I have something of a morning routine: I get myself a cup of coffee and read
the A section of the New York Times while waking up.
of the Times makes my routine more difficult. But most of the time the NYT manages
to say what the news is, at least.
Not today. Here are the headlines on the paper’s lead
BIG BOARD BIDS FOR EXCHANGES ACROSS EUROPE
A $10.2 BILLION OFFERING
Deal Would Give N.Y.S.E. a Foothold in 5 Capitals – Many Obstacles
It’s a bit verbose, and if you think about it too long it doesn’t make a lot
of sense: a takeover bid isn’t really an "offering", and the deal
would give the NYSE more than just a "foothold" in those capitals.
But the biggest error is one of omission. We know who the bidder is: the NYSE.
We know how much they’re bidding: $10.2 billion. But we have no idea who the
Such information always appears in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence;
in this case, they’re the same.
The New York Stock Exchange took a big step yesterday toward the creation
of a global marketplace by offering to acquire the operator of five European
stock and futures exchanges for $10.2 billion in cash and shares.
So now we know it’s stock and futures exchanges, and we know the NYSE wants
to pay in cash and shares. But we still don’t know who they’re bidding
for. Maybe in the next paragraph? No, that’s reserved for a quote from the NYSE’s
CEO. Maybe the paragraph after that? No, at that point we descend into classic
Finance and investment have been global phenomena for decades: Asian central
banks are among the biggest buyers of United States Treasury obligations,
big American commercial banks are joining their London counterparts in wooing
Middle East investors, and hedge funds based in Connecticut buy and sell in
markets from Iceland to Indonesia.
What??? This isn’t news, it’s filler: what’s known in England as "freelancitis"
when writers are paid by the word or the inch. And while I normally roll my
eyes at such stuff, it simply Does. Not. Belong. in this story above the central
and crucial information of who the NYSE is bidding for.
The next paragraph doesn’t help us out on that front either: instead, it’s
devoted to telling us that when the bid was made yesterday, "share prices
around the world were falling, seemingly in concert, beginning in Asia and continuing
in Europe, before recovering somewhat in New York". That’s not even market
reaction to the proposed deal, it’s just intraday noise with no connection to
the story at all.
Finally, in the fifth paragraph, 200 words into the story, we find that the
target of the deal is Euronext.
I’m sorry to say that the perpetrator of this nonsense is my friend Jenny Anderson,
a very good journalist who honed her newspapering skills at the New York Post.
Which is the kind of newspaper which would never, ever wait 200 words to reveal
the name of a $10 billion company being bid on. Clearly, however, the culture
of the Times can turn anybody.
Later on in the section, there’s an interesting
story about the Fulton Street transit hub. In the wake of the news that
the neigbouring World Trade Center memorial is hundreds of millions of dollars
over budget, we’re now told that something similar is going on with the plan
to simplify the mess that is the Fulton Street subway station. Only this time,
far from burying a key piece of information, the Times simply doesn’t bother
to supply us with the architect’s name at all. (It’s Nicholas Grimshaw, an excellent
UK architect who’s not well known on these shores.) They’d never do that to
The NYT is examining its front-page reporting with much
laboriousness these days. But for the time being, it would seem, that effort
has achieved nothing.