Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NYT's Coverage of Publishers Weekly Controversy Stinks

I just left my comment on a New York Times article, "Publishers Weekly Cover Draws Criticism, an Explanation and an Apology" by David Itzkoff. You may read what I said below because I don't know when or if it will post to the NYT site, but really, I wonder if Itzkoff even researched this story.
The only explanation I can think of that would explain Mr. Itzkoff's piece here about PW's Afro Picks cover is that he is a Publishers Weekly apologist or someone who owes Calvin Reid a favor. He didn't quote any statement articulating the real issue at the crux of this controversy. In fact, he quoted Julia at Harpers Studio, who is white and who did not explore in her post at all why this image is offensive. Perhaps for her it's only about the photo--a big Afro with picks--but I wouldn't presume to know her mind since she only posted the photo and asked a question.

And Mr. Itzkoff quoted Ms. Gay, a woman of color, yes, however, he selected the quote that supported his shallow framing of this issue. Ms. Gay had a lot more to say about why this photo didn't work for this cover and her commentary was not about distaste for the photo in general.

Here Mr. Itzkoff has promoted Mr. Reid's CYA presentation that this matter is all about Ms. Kelley's photo, when the objections are not about the photo as a standalone piece of art. Thus, Mr. Itzkoff is only giving his readers Mr. Reid's talking points that the complaints against the cover were frivolous, flowing from minds that just don't get high art and fun puns.

This is sloppy journalism at best, PW regurgitated spin at worst.

It's disappointing that Mr. Reid wrote to Ms. Willis and represented the issue this way and that Mr. Itzkoff joined in that misrepresentation. The beef is not about the photo but how Mr. Reid used the photo. People were angry about context, how PW used this particular image for a cover story about trends in African-American literature and black writers perhaps getting the short stick in marketing. This topic is charged for myriad reasons that go beyond the use of this photo. I'd explain that to NYT readers, but then that would mean I was doing Mr. Itzkoff's job to be fair and tell more than one side of the story.
I wrote about the anger over the Publishers Weekly "Afro Picks!" cover for, and so I was reluctant to leave a comment on Itzkoff's article but the more I thought about it the angrier I got.

No offense to Julia at Harper's Studio, but that Itzkoff quoted her, a white woman who really said nothing about why the cover was offensive, and then he selectively quoted a woman of color, Roxanne Gay, in a way that makes it appear that black writers, mostly female in this case, were simply ticked off about the photograph is a wonderful example of white privilege and male privilege. All the black women online, on Twitter, and elsewhere who spoke their minds on this topic, making it clear this was a context issue not a photograph issue, and that's how Itzkoff chose to frame his piece, to make it look like people just can't see how beautiful the photograph is and don't get Calvin Reid's sense of humor? Itzkoff's piece is so rotten it's stinking up the New York Times website.


msladydeborah said...

Okay-now that I am up to speed on the picture-I'll try to comment in a civil tone.

That cover definitely is not one that I would of selected to use with an article on Black writers.

We know that there are some really good writers publishing stories that deserve a wider audience. The picture seems to be more of narrowing the focus on their works, rather than promotoing opening up the market to the possibility of reading works by other people of color.

Sister Big said...

That's the part that is digging me, too. The easiest way to bat down any upset is to act like we don't get the joke or aren't highbrow enough to appreciate the art. The art was inappropriate and sent the wrong message, no matter who took the photograph. That's what they clearly don't get.

Derailed Poet said...

OMG, people just irk my soul! Grrrr!