Tag Archives: The New York Times


A story about Jim Dwyer, The New York Times columnist and reporter, who died today:

When Jim Dwyer’s book “Subway Lives” came out in 1991, I was five years into my journalism career but a longtime admirer of Jim’s work.

As a kid who grew up in the Bronx in the 70s and 80s and rode the trains constantly, I had a special interest in his behind-the-scenes stories of the workings of the city’s mass transit system.

I was spellbound by Jim’s deep reporting, exquisite attention to detail and, of course, his writing.

As fate would have it, Jim’s aunt and my mom were friends in the Parkchester neighborhood of the Bronx. Mom would regularly see my clips because her beloved butcher in the Bronx lived in the Hudson Valley where I worked and regularly cut out my articles to bring to her.

Mom arranged to hand off a sample of my clips to Jim and asked him to autograph the book, which he did:

“For Chris Mele, thanks for the clips (delivered by every newsman’s best friend — your mother) which were first rate. All the best, Jim Dwyer. 5 Dec. 94”

Fast-forward to 2000, and my first marriage disintegrated. Lost in the shuffle of the recriminations of divorce was my cherished autographed copy of Jim’s book.

But fate intervened a second time.

A colleague at the Middletown, N.Y., newsroom where I worked one day visited the local used book store run by the library. He happened to pluck a copy of “Subway Lives” from the shelves and took it home.

My colleague spotted the inscription and asked whether I had once owned an autographed copy of the book. I was reunited with it and it has had a special place on my bookshelf ever since. 

As if that were not enough, fate intervened one more time.

I somehow convinced The New York Times to hire me in 2014, and I’m assigned to the Metro copy desk, where — you guessed it — I was occasionally asked to copy-edit Jim’s columns.

To say I felt I was not fit to hold Jim’s notepad would be an understatement. 

But for someone who was as accomplished and well-known as Jim, there was not an ounce of airs and graces to him.

He was funny and generous. He was always a gentleman and a pleasure to work with, even though he always tested the outer limits of print deadlines and was lousy with the spellings of proper names. (Sorry, Jim.)

In 2013, a year before I joined The Times and before I met Jim in real life, I saw “Lucky Guy” on Broadway. 

The production told the story of Mike McAlary, the celebrated cop reporter for New York Newsday, who died at 41. 

Jim was a featured character in the show and I emailed him after to say how much I enjoyed the production and how much I enjoyed working at New York Newsday as a college intern.

Jim, ever gracious again, wrote me — a total stranger — a long note, part of which read:

“I think every journo at middle age, or approaching it, ought to see Lucky Guy. There are a few scenes in there that will make them all realize what lucky guys we are.”

I was the lucky guy for having worked and learned from the likes of Jim Dwyer. 

Rest in peace.

The Real and Growing Threats Against the Press

Facing hostility comes with the territory of being a reporter.

Your job is to ask pointed and sometimes uncomfortable questions, so you’ve got to have a thick skin.

I’ve been harassed by corrupt cops I exposed, browbeaten and threatened by readers and subjected to bizarre low-level stalking by a conspiracy theorist and his followers.

I know other journalists who have endured far, far worse.

A friend and former colleague, Paula McMahon, now of The South Florida Sun Sentinel, was surrounded once in the mid-1990s by an angry mob of men in a Hasidic Jewish village in New York who were hellbent on trying to intimidate her. (It didn’t work.)

My friend Leslie-Jean Thornton, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, had her own story to share last week at a panel discussion, “Journalists in the Hot Seat: Staying Safe in a Hostile Political Climate,” hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

She recounted how as the editor of a newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y., in 1990, she was subjected to persistent phone calls of the sounds of gunshots after she wrote an editorial about anti-abortion protesters who had distributed plastic fetuses in the local elementary school and put postcards with disturbing images in mailboxes.

As scary as those stories were, they were largely one-off occurrences.

They were not part of a pervasive and persistent pattern of animus – bordering on doing physical harm — toward members of the press.

That’s changed.

For about the past year, I’ve had a notion to write about the news media under fire.

Even after watching reporters regularly get jeered at presidential rallies, even after newsroom discussions of how to respond in case of an active shooter (Run. Hide. Fight.) and even after the unimaginable shootings at The Capital Gazette in Maryland that claimed the lives of five journalists, I felt like, nah, maybe I was just too close to the topic.

Maybe I was too paranoid or sensitive.

Maybe I was blowing things out of proportion.

And then I heard the panelists at this conference last week enumerate the ways the threats have escalated.

Networks have taken to hiring their own private security to protect certain high-profile news reporters when they are in the field.

There’s been a significant increase in death threats to reporters, especially those who have challenged the White House press secretary, panelists said.

And unrelated to politics, a panelist recounted how a young reporter at a small newspaper got death threats over a crime scene photo she took.

Thornton did a deep dive into the world of Instagram and found numerous disturbing memes depicting – and sometimes celebrating – violence against the press.

There was a press pass with a target superimposed on it.

Another read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

And another featured the logos of major news outlets, such as The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post, with bullet holes and “Trump 2018” on the bottom.

Tomorrow, newspapers in editorials across the country are banding together to speak with one voice about President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about the press.

Among other things, he’s called the news media “the enemy of the people” and “very dangerous and sick!”

His repeated pronouncements have been seen as an incitement to violence.

(A caller to C-SPAN recently threatened to shoot CNN hosts Brian Stelter And Don Lemon, saying: “They started the war. If I see ’em, I’m going to shoot ’em.”)

The attacks come at time that newspapers have been ravaged by deep cuts, leaving voters less informed and elected officials less engaged. Local governments face higher borrowing costs because the lack of local watchdog reporting holds them less accountable, Columbia Journalism Review reported.

Faced with growing concerns for our safety and security and at the same time the need more than ever for a vigilant press, what’s the answer?




Yes, fight.

Not with guns, but with our work.

Rihanna, ‘Ocean’s 8’ and Me

Pretty swiftly on my arrival at work one evening at The New York Times, word spread that the singer Rihanna was somewhere in the building filming a scene for a movie.

The excitement about her presence was electric.

Messages on the communications platform Slack stacked up speculating about where in the building she was, what she was filming and how long she’d be at 620 Eighth Avenue.

Me? My attitude was best summed up with the shrug emoji.

(I later discovered she was filming a scene for “Ocean’s 8,” which features an all-female cast in a classic heist movie. There is a scene where Rihanna is downstairs in the building lobby, commandeering a custodian’s cart in the middle of the night.)

I don’t want to sound too blase but yes it was cool that she was there, but I had work to do so I moved on.

By the time I headed for an elevator for the lobby around 12:30 a.m., I had completely forgotten she was in the building.

Yes, she walked out these VERY doors!

And then this happened: I headed to the two sets of double doors leading out to West 40th Street, my mind occupied with the commute home.

I really was not paying attention when I realized I was sort of sandwiched between a gaggle of people who were also leaving.

I turned behind me to hold the door open for one of these people and it was this guy, who I swear, filled the damn doorway top to bottom and side to side.

No exaggeration, he blocked out the light.

You know that character from “Game of Thrones” who is known as The Mountain?

In real life, that character is played by an Icelandic named Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson who has won competitions to be named the World’s Strongest Man and the first person to win the Arnold Strongman Classic.

The dude is 6 foot 9 inches tall.

Well, the guy in The Times building that night must’ve been his brother.

The Brother of the Mountain gave me a pleasant “thank you” for holding the door but it was only when I turned around that I realize that Rihanna was a mere footstep ahead of me.

And then I realized that this guy was her bodyguard and that I had somehow — inadvertently and stupidly — got between him and his protectee.

That is the equivalent of getting between a mama bear and her cubs: ill-advised and dangerous.

The guy could have snapped me like a matchstick.

When we got outside of the building, a guy in drag called out to Rihanna, who was stunningly beautiful in real life and could not have been more gracious to this fan waiting for her on the street.

She climbed into a big SUV and that was the last I saw of her.

That was my brush with fame — and probably near death if I got any closer to her!