Op-Ed Columnist Bob Herbert Leaves New York Times as Departures Continue Before Paywall


A New York Times veteran of nearly two decades, Bob Herbert is leaving the Op-Ed page, the paper announced in a memo on Friday. Saturday will be his last column. Herbert’s resignation comes in the wake of Frank Rich’s departure for New York magazine after nearly three-decades in various roles at the newspaper, in addition to a handful other Times writers and editors leaving the paper in early 2011. With some headed to The Huffington Post, some to the new Bloomberg opinion section Bloomberg News and various other one-off departures, it leads us back to a question we’ve asked previously: “Will the New York Times Paywall Be a ‘Wasteland’ For Writers?” Could it be scaring people away on the inside or is it all coincidental? Let’s do a little speculating inside, or at least lay out the evidence, inside Press Clips, our daily media round-up.

Out of Times: According to the Times own media blog report on Herbert’s departure, the writer “said he was eager to move on to a new form of writing”:

“The deadlines and demands were a useful discipline, but for some time now I have grown eager to move beyond the constriction of the column format, with its rigid 800-word limit, in favor of broader and more versatile efforts,” he said. “So I am leaving The New York Times and the rewards and rigors of daily journalism with the intent of writing more expansively and more aggressively about the injustices visited on working people, the poor and the many others in our society who find themselves on the wrong side of power.”

Andrew Rosenthal, editor of The Times opinion pages, said in the memo that he accepted Mr. Herbert’s resignation with “great regret.”

“He was often called ‘the conscience of The Times,'” Mr. Rosenthal wrote. “We will miss him and wish him the best in his new endeavors.”

A writer since 1993, Herbert was also called “boring” in a Washington Monthly piece passed around once again upon hearing today’s news. “Bob Herbert is a sensible person who usually assesses things more accurately than his colleagues, regularly hits the streets to report on the world outside, shines a light on people and issues that deserve far more attention than they usually get, and tells you things you really ought to know but don’t,” wrote T.A. Frank. “But here’s the catch: you don’t read Bob Herbert. Or, if you say you do, I don’t believe you.”
“I’ve literally never heard someone say, ‘Hey, did you read Bob Herbert today?’ Never in my entire life,” Frank quoted a Washington political reporter as saying.

So maybe Herbert’s right and he needs to switch his style up. Frank Rich, who spent a similarly long time doing the same thing every week (though his role within the Times did change a few times) had a smiler explanation for leaving. But there’s still that pesky paywall, which led one fellow writer to wonder if Rich was “escaping the coming paywall/wasteland at NYT, like an East German jumping the Berlin Wall.” As we mentioned, Bloomberg News poached longtime opinion editor Toby Harshaw and editor Mary Duenwald, while Tim O’Brien and Peter Goodman have packed up for HuffPo, Times style mag T‘s travel editor Maura Egan will join them, while op-ed staff editor Mark Lotto is heading to GQ.

Whether the self-proclaimed easy-to-game, porous paywall pushed them or not, it’s getting harder to deny that the dominos are indeed falling. We’d say maybe Maureen Dowd is next, but she’ll probably outlast us all.

China Games: In other Times news, the blog of an American writer in Shanghai is questioning a Monday report in the paper, which led with the following anecdote about cell phone censorship:

If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

The skeptical writer concocted a scheme of his own to test the veracity of this story:

METHODS: The staff prepared three phrases. A) Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks;” b) “I like Bob Dylan’s protest songs, the most;” and c) “PROTEST PROTEST PROTEST!” The staff also prepared a list of five individuals with phones in China. They are a) a foreign Shanghai entrepreneur; b) a Shanghai school teacher; c) a Beijing-based foreign correspondent; d) a Beijing-based scrap metal entrepreneur; e) a Foshan-based scrap metal entrepreneur. Each individual was called from a Shanghai phone line, and asked to listen to the three phrases, repeated twice.

We won’t spoil the results, but let’s the say the Times could be full of some sort of shit.

HuffPo Grows: In the midst of becoming a place for serious journalism, The Huffington Post, one of the aforementioned landing pads for departing Times staffers, is also looking to expand to the United Kingdom as soon as the summer. “The Huffington Post is a very strong global brand on the Internet,” Arianna Huffington said today. “It is huge in America, it has one million users in the U.K., one million users in Canada. We are looking at a brand that is going to explode from a brand and usage standpoint.” Some say there’s no room in the British media market, but these cynics probably haven’t seen enough cat videos. Reporting, I mean.

Arianna Dumps Breitbart: Also in the HuffPo universe, Ms. Huffington finally kicked the blowhard Andrew Breitbart, an original HuffPo editor (and also huge tool and liar) from the front page of her website. But it wasn’t for his years of lies and inflammatory content. Huffington pulled the trigger because Breitbart went after her buddy, former “green jobs czar” Van Jones. HuffPo said they strive for “tenets of debate and civil discourse” that don’t include ad hominem attacks, but Salon’s Alex Pareene called bullshit perfectly:

A strict prohibition on ad hominem attacks! (“Against Arianna’s friends,” is the bit of that sentence that spokesman Marco Ruiz left out.) (Also there is apparently no prohibition on constant, practically obsessive race-baiting, but whatever.) (And obviously there is no prohibition whatsoever on spreading toxic bullshit about autism and other assorted crimes against science.)

Slogan Switch-Up: In a fun bit of Friday evening news from a (relatively) uptown weekly, we hear that the New York Observer has switched its slogan back from the silly, not-exactly-Sex and the City-referencing “Money, Power and the City” to the old school “Nothing Sacred But the Truth.” The only problem is that the people with the money have already printed and had delivered “boxes and boxes” of t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan that new editor-in-chief Elizabeth Spiers has since rejected. The shirts are now being called “collector’s items,” supposedly. “Look out for them on eBay,” someone quipped.