The Times’s Incredibly Uninteresting Google Feature

I confess I just couldn’t bring myself to read the jump of yesterday’s 2,600 word New York Times piece on Google vice president Marissa Mayer. I’m just about tired of all things Google anyway, but combine that with a story about a high-ranking, self-obsessed pedant at Google and it becomes almost physically impossible to turn the page.

See for example paragraph No. 5:

People may not understand Ms. Mayer, but as the “it girl” at one of the world’s hottest companies she is very hard to ignore. A popular guest on TV news programs and talk shows, a Google-booster often quoted in print, and a rapid-fire presence on San Francisco’s social scene, she is the rare executive who has become — at least in the sometimes cloistered world of computer geeks — a celebrity.


So I want to thank Valleywag’s Owen Thomas for braving the piece for us, coming out with the interesting parts, and putting it in context. His post gave me a reason to forge on: schadenfreude.

Here’s an example of why the Times story is boring. This is the kicker:

“It hasn’t shown up anywhere that I am really physically active,” she says. “I ran the San Francisco half marathon this year. I did the Portland marathon. I went skiing just yesterday. I’m going to do the Birkebeiner, which is North America’s longest cross-country ski race. That just shows you how much there are gaps.”

Here’s how Valleywag makes you want to read it:

Ah yes, the Portland Marathon, in which Mayer placed 7,074th out of 7,862 contestants. Or the Birkebeiner ski race, in which she placed dead last in the women’s competition. Good students are good at all things.

Ouch! Valleywag’s last sentence there refers to this quote from the Times:

One candidate got a C in macroeconomics. “That’s troubling to me,” Ms. Mayer says. “Good students are good at all things.”

The problem with the Times story is one that afflicts all journalism all too often: It’s got the goods, but it doesn’t step back, analyze what it has, and say it. Let’s face it, Mayer is probably loathed inside Google (as Valleywag says), but the Times makes us read between the lines to figure that out:

On a recent morning, a handful of program managers and other executives huddled around a long table in Building 43 on the Google campus here in Mountain View to review changes to products in development. Ms. Mayer was running late. The first team to present was ready, a Web page outlining their offering projected onto a large white wall.

“You are going to get comments from Marissa on that gray text,” a female colleague warns one of the waiting managers. “Be prepared for that.”

“I think the gray is unimportant,” he replies. “It looks fine.”

“I know,” the colleague says. “But you will get comments.”

Ms. Mayer enters the room a few minutes into the manager’s presentation and quickly interrupts him. “That gray-on-gray text is hard to read,” she says. “What are we going to do about that?”

“We can change it,” the manager concedes.

Thanks to Valleywag for the decoder ring.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.