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Desolation Row: Jonah Lehrer resigns from the New Yorker after fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in his book

The title of science writer Jonah Lehrer's most recent bestselling book is "Imagine: How Creativity Works."  As it turns out, Lehrer took his own advice.  He imagined -- fabricated -- quotes from Bob Dylan in the book that was published last March.

When questioned about it during an investigation by journalist Michael C. Moynihan, he lied. 

Lehrer's horrifying fall from grace, rife with irony, came to its inevitable conclusion Monday as Lehrer issued a statement, accompanying his resignation from the New Yorker.  He joined the magazine as a staff writer, in part to write his Frontal Cortex blog (formerly written for Wired) only weeks ago.  Very quickly, he was embroiled in charges of self-plagiarism, which -- largely through the forbearance of editor David Remnick -- he managed to survive. But only briefly.

His Monday statement included these devastating lines:

"The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers."

The situation is more than unfortunate; it's closer to sickening.  And just so stupidly unnecessary.  Lehrer is an prolific and enaging writer with a great deal of talent.  At barely 31, he had decades of great work left to produce.

"Why do writers DO this?" moaned one of his fans in a Twitter post Monday afternoon. 

Why, indeed?  Without a team of psychologists -- the very same people Lehrer might have interviewed --  it's hard to know.  Is it the unending pressure to produce?  Is it a kind of high-level laziness?  Is it arrogance -- the normal rules don't apply to me?

Hard to say.  What we do know is that it's happened before and that it will happen again.  But not with impunity. In journalism, a field that values integrity above all, or ought to, and where credibility is what we're selling, lying to your readers is the unforgivable sin.

From the online magazine Tablet, here is Michael C. Moynihan's piece on Lehrer.

Steve Myers offers this wrapup piece on

And here is a Jessica Holland piece from The National from last April, summarizing Lehrer's advice on how to be more creative. 

Two of his tips resonate differently now:  "Make up rules" and "Ignore convention."  Another, sadly, may come in handy: "Take long walks."  


Twitter: @SulliView

A tip of the hat from Syracuse on Buffalo's waterfront redevelopment

Those of us who love Buffalo are sometimes frustrated by how the city is seen by the outside world.  We know it's a great place but it suffers from bad press, most of which centers on a long-ago blizzard and the vagaries of our professional sports teams.

That's why this editorial blog from the Syracuse Post-Standard, focusing on waterfront redevelopment -- including a now-obligatory mention of those colorful Adirondack chairs that dot the harbor --  is so welcome.

It's a far cry from Bette Midler's famously sarcastic line about Buffalo's lack of waterfront development during her HSBC Arena concert here in 2004:  "I haven't been here since 1978.  I love what you've done with the waterfront." 

Her quip drew boisterous applause at the time from a frustrated populace.  But now, it seems, waterfront fans have something more substantial to cheer about.

Here's the piece:

By The Post-Standard Editorial Board

One hundred eighty-seven years after it opened — and decades after it was filled in — the Erie Canal once again is becoming an economic engine for Upstate New York.

It’s happening in Buffalo, where the once-derelict downtown waterfront is being transformed through strategic public investments that are attracting private developers to the party.

The first phase of the Canalside project, Erie Canal Harbor, opened in 2008. Back in 1825, water dipped from the harbor was poured into the Hudson River by Gov. DeWitt Clinton, a “wedding of the waters” meant to symbolize the connection of Lake Erie to the sea made possible by “Clinton’s big ditch.”

Today, Erie Canal Harbor has public amenities such as a boardwalk, a pedestrian bridge, a “re-watered” commercial slip, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and the excavated foundations of several canal-era buildings. More important, it has people — brought there by more than 400 events and activities scheduled throughout the summer, from music and theater performances to archaeological digs and group Zumba classes.

The next phase of Canalside is under construction on the site of the torn-down Memorial Auditorium. With $23 million in state money, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is “recreating” canals, towpaths and bridges from the heyday of the Erie Canal. To make sure there’s ice for skating in winter — though that’s usually not a problem in Buffalo — the canals will be refrigerated.

The Aud site sat fallow for years while Buffalo courted Bass Pro Shops to be the retail anchor of the Canalside development. After nine years of to-and-fro — echoes of our own dance with Destiny USA — Bass Pro withdrew in 2010 and a new plan was hatched.

The burst of public activity on Buffalo’s waterfront has ignited the interest of private developers. Two are vying to build on a large parking lot near First Niagara Center, the home of the Buffalo Sabres. Nearby, a former state office building has been stripped to its steel foundation in the process of being turned into a hotel and office complex. Buffalo’s miles of waterfront in the outer harbor and stretching south along Lake Erie — once home to grain elevators and steel mills — are being viewed with new eyes.

Good for Buffalo, a city struggling with population decline, poverty and vast swaths of abandoned property. A billion dollars in state aid sure helps. Even so, Buffalo has plenty of lessons for Syracuse and other Upstate cities fighting to survive and thrive:

• Don’t turn your back on the water, no matter how small (or polluted) it is.

• When the goal is to spur development, the best use of public money is to create public amenities. Once the people come to use those amenities, you’ll have to beat back the private developers with a stick.

• Preserving public access to the water — and public space near it — is critical. Once the water is walled off with private development, whether it be grain elevators or big retail establishments, it’s no longer a place that belongs to the people — a place where they want to hang out with friends, picnic with their families, take a Zumba class or go for a run.

• There’s no magic bullet for fixing our cities. Small, targeted investments can pay off in the long haul — if you have the foresight to make the right investments and the patience to let them flower.

Twitter: @SulliView

For Springsteen fans, a great read from the New Yorker -- and a new poll raises an old question: Hillary for president?

Former Buffalo News columnist and national radio journalist Lauri Githens checks in this morning with the following enthusiastic recommendation:

"Springsteen at 62," by David Remnick.

The piece by New Yorker editor David Remnick is  "easily the most fully-realized portrait of Bruce ever done -- and that includes 'Glory Days,' the 400+ page book by Dave Marsh, who I've found genuinely likable as a person and a writer, yet who for all his built-in access to Springsteen never got anywhere near this deep.  Started this at 1 a.m. the other morning, read nonstop to the end around 2 a.m."  The Marsh book came out in 1986, the same year Githens interviewed both Marsh and the late, great E Street band sax player Clarence Clemons.

Rev your pink Cadillac and get started. 


On a different topic altogether, some new Quinnipiac University poll numbers: New York voters gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo a high -- in fact, record-breaking -- approval rating of 73 percent, but they believe Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would make a better president, presumably in 2016.  Here's the poll:  

Meanwhile, News Albany Correspondent Tom Precious' story on the subject begins with the words, "Run, Hillary, run" -- his assessment of what many New Yorkers seem to be thinking these days, according to the poll numbers. 

Clinton has repeatedly said she's not interested in running for president, but there are those who think she could be persuaded.  Anne E. Kornblut took up the question in a Washington Post piece last month, "Will Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016?"   In it, her spokesman referred to continued  speculation that she would run as nothing but "cable catnip."

Twitter: @SulliView

'Slur or slang': The story behind the 'n-word' story in today's Viewpoints section

Sometimes stories make their way into the paper with very little discussion.  A reporter goes out to cover an event, writes it up, it goes through the normal editing process and is published within hours (or, on the web, within minutes).

 Others -- investigative projects, for example -- get a great deal more consideration.  Multiple editors, and sometimes  lawyers, read it and consult with each other.  Eventually, the story is published and when it finally appears in print we feel as if we've been through a difficult childbirth.  

It's a rarity when a feature story -- rather than a hard-news story -- falls into that second category.  But that's the case with today's Viewpoints cover story by Emma Sapong, which takes up the history and changing nature of what is commonly known as "the 'n' word."

Emma, a Liberian-American business reporter for The News, was intrigued by recent local news events in which that word spurred controversy.  She had also become aware of the word's role in rap music and its slang usage by African-American young people.   She worked with Urban Affairs Editor Rod Watson to develop the story, and both did an excellent job.  

Here is the Viewpoints story, along with her sidebar explaining her own experiences.

The story had a long gestation period because Emma, Rod and I had different ideas about how to present it. It was originally slated to run in Spotlight but moved to Viewpoints because Rod and I both thought it would have a more natural home there.  Someone, along the way, had the idea of Emma's sidebar, which added depth and a personal tone to the piece.

 But the biggest point of discussion centered on how to use the various forms of the 'n' word in the story.

Rod strongly favored using the full word throughout the story, without the usual dashes; he thought it was pandering to do otherwise.  We ought to give our readers credit for being able to handle seeing the word in print. Emma leaned that way, too.

 I disagreed, believing that many News readers would be offended, if not outraged.  I knew that I would have that reaction myself.  The word is just too fraught with pain, and The News is not part of the inner circle which can use the word freely.  (Emma describes this dynamic in her piece.)

One step we took along the way was to discuss the issue with our diversity advisory council, most of whose members are African-American readers of The News.  They were unanimous: Use dashes.  

I was glad to hear it but, the truth is, I could not have countenanced doing anything else.  We did, at Rod's suggestion, differentiate between the two uses of the word by using a final letter of 'r' or 'a,' along with dashes in the middle.

Meanwhile, I'd become involved enough that I worked with Emma on a near-final editing of the story and wrote the headline words myself, something I do only rarely.

As I told Emma, the ending of her personal sidebar brought tears to my eyes.  I'm proud to have this work in today's News.

Twitter: @SulliView

As editor (or public editor), does being a woman matter? Of course

Over the past couple of days, as I've been interviewed about my new job as Public Editor of the New York Times, a few interviewers have gingerly raised the question of gender.  Essentially, they're asking this: Will I approach the job differently because I'm a woman?  (The previous four public editors have been men.)

I've tried to give a nuanced answer.  Yes, it matters because we bring everything we are to the jobs we do.  I was raised a Roman Catholic; I grew up in a steel town;  I am the daughter of a lawyer and a fashion buyer; I went to college in Washington, D.C.  and Chicago.  So I carry all of this with me.

I also bring my experiences as a woman. Since my first child was born in 1988, I've been a working mother; that matters.  I was the first woman in newsroom management at The Buffalo News; that matters.  I know what it means to be a sister, a wife, an aunt.  Even today, I'm still the mother of a teenager; that always matters.  

But it doesn't drive everything I do.  I didn't come into my current job as editor of The Buffalo News with a gender-driven agenda and I won't do that when I start working at the Times.  At the same time, I certainly care about such issues as pay equality, sexual harassment, and child care.   I do like to see women represented in the news media -- in images, in quotes, in stories -- and I know that they are often underrepresented.   When my close friend Liz Kahn, at that time assistant managing editor for features, developed a new Life & Arts section column called "Women's Voices" that runs every Saturday, I was delighted.  And I've sometimes been exasperated that the paper's front page, on a particular day or series of days, has not featured a single photo of a woman, even in a teaser.

Change sometimes happens when you least expect it, though.  When I promoted Lisa Wilson to executive sports editor not long ago, we never spoke a word about her gender.  Her strength has been in her knowledge of Buffalo's professional sports and in her operational ability.   But I've noticed more stories and photos of female athletes on her pages in recent months -- not as function of any agenda but because she's paying more attention to scholastic sports, featuring it more heavily.  So we see more action photos of girls playing soccer, lacrosse and softball.   Lisa played high school sports at Buffalo's City Honors (as I did at Nardin Academy, where I co-captained the varsity basketball team), and perhaps that experience makes a difference, too.

All of this is the subject of a thoughtful story by Mallary Jean Tenore from, "Why it matters that the New York Times' next public editor is a woman."   Should we be shocked that the author of such a piece is female?  Probably not.

Twitter: @SulliView

Bidding farewell to my hometown paper -- and heading to a new challenge at the Times

Monday was a singular day in my life, as my plans were announced to leave The Buffalo News to become Public Editor of the New York Times.

I've been here for quite a while. Coming out of school in 1980, I was lucky enough to have internship offers at both Buffalo newspapers -- the Courier-Express and the Buffalo Evening News.  I had the sense to ask my father, a lawyer, what to do, and I remember his understated analysis: "The News seems to be the dominant paper."  So I took that internship and began writing for Gusto and the paper's arts section.

Dad was pretty smart.  I joined the fulltime staff of The News as a reporter after my internship -- and a little over two years later, the Courier-Express was out of business.

Now, 32 years later (and for those doing the math, I want to emphasize that I was a child when I arrived), I'm leaving for a new challenge.   I have had the rare privilege, over the past 13 years, to be the chief editor of my hometown paper, and it has been both eventful and fulfilling.  

News Reporter Gene Warner's story in today's paper notes both the good times and some of the difficulties I've encountered.

The New York Times report on my appointment is here, including some kind words from Jill Abramson, the paper's first woman editor.

And Bill Mitchell of Florida's Poynter Institute describes the approach I will take in my new job, emphasizing the digital but also continuing a print column.  

Taking the Times position means moving from Buffalo's Elmwood Village to New York City. (I'm not sure exactly where just yet and am considering crowdsourcing my apartment hunt.)  I'm excited about that prospect and especially happy that this move will bring me closer to where my two children are in school -- my son, Alex, is in law school near Boston and my daughter, Grace, is an undergraduate in Manhattan.

As Warner's story notes, Managing Editor Brian Connolly -- a gifted journalist, highly competent newsroom manager and all-around great person -- will serve as interim editor while Publisher Stan Lipsey takes some time to find The News' next editor.

But I will be around for a few weeks, blogging frequently in this space on my usual topics.   See you here.  

Twitter: @SulliView



A few of my favorite things: Digital smarts, literature and a Lowest of the Low video

Here's a grab-bag post with a few of my favorite things.

* This piece about newspapers in the digital age offers insight on a subject that preoccupies me daily.   It's a Media Briefing interview with the Wall Street Journal's Raju Narisetti, who left the Washington Post not long ago to head the Journal's digital journalism efforts.

* On a literary note, the Chautauqua Institution today and tomorrow offers back-to-back author talks by Geraldine Brooks (today) and Tony Horwitz (Friday).   As noted in this Chautauquan Daily feature, Horwitz and Brooks, each with a Pulitzer Prize to their name, are husband and wife.  This afternoon, Brooks will read from and discuss her novel, "Caleb's Crossing." Horwitz will do the same Friday with his "Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War."  Both books are Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections; two of Brooks' earlier books have been selected for that honor in previous years.  

* And, as a followup to my Wednesday post about the summer music scene, here's Buffalo News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers' fine review of last night's Lowest of the Low concert at Artpark -- and, below, an admittedly inexpert video shot on my phone of the Low performing one of their best-loved songs, "Rosy and Gray," complete with mildly naughty lyrics, at the same show.  The crowd sang along --  not altogether on key -- with every word, as you'll hear. Imagine a beautiful sunset over the Niagara Gorge, add beer, and you get the full picture.


Summer in Buffalo = Music

Central+wharf+concert++09I had no intention of being at the Town Ballroom on a Tuesday night, listening to Youth Lagoon, whose dream-infused electronica reverberated like a jack hammer through the floor, into my feet and up through my heart.

But a friend wanted to go -- she had become enamored of Youth Lagoon's one and only album, "The Year of Hibernation"  -- so I tagged along.  As Buffalo pop music lovers know, there is no bad vantage point at the Town, so we stood just one level up from the reverential 200 or so truly major fans on the floor -- mostly twentysomething men, though there was one dancing girl in black leather shorts -- and we happily watched the red and purple smoke flow around the two-man outfit as they made their way through the album.  The set didn't last long; they played pretty much every song they had.

And who could complain?  The tickets were cheap, the piano-driven music was mesmerizing, Trevor Powers' stage patter was both charming and observant ("Buffalo is beautiful -- what happened to all the factories near the water?"), and even women of a certain age could be home in their beds around 11.

Tonight, it's the unmissable Lowest of the Low show at Artpark -- the brilliant if under-appreciated Canadian band I've undoubtedly seen more times than any other act in my not-brief life of concert-going. I can only assume they'll play "Subversives," "Bleed a Little While Tonight," and "The Taming of Carolyn," and that talented frontman Ron Hawkins will sing his creations with the usual full-throated splendor.

Later in the month, it's the neo-Motown songwriter from Ann Arbor, Mayer Hawthorne, with his crooning falsetto, at Town; back to Artpark for the uncategorizable but soulful Citizen Cope; and who knows what at the harbor, where in the past month or so, I've seen Grace Potter and the Nocturals, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Matthew Sweet, who delighted me by performing his entire classic album, "Girlfriend," from beginning to end.  For free, no less.

Summer in Buffalo may mean baseball for some people, jet skis for others, barbeque for still others,  but for many of us, it equals music.  And we are duly grateful. 

Should you want to get in on the fun, here's the Gusto summer concert guide.   And here's Buffalo News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers' Top 10 picks.  They don't correspond to mine, of course -- where on earth is Citizen Cope, I'm still wondering-- but I respect his choices nonetheless.


(The photo above is by Robert Kirkham of The Buffalo News from last year's Lowest of the Low concert at the harbor.  The band plays tonight at Artpark. Jeff Miers will review the show.) 

And here's a taste of Mayer Hawthorne on Letterman last fall:



Twitter: @SulliView


While we're on the subject of newspapers, some 'savage clarity'...

Buffalo News Chairman Warren Buffett's recent newspaper-buying spree is one of the very few bright spots in recent months in the business of print journalism.

David Carr sums up the rest of a rather dire picture in his piece, "The Fissures Are Growing for Newspapers," in today's New York Times.

He writes: "Between operational fiascos and flailing attempts to slash costs on the fly, it’s clear that the print newspaper business, which has been fretting over a looming crisis for the last 15 years, is struggling to stay afloat. There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week." 

As a case study, see's Rick Edmonds' report on the troubled finances at the Washington Post, "What's really going wrong (and right) at the Washington Post."

Read them and weep, if you care about such things, as I do.  Or, if you happen to live in Buffalo, where your daily paper is relatively stable (and still profitable), count yourself among the lucky ones. 


Midday addendum:  On a related topic, I came across a provocative speech by a media writer I admire, Jay Rosen of New York University, who writes the PressThink blog.  In proposing to a group of science journalists a "wicked problems" beat, Rosen coined a memorable phrase about journalism that has stuck with me. 

His phrase is "savage clarity," which he recommends as an antidote to cliche and an emblem of the best journalism.  Here is the context:

" is characteristic of wicked problems that key stakeholders define the problem differently. ... There is no kumbaya moment. You never get everyone on the same page. Consensus? You must be kidding. In dealing with wicked problems these are vain hopes, signs of the stupid. What’s possible is a world where different stakeholders 'get' that the world looks different to people who hold different stakes. In reporting on wicked problems, that’s the goal. That and learning from the work of people who do wicked well.

He continues: "Which brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Journalism belongs to the vernacular, or it has no place in the world. When reporters render things, they have to find a common language for them. That is why the great vice in journalistic writing is cliché. Cliché is the vernacular in its spent state. Savage clarity is the vernacular coming alive again. Rendering stakeholders intelligible to one another, and to the larger public, is journalism at its best. No one should become a journalist who cannot tolerate the paradox of being a specialist… in the vernacular."

Savage clarity: We could use some of that to help solve the wicked problem of newspaper journalism's struggle to survive in the digital era.

Twitter: @SulliView


Join "Ask the Editor" live chat today happening now

I'll be taking readers' questions and hearing their comments in my monthly live chat today. I invite readers to fire away on subjects from Carl Paladino’s latest lawsuit to Rupert Murdoch’s tweets to The News’ plan for digital subscriptions.

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