Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sizing Up the NY Times Public Editor: Small (Vague), Medium (Disingenuous), Large (Misinformed)

Byron Calame, the public editor of The New York Times, has not responded to my comments on his August 14 column about freelancers (see

But writer (and settlement objector) Todd Pitock did get something back from Calame, and with Todd’s permission here’s the exchange.

From: Public/NYT/NYTIMES <>
To: Todd Pitock
Sent: Mon, 22 Aug 2005 14:07:46 -0400
Subject: 8/22 Re: ethical guidelines, facts, and the public editor...

Dear Mr. Pitock:

Thank you for your message and your careful reading of the column on freelancers.

I have reviewed your e-mail carefully and had other editors do the same. We don't think the sentence in my column is incorrect.

Since The Times had published--and wanted to continue publishing--freelance contributions electronically, it was required to negotiate broadened contracts with freelancers to comply with the court decision. In negotiating broadened contracts with freelancers, who gained leverage from the court ruling, the paper found itself having to increase their compensation, particularly where it wanted to use that person on a regular basis.

Byron Calame
Public Editor
The New York Times

Note: The public editor's opinions are his own and do not represent those of The New York Times.


From: Todd Pitock
Subject: Re: 8/22 Re: ethical guidelines, facts, and the public editor...
To: Byron Calame

Dear Mr. Calame,

A more exact wording would have been, "In light of the court decision, the Times felt it necessary to ask freelancers to license more/all rights." Saying that the court decision required a change is vague at best. The court did not require the change. It only said that the Times had been violating the freelancers' intellectual property. It did not suggest or require a specific solution; the Times took the route it considered least arduous, and which freelancers saw as the most harsh. And, if we really want to be honest, the Times changed its contract to all rights years before the court decision. So, let's size it up as small (you were vague), medium (disingenous), or large (misinformed).

Likewise, it just ain't so that the Times increased its budget -- or at least not in my experience or that of the many, many freelancers I know who contribute to the Times. Fact is, the Times has been egregiously disrespectful of freelancers. One of your own editors told me some time ago that she was having trouble attracting writers she wanted to work with. I asked her why she didn't share that with the powers that be, and she said, "In 15 years here, no one has asked my opinion yet."

Finally, another point occurred to me about your column. You mentioned Jayson Blair -- yet neglected to mention that he was on staff. Since the column was about freelancers at the Times, it too was vague, leading a reader to think that Blair was an errant freelancer. In any case, I appreciate that you took the time to reply.

Best wishes,
Todd Pitock


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