NY Times Public Editor: The Olympics? Don’t Tell Me: “‘Could you please ask the editor of the front Web page to not name the winners within the headlines/sub-headlines?’ asked Ken Waters of Phoenix. Matt Gooch of Harrisonburg, Va. said he was disappointed when The Times reported the results of the men’s downhill before NBC showed the event. ‘This is not Taliban news, nor TARP news, or even Paula Jones type news,’ Gooch said. ‘There is no meaning to this except the anticipation and suspense that sports viewers feel watching the event live. Please help me understand why your organization needs to spoil the experience.’”
The fact that the ombudsman of the New York Times needs to explain to readers why his newspaper reports actual news as it happens — and Olympic results are actual news — is a depressing commentary on our nation’s entertainment-driven culture.
NBC bought U.S. TV rights to the Olympics, and NBC has chosen not to present live coverage. It wants to put the high-profile events on at night in the U.S. when it can score the biggest audience. It’s entirely about money, as the Olympics are in a general sense at this point.
But to suggest that real news organizations should defer to NBC’s greed is beyond idiotic. It’s pathetic.
Mr. Waters of Phoenix and Mr. Gooch of Harrisonburg, and others like them, need remedial education in at least three respects. First, they need to understand that news organizations are in business to report news. Second, no one is forcing them to look at the Times website in the first place.
And, third, remember: The spoiler here is NBC, which wants you to live in a fantasy world. Blame the entertainment moguls there, not real journalists, if you learn who won an event before NBC deigns to show it on TV.
Any news organization holding back on news because entertainment consumers want to live in their fantasy worlds deserves utter contempt. As a (very small) shareholder in the New York Times Co., I’m glad to see that America’s best newspaper has the right standards in this regard.
UPDATE: Several commenters have defended the notion that news organizations have some kind of duty to hold back their reports or put reports on pages where news viewers won’t have to see the reports. One commenter, who says he’s a journalism school graduate, even suggested a “civic function” in such a method. This is head-slappingly strange logic (as I responded):
To suggest there’s some kind of civic function in asking news organizations to withhold breaking news of an entertainment event (I agree the Olympics are entertainment more than anything else) is bizarre. There is no civic value in two corporate media giants colluding to help one of them make enough money to justify its overpayment for TV rights. NBC has absolutely no interest in performing a civic function; its entire motivation is the bottom line.
Your idea of “timeliness” is equally odd. No one is preventing you from structuring your news the way you want to. If you prefer not to learn about news events until later in the day, or tomorrow or next week, you have an easy way of doing this: Don’t read, listen to or watch news reports until you’re ready to learn what’s happened. You will also need to stay away from the water cooler and conversations with friends and colleagues who don’t share your desire to learn about the outcome of ski races only when a giant media corporation deems it most profitable.
I watched the skiing last night on NBC. The network severely edited the race, ignoring the runs of roughly half of the top seed (first 15 racers) because the women crashed or were otherwise deemed uninteresting to the American audience by the NBC entertainment editors. It inserted a vast number of commercials into what little of the event it decided to broadcast. This is the civic virtue you want to reward? Please.