Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The New York Times: Can you be more specific?

My former employer, The New York Times, is airing television ads for its "weekender" subscription in which an actor states, "The best journalists in the world work for the Times, and there's no debating that." This is a pretty strange remark coming from a company that depends on freedom of speech for its core business. Can there really be no discussion of this apparently crucial selling point?

I think there can. Does the Times mean that the very best journalists in the entire world work there? If that's true, then all the best journalists in the world must be very good at writing in English. Or does the Times mean that all of its journalists are among the best in the world? If that's true, then you'd have a hard time explaining the not-so-distant scandals related to former Times writers. How does the Times qualify journalists as being the best, anyway? It may have won more Pulitzer prizes than any other news organization, but those awards are available only to media based in the United States... and two of the aforementioned scandals revolved around Pulitzer winners Judith Miller and Rick Bragg.

I'm always a little offended when I hear absolute statements that can't be defended. An advertiser that uses them seems to assume that consumers will accept its claims on faith. They shouldn't.