The 411 Behind NYT's New Media Desk…


UPDATE: David Carr sends along this email to me: “My job has not changed. I do Culture/Oscars for Sam Sifton and a Monday media column for Bruce Headlam, two of the best editors in a building that has its share. I love working for both and will sit where ever they tell me to, although I don’t think it matters much.”

It’s Business. It’s Culture. It’s Business. It’s Culture… Finally, The New York Times is solving its Chinatown-like infotainment dilemma and setting up a dedicated Media desk physically and symbolically located between the other two sections on the paper’s 3rd floor. “This culture clash between Business and Culture for years has annoyed the top of the masthead,” an insider told me, referring to Bill Keller, Jill Abramson and John Geddes. “They think reporters have been working at cross purposes because there’s nothing clearly defined where a certain kind of media story belongs. Look at our writers strike coverage: half went into Business, half went into Culture.” The Media editors and reporters announced Tuesday draw equally from the Business and Culture sections, including movies and television, yet there are some important names missing. (See below). The official memo described the beat thusly: “Convergence is the biggest story in media and entertainment today. Hollywood studios are investing millions in online television, people are reading newspapers on their iPhones and bloggers and YouTube are turning even presidential election campaigns into homegrown affairs. By the end of the decade, we might all be watching Lost on our shoephones. Accordingly, we are doing some convergence of our own, and today announce the birth of a new and expanded media desk for The Times, joining reporters and editors from Business Day and Culture under one banner to cover media news for both desks… It will feed the news needs of both, as well as the feature wells of Sunday Business and Arts & Leisure, among other outlets.”

The real story behind this move is that the paper’s top editors want to shake the staff covering movies, TV, Big Media, advertising and related beats out of what is perceived as a stupor. “The top of the masthead want more media stories. They want newsier reporting and they want people to work harder,” a source explained to me. “No one has said that, but it’s obvious.” (Certainly to me and the Wall Street Journal. But the last thing I want is for the NY Times and the LA Times to start covering the infotainment beat more aggressively. Because then there’d be less scoops for me to break.) 

Bruce Headlam, currently the editor of the Monday edition of Business Day, will top edit the Media desk. Underneath him will be editors Rick Lyman and Steve Reddicliffe. The reporters will be Tim Arango, Brooks Barnes, Bill Carter, Michael Cieply, Stephanie Clifford, Stuart Elliott, Richard Perez-Pena, Motoko Rich, Jacques Steinberg, Brian Stelter, and Ed Wyatt. Editors and writers alike will answer to both business editor Larry Ingrassia and culture editor Sam Sifton. But that very fact seems to just re-create the turf war this Media desk was supposed to solve. What the fuck?

You’d think media reporter and part-time movie blogger David Carr would be the Media desk’s star. Nope. I’m told he’s staying put in Culture, where he’ll become more of an all-around critic, although he’s being copied on all the Media desk memos to keep him in the loop. (Carr does a lot of things well, but breaking news isn’t one of them.) As for movie editor Lorne Manly, who’s also missing-in-action, his current status is even more confusing. Manly came to the NYT as a media writer/editor, then became media editor, then became media writer, then became movie editor. Now there’s a Media desk and he’s not on it. (Understandable, because Manly’s oversight has been more like undersight: his reporter Michael Cieply has missed major story after major story.) I’m told that he’ll stay in Culture to edit features and some of the critics. Plus, there’s ex-Hollywood business reporter Laura Holson, who now covers mostly cell phone stuff out of the paper’s headquarters and should be included in this attempt at convergence, but isn’t. Didn’t the NYT memo specifically refer to shoephones? (Or else someone saw the Get Smart remake once too often…)

Look, if the NY Times editors really want to shake up the paper’s coverage of infotainment, the way to do it ain’t rocket science. Simply tell reporters to stop believing anything the CEOs tell them. (And I do mean Tim Arango and Bill Carter specifically. Arango’s recent softball lobbed to Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes was an embarrassment. And Carter’s never-ending regurgitation of every TV chief’s corporate line crap is unforgiveable.) Only then can truth-telling start. 

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