The New York Times caused quite a stir on the Internet last week. It ran an article highlighting some boba shops in New York City with the headline, "Those Blobs In Your Tea? They're Supposed To Be There." The article was written as if boba had JUST reached popularity in the United States. A lot of people begged to differ, so much so that the Times ran through several revisions of the headline and edited the article to make it seem like it was less about the popularity and more about the shops experiencing immediate success in New York. They also issued an apology.
I'm glad that the Times apologized. I'm not, however, entirely thrilled that the mistake happened in the first place. I asked a former copy editor whom I met through AAJA what he thought, and he pretty much agreed what many other people were saying across social media: The New York Times was wrong, and it's good that they understood their mistake and acted accordingly. He asked me for my opinion, and this is what I wrote:
The headline struck me a tiny bit flashy for the New York Times and caught me off guard; it was the kind of headline that I would expect to see from Buzzfeed or some other outlet popular with people in my age group. What disappointed me about the article itself is that it did not go deep into how boba has become deeply part of Asian AMERICAN culture rather than something that came straight from Taiwan a few years ago to just market to first generation Asian immigrants. Like you said, there are many people who can speak about this more eloquently. But I definitely felt like the headlines and the piece would have been done better if there were more people who know about the role of boba in APIA communities. And also looked through The New York Times' archives. I wish Annenberg Journalism students had classes on theory like I was able to do in Dr. Winston's honors class. I would actually love to chat with you sometime about stuff like framing, but one really key thing is that journalism has influence on how people perceive an event or culture. For this reason, it's important to get people with different backgrounds into newsrooms. I felt this strongly at Annenberg just by the numbers. I believe the amount of Asian American students in my graduating class was about 8. I was the only Filipino American. I believe that in my entire time at USC I met four other Filipino journalism majors. I was full of Asian American-centric pitches during my underclassmen years and I used to write a lot of those stories for the media center. A professor, however, discouraged me from pursuing more than one of my ideas for class because he didn't want me to limit myself. He meant well and I saw where he was coming from. But I mean, you've seen Anh Do's work. She tells stories that others might not have otherwise told, and she tells them extremely well because she knows the community. It was hard to walk away from journalism because I know there's a few number of Asian American journalists and an even fewer number of Filipino journalists, especially now that Alex Tizon has unfortunately passed. But I'm always going to love the field and I'm hoping to figure out a way for it to work for me. Until then, I'll still keep up with what's going on and participate in discussion, like this.
I didn't realize how strongly I felt about the headline until I started writing, and honestly it got a little bit off topic. But if there was anything important I learned from my senior year at USC, it's that things that seem as simple as headlines or even using words such as "fake news" or "extremist" seriously shape how we view the world. It's not an easy job making those calls, but that's just part of being a responsible journalist whose job is to inform the public.