New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger sports a black eye.
The Gray Lady is red-faced.
The New York Times blundered twice yesterday — first telling more than 8 million people via e-mail that they had canceled their subscriptions, then claiming, erroneously, that the e-mail deluge was all due to spam.
The comedy of errors began at 1:20 p.m. when 8.6 million e-mails from the Times were sent out addressed to “Dear Home Delivery Subscriber.”
The message said that the Times’ records show that the recipients had recently canceled their subscriptions and begged them to come back for an “exclusive rate of 50 percent off for 16 weeks.”
“We do hope you’ll reconsider,” the e-mail said.
The e-mail seemed legit: It was sent from an address listed as: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It told recipients to contact an 877 telephone number if they were interested.
But callers to the number either got a busy signal or a message that said, “Due to high call volume, your call cannot be completed at this time.”
Within an hour, the newspaper realized that its mass e-mail had flooded in-boxes. But the Times told media reporters that it was the victim, not the perpetrator.
“The e-mail is SPAM and was not sent from The New York Times. We are alerting subscribers immediately,” the paper told reporters by e-mail at 2:08 p.m. “That’s our immediate concern. When we learn more, we will let you know. ”
About the same time, the Times’ Twitter feed said, “If you received an e-mail today about canceling your NYT subscription, ignore it. It’s not from us.”
But it was from the paper. The Times’ story changed drastically by 3:29 when the paper’s media reporter Amy Chozik tweeted, “The e-mail was sent by the NYT, a spokeswoman said. Should’ve gone to approx 300 & went to over 8 mil.”
That message was passed on to reporters at 3:47 in an e-mail that retracted the earlier spam claim and admitted the Times was the source of the e-mail flood.
“The e-mail should have been sent to a very small number of subscribers but instead was sent to a vast subscription list made up of people who had previously provided their e-mail address to The New York Times,” the paper said. “We regret the error and we regret our earlier communication noting that this e-mail was SPAM.”
The Times also went back to the 8.6 million, apologizing for “any confusion” this may have caused.
By 4:28 the Times Web site told the rest of the world of the apparent “send-to-all blunder made by a Times employee.
It added that the newspaper had “initially mischaracterized the mishap as spam.”
By then the screw-up had inspired a parody Twitter account, @NYTSpam. It soon had more than 150 followers who were enjoying the Times squirm.
The account’s description of itself read: “Not affiliated with @NYTimes or actual spammers — just sick of bad digital strategy.”
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said that despite the e-mail blast, “No one’s security has been compromised.”
She said the newspaper would not extend the 50 percent discount offer to the 8.6 million who received the faulty e-mail.