The NYT’s blogging story reaches for sensation where there isn’t any

Yesterday, I thought about doing a piece on the NYT’s link-bait story on the stresses of blogging, but I thought … “I’m busy today. Why bother?” I knew bloggers would be all over it, and of course they are.

But just now, I read the following quote on Romenesko and it gets me fired up anew. My take on the story is that it demonstrates clearly where big-time Journalism has gone astray, and the quote from Larry Dignan confirms it:

I had doubts about the premise. Yes, blogging is stressful. Yes, it can be insane. But is it any worse than being a corporate lawyer? How many of those folks dropped in the last six months? How about mortgage brokers? Hedge fund traders?

Here’s the thing — the Times could have had a very interesting story about big-name bloggers, and aspiring big-time bloggers, and what some of them go through to achieve and maintain success. The Times could have done that with no sensationalism, no heart attacks, no news peg. The story could have just been interesting and informative. That’s news, too.

Instead, the Times tries desperately to pin two deaths to blogging, but then knowing it has over-reached, still tries to weasel out of it.

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

That’s not serious journalism. That’s weasel-word journalism. When you have to write a paragraph apologizing for the angle you’re taking on the story, there is something ethically wrong with your approach to the story.

The poorly chosen angle reminds me of NYT’s botched McCain coverage a few weeks back.

It’s shoddy journalism like this that drives people away from newspapers and reminds them of why they distrust us, why they hate us.

Here and now, I’m nominating Matt Richtel and his editors for a Dart.

8 thoughts on “The NYT’s blogging story reaches for sensation where there isn’t any

  1. “It’s shoddy journalism like this that drives people away from newspapers and reminds them of why they distrust us, why they hate us.”

    But Howard, on Pulitzer day isn’t it worth noting the corollary? That all the ‘good’ journalism isn’t driving people to buy newspapers, or reminding them of why they trust and love us…

  2. Pulitzers aren’t particularly impressive from a readership POV. Look at the shelf loads the LA Times has won over the past decade or so. Look the couple hundred thousand subscribers they’ve lost in that time.

    One of the problems with the NYT is they care more about Pulitzers than they do about readers, and readers don’t care about Pulitzers.

  3. I agree with Howard, they can not blame two deaths on blogging itself. You are getting paid to write about something you love. Where is the stress in that?

  4. I know that if I’ve ever started to write a graph like the one you quote from the NYT article in any article of mine, it is time to either (a) turn back and refashion the story or (b) scrap the whole thing.

    Reminds me of a terrible television news report I saw a few months ago about the link between iPods and an increase in violent crime. Of course, they had to mention halfway through the report that there was no evidence, no research and no professional who could say that there was a link, but they thought it a topic worth covering anyway.

  5. I’ve read the story multiple times and think there’s another reason why some people are reacting how they are.

    At first I wasn’t a fan of mentioning the heart attacks (there’s enough good stuff in there anyway). But then the girlfriend of one of the deceased bloggers said they had talked about reducing his work stress and that she’s had similar talks with others after his death. It seems the NY Times was only putting into print an issue others were talking about.

    To me the most sensational stuff is what the hardcore bloggers say, particularly Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.

    Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

    “This is not sustainable,” he said.

    There you have one of the most successful bloggers – a guy who built a tech empire – saying what he’s doing is not sustainable after just three years.

    The equivalent is basically Michael Jordan winning his first championship and saying what he was doing wasn’t sustainable. That’s a hardcore wake up call for people in the blogging business and those thinking about entering.

  6. It’s called hubris, a disease that infects too many newsrooms … and as you point out an attempt to find a story on a hot topic where there isn’t necessarily any story. And pursuing it long after it should have been dropped.

    Interestingly, the iPod scary story of the week is just a blatant attempt to attract attention based on the iPod’s popularity. This seems little different — variations frequently pop up at morning story meetings.

    Part of the problem is reporters and editors trying to remain relevant to readers, but in the end showing that they have not a single clue.

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