Tuesday, September 06, 2005

nyt and the squo

When I first heard the criticism of the New York Times as a defender of the status quo, I thought it was baloney. The New York Times?! Why, they're the best journalists on earth!

Then I got rejected by them.

About a year and a half ago, I pitched a story to the New York Times Magazine about the University of Louisville's debate squad. For those of you who haven't read this blog regularly, Louisville directly attacks the lack of diversity on college debate, arguing that the way the game is played prevents diversity and supports white privilege. It was a good pitch, and I even had an agent to make sure it passed over the plate.

A week later, I heard back from my Agent Lydia. She said they'd seriously considered accepting my pitch, but they decided to pass on it because it was "too polemic" and that the claims I made in my pitch about institutional racism (these were in reference to the education system, mind you) were unwarranted.

I was taken aback. Institutional racism unwarranted? What country are you living in?

About a year later, I learned that the Magazine had bought a pitch from another writer about the Louisville squad. And I was furious this time because I felt like I'd been royally screwed over. Agent Lydia checked into it, and found that the editor she'd pitched my story to didn't even know the mag had bought the other dude's pitch. She surmised that the latter pitch was less forthright about racism than mine.

Now I come to learn that the Magazine has rejected that piece. And we're talking a story they spent thousands on: they sent the reporter to follow the squad to two tournaments, he wrote it over the course of the summer, there were rewrites, etc. And, in the end... not fit to print.

Why? I mean, this story is fantastic. It's an incredibly fascinating development in a incredibly fascinating section of American culture. It's unexpected, full of surprises, with connections to larger political issues. In short, it's a dream magazine story. You can bet the story was true and accurate. The reporter was certainly a professional. And I know from some of the subjects that he didn't handle them with kid gloves.

So, why?

The bearer of the bad news to me speculated that it's because White America only wants stories about poor downtrodden blacks being saved by whites.

That might be it. But whatever the myth may be, I think it's best to simply know that the New York Times has a myth to protect.

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