The New York Times should have double-checked its year-old Three Oaks piece before running it, but that was just a glitch in the process. What happened when I tried to reach a Times editor to ask about it typifies the kind of behavior that can run great institutions into the rocks.
I had the name of a Times Escapes editor but I didn’t have his phone number, so I did the obvious thing — I visited the Times home page to find the paper’s main number in New York, where a living person — or, more likely, a disembodied voice — could connect me to the editor. “Contact us” took me to plenty of e-mail addresses I didn’t want and to extensions where I could record messages that would be read in due time by departments I had no interest in speaking with. But there was no number where someone could “put you through,” as telephone operators used to say. No switchboard number at all.
I left a message with the public editor, Clark Hoyt, and sometime later his assistant, Michael McElroy, called back. “I know the number and so obviously it’s easy for me,” he said, in attempting to explain why the Times was too obtuse to put its main number where people would see it. (It’s 212-556-1234, by the way.) “I’m looking right now,” McElroy said as we talked. He rummaged around the Times site for a while and then gave up, allowing that he couldn’t find it. “That’s something I’ll tell Clark. That’s not a good thing.” Human contact “certainly has been pared down a lot,” McElroy conceded. “The biggest thing is more of a preference for e-mail. They try to make it where an editor’s not having to answer phone calls.”
Do you remember how newspapers used to make people feel welcome? And in return people made newspapers feel welcome! Those were good times. Now the drawbridge is up. “That’s not quite true,” McElroy protested. “We’ve made the drawbridge longer to walk across but we try to keep it down.” He said that before he discovered his newspaper hadn’t put its home phone on its Web site.