Monday, January 12, 2009

The much-anticipated demise of the gray lady

Yesterday, Britain's The Guardian produced a navel-gazer about the (mostly self-inflicted) financial wounds of "the gray lady" and its, quite possible, near-future demise. In the course of its pre-mortem on the New York Times, Paul Harris writes the following bit of drivel, demonstrating that the insular journalistic hothouse extends across the Atlantic Ocean.
It is hard to overstate the place that the New York Times holds in American journalism. It is worshipped by media professionals as the home of true, old-fashioned reporting. Many look enviously at its lavishly funded foreign operations, its arts coverage and its investigations unit. Liberal America regards the paper as a bible, while conservatives love to hate it.
In an earlier life, I was (briefly) senior editor for the launch and early days of the online edition of The New York Daily News. The News, like arch-competitor The New York Post, is a rough-around-the-edges, but credible, newspaper whose reporters know their beat, cover the city well, and do so while the news is relevant. Yes, the Post, in particular, takes a lot of grief for its tabloid style, but the two tabloids get the story right more often than not, and they're actually enjoyable to read.

The New York Times ...

reporters used to (and probably still) ask News and Post reporters for direction to some of the city's neighborhoods, because they might as well have been stranded in the Sahara desert if they crossed a bridge.

No, I'm not kidding. That was a running joke among reporters from both the tabloids.

The paper covers Queens like it's Kazakhstan, anything west of the Hudson like it's Alpha Centauri, and serious life-and-death matters of international import primarily from the perspective of their impact on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

If the Times covers a trend, it's a fair bet that it's been over for a year.

Hell. Old-fashioned reporting? Times reporters don't even write comprehensible ledes. Sure, they did swell in their creative writing classes, but just try to figure out where any given story is going without dragging yourself through the whole damned thing.

I'm not saying that the Times is worthless. But if newspapers were dogs, the News and the Post would be tough, street-wise mutts, and the Times would be a fluffy, just-bathed poodle. (Careful, don't spook it or it'll piss on the carpet).

The Times has access to movers and shakers and, no doubt, gets insights on national and international issues that aren't available to most other outlets. It does occasionally interesting analysis, though always -- always -- from within a half-inch of the conventional wisdom as seen by the JFK-to-Dulles power elites. And that access comes largely through the process of giving journalistic hand-jobs to a cultivated segment of the powers-that-be.

If the Times were to pass on, I have to wonder if it might not clear the field for new news operations that are not so ossified, not quite so incestuously connected with the supposed subjects of scrutiny, and, perhaps, just a tad less smug and insular in their cultural and political reference points.

There's plenty of room in the world for good news operations that are adaptable and appeal to an audience. If the New York Times can't survive changing circumstances ... well, the world will keep turning.



Blogger Kent McManigal said...

What's a "york" and why did they need a new one?

January 13, 2009 1:27 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home