Time Out’s Bias

I just got the following letter forwarded to me from a friend in San Francisco… which is interesting. Who knew Time Out New York had such a long reach? This is an email going around from Esther Robinson, who, I believe used to work at Creative Capital and now runs an organization called ArtHome:


Dear Friends,

Two weeks ago Time Out NY  featured the Top 40 list of New Yorkers who

have made a “lasting, positive impact” on NYC in the last 13 years.

The cover featured a group of prominent individuals who have in fact

made a positive impact on this city, but only three people of color

made the list – Jay-Z, Derek Jeter and Junot Diaz.

To make matters worse….. the editor’s response as to why there were

so few people of color mentioned, was New York is “a city whose

cultural elite have been mainly white.” The entire response gets much

worse (see link below).

I am writing because I think it is essential that people write Time

Out (especially if you have a personal connection to any of their

writers and/or editors), send a response to Editor Michael Freidson,

post a response at the link below and forward your response widely to

people that will care and respond.


What is revealed in the Freidson’s letter (linked to above) is the

closed cultural world of Time Out.


[Letter continues after the jump]

This issue privileges personal rolodex-list-making over actual culture


It’s a list  of “who we know” not a list of “what we can discover.”

How to find the top New Yorkers?  Do you interview top curators,

politicians, non-profit leaders to find the surprise folks?   Nope…

You ask only your staff and then process only with your

editors…..Without any self reflection about who your staff is, what

their taste is, and how well they represent New York as a whole….

If Time Out wants to be taken seriously as culture reporters and not

just a smug magazine of listings then they need to take their jobs and

their place in the city more seriously.

Michael Freidson Editor, Time Out New York states,  “We chose only

those who have made a lasting, positive impact in TONY’s 13 years.

They had to still be active, still creating. The pool was nominated by

the entire editorial staff and then whittled down by a panel of five

editors.”  In his letter he then goes on to offer a defense of how

certain people were or were not chosen.

However these rules are quite randomly applied, and when you only have

forty slots this makes for a real absence of rigor…

For example, Bill T Jones isn’t immediately “vital” enough for Time

Out NY,  but Eliot Spitzer is cool even though he’s not exactly “still

active still creating” unless harassing the new governor counts…

Visual arts are so grossly underrepresented that somehow they’ve

managed to make a list of New York cultural elites that doesn’t

include Thelma Golden (!) and that ignores  proven international

artists like Kara Walker while great-but-still-niche white dance and

film artists carry many slots……In fact, Mr Freidson’s main

complaint about “people of color” is that they aren’t famous enough,

he goes on to use Jeffrey Wright as an example saying he doesn’t have

the big credits of Liev Schreiber or Philip Seymour Hoffman, but then

he doesn’t compare Jeffrey to the equally talented but equally

unheralded Elizabeth Marvel who does appear ….

And this is the great problem with the list….the choices are random,

taste-based and cliquish….

Tim Gunn (who?) Tyra Banks (oops?)… John Zorn is an active icon but

the only NY rep for jazz???? His full-on peer William Parker is still

kicking more ass then ever ….. Or on the younger tip Matthew Shipp,

and Vijay Iyer…..Also, Alicia Keys and TV On The Radio give our city

a vital pulse and move music forward and they definitely are more

proven  (“over the last 13 years”) than Nellie McKay (who is also a

great addition to the new york music scene).

Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy) truly is a great visionary

of the small human drama but so is Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart and

Chop Shop)…Chris Wheeldon is a fantastic choreographer but so are

Miguel Gutierrez,  Nami Yamamoto, Ron K Brown, Donna Uchizono, and

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and their impact is notably greater and in some

case far more international….. You’ve got Mr Shakeshack (Danny

Meyer) but not the the culinary genius of David Chang

(Momofuku)?…….Sure Tony Kushner is crucial but Adam Rapp over

Suzan Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Talvin Wilkes, and George C. Wolfe?

The truth is that  the folks on the list are important and talented

and we are lucky to have them be New Yorkers, but they aren’t the only

ones who are important.  The New York cultural scene and its “elite”

are a multifaceted and diverse pack of people–and if a first-pass

list isn’t reflective of our great city, it should be Time Out’s

mandate  to discover the people that bring the richest range….

It is an exciting reporting challenge to surprise both reader AND

writer.  Sadly, the Time Out editors are happy to stick to what they

know, not what they can learn or what surprises they can share as true

cultural reporters.   And when called on this approach,  they retreat

to the age old argument “Well the cultural elite is white”  which

should be more accurately phrased as “For Time Out’s list making

purposes we’ve chosen to define the cultural elite as white….”

……… Imagine if some real reporting were applied to this

exercise……maybe then we would have been able to give Spiderman’s

slot to an actual person……..and maybe this list would represent

the surprising New York I love, not the the odd “white new york elite”

that TONY seems to believe in….

Let’s fight for the representation of the New York that we love and

not the New York that Time Out and Editor Freidson so lazily inhabit

and promote…..



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