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Frustrated musicians: The New York Times doesn't want to hear your "continued complaints" about its "Creative Apocalypse" numbers

Criticize the Times' use of statistics, get a very chilly response


David Lowery
August 29, 2015 12:10AM (UTC)
A version of this story was originally published August 26 on The Trichordist.

Check this email out. It’s from the “standards editor” at the New York Times, Greg Brock. This came to me in response to the various links I sent to stories that criticized and disputed the premise, the statistics and conclusions in the recent Times article  “The Creative Apocalypse that Wasn’t.” In particular, I excerpted and noted when the statistics cited in the article could not be logically used to support arguments, or when the statistics themselves had been brought into question by other researchers.

Dear Mr. Lowery:

I oversee the corrections process for The Times, along with other issues on standards. I was aware of your initial query that was sent to the public editor's office and then forwarded to us. Because of your continued complaints, I asked to see all of the correspondence and all of the research and documentation from the reporting. I agree with our researchers that no correction is warranted.

I am sure this is a decision with which you will not agree. In fact, I could tell in reading your queries that you would never accept any explanation from us. Because of that, I see no reason to continue this. There will be no correction and this will be the only response from my office or from anyone else connected to the reporting and research.

Sincerely,

Greg Brock
Senior Editor for Standards

WTF? Right? (Here's a screen capture of the email.)

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At no time was I insulting or rude to Mr Brock personally.  I simply thought I was helping The New York Times maintain some sort of integrity by helpfully forwarding criticism to the Standards Desk, as suggested by the office of the Public Editor.

Not only does Mr. Brock refuse to acknowledge the serious questions about the statistics used in the article, he seems to resort to a gratuitous ad hominem attack on me personally.  Does this email look like it comes from someone that wants to get the facts straight?

So the premise of this post is “The New York Times Standards Desk does not care about the facts.” I believe that I can make this case. May I?

1. The question of who is counted in "professional musicians"

Thomas Lumley posted this article, which notes that the OES changed their methodology on counting musicians, music directors and composers. This means that the “increase” in “professional musicians” cited in this story is actually due to a change in methodology. As Lumley keenly observes, the survey later began counting music teachers at schools. Without the addition of the teachers, there would have been a decrease in professional musicians. Since the author spends a lot of time discussing this key statistic, the New York Times has an obligation to its readers to note the problems with this particular usage of the dataset.  Mr. Brock acting on behalf of the New York Times has chosen not to note this fact.

2. The question of the touring landscape

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In the article in question, the author notes, “According to one source, the top 100 tours of 2000 captured 90 percent of all revenue, while today the top 100 capture only 43 percent.” The problem here is that the number of tours has grown since 2000.  Therefore the top 100 tours represents a larger percentage of the tours in 2000 than it does in 2015. For instance, if the number of concerts has doubled (by some measures it has), and say 100 concert tours represented 2 percent of all tours in 2000, it would only represent 1 percent in 2015. So naturally, the percentage of revenue received by the top 100 tours would decline. Therefore this fact can’t be used to support the authors statement  “touring has become more egalitarian.” I pointed out this in an email to the New York Times Public Editor and to the Standards Desk. The standards desk has chosen not to correct or note this logical fallacy for its readers, and just for good measure decided to personally insult me.

3. Outside fact-checkers were ignored

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The Future of Music Coalition note that they were consulted as fact checkers on this article. The Future of Music Coalition has since declared that “NYT Magazine chose to publish without substantive change most of the things that we told them were either: a) not accurate or b) not verifiable because there is no industry consensus and the “facts” could really go either way.” Why, then, did they publish the article when the fact checkers were telling them that something was wrong? This alone requires the public editor to investigate this incident.

4. After the story was published, many outside critics agreed

Many other authors have commented on shortcomings and omissions in this article.  They all appear to have valid points.  Most concern the omission of statistics and figures that would undermine the author’s rosy picture of life for creators in the digital age. Despite all of this Greg Brock Senior Editor of Standards has declared “There will be no Correction.”  So basically, no matter what facts may come to light, The New York Times has officially declared in advance they will not change the article.

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Amazing. I rest my case. Truth is dead at the New York Times.


David Lowery

David Lowery is the singer, songwriter and guitarist for the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. He writes about issues related to artists' rights in the digital age at The Trichordist.

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