Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Journalistic Betrayals -- Is the NYT experimenting with Pinteresque alternate chronologies?

Just so everyone's up to speed on the allusions:
Betrayal is a play written by Harold Pinter in 1978. Critically regarded as one of the English playwright's major dramatic works, it features his characteristically economical dialogue, characters' hidden emotions and veiled motivations, and their self-absorbed competitive one-upmanship, face-saving, dishonesty, and (self-)deceptions.


Pinter's particular usage of reverse chronology in structuring the plot is innovative: the first scene takes place after the affair has ended, in 1977; the final scene ends when the affair begins, in 1968; and, in between 1977 and 1968, scenes in two pivotal years (1977 and 1973) move forward chronologically.

And  with  a nod to Andrew Gelman's Class Foghorn Leghorn
"The Betrayal" is the 164th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. This was the eighth episode for the ninth and final season. It aired on November 20, 1997. The episode is colloquially referred to as The Backwards Episode due to its use of reverse chronology, starting with the final scene and playing in order backwards.
While reading this New York Times piece on the reaction of Silicon Valley to Thiel's machinations, it struck me that, while the story as written was notably biased against Gawker, it was possible to rearrange the paragraphs so as to have a much more balanced account.

For example, what would have probably made the best lede:
Twenty-five years ago, tech coverage was the domain of geeks and trade reporters — people who understood their way around a motherboard, were excited by it and wouldn’t dream of crossing certain boundaries. Now, with tech at its zenith, much of the coverage of the industry is still done by enthusiasts. Combine this with the need to get the power players to come to the media’s conferences and there is a real reluctance to look behind the scenes.

was buried very near the end of the piece.

That, in turn, called to mind our earlier discussion of the twenty paragraph gap in a NYT piece between a GOP claim about the danger of voter fraud and a summary of the overwhelming evidence refuting the assertion. The serious flaws in the article could all have been fixed by cutting and pasting.

I initially thought of this as some kind of literary joke where the articles were told backwards like something from a Harold Pinter play. As I started to write the post, however, I realize that we've seen this sort of thing a lot from this paper. Above the fold we get the standard narrative; below the fold, we get all the pertinent details that undercut it. This is pure speculation on my part, but it feels as if some stories are being reworked after-the-fact in order to conform to conventional wisdom and the papers editorial stances.

Or maybe I just watched too many episodes of Seinfeld.

1 comment:

  1. Mark:

    Your editorial-interference theory could be correct, but my guess has always been that newspaper journalists think of themselves as writers first and reporters second. News articles are structured like magazine articles, and it's much more about tone and style than about laying out the facts.