failure” of the two years he spent “trying to innovate” at the paper. Geraci’s takeaway is that the Times (and other large media companies) are “like a bear stuck in a swamp. All around them swirls new kinds of life interacting with itself, evolving, transforming, and they’re there with their fur and claws trying to swat at it all.” Rather than behaving like a big dumb animal, Geraci suggests, the Times should strive to be an “ecosystem,” like the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz: “The entire firm is organized to function as a series of inputs and outputs, permeable membranes with the outside world around it.” Reading this, we had a few questions, but mainly we just wondered why the Times staff had listened to this guy for two years

This was also the week that the Times, in a piece on John Colapinto's new novel of "heterosexual male lust" (out this month from the independent press Soft Skull after apparently being turned down by some forty other publishers), seemed to mourn the era of Updike, Roth, and Mailer run rampant, suggesting that our "more tentative" age has mostly got the timid male literary novelists it deserves: "When these creatures of the workshop do manage to summon up the courage to test their descriptive powers against the most basic of human drives and activities, it is often to chronicle male sexual hesitation, confusion or inadequacy." A shame.

The New Yorker’s Page Turner blog has a profile of the Whiting Award–winning poet Ocean Vuong, whose first book of poems, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, was published this week by Copper Canyon Press. Vuong's family was illiterate when he was growing up, and he didn’t learn to read until he was eleven years old. He describes the effect that had on his experience of language: “For an American who was born here, the mundane might be boring, but for me colloquial English was a destination.”

Tonight at Columbia University, there’s a panel discussion on the recently published book Roland Barthes’ Cinema.