The New York Times on Wednesday published a story on the provincial backwater known as Los Angeles, and it did not go over well with Angelenos.
The story ran on the New York Times' front page Wednesday, right below its coverage of the first State of the Union by President (and lifelong New Yorker) Donald J. Trump.
The article argues that recent turmoil at the Los Angeles Times — which has recently seen turnover of its top leadership, a successful unionization effort, and an increasingly tense newsroom environment — is "symptomatic" of the city's "absence of strong institutions to bind it together."
The piece explores multiple reasons for this larger "problem," pointing to everything from geography, to economics, to having too many actors living in town. The overall effect is that Los Angeles comes across as having a fundamentally weak civic identity, especially compared to other cities.
The story opens with the recent tensions at the Los Angeles Times — a legitimate subject of a news article — but then quickly moves on to make a much broader argument about the city.
Some people, like employees of the New York Times, LOVED the take!
But others wondered why the troubles at the LA Times were somehow an indictment of the city of 4 million people.
Amid the collective head-scratching, some noticed there were basic factual errors in the story.
George Lucas's upcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is being developed in a neighborhood called Exposition Park, which is near the University of Southern California. That's near Downtown LA, but it is, in fact, a different neighborhood.
It also turns out that the ranking the Times used to prove LA has a "lack of philanthropy" doesn't actually show that at all.
As Rolling Stone contributor Tim Dickinson noted, the article refers to Charity Navigator, which rates the practices and financial health of various philanthropic organizations. In 2017, the group scored various cities, awarding Los Angeles the 14th spot on the list for the aggregate health of its charities.
But Sara Nason, a spokesperson for Charity Navigator, told BuzzFeed News that the scores have nothing to do with how much money people are giving away in cities.
"It’s really looking at the practices of the charities and the operations of the charities as opposed to any specific dollars they raised," Nason said.
She added that the New York Times did not reach out to the group for its story.
The Charity Navigator scores — which again, measure the health of philanthropic organizations, not the amount of philanthropy — actually rank LA...wait for it...higher than New York.
Some noted that the piece seemed to cherry-pick information to suit its purposes.
The article states Los Angeles is actually a sprawling metropolis encompassing several communities, but later when focusing on the economy and the number of Fortune 500 companies located in the region, it limits the scope to only the city of LA. That supports the thesis of the piece, but ignores the article's own characterization of what "is" LA, and obfuscates the fact that there are actually more Fortune 500 companies in the Los Angeles area.
In fairness though, New York City has had tremendous success at things like fixing its subway system.*
*The NYC subway is a disaster.
Many readers noted that the piece was the latest in a time-honored and illustrious genre, pioneered by the Times, about adventures in the far-flung US provinces.
Past entries include many other stories about Los Angeles and an entire subgenre about New York City's own outer boroughs.
One person compared the wisdom in the piece to the Times' recommendation that you should put peas in guacamole.
But more than anything, tons of people were just really, really not into the Times' take.
Finally, some lamented the fact that there is a story to tell about media troubles in Southern California — LA Weekly recently purged its staff and the local news site LAist shut down — but the New York Times piece neglected the issue.
In response to questions about the story, the New York Times defended its reporting in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
"We're proud of this piece, which drew on interviews with numerous Angelenos, the experience of our longtime bureau chief, Adam Nagourney and observations of Tim Arango, our new Los Angeles correspondent," said national editor Marc Lacey. "There is no doubt that it has provoked a spirited debate, prompting both praise and criticism."
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.