Dear Los Angeles Times, this is a photo of Jennifer Egan

by Cynthia Newberry Martin on March 11, 2011

Dear Los Angeles Times,

Regarding your headlines* today on the National Book Critics Circle Awards, the photo you posted is not Jennifer Egan. In addition,  I would also like to point out that you mention the name of Mr. Franzen’s novel, the one that didn’t win but it’s true was written by a male, while you merely allude to the novel that in fact won the award as “work.” Granted, A Visit From the Goon Squad has more words in it, but it did win. May I suggest the following changes:

Egan Wins National Book Critics Circle’s fiction prize

Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad bests Jonathan Franzen’s work.

The nonfiction award goes to ‘The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.’


Sincerely,

Cynthia


 

cross-posted at Catching Days

Michael Washburn March 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Bam!! So sad and stupid that they did that, but I’m glad you brought this up.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 12, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Thanks for the “bam,” Michael : )

nancy packer March 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Thanks for this exceptionally well-stated article. We’ve re-posted with commentary on our blog here in Los Angeles, along with the email address for the LA Times editor. I hope that everyone writes in with their distaste for these poor decisions. Here’s the link: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-op-email-form,0,3054191.customform

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Thanks, Nancy. And thanks for the LA support. I did write directly to the paper.

nancy packer March 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm
Cynthia Newberry Martin March 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Thank you!

Chris Roberts March 12, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Egan won, right? That is the point of an award. The other ninety-nine publications got it right. I’m down with Helen Reddy’s, “I am Woman” anthem, but roar for good cause and don’t overstate the cause.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Hey Chris, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, published by Knopf and which I think is brilliant, did win the award. And I quite agree with your point about only roaring for a good cause and not overstating the issue.

The other finalists, in addition to Franzen’s Freedom (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), were David Grossman’s To The End Of The Land (translated by Jessica Cohen, Knopf), Hans Keilson’s Comedy In A Minor Key (translated by Damion Searls, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (Faber & Faber).

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Fatjunkcat March 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Great send up. I saw that yesterday and was so confused, and embarassed, that I just stumbled past it. Glad you didn’t.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I appreciate your comment!

Rebecca Lehmann March 13, 2011 at 8:34 am

Cynthia, thank you for posting this! Congratulations Jennifer Egan!

David Alm March 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Great post, Cynthia.

Christina Pacosz March 14, 2011 at 9:57 am

So the only woman on the list of contenders for the National Book Novel Award wins and the LA Times posts a picture of the runner-up? Who at the LA Times was betting on him and pouting because he lost? Such egregious sexism must be called out when it occurs. Congratulations Jennifer Egan!!

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 14, 2011 at 10:37 am

Thanks, Rebecca and David. Christina, yet another good point about Egan being the only woman in the list of finalists.

Cheryl McKeon March 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm

GOOD catch! This was worth noting and bringing to our attention. I liked Franzen’s book a lot and wish him well. but this was a journalistic error in judgment.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Thanks, Cheryl. I appreciate your comment.

And the LATimes has now changed at least the photo, which is split between Jennifer Egan and the cover of A Visit From the Goon Squad: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-na-0311-book-prizes-20110311,0,1138159.story

Aine March 15, 2011 at 4:06 am

Yep, they changed the photo, but don’t seem to have on of those little “oops, we goofed but fixed it” notes newspapers usually put up. Guess they’re too embarrassed to admit they did something wrong.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 16, 2011 at 6:50 am

The LATimes Blog yesterday posted on the NBCC award announcement article and printed comments from three letters they received, one of which was mine–very cool.

If you have time, take a look at the post for the excellent points made by the other two readers, as well as for how it relates to Jeff’s recent post on media corrections.

After stating the facts, the post quotes three readers and then agrees (in 2 lines) that the readers have a point. “Why show an author who didn’t win?” A full paragraph then defends the omission of the title of the winning work of fiction as a “lesser offense” because it was “intended to point out the upset victory over a more widely known work.” Freedom, the post states, has been on the LATimes Bestseller List for 27 weeks as opposed to A Visit From the Goon Squad’s 5 weeks. Perhaps if we used the words A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD a little more often, it would have more weeks on the Bestseller list. Perhaps if Egan had been on the cover of Time Magazine, her book would have more weeks on the Bestseller list.

The Blog appears to be representative of the paper. I assume the LATimes pays Deirdre Edgar, who wrote the post. Yet there’s no apology to Egan for showing a photo of the loser on the day after she wins the award. I hope Egan wins many more and that that paper in LA has a chance to make it up to her.

In any event, it’s good to know that the author of the original article, to which I had no objection, neither writes the headlines nor chooses the photos.

For those interested, here’s the link: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/readers/2011/03/book-award-did-egan-win-or-did-franzen-lose.html

Chris Roberts March 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Really it is the perfect time, the perfect cause. That is, if you don’t really look closely. Newly minted National Book Critics Circle fiction winner, Jennifer Egan, is the latest casualty in the literary war on men. VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is front and center in this latest battle. Why was losing author Jonathan Franzen pictured in the article? Why no mention of Egan’s book title in the photo caption? Also at issue is why Franzen was even mentioned in the article’s headline. VIDA has posted on Facebook, “This is pretty devastating …”

I think that the Los Angeles Times report On Jennifer Egan’s wonderful win is professional and wholly above board. There is no gender bias at work, a female staffer wrote the article. The photograph used shows a top contender for the fiction prize. That’s legitimate usage. Yes, ideally a photo of the winner could have been used, but there was not an update on available at press time. The issue of not using the winning book’s title in a photo caption is offset by it’s use in the lead sentence of the piece. The use of Franzen’s name in the article’s headline is justified given his fan base and interest in the NBCC awards results.

You pick and choose your fights they say. There is no fight here. VIDA’s response, to paraphrase, ‘devastating’ is over the top. What is happening in Japan is devastating. What happened in Los Angeles at the National Book Critics Circle awards? A very talented author, Jennifer Egan, was recognized and celebrated. That’s the real story.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Chris, thanks for continuing the discussion. No question that what is happening in Japan is devastating. I, personally, would not apply that adjective to what happened with the LATimes coverage of the NBCC award. I also think to compare the two events is not helpful. I hope that we will not stop confronting racism or sexism or other prejudice in the face of global catastrophes. The LA Times headlines and photo are not the first incident of sexism in literary circles. Whoever chose that photo and wrote those headlines was apparently not aware enough of his or her own prejudices in the matter. But I bet they are now. And the first step is awareness. Which is why I believe it’s a good thing to write and talk about these issues without overstating, or ignoring, the fact that small incidences can add up to quite something else.

Chris Roberts March 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Cynthia – The devastating comparison is completely appropriate as a matter of context. We do not live in a vacuum.

Jeff McMahon March 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I’ll let you two have your gender fight. I just want to say: The LA Times couldn’t find a picture of Jennifer Egan? Really? The average blogger has had no trouble at all.

Chris Roberts March 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Jeff – You make a good point. The thing is when you’re working on a deadline, I worked for a magazine, it doesn’t always go as planned. I agree one-hundred percent that if all the “Times” could come up with was the now infamous stock photo from 2006, they should have ran with it. It’s easy to dissect something, but not as easy to empathize. A photo caption in the scheme of things is just that: brief text to accompany an image. As I said before, the actual article leads with Egan and novel by name.

Jeff McMahon March 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I worked at newspapers, where the imperative would be to run a photo of the winner, the subject and object of the news.

Chris Roberts March 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm

What was your circ? 1000? And you used the same tired photos of Jim Bob at the general store, Miss Lucy at the Cotillion and Sheriff Buford Whitley drawing down for kicks. You know, where everybody know your name. You really can’t try to give me a journalism lesson. I write in every form. If you’re going to cry for Egan, who hasn’t a clue who you are, do it in private.

Jeff McMahon March 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I’m not sure being impervious to lessons is much to brag about, but it does explain snobbery.

Carla Farrow March 16, 2011 at 7:37 pm

I think that with women still struggling to overcome a legacy of male domination of literature and publishing, it makes some sense for the newspaper to show some sensitivity, which really was lacking. Or some receptiveness to what Egan accomplished. Egan didn’t just beat Franzen, she was the only woman in the list of five finalists.

Cynthia Newberry Martin March 17, 2011 at 9:24 am

Thanks, Carla.

Chris Roberts March 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Never a snob, not me.

CLD March 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

No, just a concern troll.

Michael Washburn March 17, 2011 at 12:28 pm
cynthia newberry martin March 31, 2011 at 1:47 pm

The NBCC posts on LA Times coverage of Jennifer Egan’s win: http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/roundup_2010_national_book_critics_circle_awards_coverage/

Cynthia Newberry Martin April 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

Looking for something Egan said about revision, I came across an interview posted on April 2 on EW.com’s Shelf Life, in which Stephan Lee asked her about her response to this controversy:

There was a bit of an online outcry when an LA Times article ran a story about your NBCC Award win but pictured Jonathan Franzen instead, as if his loss were the bigger story than your win. What was your response to that?

It was funny; by the time I knew of the brouhaha, it seemed to have taken on a life of its own. In a way, whatever aggravation I might have felt was preempted by the fact that so many other people were incensed on my behalf! I did think that the Times’ excuse — “We didn’t have a picture of her” — was a bit Old Media. I mean, there are lots of pictures of all of us out there, and it takes all of a millisecond to find them. The outcry points to the intense frustration many people feel on behalf of female writers, and I’ve certainly shared that frustration at times. I think that all discussions of this sort are useful — messy and awkward though they may be. I guess I’m a believer in open airing of collective grievances, rather than private seething.

For the entire interview: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/04/02/jennifer-egan-interview-goon-squa/

Jeff McMahon April 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

Wonderful. Not only does she write genius books but she’s in favor of this vast ingenious free-for-all.

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