I have just received an e-mail from Jeremy Peters, media reporter of the New York Times. It refers to this post. The e-mail:
I’m writing to clear something up in your post from yesterday headlined “Scrub-a-dub-dub?” If you had bothered to call or write me to ask why Jill Abramson’s quote was deleted in the second version of my story, I would have told you what I’m about to tell you now. Nothing was scrubbed. And you have encouraged your readers to see some surreptitious plot where there was none.
The first version of my story, which contained the religion quote you referenced, was based on written statements from a Times press release and interviews I had done prior to the announcement of Jill’s appointment. I rewrote the story after Jill, Arthur Sulzberger, Bill Keller and Dean Baquet addressed the newsroom, swapping out nearly all of their old quotes for fresh quotes that came from their speeches. Everyone’s quotes in the second version of the story differed considerably from their quotes in the first version of the story.
On breaking news stories that develop throughout the day, we continuously update with new information, additional interviews, fuller detail and, yes, even new quotes. It should be telling that the first version of my story with the religion quote was up for nearly 12 hours before it was replaced with the version that appeared on A1 of today’s paper. And all the while, we approved and posted readers’ comments on the quote. Note that those comments remain on the site.
Since the story appeared in the paper as well as online, it had to fit our restricted space in print. A1 stories are required to be about 1,100 words, with special exceptions for investigative pieces or in-depth features. This story was already too long at more than 1,200. We needed to keep it tight.
There’s no conspiracy here. Just standard revising and updating and condensing for space.
Apparently, when there is a new “version” of a story — Mr. Peters’s word — this version acquires the link of the old version. So the previous version — again, apparently — ceases to exist. It is supplanted (and there is no indication that this has been done).
Let me rehash, quickly: Yesterday morning, I did a fairly lighthearted post — here — about the news article I read. The Times’s newly appointed executive editor, Jill Abramson, had said, “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion. If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”
That night, I got an e-mail from a reader, saying (in essence), “Hey, I went to that story you linked to, and that quote is not there.” So I said, in my follow-up post, that I found it “a tiny bit strange.” Which, frankly, I do — even now. I also said, “Abramson’s words were not exactly scrubbable, or scrub-worthy.”
So, there you have it.
AN AFTERTHOUGHT: I think of a favorite old spiritual: “I Been ’buked.” Whether this rebuke is entirely just, however, I’m not so sure. That’s one thing that readers, in this new wide-open media age, can puzzle out for themselves.