What's with the New York Times Magazine adding editor credits to the end of features?

Media criticism.
March 3 2011 6:42 PM

Credit Score

What's with the New York Times Magazine adding editor credits to the end of features?

The New York Times Magazine. Click image to cover.

The March 6 issue of the redesigned New York Times Magazine will contain—among many other changes—this new wrinkle: credits at the end of features that name the piece's editor. The new Magazine also includes a masthead with e-mail addresses for the entire staff.

The idea comes from the Magazine's new editor, Hugo Lindgren, who tells Adweekthat credits and e-mail addresses are "symbolic" changes "to show readers—we like to hear from them, we want to get feedback—that we're not inaccessible."

I don't doubt Lindgren for a moment. However, nobody outside of journalism cares who edited a piece in the Magazine, and Lindgren knows that. But what the hell, if you want to attract attention to your redesigned magazine, you'd be a damn fool not to do everything in your power to make people notice.

The Bloomberg and Reuters wires already provide editor credits at the ends of their dry news stories, so Lindgren isn't pioneering the practice—and isn't pretending to, either. * As for publishing the masthead and e-mail addresses, I'd be a lot more impressed if the addresses were the unpublicized @nytimes.com addresses Magazine staffers use all day long, and not all suffixed "MagGroup," as in H.Lindgren-MagGroup@nytimes.com, which indicates that they were specially ginned up for public consumption. Does listing a phone number for a phone that no one ever answers improve accountability or transparency?

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Perhaps there's a good reason to put editor credits at the end of wire stories. If the editor is in charge of continuing coverage on that beat, the wires should make him easy to reach for aggrieved readers. But editor credits for features? I can understand that only as a vanity play to make them feel good about themselves. I'll bet the idea was not a very hard sell for Lindgren among the magazine's staff.

Let me tell you a thing or two about editors. Most that I've known have mistakenly thought they, and not the writers, deserved the credit for all the good pieces that run in their publication and none of the blame for the bad ones. (I think this held true for me, too, when I was an editor!) Try complimenting an editor sometime about a good piece in his publication, and you're certain to get this eye-rolling response: "You shoulda seen it when it came in!" For this reason alone, editors should be sentenced to perpetual anonymity. I would make it illegal to reveal the names of editors if I were dictator of the world.

The New York Times Magazine'smove reflects the growing fetishization of credit-making and -taking in our culture. As recently as the early 1950s, a motion picture would begin with a few brief credits to the artists, actors, and technicians who had contributed to it, and the closing credits would be nonexistent or confined to a list of the featured cast. But at some point—was it the biblical epics?—the crews grew larger and larger, and so did the closing credits. When did the endless credits that accompany fashion photo shoots become de rigueur? Or the inane credits that follow some public radio shows?! I'm sure that moms everywhere celebrate the credit explosion, but who else?

Not to go all Ed Anger on you, but editor credits make my bowels seize the same way the "letters from the editor" in some magazines do. Graydon Carter! Shut up and let me read my Vanity Fair in peace! I don't want to know more about the writer of the story, how the story came together, and how wonderful it is. Just let me intuit all of that from reading the story itself.

I wish Lindgren and his crew all the luck in the world, but as they say in the business, the story isn't about you. I see through your transparency.

***

Edited by Michael Newman; copy-edited by Chad Lorenz; home-page headline by Lorenz, John Swansburg, Julia Turner, and David Plotz; art chosen by Vivian Selbo and placed by Jenny Livengood; one joke—barely worth stealing—by Timothy Noah; comments moderated by Jeremy Stahl; SEO enhancement by Katherine Goldstein. No interns were harmed in the production of this piece. Demand a credit of your own via e-mail: slate.pressbox@gmail.com. Twitter's 140-character limit makes it useless for giving credit. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word credit in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Correction, March 4, 2011: This article originally stated that the Associated Press runs editor credits on some of its stories. That is not the case. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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