A new "Times on the Trail" feature turns New York Times
reporters into bloggers, sort-of... but they can still do fuzzy math
(see below) and confuse the left and right at the same time.
haven't read an in-depth explanation of the process, but to the casual
reader it looks
like reporters are filing brief time-stamped items with the heading
"Political Points," which appear with the most recent one on top of the
page's left column. Mighty like a blog. The right column, under the
heading "Trail Mix," lists headline links to campaign stories in the Times
and elsewhere, something like a weblog's "aggregator," but with no bloggish comments or summaries.
Back in the left column, items actually look like the short
"reporter's notebook" sidebars
that appear in print, and it could be that an online editor is simply
posting them to the page in the morning. However, they could be (or
become) more if someone
actually "gets it" about blogging.
It will be interesting to watch and see
if the items really are just briefs that appear in the paper today or
tomorrow, or whether the same writers later have more in-depth stories
the "points" items, identify themselves, express an opinion or two, or
get involved in a
"comments" discussion. Watch me not holding my breath.
Today, for instance, Carl Hulse's name is on a 7:15 a.m. piece headed
"Edwards Didn't Always Revel in His South Carolina Roots," the front-page paragraph links to about 300
words relating a 1998 controversy when Edwards first ran for office in
North Carolina and campaign materials referred to him as a "native" of
the state he moved to at age 12. I'd suspect that will turn up as
an Edwards-story sidebar in print.
A possibly bad sign is that the same 7:15 a.m. item was still on top of the page at 2 p.m.
Beneath it was "A Surging Kerry Is Not Up to Speed on the 'Electric
Slide'" by David Halbfinger, time-stamped "7 AM," meaning the morning of Friday, Jan. 30. The next item was a day-before piece,
with its date formatted in numerals with hour as "1.29 4:35 PM."
(I guess the conventional newspaper style for formatting dates and times has gone
out the window to fit in the header space. ) It's easy to mistake
such day-old items for up-to-the-minute blog items, especially
confusing when a writer refers to "today" in the story, meaning the day the
story was written.
A compressed "More Campaign Articles" section lower on the page is
more confusing, because it attaches the "4:35 PM" time to the headline,
drops the day entirely. I guess you're supposed to calculate the day
the stories higher up on the page, if you noticed. Otherwise, you don't
find out the date until you click through to the story itself and look
for a line of fine print under the reporter's by-line -- while the hour
and minute are still in big type at the top of the page.
Speaking of calculations, a two-day old item from Richard W. Stevenson
was headed "Do the Math." The label "Published: January 28, 2004"
appeared in small type beneath the by-line. (Does that "published"
mean "online" or "already in the paper"?)
Doing fuzzier and fuzzier math
Coincidentally, while the article was about President Bush doing "fuzzy
math" during a White House event, the article's math was equaly fuzzy.
Pardon my segue... This is funny in a geeky sort of way:
The story was about a man who said he was saving $5,500 a year on health care.
The president slipped and said it was $5,500 a month.
"No, a year," the man said.
Bush tried to recover, according to the Times, saying "$5,500 a year. I meant to say $550 a month, $5,500 a year."
Apparently listeners -- and the president himself -- realized that
sounded wrong, as if he thought there were only ten months in a year.
Here's how The Times wrapped up the story:
"Actually, it's more than $5,500 a year," he said, to laughter.
Then he went on without risking giving a specific number,
which for those without calculators is $6,600 a year.
Uhm... No. For those with or without calculators, the total is still $5,500. The man in the story said the
yearly amount was $5,500. No amount of spin or fuzzy math will change
that. What the president wanted to do was divide by 12 and say "almost
$460 a month."
- Viewed from the left:
A partisan reader might conclude that the president was inflating the
number, disregarding the truth (or the deficit), and that the
corporate-slave Times was not only going along for the ride, but calculating an even bigger number to put a dollar sign on.
- Viewed from the right: There goes that liberal Times trying to make fun of the dumb president again.
- Viewed from here: Sometimes, we're just all Bozos on this bus.