Did The NY Times Give Up Its Journalism Standards The Second Facebook Threw A Few Million Its Way?
from the seems-like-a-problem dept
Last month, we discussed how Facebook was apparently forking over truckloads of cash to various media companies to get them to use Facebook Live, the company’s new livestreaming video platform. This arrangement struck us as odd — and potentially an FTC violation, in that these media companies are basically promoting and endorsing Facebook’s product, after getting paid millions of dollars, without ever disclosing the payments and the relationship. That seems… questionable. Apparently the two largest recipients of the cash were Buzzfeed and the NY Times, who each got over $3 million to stream these videos. Buzzfeed, for its part, has embraced the ridiculousness of this situation with Buzzfeedian gusto, putting on stunts like livestreaming exploding a watermelon with rubberbands. But that’s kind of what you’d expect from Buzzfeed.
The NY Times, on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast. The newspaper likes to pride itself on being serious, careful, thoughtful journalism. And while that’s often a lot more what the people there tell themselves than reality, it does raise some questions about what the NY Times is doing with that $3+ million and how journalistic it is. Apparently, I’m not the only one to wonder about this, as the NY Times recently appointed public editor, Liz Spayd, is concerned about what the NY Times is doing here as well.
here?s the problem. After watching countless hours of live video in the past few weeks, I have hit upon many that are either plagued by technical malfunctions, feel contrived, drone on too long, ignore audience questions or are simply boring, by I imagine most anyone?s standards.
Too many don?t live up to the journalistic quality one typically associates with The New York Times. Take one produced at the Republican convention, where we?re on the floor chatting up delegates. The idea is right, but the sound cuts in and out for three long minutes and becomes so grating that one Facebook viewer messaged: ?WOW. THE AUDIO IS HORRIBLE!? Another added: ?Unwatchable,? and one humorously said, ?RIP headphone users…? Another video on raging fires in Canada shows the narrator staring off-screen while the sound keeps breaking up. Not a single flame ever appears. One viewer, April Simpson, sent in this comment: ?It would be a much more effective interview if you could roll in some of the amazing video of the fire. Seriously, nyt contact me ? I could help you with all of this.?
And in a category all its own, there is a video of an editor with two reporters who are pitching their stories in hopes of getting good play on the home page. It?s an odd meeting ? of a type I?ve never seen nor heard of in my 30 years in newsrooms. And it turns out it was more of a simulation to show the kinds of conversations that take place in a newsroom. In other words, it was posed.
Now, to be clear, I think there’s value in experimentation — and if you don’t fail with your experiments, you’re probably not experimenting enough. But when Facebook is throwing millions at publications like the NY Times, some of these don’t feel so much like “experimenting with this neat new technology” but more like “oh, fuck, we need to make more videos because we promised Facebook in exchange for all this cash.” Indeed, Spayd suggests the quantity over quality approach is a part of the problem here:
On the one hand, it has before it a compelling new form of journalism, a young and eager audience, and the crown prince of social media opening up its checkbook. On the other hand, if you?re producing about 120 videos a month, implementing good quality control can take a back seat.
And, when the paper’s editor defends all these videos under the “this is how we experiment” banner, Spayd responds, rightly, that there are ways to experiment that still live up to the kind of quality standards the NY Times likes to think it has:
But this particular experiment veers significantly from The Times?s past approach to new journalism forms. The newsroom has shown that innovation doesn?t have to equate with poor quality. Whether it was with interactive graphics, virtual reality or podcasts, The Times is a model for innovating at a thoughtful, measured pace, but with quality worthy of its name.
This time, that?s not the case. It?s as if we passed over beta and went straight to bulk.
Does anyone believe that this would play out this way if Facebook hadn’t added 3 million reasons for the NY Times to go for bulk? I think that’s the bigger story here. Spayd mentions the cash in passing, but doesn’t spend much time on it. It still seems like the real issue. I get that the NY Times is a business and that it needs to make money, but usually there’s a separation. Here, when a private company is paying for a specific type of coverage that is promoting their own technology — and the NY Times isn’t disclosing it, while pumping out lots of low quality content, it should raise a lot of questions about why that’s okay.