May 23, 2003

JACK SHAFER HAS MORE ON RICK BRAGG, who looks set to be the Times' next source of reportorial controversy. [White guy, right? With a WASP-y name? How convennnient! -- Ed. Don't be so cynical. It's purely a coincidence, I'm sure.]

Shafer may be too hard on Bragg, and not hard enough on the Times, though, as reader Edward Barrera emails that the practice of using freelance reporters -- called "legs" -- to do the shoeleather work isn't so uncommon at the Times:

Rick Bragg is not the only NY Times staffer who uses freelance work without attribution. The metro section of the Times uses freelancers, they call them 'legs,' to run down stories in New York City. They sometimes do all the reporting on the story, interviews, etc. The 'legs' call it in, and someone else writes the story. The freelancer, who gets paid by the hour, gets neither a shared byline or even a credit tagline at the end. I worked as an intern at the Daily News, and we always received either one. I use to ask these guys about it, and they just said, "It's the Times way." Why shouldn't Bragg dismiss a freelancer's work? It's the "Times way."

I don't know anything about this, but if it's true it's pretty damning to the Times, but puts Bragg's work in a less-damaging light. It's something that journalists on the story ought to look at, anyway.

UPDATE: Another journalist reader emails:

In reference to your latest post about Rick Bragg, I did some freelance work for the Times last November on the tornadoes up in Morgan County and received no credit line in the finished story, at least not in the online edition. It's possible something was different in the hard copy, but I doubt it. Just thought I'd let you know.

Hmm. It definitely sounds as if someone should look into this.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This is looking less and less unusual. Dexter Van Zile emails:

A few years ago, I worked as a freelance stringer for the Boston Bureau of the Associated Press. I covered a story where a kid came ran out in a snowstorm the day before thanksgiving and he was found a few days later in a swamp.

I did knocked on door to the family's home (they refused to talk) I hung out in the town and gathered all the info.

Then toward the end of the assignment, a staff reporter for the bureau came down to give me a cell phone. by driving down to the town, he was able to use his byline on the story as well as the dateline. otherwise it would have been an unsigned story. He did no information gathering whatsoever, but by delivering a cell phone, and writing the info up at his desk in boston, he got a byline and a dateline.

Sounded screwy to me, but that's what it was.

So this sort of thing may or may not be wrong, but it certainly doesn't sound all that unusual, and not just at the Times. Meanwhile, Lou Dolinar emails:

Regarding the stringer thing at the Times: I'd love to know how that's changed in the last 30 years. I worked for Wally Turner (Black Money) as his Las Vegas stringer in 1972, and ran my ass off to get a couple of bylines. Had to be your own story, an exclusive, and hard news. In those days, I can't imagine someone parachuting in from New York and stealing your work, and your byline.

I don't know the story here, but it seems as if things here are more complicated than they sounded at first.

UPDATE: There's much more on this in a later post, here. And although there's more than a whiff of opportunism about the Bragg disciplinary action, these facts do support my earlier suggestion that the white males at the Times have a lot of problems, too.