Andrew Adam Newman: Paid Conduit (Read: Hack) for Blog Ideas to Gray Lady

I’m hoping it’s either serendipity or perhaps a subconsious riff on the deisgn similarities manifest within book covers, but it looks like the New York Times may have ripped off Nathalie Chicha. Not only did Andrew Adam Newman use the same examples that Nathalie used, but he quoted the blog Foreword, quite literally jonesing Foreword’s proprietor for examples rather than doing the legwork himself. (That would involve going to a bookstore and using a pair of eyes.)

It can be argued that a good journalist essentially collects information and assembles it. But the real question I have to ask is why Newman didn’t at least consult Nathalie in the course of writing his article, particularly when she was the one who ferreted out the issue in the first place and when a link to her visual examples was featured in the comments section at Foreword. Newman could have included a simple sentence along the lines of “Nathalie Chicha, editor of the blog Galleycat, has collected several interpretive examples of what these covers might mean.”

I would suggest that tracking the original source of an association is what a paid journalist should be expected to do. It’s decent and ethical and it also allows you to swap information with the enthused experts. Everybody wins.

(While I am not paid to blog here, I do go out of my way to attribute the original source, if I have found an item from somebody else — because it’s just possible that for anyone interested in the topic, there may be a debate or an additional debate or possibly a fantastic rabbit hole to head down.)

Most bloggers do this. It’s not entirely perfect, given that we’re posting entries on the fly, but it is possible to track linkage. However, if this is a case where bloggers are doing a better job of accrediting a source than Andrew Adam Newman, the real question is why the Times didn’t hire Nathalie Chicha to write the piece. She had the knowledge, she had the curiosity, and if a bit of cash and a shrewd and encouraging editor had been thrown her way, I’m convinced she would have dug up the reasoning behind the design similarities.

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  1. You’re right that it would have been good for me have to directed readers to Nathalie Chicha’s web site, since she occasionally posts examples of look-alike covers. But that’s about all you’re right about.

    For someone who sermonizes on ethics, you have a pretty good bag of Evil Reporter tricks yourself. You say I “may have ripped off” Nathalie Chicha, which lets you insinuate it without having the goods. In fact, there are three cover look-alike examples cited in my piece in the New York Times. Two of those three were never cited on Chica’s cite. The third example was only partially: I note the uncanny resemblance of Todd Hasak-Lowry’s “The Task of this Translator” to Barry Yourgrau’s “Wearing Dad’s Head,” then go on to say that both appear to riff, to a lesser extent, on Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” which itself is an homage Magritte; Chicha had only compared “The Task of This Translator” to “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” a much less compelling example, in my opinion.

    I posted on the blog Foreword months ago asking book designers for examples of look-alike covers. Reaching out to experts in the field for information might strike some as diligence in reporting; it strikes you as a transgression.

    I did not fail to credit Nathalie Chicha as the impetus for the idea of my story: I pitched the story and was given he assignment before I had ever heard of her or her site. You say, “the real question is why the Times didn’t hire Nathalie Chicha to write the piece.” Um, because I pitched it to the Times and Chicha didn’t? Is your suggestion that editors should steal freelancers’ pitches, then reassign them to other freelancers, or have someone on staff write them? There’s an idea you might have a little trouble rallying a writers’ union around.

    I spent many hours conducting interviews and – contrary to your assertion – in bookstores, in the reporting of this story. Sure, say that I’m lazy, that I’m something less than “decent and ethical,” but you’re the one who maligned me without ever leaving your swivel chair or worrying yourself about the facts.

    Andrew Adam Newman

  2. You are absolutely incorrect in assuming that I posted that entry without leaving a swivel chair. On the contrary, I was actually laying on the floor, contemplating the precise way I needed to eat a pretzel when I stumbled upon what you have styled “reaching out” and what I call rampant pillaging, and I posted this entry.

    The chief criticism I have is that you ran with an idea without pointing to one the idea’s original sources. If you had done that (and you seem very much aware of Ms. Chicha’s original post), then we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’m suggesting that if an editor is considering a pitch, he should be aware of the other things that have been written about the subject. This makes solid sense from an intellectual perspective and it ensures that a newspaper maintains a steady flow of original journalism. Surely, the NYT has plenty of resources on its hands to post absurdly pedantic corrections.

    Let us be clear on this. The article itself has no mention whatsoever of Ms. Chicha and fails to credit her in any way. If you’re suggesting that a paragraph along these lines was edited out, then I might empathize. But you say that you only credited Nathalie in your proposal. And that, in my opinion, is irresponsible: the mark of a man capitalizing on an idea he pilfered and profited on from another blog.

    And, by the way, Ms. Chicha’s last name is spelled with two Hs.

  3. I have no dog in this fight, but I do have a compulsion to correct your “laying on the floor.” Laying tiles, eggs, carpet? Or were you actually lying on the floor?

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