Yves here. Established institutions like the New York Times trying to bring in new audiences/consumers often make pratfalls. The results too often look like a middle aged man or woman getting a trainer and some plastic surgery and pursuing younger…as in awfully young….lovers.
The Grey Lady’s efforts have often been mercenary, like driving out serious business reporters as they kept elevating Wall Street’s favorite promoter, Andrew Ross Sorkin. And some are head-scratchers, like “Who even thought it was worth the effort to rebrand ‘op ed’ because it wasn’t inclusive enough?” As in you had to be an old fart to recognize that it derived from “opposite the editorial page?” So in the interest of not making young people feel left out, we must also get rid of expressions like “spanner in the works” (from industrial sabotage and therefore exclusionary because presumes knowledge of history), “rein in” (because from horse riding and therefore aristocratic) and “lashed to the mast” (from Greek classics and therefore old privileged white men derived)?
But this example is in a category all its own.
By Michael Olenick, Executive Fellow, INSEAD Business School
The New York Times continues working to rid itself of their increasingly infamous cooking community. For those not in the know, the New York Times Cooking Community is a Facebook group that’s been like a bunion on the Grey Lady’s foot. As Vice eloquently put it, Not Even the NYT Wants to Be a Part of Its Cooking Facebook Group Anymore.
Nevertheless, the saga has the appeal of a freeway pileup. Not one of those little fender benders but a Bentley (that’d be the New York Times) tangled up with a bunch of old Honda’s (that’d be the rest of us). We know it’s best to keep driving by but we just can’t help but look.
My daughter’s been studying for the SAT so I’ll try to explain it in the terms that test uses, which happens to be the first and last place to ever see these types of comparisons. The New York Times Cooking Community is to the NYT brand as Hunter Biden is to Joe. As Trump is to real estate developers. As my French bulldog is to dogs. You get the picture…
Speaking of my teenage daughter, when I told her the New York Times created a Facebook group where they expected highbrow discussions, she spit her water across the table and started laughing so hard I worried she’d choke. Thinking firstly, can I do the Heimlich and, second, would it work on water, she recovered. Then started laughing again so much her face turned beet red.
Look, I work in academia focused on innovation but some ideas are just dumb. Like lawn darts. The Segway. And the aspirational highbrow New York Times Cooking Community Facebook group, founded February 19, 2019, blew up last year thanks to cooped-up COVID cooks.
Anyhoo, as the US election neared last November, the restless Facebook cooks decided a get-out-the-vote campaign was a good idea. Their editors at the Times apparently disagreed, deleting any post with any political connotation including “Go Vote.” Posts that all too often displayed revolting recipes instead started a traditional revolt with things like bagels shaped into letters spelling out “GO VOTE.” Take that, anonymous moderators at the New York Times!
A brief digression. If I’d gotten a job at the New York Times in any type of editorial position, I’d be stoked. I mean, seriously, it’s the newspaper of record. The most prestigious news publication in the world. The New York Times is like … well … the New York Times. But if I’d found out soon after my job was to moderate their Facebook Cooking Group I’d probably be more deflated than a flopped cake.
The apparently disenchanted editors of the Times were openly thrilled to simultaneously be given the editorial equivalent of septic tank cleanup coupled with voter suppression. They did their job with the enthusiasm of a French bureaucrat I knew tasked with manual map making after electronic systems were invented. He showed up, clocked in, and spent the day at the bar with other obsolete mapmakers. The pension wasn’t bad though he couldn’t enjoy it long due to cirrhosis accumulated by decades of missed work coupled with heavy day drinking, a fate the moderators of the New York Times Cooking Community saw for themselves in due course.
Hoping to do something more meaningful, which includes pretty much anything – and after another user revolt for another election – they decided to make like a titan of private equity and divest the asset but to who? After apparently finding interest in the 75,000-person cooking community was comparable to buyers of the Sears brand, they settled on that tried-and-true method, a management buyout. The New York Times would choose some new moderators from within, change the name, and do the walk of shame back to headquarters never again to mention their misguided foray into social media.
The new moderators would be experienced, level-headed, patient, and hip. All the things you’d expect after a meltdown where the New York Times arguably got jammed up for engaging in voter suppression, right? Only time will tell but we now know one thing they wouldn’t be is diverse: after being named not a single one is black and the oldest tops out at 42. They look more like the children of that community than those who bother posting their best tips and tricks for veggie lasagna.
Apparently, 63% of New York Times readers are under the age of 50. That doesn’t sync with the anecdote of every single person I know who subscribes though the same study says readers of the Wall Street Journal are also young, making me think ad departments are taking poetic liberties.
In any event, that demographic segment describes 100% of their new mods. When I brought a lack of age diversity dire enough it looked like age discrimination in a 25-word comment, one of the new mods said they will not be “bullied and bashed and slandered” and told me I’ll be muted and removed. She’d been on the job about an hour.
Comment moderating, at the New York Times or elsewhere, is a crappy job. People are awful. And Facebook isn’t known for bringing out the best. Still, if you’re representing a well-respected brand, it’s probably best to approach it with some level of professionalism. Handing things off to an all-millennial (except one) group of mods, which didn’t include a single black person, was probably as bad an idea as hummus with liver. Expecting them to act any different than the guards at the infamous Stanford prison experiment was naïve.
I don’t remember when I first joined the New York Times Cooking Community but I eventually bailed. I rejoined in January and tuned out soon after except for noticing the admittedly excellent breakaway Mean People Cooking Community, a place of fun people and good recipes.
Normally, the best thing to do with a bunion is have it removed. If I were the New York Times, I’d declare their project a brand-taint failure and shutter their misbegotten cooking community before an already problematic place gets any worse. Like a recipe where you inadvertently added 10x the amount of salt, some things are beyond hope.