The Deal on DealBook

“I’VE NEVER CONTRIBUTED to fucking DealBook,” a former Times staffer sneered, when The Observer mistakenly asked about his tenure. Why so offended? “I don’t think it’s New York Times-quality journalism,” he explained. “I think it’s a kind of pandering. It treats Wall Street like this wonderful place that we should be proud of. … Any idea that starts with the premise of ‘We’re gonna make these people really like us’ is bad journalism.”

Scenes like the Four Seasons party, with its eager C-suite guest list, and Barclays and Goldman Sachs touted as charter advertisers, delight Times executives (see: bunny ears) and dismay some in the Times newsroom. Internal skeptics recently have delighted in pointing out the shellacking The Times has received on the recent hedge fund insider-trading scandal, which The Journal, despite its distractions, has completely dominated.

DealBook critics often invoke Politico as they attempt to describe how the outlets’ obsession with velocity and micro-scoops (“Get there fast. Get there first” reads one DealBook slogan) requires suspending old-fashioned journalistic traits like skepticism and distrust of institutions, not to mention deep sourcing and nuance, and draw similarities between Politico’s lusty cheering-on of partisan warfare and DealBook’s chummy relationship with the bankers who took the economy to the brink.

It is true that DealBook has adopted the tone of much of the rest of Web journalism, which comes across as more participatory and clubby than distanced and skeptical.

Mr. Sorkin offers no apologies, arguing that his creation is often deeply critical of Wall Street, and invoking Politico as a DealBook model himself. (Also, TechCrunch, another site notorious for rapacious but often-wrong coverage.) “What Politico does so well is they speak to a community,” Mr. Sorkin told The Observer. “But they do it tonally–in a way that’s both accessible, and at some level probably even aspirational, so that people who are not inside the Beltway can feel O.K. dropping in, and getting a peek inside the window of this world. And that’s what DealBook can do to the business community. We can write stories and tell a narrative, and yet do it in a way that’s accessible enough, and maybe even aspirational enough, for other people, including the broader Times readership.”

To some extent, the friction at The Times between print standards and online ones is typical of a debate under way in newsrooms across the country. After all, the old-guard defenders of the past usually aren’t willing to accept that their way has coincided with the financial demolition of the news business. Innovators like Mr. Sorkin and DealBook may rub some people the wrong way, but they could end up providing the money that the rest of the newsroom needs to keep the lights on.

Felix Salmon, a Reuters blogger who does fast-but-smart better than almost anyone, said he was seriously impressed by how Mr. Sorkin had broadened The Times‘ advertising base. “You don’t see a lot of brand advertising for Goldman Sachs in BizDay,” he said.

Is the entrepreneurial Mr. Sorkin the Times-man of the future? Mr. Salmon thought about that one. “Pretty much the only media organization that cultivates and is proud of this whole sort of ego-driven star culture is Condé. They love seeing Graydon going off and starting up restaurants; they love seeing Chris Anderson going off and having his big speaking-gig thing,” Mr. Salmon said. “Other media organizations have traditionally been much warier of that. The fact is, on the Internet, individual brands really do resonate in a way that more corporate ones don’t. So the ability that The Times has demonstrated to let the David Pogues and the Bittmans”–The Observer had mentioned it likes cooking with Mark Bittman’s iPhone app–“and the Sorkins do their thing and shine is really smart of them.”

nsummers@observer.com | @nicksumm

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Mr. Sorkin has a contract to appear on both CNBC and MSNBC; he does not. He has a “contributor” agreement only with CNBC.

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