The New York Times Bubble Tea Disaster Shows Why Inclusive Newsrooms Matter


In yet another example of a major news organization messing up the details when trying to cover a community of color, the New York Times published a story with the headline “The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There” on Wednesday night.

Hey, NYT: Those “blobs” are called boba for crying out loud!

What happened next showed just how disastrous the story was.

The paper quietly changed the headline Thursday morning to read “Bubble Tea, Long a Niche Favorite, Goes Mainstream in the U.S.” on the web, but the Times didn’t catch its gaffe soon enough. It still has the original headline in print, according to the newspaper.

At best, the headline was a pretty stupid way to introduce an article about a food that many people already know and love.

But, as some people pointed out on Twitter, it also points to an annoying media habit of suddenly “discovering” a new trend that people of color have appreciated for a long time.

Even the second, only slightly better headline got some people riled up. After all, this coverage was especially weird since the paper called boba “so 2002″ just last year, as Splinter editor-in-chief Dodai Stewart pointed out.

And that’s not even all!

Later on Thursday, the Times changed the headline AGAIN (if you’re keeping score, that means headline number three) to read “Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow Along With Drink’s Popularity.” It also came with an Editor’s Note:

An earlier version of this article prompted criticism by readers and we have since revised the article in response.

That’s putting it lightly, as the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple pointed out on Twitter:

The edits show that the paper removed references to boba being “exotic”—which it deeply is not—and a store owner’s efforts to “get Caucasians and African-Americans and Latinos into the store.”

Business editor Ellen Pollock responded to the backlash in a post posted to the paper’s website:

In retrospect, we wish we had approached the topic differently (if at all). There may be a story in the expansion of bubble tea businesses in the United States, but there is no denying the drink has been around for quite a while. And we regret the impression left by some of the original language in the article, which we have revised in light of the concerns.

It may seem silly–and trust me, the thought of someone walking into a boba shop and then being shocked that they would include tapioca pearls in their drink does seem silly to me–but the glaring oversight suggests a bigger problem when it comes to media diversity.

It was ignorant of the Times to frame a story about a long-time Asian treat as an “exotic” “concoction,” and I have to wonder: would this have happened if more people of color were there to call out the Times’ mistake sooner?

*sips blob filled tea*

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin