About Today’s NYT A-1 Trend Story…

… the one about how “people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities?” It is, according to NYTpicker, held together by a few anecdotes supplied by people with “various personal and professional connections” to the reporter and/or to each other and who are never thus identified.

Writes NYTpicker:

[R]eaders expect, when they read a page-one NYT trend story, that the reporter has made ample effort to prove his thesis by casting a wide net for examples and evidence.

Really? This is what some readers expect of these sorts of pieces?


Readers don’t presume — unless told otherwise — that the sources quoted in a story have worked with the reporter, have made regular appearances in the NYT, or… have been paid by the NYT.

I guess I do usually presume that sources in (and the inspiration for) such trend stories are at least more like friends-of-friends or co-workers-of-friends, if not friends-of-friends-of-friends and co-workers-of-friends-of-friends, along with the go-to “expert” or source who has “made regular appearances in the NYT.” (And in this case, how hard would it have been for the reporter to find one or two people who aren’t connected to his current- or former-employer or to each other, and for whom checking email/voicemail/Facebook also comes before the traditional morning ablutions? Harder than tracking down more than one unconnected-to-the-reporter —as far as we know— woman who orders steak instead of salad? Or housewife who’s taken up pole-dancing?)

More NYTpicker:

It may not violate the paper’s rules, but in our view it betrays the reader’s trust for a NYT reporter to have made so little effort to find examples outside his own insular world, and to have failed to thoroughly identify his sources for readers. Those failures diminish the value of a trend story dependent primarily on anecdotes, especially one given such prominent display on the NYT’s front page.

NYTpicker is right. Just because I automatically assume a trend reporter has made “very little effort to find examples outside his own insular world” to support his thesis doesn’t mean other readers are so jaded, nor does it excuse the failure —a failure which, along with the failure to “thoroughly identify” sources, isn’t exactly unique to “trend” reporting (political reporting, anyone?)

UPDATE: NYT spokesperson responds to NYTpicker. In sum: We stand by the validity of the technology-before-loo-and-coffee trend, if not the strength of the evidence presented in support of said trend. And, maybe editors would have asked the reporter for “more examples” if they’d known “about the relationships among those quoted,” which, apparently like Times readers, they did not.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.