The New York Times is, for better or worse, the most influential and prestigious newspaper in the world. One thing it absolutely cannot do well? Write a dang blog.
Take this story, for example: “The Latest Smear Against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: A Fake Nude Photo”
This is a short news article that multiple other outlets had already covered when the Times got to it last week. It is, for all intents and purposes, an aggregated blog: much of the information comes from reporting done by other sources—the newsworthy element of the article is not something first revealed by Times reporting. This is fine. Aggregating is fine. Every publication does it. This is part of my job as well! But there are rules, and the first one is that you always, always credit your sources.
The New York Times is fucking terrible at this. Motherboard, Vice’s technology site, reported on and thoroughly debunked the AOC fake nude story on Jan. 7, three days before the Times published and four days before its story ran in the paper.
The proper notation, which the Times and pretty much every other outlet uses, is “first reported by [Outlet Name]” with a link to the original story. The Times does this in the big political scoops it competes with the Washington Post for. Sometimes you don’t get the story first.
In the AOC foot pic story, however, Motherboard doesn’t get a mention. There’s one hyperlink to the Motherboard story in a paragraph describing how a Reddit user first unraveled the faux AOC pic, which was how Motherboard’s reporting began. Per the Times:
But one Reddit user cross-referenced the photo with known images of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s feet on Wikifeet, a website for foot fetishists, and determined it didn’t match.
That’s it, despite the fact that Motherboard was first to directly confirm that the picture in question was actually of Sydney Leathers, the woman infamous for sexting with Anthony Weiner. Here’s Motherboard, reporting on the original Reddit thread and then talking to Leathers herself:
I asked jokes_on_you how they spotted the difference. “I’ve sucked enough toes in my life to recognize when something doesn’t look right,” they told me in a Reddit direct message. “Because we can’t dorsi- or plantarflex our 2nd-5th toes independently I knew it wasn’t a matter of the toe being bent. I thought that maybe she has some form of brachydactyly but her Wikifeet page has clear evidence to the contrary. So it was clear to me that it wasn’t her feet.”
The photo, as well as the feet, actually belong to Sydney Leathers, a political activist and cam model who you might recall from Anthony Weiner’s sexting investigation in 2016. Leathers confirmed in a Twitter direct message that the original photograph does, in fact, belong to her and features her feet. “That pic is a few years old and now reaffirms my current stance of no longer posting feet pics unless dudes pay me for it,” Leathers told me.
Motherboard EIC Jason Koebler, understandably, was pretty pissed at this:
This is far from the first time the Times has done this, and it’s not even the first time they’ve done it to Motherboard. In December, the Times published a lengthy investigation based around a series of internal Facebook documents. Motherboard had published the same documents in August.
The scope and focus of the stories was different, but it’s still extremely shitty to ignore the fact that information you’re presenting as groundbreaking has already been covered. Acknowledging prior reporting doesn’t detract from your story—it can reinforce your sourcing while offering credit where it’s due. It’s also not hard, every ethical blogger knows this! The Times’ stuffy-ass style guide seems to allow for “first reported by” credits, and the paper’s reporters and editors across sections should make use of them. Learn to blog!