Chinese Nail Salon Owners vs. The New York Times
In October 2015, thousands of Chinese nail salon owners gathered in front of the headquarters of The New York Times, protesting a two-part ‘expose’ that the newspaper published in print on May 10 and 11, 2015. The protest is the third such gathering in two months. Protesters say there will likely be more.
The so-called expose has resulted in the enacting of regulatory changes by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York; these changes are reportedly making it difficult for salon owners to do business in the state of New York.
Some online publications, particularly Reason of the Reason Foundation, a national non-profit research and educational organization, are saying that the salon owners have reason to protest the expose published in The New York Times. The paper’s coverage of the issue reportedly not only mischaracterized the nail salon industry but also featured plenty of factual errors and misquotes.
Jim Epstein, a writer from Reason, says that the series of articles violated the principles of responsible journalism and that they shouldn’t have been published at all.
The salon industry ‘expose’ by The New York Times
Written by reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, the expose was printed in two parts and ran in print on May 10 and 11, 2015. It focused on the working conditions of nail salon manicurists in Long Island and New York City. According to the articles, at the core of the nail salon industry in New York was a community of immigrants who were paid extremely low wages and regularly exposed to toxic fumes that cause cancer and miscarriages.
Nir spent 13 months on the project, but the story apparently left much to be desired. Epstein actually investigated Nir’s stories and re-interviewed her sources. Several of Nir’s sources say that they had been misquoted or misrepresented. Ostensibly, Nir interviewed her sources without translators, although they did not speak English well. Nir even omitted entire testimonies altogether if they did not match the narrative she had pitched to her editors.
Even with their shoddy reporting and poor research, the stories had alarming real-world consequences. The day after the first article was published, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced the inspection of nail salons through a new multi-agency task force. Cuomo also issued an emergency order in August, requiring salons to get a “wage bond”, a new form of insurance that gives workers an option to collect if owners are discovered to be paying their employees less than the legally required wage.
This new legislation has greatly affected the nail salon industry in New York. Aiming Feng, an accountant leading business advisor to nail shops, says that new nail salons have stopped opening, when new salons previously sprouted like mushrooms every week.
These salons had been an essential source of jobs for undocumented immigrants; many nail salon owners now say that they’ll be hiring only legal workers who have completed an occupational licensing program.
In response to these changes, two industry groups filed a discrimination in the New York Supreme Court over the wage-bond mandate, on the grounds that an Asian-dominated industry has been singled out. Multiple protests have been organized, as well, in front of The New York Times Company’s offices in midtown Manhattan.