Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Good Times, Bad Times

This piece is returning to my blog after an appearance on the humor site Yankee Pot Roast:

New to me but apparently familiar to many local readers is a daily newspaper called "The New York Times."

Although I am generally not a fan of the so-called broadsheet format, I was willing to give this publication a try. Sadly, it failed to meet my basic journalistic standards on almost every count.

First, the front page is, in a word, boring. From its baroque masthead to its six-column overindulgence in the printed word, the Times (as it apparently is colloquially known) simply appears not to be trying.

Some might excuse the rather tedious layout due to the broadsheet format. But I don’t buy it. If "USA Today" can manage to pack a rainbow of color on its front page, there’s no reason "The New York Times" can’t do so as well.

If it were only its front page that was deficient, perhaps I could give this paper a passing grade. Unfortunately, the front page sets the tone for what’s inside.

A quick perusal of the sports section, for example, leaves one wondering why they bothered at all. Where there should be a plethora of exciting color pictures of the games of the day, there is instead an ongoing parade of needlessly lengthy reports interspersed with something called analysis.

Alas, photographs are few and far between. The only good thing I can say about this sad section is that if you’re a fan of cricket, rugby or international soccer, there’s something in there for you. But, in my view, the extra space devoted to such arcane exotica could be put to better use with more photos.

Believe it or not, "The N. Y. Times" does not carry an editorial cartoon. At least the edition I reviewed didn’t have one. Unless you count the inclusion of a caption-less line drawing bearing no relation to the events of the day. Which I don’t.

I’ve never been sure why newspapers devote space to political columnists, op-eds and editorials. But if a paper insists on foisting such features on its readers, the least it can do is make them interesting.

A grave oversight is the lack of a point-counterpoint opinion feature. Although "The Times" doesn’t stint on the number of columnists (another failing, I submit), how is the reader to know the columnists’ political leanings unless they are arrayed against one another in the traditional pro-con format?

It may be that such featured scriveners as Dowd, Friedman, Krugman and Brooks actually have something of note to say. But to expect the reader to forage through two or three columns, several editorials and an equal number of op-ed pieces is pure arrogant fantasy.

A review of the rest of the paper suggests that its pretentious masthead slogan might better read "All the news that fits we print." Report after endless report about all manner of inconsequential happenings sadly evidences the lack of a practised editorial hand. Far fewer so-called news reports and more snappy lifestyle features and color graphics would greatly enhance this stodgy daily.

Another shortcoming of this colorless journal is its relentless New York-centered coverage of the news. Yes, it’s "The New York Times" but it’s not necessary to hammer the reader over the head with that fact. From a Broadway-dominated Arts section to a Wall Street-centric Business section to a New York-jammed section called "New York/Region", it’s as if the world beyond Manhattan Island doesn’t exist. Such a provincial approach to the news is certain to doom this paper to a regional audience at best.

To ensure a fair and balanced approach to my review, I decided not to base it solely on one daily edition. In the spirit of good journalism, I reserved judgment until I had viewed a sample Sunday edition.

In retrospect, I wish I had not vowed to be so thorough. My faithful readers will know that I am not a big fan of Sunday editions. If you can’t say what needs to be said in six days, you’re not going to make up for that deficiency with an extra paper.

Although Sunday editions tend to be bigger than their weekday counterparts, "The New York Times" far exceeds any reasonable limit. The issue I purchased was over two inches thick and weighed in at a wrist-spraining three pounds. It made most magazines look anorexic by comparison and, in fact, even contained within its endless folds its own magazine.

Not only did the Sunday paper feature all the excesses of its weekday cousin, it also contained entire bloated sections devoted to everything from books to cars to fashion. Each of those sections kept to the paper’s apparent formula of "more is less" in what is surely the world’s most egregious misuse of newsprint.
All I can say is that if you need a functional doorstop, your four dollars would be better spent on a decorative brick than this poor excuse for arboricide.

I am sad to report that, as a daily newspaper, "The New York Times" is an outright failure. I suspect its owners will find it difficult to achieve six-figure circulation numbers even in a city as big as New York. Don’t be surprised if they pull the plug on this stillborn gazette sooner rather than later.

Next week, I’ll review what appears to be a more promising paper from the Big Apple - a terrific, tightly-edited tabloid called "The New York Post."

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