The New York Times issued an apology today after readers complained about a breathlessly written business section article framing boba tea as an exotic new trend poised to hit the mainstream. Originally published under the headline “The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There,” the article centered around a trip to a busy New York City location of Boba Guys, the San Francisco-founded chain.
It’s now been revised twice, and currently bears the headline “Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow Along With Drink’s Popularity.” The Times has also removed much of the original article, including descriptions of boba as “a curious amalgam... [that] washed ashore in the United States a few years back.”
Cool so the NYT published a story about Boba Guys in 2017 calling boba a confusing new food trend of exotic blobs from the Far East pic.twitter.com/Wf1DXL0E9g— ahmed ali akbar (@radbrowndads) August 17, 2017
“In retrospect, we wish we had approached the topic differently,” a business editor wrote on behalf of the paper.
Andrew Chau, who co-founded Boba Guys in 2011, is giving the Times the benefit of the doubt. “I do think it was a genuine mistake. When we talked to them for our comments, we walked them through the industry, flavors, and backgrounds. They definitely had the intention of understanding what we do,” Chau wrote to Eater.
But the Times — and others — can still do better. “Given the climate of culture right now, there is a very fine line between trying to make something new accessible and ‘othering’ people,” Chau writes.
“On the one hand, we don’t want writers to stop writing about ramen, pho, sushi, or other ethnic foods that the mainstream culture thinks is ‘exotic.’ But on the other hand, journalists have to develop more empathy and write from a more immersive and holistic perspective. Otherwise, we start objectifying culture. It becomes tone deaf in times when tone is everything.”
Finally, Chau thinks it’s important to forgive mistakes and encourage conversation. “With the greater zeitgeist right now, we need to encourage people to have dialogue,” he writes. “When people say the wrong shit, you gotta call them on it. But if they own up to it, you gotta make peace with their apology, too.”