Posts about nytimes

Rupert’s pincer movement around a trapped Times

I doubt that Rupert Murdoch is quite monomaniacal in an effort to destroy the New York Times — since he’s just too smart a businessman to get too carried away; money is his check and balance — but if you were sitting on 43rd Street Eighth Avenue, you’d be forgiven for feeling paranoid and sweaty right now. As CJR points out today, Murdoch is tightening his strategic grip on the shape of the future of the Wall Street Journal with the imminent reported departure of Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli (damn, just when I learned to pronounce his name). And there are reports that Murdoch’s about to snag Newsday for $580 million. Add the New York Post, of course, and Fox News — not to mention the Times of London — and you have the New York Times cornered. Murdoch can attack from above — national and international — and below — local — and the the right flank — ideological — and the future — TV and digital.

But I think what really has the Times cornered is its tradition, its sense of history and preservation. Is the Times willing to reinvent itself? That’s what’s really necessary. But I fear they will treat their past as sacred and put preservation over reinvention. I don’t say that dismissively; they certainly do believe they are preserving the finest tradition of journalism in America and that’s a laudable goal. But preservation is not a strategy for the future. I’ve had my suggestions for the company but let’s reexamine the Times’ options as it faces Rupert to the right of them, Rupert to the front of them.

They could finally decide to be America’s liberal voice. But they won’t. My friends (and employers) at the Guardian stand in a better position to grab that title since they are unafraid to be liberal (hell, they trumpet it: “The world’s leading liberal voice,” that’s their mission).

They could decide to become the great American marketplace of opinion, except HuffingtonPost and the Guardian each have a robust headstart on them.

I don’t think there’s a future in local for them (no, not even the blessed hyperlocal). They will be loathe to cede New York to the competitors but their audience here is tiny. I still think that metro should become a separate business.

The battlegrounds will be national and digital. There the Times is strong, thanks to the good work of NY Times Digital; they are a leader. But online, it’s easy to supersede leaders (see: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, MSNBC, MySpace, Friendster….). This is why I think the Times has to decide on radical reinvention, a new architecture. You can guess my starting points: a networked structure, a distributed strategy, a community plan. I’m not sure where I’d start but I do think they are all the more vulnerable today. I wonder how much they know that. And I wonder what you would do in their sweaty shoes.

: LATER: Nick Denton, media mogul, on why fellow mogul Murdoch is in such a hurry.

Here’s my appearance on the topic on the Brian Lehrer show:

Do I smell smoke? Is that a fiddle I hear?

The New York Times Monday media report completely buried the report of the worst newspaper ad revenue decline since 1950, when the NAA started measuring the number (which is to say, the worst decline ever). It’s on page C-7, given a mere four paragraphs. Granted, the news is a bit stale, having come out three days ago. Still, you’d think that the media section would have decided to give this more perspective.

I think the proper perspective is that we are at a full-blown, slippery-slope, accelerating-fall, watch-out-below crisis for the newspaper industry and professional journalism with it. It’s time for drastic thinking.

The tchotchkefication of The Times

I won’t mince words: I hate the new and expanded news summary The New York Times introduced today on pages 2 and 3. It’s inefficient, wasteful, and ultimately insulting.

It’s not hard to see where this comes from. I’ve sat in no end of whither-newspaper meetings in companies and conferences in which the alleged shortened attention span of the American public is lamented. This is the most common cure. I’m sure the updated rationale includes blaming the internet: People read short things on the screen so they must want it in print.

But this is nothing new. In 1976, I was assigned — kicking and screaming — to be one of two editors to create the same news summary on the back page of the first section of the Chicago Tribune. Daily Briefing, it was called. Editors have tried putting them on the front page, on page 2, on the back page, everywhere. Never works. The Tribune’s feature died (after I quit in frustration and went to the San Francisco Examiner).

The problem with The Times’ latest effort is first that it’s inefficient and inappropriate to the form. They forget one of the still-great advantages of the interface of the paper: As I browse, I see every story and I get to decide then and there how deep to dive in: the headline or caption may tell me enough, the lede may, the first five grafs may. The beauty is that it’s all right there. If instead, I see a story of interest on The Times’ new page 2, I have to go shuffling through the paper to find it and keep reading.

The second problem, I think, is that it’s wasteful. As newspapers lose space and staff, I think they should be using both precious aassets to go deeper, not shallower.

Third, I do not think it’s true that our attention spans have shorted. Our choices have increased. And that means that our selectivity is greater. So we may give shorter attention to the stories newspapers fed us when they controlled our media choice. Now they don’t and we read what we want to. Indeed, we can dig deeper into a topic of interest and follow it longer. In that sense, our attention spans are longer when and where it matters to us.

While I don’t like The Times’ summary, I do like its new page 1 promos — reefers, we call them in the biz — because they use the unique value of a front page to give us more of a sense of what’s inside and what to look for; they are like links.

The other big change is a big promo box for NYTimes.com on page 4. I’ll also quibble with that, for it ghettoizes digital (as do most such boxes in newspapers and magazines everywhere). The Times has already been doing a better job of merging the two by printing meaty chunks of the Bits, Caucus, and other blogs, bringing a new journalistic voice into the paper. I say do more of that and less tchotchkefication of The Times.

Playing the race ace

The New York Times op-ed page has now crossed the line I was hoping would not be crossed in a piece by Orlando Patterson that makes criticizing Barack Obama or questioning his qualifications — both the essence of campaign debate — tantamount to racism. We have crossed into a land where political discussion is politically incorrect. He says:

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

Oh, for God’s sakes, the images could also remind me of Peter Pan and children being protected from the youthful scamp by the shaggy dog.

Oh, and what would solve this problem in Patterson’s view? Not casting a blonde child. Being blonde is a problem.

He concludes:

It is possible that what I saw in the ad is different from what Mrs. Clinton and her operatives saw and intended. But as I watched it again and again I could not help but think of the sorry pass to which we may have come — that someone could be trading on the darkened memories of a twisted past that Mr. Obama has struggled to transcend.

Yes, and as I read this sorry piece again and again and saw its clear intention of painting Hillary Clinton as a racist, I could not help but think that it is a sad day when a Harvard professor and the New York Times sink to playing the race card in this election, turning political debate into victimization.

In this, the age of offense, let me say, I’m offended.

A challenge from the Times

In a comment under my post about restructuring the Times Company below, someone calling him or herself Timesman says that indeed Bill Keller of the Times does want to work collaboratively with his readers, the question is how:

But what, specifically, should journalists at the Times ask its users to do? Let’s hear some very concrete next steps. We’re listening.

OK, friends, let’s take up that challenge. I’ll start the bidding. Please add your ideas of how the Times and its public can work together to perform concrete acts of journalism. (And spare us the kneejerk Times-bashing; those sentiments are stipulated.) Some suggestions:

* Put large amounts of data or documents online and ask the public to help find the stories there. The Dallas Morning News did this with the just-released JFK documents. The Ft. Myers News Press did it with a FOIA on a botched hurricane-relief effort. The Sunlight Foundation has us exposing earmarks in spending bills. Someone, I can’t recall who, did it with Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress. Use your access to get such data and then ask us to help dig into it because we know what’s going on or simply because you want the help. I’d start with Congress and get help from Sunlight and bloggers to strategize that.

* Ask the public to help gather data points around a story. The quickly classical example of this was Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show asking listeners to find out the prices of milk, lettuce, and beer to find out who is being gouged where (which then enables the journalists to ask why — put their price maps against maps of income and race in New York and stories emerge). This should work particularly well on a local level: Ask people to tell you the price they pay for drugs and doctors and map that. Ask them to tell you just how late or dirty their trains are. And on and on. If you get enough data, you can pay attention to the center of the bell curve; the outliers are either mistakes are damned good stories.

* Get the public to help file no end of FOIAs to birddog government. Create a FOIA repository where you can help train them how to do it and record the responses (that bit’s a great idea from Tom Loosemore in the UK) and collect what’s learned.

* One of the great ideas that came out of my entrepreneurial journalism class — inspired by an idea from an intern I worked with at Burda last summer — is to have the public help assign reporters. Now that could get unwieldy quickly. But my CUNY student, Danny Massey, came up with a very smart structure for capturing what the public wants to know so news organizations can allocate at least some of their resource accordingly. I’ll introduce you.

* Establish communities of experts to help on stories, their reporting and checking and even their assignment. This could take the form of Jay Rosen’s beat-blogging idea or of the Ft. Myers panel of experts. Of course, every reporter has such panels in their Rolodexes. But Ft. Myers has learned that people want to be of service before the reporter happens to call. The Times’ crowd is very wise and filled with experts and so why not use the networking and linking power of the internet to help harness that to help with reporting? Imagine a social network around expertise.

* Hand out camera and recorders and ask citizens to capture meetings, lectures, events of all sorts and turn those into podcasts. Most of the time most of them will not get much audience, but the resource that went into each one is minor and the opportunity to spread a wider blanket of coverage on a community is great.

* Get the advertising side involved in supporting curated, quality blog networks: New York, political, business, and so on. The Washington Post has networks for travel and other topics, the Guardian for environment, Reuters for financial blogs. The Times could support the very best of these blogs and benefit from having a wider net of content and reporting at a low cost and risk. And this is the part they’ll like: They can set the definitions of quality. The Times also has an in-house advantage here because About.com knows how to manage and pay large, distributed networks of contributors based on ad and traffic performance.

These ideas work for most any news organization. As I’ll point out in a post I’m writing now: collaboration to create real value is the next generation of interactivity.

To get started, I’d hire a collaboration editor charged with getting such projects going all around the newsroom. But I’d make sure that job gets phased out as journalists collaborate on their own self-interested initiative.

So what other ideas do you have for how the Times — or any news organization — could work together to create journalism?