It’s not because they are snooty and pedantic – in my book, those are the pluses. And, it’s not because they are the newspaper of record and they know it. That’s a benefit, too.
Let’s start with explaining the concept of “newspaper of record”. Suppose you are a historian, or an alien from another planet, or a middle school student who waited until the last minute to do your homework. You need to find out about the moon landing, but you don’t know where to turn. Well, actually, you turn to the internet but when you hand in your paper about how a lot of people think there’s a big conspiracy and anyway why didn’t they just beam down from the mothership?, your teacher marks a big red zero and suggests you try again.
The second time around, you decide to narrow your focus to newspapers that were written by people who were around at the time. Even here, there are choices.
The first thing you find is the New York Times for July 21, 1969. In big letters, it says “MEN WALK ON MOON” and “ASTRONAUTS LAND ON PLAIN; COLLECT ROCKS, PLANT FLAG….’Eagle Has Landed’…A Powdery Surface is Closely Explored”.
The second thing you find is a headline from The Weekly World News . It says, “ASTRONAUTS FIND MOON IS HEAD OF GIANT ALIEN”. This causes you some perplexity: why would astronauts plant a flag on a giant head? Is the powdery surface a form of dandruff? And, if you are an alien and not a middle school student, you might wonder: is it my head?
Here’s where the idea of a Newspaper of Record comes in. If you knew beforehand that the New York Times is a serious newspaper with the highest journalistic standards, and if you knew that “highest journalistic standards” means that they look for evidence and verify what they’re told with more than one source instead of just making stuff up, writing down nonsense as if it were fact, and starting every headline with “you won’t BELIEVE what happens next!”, then you’d know that you can go with the Times. The Times practices serious, important, truthful journalism.
So yes, the Times is great. But. I still hate them.
I hate them their long history of pretending that New York City starts south of 125th Street (96th street in earlier days). I hate them for their idiocy back in the day when the Internet was still just a series of tubes for believing that they could give away their content online because people would always want newsprint delivered to their doorstep, and then realizing they had to charge money and scrambling to put a pointless and easily-circumvented subscription policy in place (hint: Chrome Incognito tab will do the trick). I hate them for their patented combination of arrogance, solipsism and neuroticism that produces articles with headlines like “Here are three little-known health issues you should worry about!” Do I really need advice from the Times about the best way to store food in my refrigerator? Apparently I do, and administered with a slightly condescending and judgmental tone, to whit: ”Never store raw chicken with cooked meats, or keep milk in the door of your refrigerator. If you do either, you’re almost certainly guaranteeing food poisoning for your family. Obviously, this type of behavior is only practiced by who are already very bad mothers, and simply not the sort of person who would be welcomed in a civilized society.”
So, come on New York Times. We know you’re called The Gray Lady because you are old (started in 1851), starchy, and much too dignified ever to practice the sort of April Fools hoaxes on readers that even The Economist pulls off occasionally – the Times would just turn up its nose and sniffs “we are not amused”.
My question to you is, why can’t you take what has worked so well for so long (emphasis on great journalism, lack of sensationalism, well-researched and well-written important stories) and widen your net a bit? Include ALL of New York City. And does the tone always have to be so bleak? You don’t have to be “The Daily Show” to bring just a drop of optimism in (I almost wrote “whimsy”, but suppressed myself just in time). And how about hiring a wider variety of journalists and editors? You don’t need to look at Gawker to guess that the slice of humanity represented by your writers are, shall we say, a bit on the pale side. No, I think we can figure that out fairly easily by scanning pieces such as “A Vegan Thanksgiving in Brooklyn”, or “International House Hunting – finding your slice of paradise for a bargain $1M”, and the classic from this week covering the rising death rates for middle-aged white Americans. Even though I fall into this dangerous category myself, I would welcome a bit more variety in the reportage.
And don’t even get me started about The New Yorker.