Last year’s Page One documentary profiled The New York Times media desk, and today two of its best-known reporters, David Carr (left) and Brian Stelter (below), appeared on stage at Internet Week. They not only chronicled what it’s like to work at the “paper of record,” but also commented on the paywall, social media platforms, their relationship with PR professionals, and with each other. Below are highlights.
Both sounded positive notes regarding PR’s role. As Carr noted, “Now it’s a better age between journalists and PR. There’s an absence of friction, and PR is part of the data stream.” Stelter added, “I get most of my story ideas on my own, and 25 percent from companies. It’s best to keep emailing me until I reply, but no phone calls.”
Their inter-generational work relationship provides mutual benefits. Carr described their interaction as “a buddy movie.”
“When I first met Brian I asked myself, is he here to kill me or to be my friend?” Carr continued. “We trade back and forth in terms of skill sets. I helped him navigate The New York Times, which is a mystical institution, and he’s dragged me into new technologies.”
At the Times, print represents a more influential platform than Twitter. Stelter quickly learned print’s importance. “When I arrived I pivoted to the print edition, because that’s how you get promoted. To build up my credibility as a reporter I had to be on the front page to be taken seriously.” Carr added, “When the story appears first in print, it picks up additional luster and performs better.”
They gave Twitter mixed reviews, and Stelter described Twitter as “a chatroom for reporters.” He also noted times when he had to retract tweets. He joked, “I’m not paid by Twitter, and I was reminded of that last year.” Carr cautioned, “You shouldn’t break stories on Twitter unless there’s no other way, since it only serves the reporter. As for traffic, one should not mistake Twitter heat for real heat.”
Given the paper’s far-reaching impact, being accurate is more critical than being first. Stelter observed, “It can be very intimidating and you better get your facts right. It’s only a fleeting point of pride to be first to scoop a story.” Carr explained, “The Times brand is built on efficacy, authority, and seriousness. It can be paralyzing considering its effect on the lives of people we write about. Almost no blog post here goes up without another set of eyes reviewing it.”
The paywall has been a success this time. According to Carr, “Of all the things we’ve pulled off, the naysayers were totally wrong, and now we’re headed towards half a million paid subscribers. When I first started, I didn’t want to be behind the Times Select paywall [in 2005], but we all went behind the paywall together this time.”