- Posted by Michelle O'Gara
- On October 6, 2015
The Curious Case of the Man with the Heavy Glasses
While flipping through The New York Times, I notice an image of a peculiar-looking man. His appearance is that of a boyish imp, or the possible love child of Tilda Swinton and Austin Powers. If his eyeglass frames were a font, they would be Helvetica Bold.
The headline next to the man reads “Met Chooses New Top Curator for Its Costume Institute.” As I put on my own reading glasses to get a better look, I realize the man with the heavy glasses is Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion mastermind and heir to Costume Institute curator’s throne.
But the real mystery is not who the man with the glasses is, but how the news story about Andrew Bolton ended up in The Arts section of The New York Times. On the page, the article’s real estate interrupts the space of the section masthead. One can argue that the story is newsworthy for the paper’s readership. But is the story a result of traditional beat reporting or the efforts of an effective public relations practitioner?
The article in hand, I began the investigation with an on-line keyword search — Met, Curator, Press Release, Bolton. The Google search yielded many results including a link to my first lead on the Met’s press room website. I found a news release dated September 8, 2015, entitled, “Harold Koda to Step Down After Leading Met Museum’s Costume Institute for 15 Years; Andrew Bolton to Become Curator In Charge of the Department.”
The Met’s news announcement utilizes a lead quote from director and CEO, Thomas P. Campbell. The New York Times article does not mention Campbell. However, the basic information from the lead and backup sections of the news release are used as the basis for the story. The news announcement contains balanced profile information between Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, but the focus of The New York Times article was on the incoming curator.
Amongst the Google search results was an April 29, 2015 article from the Men’s Section of The New York Times touting Bolton as the Met’s “storyteller in chief.” The image used for the September 9th article was cropped from the blown out image used in the April 29th article. While the photo credit belongs to The New York Times, the Met’s on-line press room offers access to approved-for-use images. Essentially, the Met makes it easy for media outlets to cover their endeavors and events.
Other top print media outlets covered the story, including The Wall Street Journal, the Hollywood Reporter and Out magazine. The story angle varied between these publications. The Wall Street Journal focused on Koda’s contributions while Fashion Times recreated the news release word-for-word. The quotations remained consistent throughout all coverage. For example, Campbell’s quote, “During his time at the Met, Harold has brought great change to the department, including the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection to the Museum, and the two-year renovation and reopening of its space as the Anna Wintour Costume Center last year,” was used verbatim by The Wall Street Journal.
A common feature every article possessed was mentions of Anna Wintour and the annual Met Gala. Wintour is editor-in-chief of Vogue and primary benefactor of the Costume Institute. Perhaps the case of the man with the heavy glasses may be tied to the woman with a pageboy bob and her team of publicists? One may even speculate that the announcement is part of a communications strategy for the well-planned annual
All in all, the mystery of the how has been solved. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence shows that a public relations practitioner placed the article. After cracking this case, I think it may be impossible to read any newspaper without being skeptical or investigating the original press release or source.