November 23, 2008
How the NYT Could Save ItselfBy Andrew Sumereau
It is biased, elitist, and pretentious. It is filled with errors, omissions and distortions. Yes, The New York Times is all this and worse, and I fully understand the glee with which its critics view its coming demise. But like many things in this life, it will be sorely missed when gone, even by its critics, and for reasons that will not be made clear until it is a memory. Assume for a moment that it can and should be saved. Here is how it can be done.
Make no mistake, the newspaper industry as we have known it is a dying industry. Expenses grow, income shrinks, readership evaporates, the business model no longer works. Most will be out of business within five years. It is inevitable. Only a handful of major papers will survive.
So why save the Times? Why bother? Many reasons: Because a good newspaper will be and should be read and valued by intelligent people for coming decades, because the most important city in the country needs a good daily newspaper, and because it is much easier to transform something alive than resurrect something dead. And with drastic changes made, the Times can rebound and become a valuable resource for the public and the nation.
Let us begin with what is good about the paper.
- It covers the world and reports news, sometimes even with facts. Take today's edition, Saturday, November 22 for example (Saturday being the thinnest offering of the week). Its international and national news assemblage is impressive and standard. It includes reports from reporters in Tokyo, Mexico City, Lima, Tehran, Beijing, Mogadishu, Baghdad, Caracas, Rome, and Dharamsala, in addition to Washington, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Detroit, Decatur, Cambridge, Boston and Shiloh, Tennessee.
-It has a surprisingly fair business section.
-A solid sports page (though increasingly spoiled by politically correct nonsense).
-A good obituary page.
-In all of its reportage one finds graphs, lists, data, that is usually more thorough than can be found elsewhere in newsprint.
-It has a long history as the paper of record and is still considered a must read even for most people that hate it. In short, it has heritage, and more importantly, resources. Both of which have been squandered with alacrity by its current management.
What is bad about the paper?
-For the sake of brevity let us just say that all that was previously mentioned as good about the paper is colored and distorted by an obvious far left urban liberal mentality. The ancient (and now outdated by PC strictures) joke about the Times headline reading "World to Come to an End, Experts See Hardship for the Negroes" is, alas, no joke. The Times is the quintessence of all that is wrong with mainstream journalism, insulated from real life, fixated on trivialities, and immersed in all the falsities found in university driven propaganda.
It cannot be relied on to report objectively. But by far its greatest sin in reportage is the sin of omission rather than commission. Enjoying its pretense of being the unofficial paper of record it alone decides what is newsworthy and serious and what is not. It orders and arranges the discussion. Thus Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards' mistress and love child is ignored for a year while Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's daughters' pregnancy is reported instantly and with more urgency than a moon shot. Sometimes the bias is more subtle. Corrupt officials are introduced in stories by party affiliation only when they are Republican. Democrat miscreants are rarely labeled.
-The editorial page is remarkably weak. Reliably far-left, it has much less influence than it should. Its regular columnists consist of lightweight thinkers and poseurs like Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowd and David Brooks. It invites the occasional guest columnist but usually those noted for their celebrity, trendiness or attitude rather than any intellectual heft. Of those who write with more substance, the arguments are always those of the left. Sadly, for thoughtful New Yorkers, The New York Times editorial page is not the place to go for insight or trenchant analysis.
-Finally in our list of negatives, (for regular readers of the Times this will come as no surprise,) is the unrelenting fixation on the "gay" agenda. Actually, agenda is not a strong enough word for it. Mania is a more accurate description of the approach the Times takes towards all things homosexual. The love that "dares not speak its name" never shuts up in the pages of New York's most important newspaper. (Example: In this same Saturday edition the above-the-fold Arts Section main article concerns a movie about gay rights which opens in Claremont, California in thirty days. Is nothing else of more interest happening in the Arts in New York City!! Not according to the devout Grey Lady.) It would not be overstating the case to say that if half the time spent focusing on all things gay by the Times was spent on fixing its pressing business problems, the Times would be a thriving concern today.
So how to save it?
Call a press conference and announce the plan to become officially ... the paper of record. In essence, to become what they already purport to be. Make clear that objective reporting will be the new mantra. With the technological changes that are killing newspapers and news gatherers of all sorts, reassert that the Times is in a unique position to capitalize on a need for on-the-ground-reporting that is disappearing everywhere else. Newsweeklies are beating the trail to the graveyard. Magazines are cutting staffs and remain little more than advertising vehicles. Cable news programs have no reportage worth noting and have morphed into mere twenty-four hour opinion shows. The Internet, although a great resource for professional investigation, is too wide and voluminous to reach a mass audience with essential daily information. The need for a central source of "what happened" facts and news has returned with a new emphasis.
Throw out present management. Lose the expensive and redundant "feature" sections established in the eighties and nineties to lure more (dumber) readers. Lose the editorial pages. Focus on NEWS. Provide facts. Use the considerable resources still in place and report objectively what is happening. Investigate, agenda-free, the workings of our bloated governments. Tell us what is going on and why. Become the "paper of record" in fact rather than in fiction.
The chance of this happening is, of course, more than remote. The current leadership of the paper deserves its fate. But the readers deserve more. The New York Times can enjoy a rebirth as the acknowledged source of objective news and information or die the slow hubristic death of an antiquated relic.