By Ralph Nader
Give the New York Times its due. Its teams of reporters produce more investigations of wrongdoing by entrenched vested interests than does the entire recess-rich, Tuesday-to-Thursday U.S. Congress with all its Committees and Subcommittees. The Times should promptly publish some of its exposes as small books. Their on-the-ground series on the burning Amazon Forest and their series on expanding sports gambling corruption and addiction exemplify great reporting.
However, in the last decade, the Times has freaked out over the decline in print subscriptions, loss of advertisements and the rise of the Internet with its many aliterate users. Though a little late, the Times now has responded with a thriving Internet presence of about 10 million national and worldwide online subscribers, in addition to new businesses offering information and travel services. Unfortunately, their changes to the print edition – which produces important content – have exhibited an accelerating stupefaction.
Huge photos replace what was serious content on its Sunday Business and Opinion Pages, formerly the Weekly Review. Repeatedly, the entire valuable front pages of those Sections are filled with photographs or graphic artwork. That space used to contain great investigative columnists like Gretchen Morgenson. The inside of these sections is not much better – with too many photos and soft articles replacing first-rate columnists on consumer rip-off cases and the abuses of airline passengers.
As one long-time reader, about to cancel his subscription, just told me – parts of the supposedly serious sections (apart from the vast entertainment sections) come across like People Magazine.
The Times has really gone overboard in diluting its storied editorial and op-ed pages. From as many as nearly 20 concise, meaty editorials, the Editorial Page is down to about three a week. This space is being occupied by often mediocre columns such as the lengthy superficial exchanges between “liberal” Gail Collins and “conservative” war hawk Bret Stephens who are supposed to disagree with one another but often engage in not so witty repartee.
As for the Editorial Page, the kinds of enlightening op-eds which were submitted by outsiders over the years now are preceded by the Time’s regular columnists – ok – but also by a stable of countless designated “contributing opinion writers.” With photos or graphics even on this page, outside freelancers and thought leaders are mostly left to drift away without so much as a courteous email acknowledgement of their receiving these op-ed submissions.
Young people – bereft of history – should realize that those two pages used to be considered the most important spaces in American journalism. This self-inflicted stupefaction intensified in the 2021-2022 years without the Times informing serious readers as to why the changes were made.
During the Trumpian era, the Times developed a bizarre obsession with over covering political extremists in ways that made them into big acts and gave them material for more fund-raising. Apart from their award-winning continual critical coverage of the Trump Dump, the Times constantly published his slanderous tweets and pejorative nicknames for others without affording the libeled a right of reply.
Its long features on e.g., J.D. Vance, Tucker Carlson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene were so biographical as to unwittingly serve to advance their careers. They loved the coverage in the “liberal” Times. Without a balanced profiling of counterparts, readers might think that very little is going on within the progressive community. (See, e.g., a totally unreported, aggregated effort on winningamerica.net during the mid-term elections).
Unfortunately, one print section remains the same. The much-read letters-to-the-editor take up just one-third of one page in this huge newspaper. That leaves out articulate letters. That in turn discourages readers from writing serious letters. The Washington Post at least adds an entire page of letters each Saturday. Why is so little space available for letters in the Times which has a larger readership?
Also, unlike the Times, the Washington Post covers local baseball team games and prints box scores for major league games and scorecards for major professional sports.
Aspiring for a global reach, the deciders at the Times pay too little attention to its hometown. While they have a sizable Metropolitan desk, the coverage largely ignores the thousands of citizen groups striving to improve the neighborhoods and boroughs of the city often in brave and creative manners, (See NYPIRG: https://www.nypirg.org/) and its work on the refunded New York state stock transfer tax – in the billions of dollars annually.
I’ve suggested in vain that the Times have one weekly section on this large civic community in the city and state – as it has a daily section on the Arts and additional regular entertainment style sections. There are advertisers available for such a section. (The Times has special sections with no or very few advertisers.)
One of the Times’ innovations is a section on page two titled “The Story Behind the Story.” It affords reporters an opportunity to share with readers, some personal details, and the background of their more difficult reportage.
Perhaps some of the above-noted management decisions also deserve “The Story Behind the Story” for puzzled New York Times readers.
Lo the newspaper whose editors are not up to the talents and recommendations of their exceptional reporters.