New York Times Public Editor Picks Fight with DealBook
Ingrassia defends The Times's Business section and DealBook
The Players: Arthur Brisbane, Public Editor for The New York Times; Larry Ingrassia, Business Editor for The New York Times
The Opening Serve: Brisbane used his Sunday column to pose a question, "WILL readers of The New York Times in print get less because The Times must invest to compete for readers and advertisers in the digital medium?" Brisbane believes so and looks no further than The Times's successful news site in DealBook. "The expansion last November added 11 journalists, swelling the DealBook staff to 15, a large investment for a newspaper company in today’s straitened circumstances," Brisbane wrote. "When the world economic system shuddered and stock markets dropped, I was left wondering whether The Times should have spent its money not on expanding DealBook but on enlarging its stable of journalists aimed at the wider subjects of international banks and sovereign debt." Brisbane consulted an expert who explained that DealBook specializes in breaking and incremental stories, ranging from "George Soros' girlfriend problems" to "deals, hedge fund news and the doings of people on the Street" not "broader issues" like the "deepening hole in Europe" which is what Brisbane believes The Times should be focusing on. He concludes by saying:
Perhaps The Times will yet jump in and expose the linkages between Europe’s institutions and the American economy and markets — before the other shoe drops. But the focus of DealBook, tied as it is to The Times’s online strategy, isn’t pointed in that direction. And I have to wonder whether investing in this kind of journalism, even if it had meant forgoing DealBook’s granular devotion to its niche, wouldn’t have better served the public.
The Return Volley: Shortly before noon today, Brisbane posted a response to his column from business editor Larry Ingrassia. "Your column left me wondering how closely you read the Times – or at least our financial coverage," Ingrassia wrote. "We have written well several hundred stories explaining its origins and implications over the past year and a half, and dozens of them ran on the front page...Maybe you missed these, but we reported them." And on the topic of DealBook's expansion, he says: "The addition of reporters has enabled The Times to expand its coverage of finance, not just the stories that you cited about what’s happening on Wall Street but public service journalism stories as well." Ingrassia goes on to name stories on stricter regulations passed by Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, though he does not include headlines or links. Ingrassia adds, "Sorry, but when you start with a wrong premise and ignore the record, you end up with a wrong conclusion."
What They Say They're Fighting About: Whether The New York Times' investment in DealBook is hurting its print readers. Brisbane feels that there are analysis pieces, like Europe's impending economic disaster, that are being shortchanged. Ingrassia argues that there's more news out there than ever and that "the addition of [DealBook] reporters has enabled The Times to expand its coverage of finance" without sacrificing the "several hundred stories explaining [the European debt crisis] origins."
What They're Really Fighting About: "Incremental News," The New York Times, the familiar argument of print versus online journalism, and the equally familiar tension of profit and page views versus content. Brisbane argues that DealBook's editorial design has left DealBook reporting on frivolous tangents of business journalism and unable to handle news stories that the public needs. It seems like Brisbane has, in his mind, a set of standards to which that The New York Times should hold itself--hence his displeasure at "George Soros' girlfriend problems." Ingrassia believes that there is quality in quantity (citing the "several hundred stories") and that perhaps Brisbane's discerning definition of news values has resulted in his "wrong conclusion."
Who's Winning Now: Brisbane. Simply put, Brisbane explains his opinion (albeit a rather grumpily pessimistic--and rather old--one) more clearly than Ingrassia. The lack of links and headlines in Ingrassia's response isn't lost on us, and it's pretty telling considering the spat involves DealBook, which is supposed to be a big investment for the Times into online journalism, where links are the primary form of citation. Ingrassia had a chance to explain the value of DealBook's timeliness and rapid reporting, or even point out frivolous pieces in the print version of The Times, but he chose not to. His response strikes us as not so much as a serious attempt to set the record straight or defend DealBook's stories, but rather as a collection of insults flung at Brisbane, and delivered with more irritation than grace. There may be something else going on behind the scenes, but from what we can see from here, this kind of response isn't going to help heal media's rifts anytime soon.