Andrew Ross Sorkin Puts On An Awesome Conference And The New York Times’ Public Editor Slams It

Andrew Ross Sorkin

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On Wednesday, the New York Times’ DealBook put on a huge conference where some of the biggest names in the financial services and business community discussed the economy following the election. Speakers at the invite-only event “Opportunities For Tomorrow” included JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Ray Dalio, Steve Schwarzman, David Rubenstein and Eric Schmidt, just to name a few.

Our Deputy Editor Joe Weisenthal spent the entire day covering the conference and he thought it was an awesome event. He said it was “totally stacked” with good guests, and several of the Q&As were above average. He noted that he didn’t plan to stay all day, but ended up not leaving until the end.

Not everyone feels that way, though.

Following the conference, New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote a scathing piece slamming DealBook’s editor-at-large Andrew Ross Sorkin and DealBook over the conference. Her attack ranged from the coziness of DealBook to the guests, and even the fact that it’s sponsored.

The basic premise of her blog post is that she thinks the journalists are too close to their sources. She writes:  

Here is what the conference did not have going for it: A great deal of distance between sources and those who cover them — something traditionally thought to be a bedrock journalistic idea.

Sullivan, who also writes about how DealBook is seen as being “too soft on sources”, seemed to have a problem with journalists and execs eating hors d’oeuvres together.  

But given the lunchtime rollout of a new Blackberry device, the overall friendly questioning of prominent newsmakers, the reception afterward – featuring wine, hors d’oeuvres and the incessant rubbing of journalistic and corporate elbows — the word “adversarial” did not come to mind. Nor did the word “watchdog.”

She also seems to feel that the New York Times is indebted to the big name execs who were not paid to attend the event.

Most audience members paid handsomely to be “invited” – most tickets were $1,500, others less. Given that they were coming to see people like Mr. Blankfein — other big names were the JPMorgan Chase chairman Jamie Dimon and the Google chairman Eric Schmidt – The Times’s indebtedness to these sources lurks in the shadows. (The participants were not paid for their appearances.)

Overall, Sullivan called the event “chummy” and said some aspects of it made her feel a “little queasy.”

Sorkin doesn’t feel that way. 

“I don’t think there’s any truth to that,” Mr. Sorkin said. “We ask very pointed questions.”

Sullivan seems to be mostly alone in her view of this. Reuters media critic Felix Salmon defended the “transparent” DealBook conference in a well-argued piece here.

Read Sullivan’s full takedown here >