THE BLOG

New York Times: Cutting Staff But Making Movies

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

Recently, I was mildly taken aback by New York Times tech reporter David Pogue creating a music video for the new iPhone. Always known for his humorous and reader-friendly approach to tech, Pogue was simply taking the next logical step. Ask someone to create videos for your website and this is what they'll do. But it seemed to cross a line to me, somehow. Not the end of the world, of course, but why exactly is the New York Times spending precious resources (time and money and talent) on entertainment, on shorts practically designed to get lots of hits on YouTube? It wasn't the clever music video itself that bothered me so much as where I saw it heading.

And this is where it's arrived: the New York Times is hosting a series of 12 short films featuring young actors improvising to scenarios by director Brody Baker. It was all done at Sundance, apparently, and every few days the New York Times features a new short in which actors like Josh Lucas, Jason Ritter and Saffron Burrows emote in and around hotel rooms.

I don't care how good or bad the shorts are -- they could be Oscar worthy gems or an indulgent waste of time. I don't care if the New York Times didn't actually "spend" any money on the filming and casting. I don't care if this is only marginally different from getting young actors to pose in clothes for a fashion spread. (Besides, it still feels like getting in bed with actors you're supposed to be reporting on objectively.)

All I care about is that this is NOT how the New York Times should be spending its finite time and energy. The New York Times should not be making music videos. The New York Times should not be making short films. The New York Times should not be wasting valuable real estate on its website promoting them. The New York Times should not be hiring reporters/talent who look good on camera and are known for funny videos so they can branch out into YouTube. But you know they will be soon.

I'm pretty sure the New York Times has its hands full covering the news. And writing terrific, in-depth articles like this, articles that few news outlets can afford to spend the time and energy reporting. Sure, the story of a 22 year old guy buying piles of aging, decaying ammunition from Eastern Europe and flipping it to sell to Afghani fighters is so blackly humorous that it's probably already been optioned for the movies. I just don't want to see the film be funded by the Times and debut on their website.

So are these shorts a complete waste because the New York Times should focus on its core mission? Or am I just an old fuddy duddy?