Saturday, May 21, 2005

This morning's front page of the New York Times eschews news for "lifestyle"

Julia e-mails to ask, "Where is the news? Where IS the news?"

On the front page are six stories, three can be considered front page news.

Is the New York Times attempting to market irrelevance today? Is that the new "look" for the front page?

We'll ignore the article written by Somini Sengupta and Slaman Masood for this entry except to note: it's neither worthy of the front page nor worthy of being dubbed "news." (Sengupta will get her own entry shortly.)

Sheryl Gay Stolberg has "In Rare Threat Bush Vows Veto of Stem Cell Bill." Here's the first paragraph:

Setting up a showdown with the Republican-controlled Congress over the thorny issue of embryonic stem cell research, President Bush vowed Friday to veto a measure, now pending in the House, that would expand federal financing for the studies -- an extremely rare personal threat from a president who has never excercised his veto power.

Stolberg, Michael Wines and Benedict Carey have the only news items on the front page. From Wines' "Zimbabwe, Long Destitute, Teeters Towards Ruin:"

In the weeks before parliamentary elections in March, the leaders of the this treadbare nation threw open the national larder, wooing voters with stocks of normally scarce gasoline and corn and a flood of freshly printed money.
It may have helped: the ruling party, President Robert G. Mugabe's ZANU-PF, was installed for another five years. But Zimbabwe's Potemkin prosperity has evaporated since the elections, replacey by penury and mounting signs of collapse.
Here in the second largest city, lines of cars stretch a quarter mile and more at fuel-parched service stations, and drivers spend the night in their cars' back seats lest they lose their place in line. Milk, cooking oil and, most of all, corn, the national staple, are a distant memory at most stores. At one downtown grocery, tubes of much-prized American toothpaste are kept in a locked case.

(For Jody, "penury," according to Webster's, means "a cramping and oppressive lack of resources (as money); especially : severe poverty.")

We'll even note Benedict Carey's "Implant Device for Depression Nears Approval:"

The Food and Drug Administration may soon approve a medical device that would be the first new treatment option for the severely depressed patients in a generation, despite the misgivings of many experts who say there is little evidence that it works.
. . .
[I]n the only rigorously controlled trial so far in depressed patients, the stimulator was no more effective than sham surgery.
While some patients show signficantly improved moods after having the $15,000 device implanted, most do not, the study found.
And once the device is implanted, it is hard to remove entirely; surgeons say the wire leads are usually left inside the neck.

Daniel J. Wakin (or "Daniel J. Wakin" -- to note, as always, the byline does not indicate that others did not work on the piece or rework it and that the byline does not mean every word is as Wakin wanted it) might have a story in "A City Opera Conductor Joins Business Connections to Talent" if he were at The New York Daily News. But he writes for the Times and if there's one area that consistently puts the "Timid" in New York Timid (but the area is often overlooked) it's when the paper tries to circle around anything that might reflect poorly on the boards of certain arts organization. Can't very well be insulting certain unnamed names in print and dining with them later in the same week apparently. (Dining with them does not refer to the actions of the reporters but the higher ups, straight up to the ownership of the paper.)

So Wakin tries to circle the topic in a bland, maybe-or-maybe kind of way that is ineffective and puts you to sleep. The sixth paragraph of the article is actually the lead paragraph and were the Timid not so damn timid when it comes to the anything that might reflect poorly on "patrons of the art world" (my term, not Wakin's), they could have a story here. The paper's international coverage seems premised on the question "What's the State Department's policy on this country?" -- which is why they tilt and bend so often as they attempt to remake themselves with each incoming administration and every shift in mood at the State Department. The arts covereage, the "fine arts," seems built, always, around, "Did we offend wealthy patrons serving on the organization's board?" This had led them to kill big stories, to underplay other ones, to apologize for their own reporters' "mistakes" (many of which are later proven true).

For all I know, Wakin had no idea of the paper's inability to speak plainly on abuses in the world of the fine arts. He may have made the sixth paragraph his opening paragraph and gone on to build a strong case only to have his draft gutted and reworked by others. But what remains isn't worthy of the front page. (The fine arts articles rarely are until someone else has broken the news and it's garnered national attention.)

Danny Hakim's "A Love Affair With S.U.V.'s Begins to Cool" is a marketplace headline someone's attempting to tease out into a full blown story. Like Wakin's story (or Sengupta's) it suffers from "lifestyle reporting" as opposed to real reporting. Whether or not Hakim and Wakin are solely responsible for the stories carrying their byline is as pointless as the "news" that makes the front page today is.

Readers of the Saturday paper have come to expect it to be the one day of the week where some actual news can break out. Maybe it's in piece by Douglas Jehl, Scott Shane or Raymond Bonner? (All three are absent from today's edition.) Maybe it's buried inside or on the back page, but news can usually be found in the Saturday paper along with one article that has a reader grateful that some item got covered, regardless of where the paper tossed it. Not today.

Eli e-mails to wonder if part of the decline in readership might be the result of papers emphasizing lifestyle over news because, as Eli notes, regardless of what it is, "they still call them newspapers, not lifestyle papers."

The front page on Sundays are often overwhelmed with lifestyle reports, as opposed to actual news. Now it's begun to seep over into other days as well. That's especially distressing for the Saturday edition. But we saw it in their series on 'class in America.'

Tori: A serious topic was covered with all the depth one might expect from NBC's Dateline.

Roy: I expect this nonsense on Sunday and rarely bother to read the front page on Sunday anymore but, for God's sake, quit f**king up my Saturday paper.

Whether this is a severe lapse or a sign of what's to come on future Saturdays, I have no idea.

Carl e-mails to note "COUP: Today Show Seizes Control of the New York Times' front page,"
an entry on the Sunday front page that we did on December 5, 2004.

Carl: I said that morning that the front page was total s**t and I feel the exact same way about this morning's front page only more outrage because outside of the Saturday following the inaugruation, I can't remember a fluffier front page.

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