Before I put up a new post, I just wanted to touch on something that ate up a small chunk of time last week. It all started with this tweet I wrote about the wildly popular app Unbaby.me, and then a funny response from one of the app’s creators. I found myself checking out his professional page, and I noticed an article from The New York Times at the top of his press page. I decided that despite already knowing all about Unbaby.me (I felt like the Internet had sent Unbaby.me singing telegrams to my door at 7AM every day for a week), I’d check out what The Times had to say. I started reading the article, and for the first time maybe ever, I said to my boyfriend, “It would be kind of cool if ANY media outlet mentioned STFUP in their coverage of Unbaby.me,” because, as I said, I’d probably been sent this app about four bajillion times over the previous seven days.
Then I got to this part in The Times piece toward the bottom:
“There are already blogs devoted to mocking over-sharing parents who, for example, post photos of their placentas. (“You used to be fun,” reads the tagline. “Now you have a baby.”)”
That’s exactly how it ran, without any attribution/credit or link to the blog, in an article riddled with links to other sites like AntiBaby (which actually features the word “fucking” on its homepage banner), and I felt very confused. I posted about it on Twitter and on Facebook, and I was pleasantly surprised that so many people shared in my frustration. Why didn’t The Times credit me if I was quoted? I don’t remember that much from J-School, but I’m fairly certain you can’t quote without credit, even if you’re The Gray Lady herself. I figured maybe it was a mistake, so I emailed the ombudsman and hoped for the best.
The next day I received a response from Greg Brock, a senior corrections editor at The Times. I had written to him:
This article that is running today has a mention and quote from my website without attribution or mention of the blog by name. I wanted to bring it to your attention with the hope that it will be credited.
Mr. Brock’s response read:
“Dear “B.” —
We did not name the site because The Times does not use such references when they refer to things like Shut The F*ck Up. Just last week we omitted a full reference to WTF (That The F—-). Instead, we noted that we were referring to a podcast by Marc Maron.
We did not claim or intimate that STFU’s tagline was created by us or by our reporter. We were carefull to note it was a tagline of a Web site.
I suspect you will not agree with this decision. But this is part of the standards of The Times. For one reason, we don’t like to include such references for younger readers — or for any readers who might be offended. Granted, we aren’t the parents of young readers. But we feel some obligation to try to maintain The Times as a respectable publication and respect all of our readers.
You have your approach. Other publications have their approach. And we have ours. That’s what makes the world go round. And isn’t it great that we all have the freedom to choose what to publish and what not to? You created and designed your site and you work very hard to execute your mission. That’s what we try to do with The Times. The site’s name and contents work for your readers. And we try to make The Times work for our readers and meet their expectations of us.
Senior Editor for Standards”
I’ll be honest. When I received this email, the first thing I did was feel like I might explode. I’ve never “expected” to be mentioned in The Times — and as I said, it took seven days and about four bajillion emails for it to dawn on me that it’d be nice to get a mention in any of the zillion press pieces about Unbaby.me — but to not get credited after being quoted (and essentially used to help prove a point by Times’ writer Austin Considine) baffled me. I wrote back to Mr. Brock:
You’re right, I absolutely disagree with the assessment that a publication such as the Times feels that it is appropriate to quote a website (a tagline that I wrote) without giving any credit whatsoever. In fact, I’d rather have not been mentioned — I’m sorry, referenced — at all. How disturbing that a website like the New York Times would consciously and in good faith link to a site called “Anti-Baby” immediately after deciding NOT to link to my website, which is equally tongue-in-cheek and not anti-baby or anti-parent at all. How is it a good journalism practice — or a good lesson for children who might be interested in journalism, the subject I studied in college — to make an error so egregious?
I’m deeply disturbed and shocked by your email. I’ll be sure to post a copy of it on Twitter and on my website, so that everyone is clear on the standards of the Times, including the various writers of publications like Salon, The New Yorker, Jezebel, the Nieman Lab, and several others who have expressed their distaste for your decision not to credit the site that I’ve worked very hard on for more than three years.
“I have not had time to talk to the editors except just to confirm this is why we omitted the reference. As I said, it’s a consistent policy. And the exact same issue came up within the past week. We run into this across the board: with names of plays, songs and so forth. It’s just our policy. No doubt, plenty of people think we are sticks in the mud or antiquated. We just try to do what is right for us.
I will be glad to talk to the editors about deleting any reference if that is what you prefer. Just let me now.
And, of course, post my email. That is routine. I already sent answers to about eight or so of your readers who wrote to us based on your comments on your site.
Funnily enough, I hadn’t posted about this on the blog at all, so perhaps Greg Brock should take that stick out of his “carefull,” all-“nowing” ass. Not to beat a dead horse by posting our entire exchange (and I won’t), but my reply to that pile of verbal diarrhea was:
“You are saying that your policy is to omit credit where credit is due when the person or brand being quoted doesn’t match up to your standards of “etiquette.” Pardon me for saying so, but I would never in a million years do that, and I was taught that ethical journalism does not mean aligning standards to what is “best” for the public, but rather what is factually accurate.
Please leave the mention in the article, as my point was to say that I would have rather not been included at all prior to going to print if no credit was to be given. Now, it is an excellent case for the Times standards. Perhaps you can reference it when someone emails you over a similar problem next week, as it sounds like this is a weekly issue.”
At this point I was possibly literally fuming. I can’t be sure, but I think steam may have been coming out of my nose as I attempted to do some deep breathing and eat fish tacos to quell my anger. Then I took to the ‘nets, as they say, and mentioned that Greg Brock happens to be a giant fucking douche.
After that, several awesome people covered the ridiculous controversy, noting that The Times is actually consistently inconsistent with its use of the word “fuck” as well as its publishing of similar acronyms. (Like the several articles about “Go The Fuck To Sleep,” an article about “Fuck! I’m In My Twenties,” and this one about the pop duo LMFAO, who, incidentally, get away with saying their group name stands for “Loving My Friends And Others.” Right! Oh, and this example of The Times using “STFU” in this blurb from 2009.)
Lots of thanks to Mary Elizabeth who wrote about STFUP-Gate for Salon, Jen for The Atlantic Wire, Koa, my editor on Mommyish, Jeanne over at The Stir, and even to Joanna who BRAVELY typed the acronym “STFU” in her column today on The Boston Globe. Also thanks to Jim Romenesko for tweeting about it, and to Foster Kamer for the mention in The Observer. These people helped to remind me that The Times’ standards are not just “antiquated.” They’re Fucked up with a capital %$#@.
In the fourth grade, I wrote a report on my favorite tragic child star fascination, Heather O’ Rourke from the Poltergeist series. I had an intense and bizarre obsession with her and those movies from the time I was five, something I still can’t explain except to say that when I was turned six I spent all of my allowance that I’d saved up forever to buy both Poltergeist and Care Bears II: A New Generation on VHS and it was one of the best days of my life. Anyway, I wrote this report and my teacher accused me of plagiarism because I used a word that she figured I couldn’t possibly know. I must have lifted it! At age nine. To prove her wrong, I presented my microfiche sources, and she in turn apologized to the class for being an assuming jerk. I don’t remember what the word was that she thought I copied, but it couldn’t have been that big of a deal because I wasn’t as gifted as other classmates.
The point is, if Mrs. Beam could do that then, Greg Brock and The Times could do the same now. But they’ve chosen not to, so STFU, New York Times. Take a fuckin’ hike with your “antiquated standards” and “respectable family values.” This blog may often showcase galleries of poop and placenta (as noted by The Times!), but at least it doesn’t stink like your shoddy article.
UPDATE: Thanks to Ariel Stulberg for his On The Media post!
UPDATE 2: Thanks to Sara Morrison for her story in the Columbia Journalism Review!