'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Can a guy named Sam save 'The New York Times'?

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

I am addicted to The New York Times. I love it, read it every day, and can not imagine a world without it. It took strong counsel from friends smarter than me not sink the little money I have into Times Co stock.

But people keep saying the paper’s dying, that my beloved source of information is in decline. No! So it was with keen interest that I read a story last week suggesting  Sam Sifton, the new dining critic, would be an excellent candidate to run the greatest paper in the world.

Really? This certainly hadn’t occurred to me when I first read Sifton would be replacing the departing (to an editor at large Times magazine job) critic Frank Bruni. But the article, in Slate.com’s The Big Money, made an interesting case:

What makes Sifton the man who ought to be considered a future editor of the Times is his ability to attack and explore popular subjects with intellectual rigor. Combine that with an ability to attract readers to stories with compelling headlines, art, and ledes, and you have all the tools necessary for leading the Times into the future on the web. Because out there on the flat, infinite plane of the Web, all stories have an equal opportunity to become the story of the day. The challenge for the Times is not to promote the soft news over the hard but to be able show, when relevant, that what happens in the kitchen (or on the playground or on television) can be just as important as what goes on in Afghanistan.

So it was with no less interest that I read Sifton’s pieces this week. The flagship one was a two-star review of DBGB, the new beer and food joint on the Bowery. OK, fine: He makes the requisite points about the place being near CBGB and how no one cares enough to retaliate by kicking in the door. Not that different than what I’d expect from Bruni, or any other competent Timesman of Sifton’s age, 43, to write.

But the second piece — a brief on a place called Cowgirl Seahorse — was a kind of sparkling revelation. You should read the whole thing yourself, if you care, but I’ll leave you with this taste:

And so there is on the menu coconut shrimp ($7.95) from Sugar Reef. Sugar Reef was nutso fake Caribbean eating in the ’80s East Village, fun like a fifth-floor walk-up with a pretty girl by your side. The shrimp are weird and wonderful time machines, crunchy and large, not so revelatory in flavor but a pleasant and intense reminder of a neighborhood filled with boys in pegged jeans late to band practice.

If the Times needs to lead the future of newspapers not by breaking news but by being the supreme cultural arbiter and guide, I think a good boss might be the guy who wrote that. (Or we’re all screwed. I just reread the piece and am concerned drug-taking may have been involved. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, too.)

So where should Sifton do requisite time on the foreign desk? Beijing? Berlin? Bogota? I want to believe the future is bright, not bleak!

via Eating His Way to the Top | The Big Money.

via Dining Briefs – Recently Opened – Dining Briefs – Cowgirl SeaHorse – Review – NYTimes.com.

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Filed under: Business, Jobs, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

What almost killed Wall Street? Smart people.

Harvard University

Way to go, Harvard. (Image via Wikipedia)

The always entertaining Calvin Trillin steps out of the pages of The New Yorker to tell the grey lady’s masses how Wall Street went wrong. Recreating the bar-side chat in which the writer himself learned the secret, Trillin assumes we know a bit about Harvard, club ties, and straight-up martinis. That’s OK, right? Because I bet most of you who are reading do.

Anyhow, the really clever idea is that Wall Street for generations had been the reasonably well-paid refuge for the Ivy League’s underachievers — the ones who slept through geology but grew up in Greenwich and figured they, like their dads and granddads, would hit the trading floor and buy a sailboat.

But then Harvard’s smartest — and MIT’s and CalTech’s even — realized they could forgo being professors and lawyers and other relatively less lucrative professions in order to make billions on Wall Street. Seeking fortunes — or at least a way to pay off student loans — Trillin says these top-of-the-class types messed up the stuffy, functionally mediocre world of stocks and loans with their slide-rules and overachieving. Credit default swaps, derivatives, blind short-selling? That’s all apparently fancy stuff that could have only been invented by the new influx of smarties. And no one up top could stop it, because the bosses were all old-school, sub-geniuses who didn’t know what was going on.

“When the smart guys started this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place, who was running the firms they worked for? Our guys! The lower third of the class! Guys who didn’t have the foggiest notion of what a credit default swap was. All our guys knew was that they were getting disgustingly rich, and they had gotten to like that. All of that easy money had eaten away at their sense of enoughness.”

Let that be a lesson to you, ye of good grades. Please stay where you belong: Away from the billions, safely ensconced in the various padded cells of privilege, where the most harm you (me? my friends?) can do is write a snotty blog post. And what damage could that do?

via Op-Ed Contributor – Wall Street Smarts – NYTimes.com.

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Filed under: Business, Economy, ivy league, Jobs, New York Times, , , , , ,

For U.S. journalists, two good reasons to stop complaining

iran protest

Taking photos of the Iran protests landed countless journalists in jail. (Image by buridan via Flickr)

It’s a sad, woe-is-me kind of time for journalists. Newspapers shuttered! Internet ruining everything! No jobs! Ads disappearing! But two excellent stories in my favorite paper of record give a little perspective.

The first, from Iran, is the gut punch: Journalists there are not only losing their jobs at a record clip — 2,000 in recent months, by some reports — but they are being jailed, tortured, and exiled. The New York Times gets the story of one riveting escape, a photographer who made it to the comparative safety of northern Iraq:

For two months Ehsan Maleki traveled around Iran with a backpack containing his cameras, a few pieces of clothing and his laptop computer, taking pictures of the reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi during the presidential campaign. He did not know that his backpack and his cameras would soon become his only possessions, or that he would be forced to crawl out of the country hiding in a herd of sheep.

The second, from a small town in New Mexico, is maybe equally inspiring. In it, we learn about the new life of the ex-D.C. correspondent for a now-shuttered western paper. Moving to tiny Guadalupe, M. E. Sprengelmeyer could either afford to buy a house… or one of the town’s two weekly newspapers. He chose newsprint over stucco:

Eight months ago, Mr. Sprengelmeyer, 42, worked as the sole Washington correspondent for The Rocky Mountain News, the Denver newspaper that went out of business in February, but his job these days is a far cry from the Senate press gallery.

In August, he embarked on a new life in this isolated little town as owner, publisher, editor, primary writer and sometime ad salesman, photographer and deliverer of the weekly Guadalupe County Communicator, circulation about 2,000.

Sprengelmeyer is actually making pretty good money, he says, and he’s even considering bringing his new paper out twice a week. “I couldn’t do this if I had a family,” he tells the Times. “But it feels like it matters, and I’m having fun.”

So as we mourn the apparently bygone days of Conde excess, Time Inc grandeur, Hearst munificence, and Times Co glory, don’t underestimate the scrappy reality on the ground.

For every laid-off Senior Editor in Manhattan there are 500 wildcats roaming foreign lands with pen and paper, braving FSB intimidation or Basij batons. And for every jettisoned Staff Photographer in L.A. there’s a wily entrepreneur doing it her own way in small-town USA.

Buck up! Others actually do die — or at least move to New Mexico — trying.

Extra credit: Check out Sprengelmeyer’s bitchin’, unapologetic story about owning two of Jack Abramoff’s old suits.

via Reporter Resurrects Career – Buys His Own Paper – NYTimes.com.

via Iranian Journalists Flee, Fearing Retribution for Covering Protests – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Don't be lazy, Economy, Jobs, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

Twins embrace ancient art of NY bartending

USA 2006 (October 9th) New York, New York City

New York: It's hard -- always has been. (Image by Paraflyer via Flickr)

I do feel sorry for Kristy and Katie, twins from the Midwest who’ve lived difficult and unrewarding lives in New York for a year. College graduates and aspiring journalists, the ladies describe their year-long job search to The New York Times:

SEVENTEEN months out of Rutgers University, they live in an unwelcome continuum of mass rejection. Between them, Kristy and Katie Barry, identical twins who grew up in Ohio, have applied for some 150 jobs: a magazine for diabetics, a Web site about board games and a commercial for green tea-flavored gum; fact-checking at Scholastic Books, copy editing for the celebrity baby section of People.com, road-tripping for College Sports Television.

The story —  by N.R. Kleinfield — goes on to list the pair’s travails. Highlights include:

  • Eating too many canned beans.
  • Busking for business cards — networking! — not money.
  • Having their mom tell them she’s embarrassed by them.

Like I said, I am sympathetic to the ladies: It sucks to tend bar and be broke and eat beans and wonder if things will work out. (Hint: They will or they won’t.) But I’m still annoyed.

After all, aside from a select few — the rich, the lucky, the talented, or a combination thereof — most everyone’s first year in New York is less than glamorous, not the “lush time of stimulating work, picturesque travel and a rich social orbit” the twins say they expected. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economy, Islam, Jobs, Journalism, New York City, New York Times, , , , , ,