I have the same reaction. The journalists are not writing about the benefits of broad-based index ETFs. The NYTimes article you linked has this:
These funds are also so specific that they allow people to invest in particular niches.
which while true, ignores the most actively traded ETFs like SPY, IWM and EEM, as well as the low expense ratio ones like VTI, VBR, VB, VEU, etc.
You could have a great portfolio with VTI, VBR, VEU, VSS, VNQ, and BND --- all ETFs from Vanguard. But these are all boring, run-of-the-mill ETFs with absolutely nothing exotic. They all have regular mutual funds associated with them, so no particularly special advantages over the funds themselves.
Part of the hoopla has been that brokers offer free trades in ETFs: Wells Fargo for all ETFs, Schwab for its ETFs, Fidelity for some iShare ETFs, and Vanguard for its ETFs.