Gloomy tech days at the NYT

[11/12/16: Update on the NYTMagazine/Wesley Morris matter. By the time I got around to looking for Morris’s excellent piece “Last Taboo” on-line, my searches were shunted to another Morris piece, “Uncommon Ground” (to appear in print tomorrow). I posted about this; Ned Deily discovered that though he had been able to get to “Last Taboo”, he was now also diverted away from it; and Ned unearthed the Wayback Machine evidence for the piece on-line earlier. At least one reader reported no problem with the links, and not long after I posted, things were fixed for everyone. Alarm no more.

Meanwhile, I tried to get in touch with Morris about the problem, but saw no way to do it. Ned, ever helpful, reported that the NYT had a page listing Morris’s articles for them, and on it there was an Email Author button. So there was; it doesn’t give you an address, but directs messages to Morris out of public view. Unfortunately, the software returned the message

We could not process your request, please try again later. Sorry for the inconvenience.

— 25 times over two days. My patience is now officially exhausted. To hell with it.

Score card: one software glitch fixed, one apparently still flourishing.]

Now, back to my previous posting.]

Yesterday I reported on a distressing oddity at the New York Times site: a Magazine article I much admired (short title “Last Taboo”, author Wesley Morris, in the October 30th Culture issue) seemed to be completely unavailable on-line, a state of affairs I suggested was due to stunning incompetence (rather than malevolence against black men and gay men and against frank talk about them). It then turned out that the piece had been available on-line — and accessible by several obvious routes — but that at some point the links to it were totally screwed up; they were replaced by a link to a different piece by Morris (short title “Uncommon Ground”), one that it seems will appear in print this Sunday (November 13th), in the Design issue.

Immediately I thought to try to get this fixed, so that Morris would continue to get public credit for his work and so that the Times would no longer be giving the impression that it was suppressing material in its pages about black male sexuality and black male bodies (too hot to handle? too offensive to its readers?). But I’d failed to reckon with how hard it is to communicate with responsible people at the Times, and, indeed with individual writers for the paper (like Morris himself, who would surely want to have this glitch fixed). So at the moment, my complaint has reached only my audience on this blog, on Facebook, and on Google+ — and not Morris and not the tech staff at the Times website.

The story as it unfolded at my house. First, my posting yesterday, which included this passage:

In a supremely ironic development, the text of Morris’s piece [“The Last Taboo: … black male sexuality”] has itself been elided from the public record (no doubt by massive incompetence rather than malevolence): links on the NYT site (and, as far as I can tell, on all sites that refer to “The Last Taboo”) take you not to this article but to another, racially and sexually irrelevant, Morris piece, “Uncommon Ground: Our New Urban Oases”, on elevated railways turned into pedestrian parks, which is identified [in the text] as being from the NYT Magazine’s Culture issue (puzzlingly dated October 27th), but it’s not in that issue.

Here’s what happens. You start with a link that ought to do the trick, like the following:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/30/magazine/black-male-sexuality-last-taboo .html

(remove the space before .html)

to get to a Magazine piece on black male sexuality that appeared in print on 10/30/16. You click on this, and you get taken to

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/13/magazine/our-new-urban-oases.html

This is Morris’s “Uncommon Ground” piece, as it will appear in the 11/13/16 issue, along with stuff labeled as “More from the Culture issue”, which is in fact all the rest of the Design issue — dated in the on-line text as from 10/27.

However, as Ned Deily then showed me, “Last Taboo” had indisputably been available on-line; you can get to it on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine:

https://web.archive.org/interactive/2016/10/30/magazine/black-male-sexuality-last-taboo.html

So there’s been a big tech snarl. Who to report it to?

I have no idea. I know how to send a letter to the editor (though the paper doesn’t respond to these and only a small number of them will appear in print) or to the public editor (but that’s about the content of stuff published in the paper, not about the workings of the website). So I’m stumped here.

[Digression: a note about dating. For stuff that actually appears in print — the paper supplies quite a lot of material that’s only on its website — links have the actual date of publication in them (2016/10/30 for “Last Taboo”, 2016/11/13 for “Uncommon Ground”), but the on-line text has the date when the material is put up on-line (a day before publication for ordinary stories, more for special stuff, like pieces in the magazine). This divergence in dating creates an issue for citation, as does the regular practice of the Times and some other publications of providing different headlines in print vs. on-line.]

At this point pretty much everybody suggested getting in touch with the writer. Many papers provide either websites or e-mail accounts for their staff writers; but not the Times. Some journalists have their own websites, which either allow the posting of comments or provide an e-mail address; but not Wesley Morris. Some journalists have Facebook accounts, at which they can be messaged; Morris, however, has a “Public Figure” Facebook page, which merely repeats bare-bones Wikipedia information and doesn’t allow messaging. Most journalists have Twitter accounts — many papers require them to — but Twitter is mostly one-way communication (for what it’s worth, Morris is @Wesley_Morris on Twitter).

In the past, I’ve gotten to NYT writers by guessing at plausible @nyt.com e-addresses or by appealing to acquaintances of mine who might have an address. Here’s the deal for Morris:

there is a morris@nyt.com, but that’s the film-maker Errol Morris

there is no wmorris@nyt.com or wesley_morris@nyt.com; I was hopeful about the first because before he moved from the Boston Globe to the New York Times last year, Morris was wmorris@globe.com (but of course that account no longer works); I was hopeful about the second because of Morris’s Twitter tag

i’ve also tried various possibilities @gmail.com and @yahoo.com, with no success; of course, there are other e-mail services, and morris could be something like wmorris314@filmmail.com

As for personal websites, there is a morris.com, but it’s the Morris Communications Company; and a wmorris.com, but that’s the glass artist William Morris. No luck with morris.org, wmorris.org, or wesley_morris.org.

Morris used to write on the Grantland site (grantland.com), but that site listed only his Twitter tag, and anyway the site is now defunct.

In case anyone knows how to get to the man, here’s the very brief message I was trying to send him:

Subject: your “Last Taboo” piece in the NYT

By some programming glitch at the NYT site, this admirable piece of yours is no longer available on-line; if you search for it, you are taken instead to your “Uncommon Ground” piece, which is apparently to appear in print this Sunday (November 13th).

It’s possible that Morris has no e-mail account, and fairly likely that he uses an obscure username (having to do with his passion for the movies, his race, his sexuality, his having graduated from Yale, or whatever). Most writers, including many journalists, don’t want to be easily available. (I’m very easily available, but then I’m someone with an extremely low public profile, and even so I sometimes feel beleagured by e-mail, Facebook messages, and blog comments.)

One Response to “Gloomy tech days at the NYT”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    It now clearly seems to be the case that the link worked fine for some time, got screwed up yesterday and today, and was fixed sometime today.

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