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City Pages is right: New York Times standards slip when quoting City Pages commenters

Here’s your ultra-depressing media note of the day: the New York Times has taken to quoting anonymous City Pages commenters … earning a finger-wag from City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman.

In a story on Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s opposition to a breast-feeding-supplies tax credit, NYT reporter Kate Zernike picked this comment — “Holy mackerel, I might have to agree with Michele Bachmann on this one!” — from this CP “Blotter” item.

This is mortifyingly stupid for several reasons.

First, Zernke’s story contended Bachmann’s position scrambled ideological lines; some lefties apparently agree that First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative pushes breast-feeding too much. But as Hoffman noted, there’s no way to know whether the CP commenter really is a liberal, due to anonymity. 

“… we would caution against quoting our commenters. Some of them are trolls, as this one appears to be,” he wrote.

True. City Pages’ web strategy is as troll-optimized as a storybook bridge.

So Hoffman gets page views from the comment cesspool, and then more when the Times decides to bathe there — but he’s not wrong here. However, this episode only encourages the baser instincts at Village Voice Media.

The Times screw-up transcended City Pages. The “reactions” — justifying the story’s premise — included precisely zero named sources. The piece mentioned another blog poster — who may or may not have been anonymous (the Times provided no hotlinks, also suspicious), and a “progressive Brooklynite [who] would not be identified for fear of scorn from her Democratic friends and other mothers.”

All in all, some Times editor made a mistake in a) assigning this questionably premised story or b) accepting the tissue-thin reporting. I’ll ping the Times’ ombudsman and let you know what I hear.

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