Hoyt: NYT Must Laugh With (Not At) Readers

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt hears readers’ complaints (including “fat hatred” and “class bias”) stemming from that bitingly critical J.C. Penney “waddles[s] into Midtown in its big old shorts and flip-flops” with “the most obese mannequins I have ever seen” “Critical Shopper” column by Cintra Wilson in a recent Styles section. And Hoyt pronounces “lines…crossed” and probes for “lessons” learned. All beneath the headline, “The Insult Was Extra Large.”

Hoyt reports that Bill Keller himself “wished [the column] had not been published;” Keller’s mom “was a Penney’s shopper for much of her life, and she would have found the review ‘snotty.’” Concludes Hoyt: “The lesson, I think, is that it is O.K. to have fun with your readers. It is not O.K. to make fun of them.”

But having fun with her readers is precisely what Wilson says she thought she was doing with her piece; a contrite-ish Wilson tells Hoyt she always thought of her readers as “1,300 women in Connecticut and urban gay guys in Manhattan.” Maybe the lesson, then, is, “Know Thy Readers?” Or, “What With the Internet, Know That Everyone Could Be Thy Readers, Sometimes. So Let’s All Try To Dial Down the Disdain A Little. (Reviews That Couldn’t Possibly Offend Anyone Might Be Ideal)?” Or… ?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.