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« No Wonder It's So Confusing | Main | Elsewhere »

October 10, 2003

Why The Times?

Friedrich -

Question for the day: Why the Times? What I mean is, why do so many bloggers love hovering around the New York Times? They monitor it; they criticize it; they attack it, etc etc. I do a bit of this myself. What is it about the NYTimes that encourages so much of this kind of behavior, especially on the part of bloggers?

It seems to me that any rational person who's bugged by the Times would simply stop looking at the paper and turn elsewhere. After all, why patronize an establishment that offends? It's not as if there aren't alternatives.

Naughty, subversive (if diverging from my topic) thought here: don't these eternally-outraged bloggers realize that the Times is happy about their outrage? After all, that means they've still got their attention. The Times' editors don't care if you hate them -- so long as you buy and read them. After all, they're in the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers.

As someone in the mediabiz, I'm sometimes amazed by the naivete of many otherwise impressively smart bloggers. Hey folks, the news game is a business! So long as they have your eyeballs (and especially so long as you're steering other eyeballs their way), they've got you! They win! Criticize them, and they win! Express your outrage at them, and they win! Simple fact: So long as you're paying any kind of attention to them at all, they win. There's no way around this. If you disapprove of the Times and want to do it damage, then the only thing to do (assuming you really want to do it damage) is to stop looking at it, and encourage others to stop looking at it too.

Sorry, phew, OK. Anyway, why should the Times so obsess so many people? They've really got a knack. It's not as if the Times is the country's official national newspaper. It's just a media operation like any other. And, besides, the country's other national papers, the WSJournal and USAToday, don't seem to get under people's skins in the same way. Why not? And -- a calm pause to be reasonable here -- the Times does deserve credit for running a lot of thoughtful, good articles that few other newspapers would run. What other paper compares where culture and ideas stories are concerned, for instance?

My guess about this? It's that the Times is so morally officious (and hence puffed-up and annoying), and so pretentious, so center-of-the-world, and so final-arbiter-of-what's-really-news self-satisfied, that it's hard to resist taking shots at them. Which of course only delights their editors, who are thinking, Aha, gotcha!

What's your hunch about this? And why don't people who are peeved by the Times simply drop it, leave it behind, forget about it, etc? These outraged, obsessed people must be getting pleasure out of going after the Times -- so much pleasure (or, hey, "utility") that they don't care that their actions only serve the Times' ends and not their own. I figure that gettin' mad at the Times must deliver a lot of entertainment value. Which is, truth be told, a tribute to the effectiveness of the Times and its editors.



posted by Michael at October 10, 2003


It reminds me of all the people who complain about Microsoft Windows, even if they're using Linux or Macintosh.

Like Microsoft, the NYT is just too big to ignore. You *can* ignore them, but nobody else is, so you become less relevant.

(Okay, the NYT isn't as ubiquitous as MS, but among the readers it's "the one".)

Posted by: Tom West on October 10, 2003 12:40 PM

They certainly are a big target, that's for sure. And they make themselves out to be one, which is part of why it's so hard to resist taking potshots at them. I like the comparison to Microsoft too, though I wonder if Bill Gates is thrilled about getting attacked. Hmm, maybe he is, in the "any publicity is good publicity" sense...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 10, 2003 12:50 PM

" What other paper compares where culture and ideas stories are concerned, for instance?"

Grit? The Justin Timberlake Official Fan Club newsletter?

I suspect what bothers a lot of people (not the idiots who just like to puff themselves with whatever the hell battles they imagine themselves fighting) can't stand the idea that the NYT has fallen so far.

Re MS, I'd say the internal PR spin is usually that the outside world does not understand what MS is doing and isn't that sad for the poor misguided outside world. Don't know who came up with that spin, why, or if they believe it.

Posted by: j.c. on October 10, 2003 2:03 PM

I think bloggers shoot at the time for the same reason Christopher Hitchens wrote a series of polemics against Clinton, Mother Teresa, and Henry Kissinger. People feel they are elevated to the level of whatever they attack. Criticism establishes a primitive equality, which can be pure profit on the side of the critic.

Also, lots of bloggers nurse a sour grapes bitterness toward professional journalists, who look may like nothing more than bloggers who are for some mysterious and irritating reason well paid and widely read.

Posted by: alexis on October 10, 2003 2:16 PM

Do you think the Times is just as self-satisfied & morally above-it-all since the demise of Howell Raines? (I could never bear the idea of anyone writing a book called "Fly-Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis".)

Posted by: Susan on October 10, 2003 5:27 PM

To be able to read the NYT on line for free is an amazing deal. Its coverage of things like science is tremendous. Nicholas Wade on population genetics, for example, is spectacular.

The problem with the NYT is that other news sources, especially the network news shows, look to the NYT to tell them what is news. That, however, is not the NYT's strong suit. It has obvious biases and blind spots, so its near monopoly on determine what officially is news is malign

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 10, 2003 9:21 PM

To play Pollyanna, I would point to a positive aspect of the criticism (if it is more than "the NYT stinks" variety) -- before I started reading blogs (which was about the same time I started reading the NYT online), I wasn't nearly as aware of its errors/biases. I daresay I would have realized this by my own efforts, but since my reading of the blogosphere roughly coincided with my reading of the NYT online, I think it opened my eyes sooner.

And, yes, I've pretty much stopped reading the NYT.

So, perhaps, the answer to your question, in part, might be that critical review does serve a purpose -- and while it may be beneficial to the NYT in the short term, it also, I think, has proven to be detrimental (i.e., I think their reputation has suffered more deeply and more quickly due to the blogosphere).

Also, reading the NYT (and AP/Reuters wire reports) affords bloggers with a "window" to what is being reported -- and consumed -- by readers, and allows them, often, to refute that reportage on a case by case basis. Which gets passed around the blogosphere and into non-internet communication (water cooler, letters to the editor of local papers, letters to elected reps, etc.).

In my opinion, continuing to read and criticize the major media outlets is beneficial.

Posted by: cj on October 11, 2003 2:02 AM

The NYT's pompous, prissy 19th-century tag-line expresses the attitude that makes it the perfect target for spleen. The NYT is the source to pick if you want to take pot shots at current received ideas. Hence the blogosphere's "love" of Maureen Dowd, who is otherwise scarcely the NYT's most interesting or important writer.

A wrong-headed pundit is a joy forever. I smack my lips in anticipation when my local paper runs my least favorite editorialist. The rise of "Fisking" suggests I am not alone in this feeling. With a blog, you can share your delicious outrage with a sympathetic public.

If you want to attack ideas, you pick the number-one news arbiter. The NYT may not be the "official national newspaper," but it's certainly the de facto paper of record. The scope of its coverage has been and remains impressive, and every time I come to the US (I grew up there and now spend 1-2 months there every year), I realize how much I miss having it as my breakfast companion.

I wonder which news source is the prime target of lefty bloggers? Maybe Fox. Though it seems to me Alterman (a useful, if irksome, preview source of the arguments you'll hear from leftish friends) goes after the NYT a lot too. Krauthammer instead of Dowd. So maybe the NYT is a one-stop shop for the peeved and aggrieved.

Anyway, why cancel your NYT scrip, even if you don't like everything they write? Despite j-school pretensions to the contrary, there is no such thing as unbiased coverage. The spin is part of what you're paying for.

What serious news junkie would even think of relying on a single source? And what other US source comes close to matching the NYT's quality and breadth? None I know of. The Times, the Guardian, Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung are possible foreign competitors (El Pais is said to be good, too, but I don't speak Spanish), but the NYT is the only daily whose site I visit every single day.

Incidentally, Susan, I shamefacedly confess to having read Raines' book (found it lying around parents' cottage a couple summers ago) and...*gulp*...thoroughly enjoying it.

And Blowhards: really nice site. Makes me want to start my own. Though I don't know how you find the time.

Posted by: opie on October 11, 2003 8:38 AM

I don't read the NY Times, as a rule. But I do read bloggers' critiques of it. So I guess it's working, sort of.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on October 11, 2003 11:17 AM

There's plenty of blog-worthy stuff in the Wall Street Journal, but it's a paid-subscription site so it's not available for linking.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on October 11, 2003 3:25 PM

I love the Times, although I consider myself a conservative. I seldom read the political articles though. I feel the same way about the BBC. I think the Beeb is great as a whole but I wouldn't dream of looking to the Beeb for insightful political commentary.

I think the main reason that bloggers go after the NY Times might be the hierarchical nature of the Blogosphere. Most pundit-type bloggers take their cues from a handful of individuals.

If Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit both wrote a few articles about the Dodge City Tribune, and if the Dodge City Tribune was available online, you'd probably find thousands of bloggers writing about the Dodge City tribune.

Posted by: Graham Lester on October 12, 2003 12:03 PM

I love a lot of what the Times does and represents too, and yet there's nothing quite like the Times for amazing me and making me want to take a swat at them. As many of you are pointing out, I think it's because they so often make themselves such a big, morality-driven, pompous target --- there's a little Paul Krugman inside many of the Times' writers and reporters, not just the paid-to-have-an-opinion bunch. A lot of puffed-up chests and accusing fingers, and a lot of people eager to show off how much more important and indignant they are than anyone else. You don't run into that kind of thing at the WSJ or at USA Today, at least outside the editorial pages. A lot of self-important moral bullying that pretends to be simply telling you what's the important news. And maybe it's not just that it's fun and irresistable to take shots at people who do a lot of moral bullying, adn who claim to be final arbiters of what's important and agenda-setters too, maybe it's also because we feel a little trapped by the Times. What's the alternative to it?

For me, surfing the web ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 12, 2003 12:41 PM

M. Blowhard - Not sure what, exactly, you mean by surfing the web. I read the LA Times and the Washington Post online - does that count? And I take the WSJ and read local papers wherever I am. Everytime someone tells me about a great article in the NYTs that I really have to read, it turns out to be a pale copy of something I read six months ago, that is, when it's not just plain wrong.

Posted by: j.c. on October 13, 2003 1:12 PM

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