Monday, December 31, 2007

Hiring Kristol Marks A New Low for The New York Times

By MARC MCDONALD

The blogosphere is currently abuzz about the hiring of right-wing pundit William Kristol by The New York Times.

The progressive blogs are outraged that the Times has "lurched to the right." Meanwhile, the right-wing blogs are gleeful.

My own reaction (a feeling I suspect is shared by many progressives) is: Who cares?

Many of us gave up on The New York Times as a credible, trustworthy news source years ago. Many of us gave up on the paper even before the Times gave its blessing to the invasion of Iraq, after "journalist" Judith Miller pretended to investigate Bush's case for war. The Times' role in joining the rest of the MSM in cheerleading for the war was one of the most embarrassing episodes in U.S. journalism history.

Most wingnuts imagine that we progressives sit around all day sipping our latte and reading The New York Times. But this stereotype is outdated by at least 30 years. It's a stereotype at least as outdated as that of the GOP as being the "fiscally responsible" party.

The fact is, not only is the Times not as "liberal" as the wingnuts believe, but the Gray Lady's reputation has been coasting on its past glories now for decades.

Like a lot of progressives, I've been an enthusiastic newspaper reader over the years. At one time, I would have found it inconceivable to start my day without reading the Times along with my local newspaper.

But those pre-Internet days are long gone. The Times is no longer the beacon of top-notch journalism that it once was. In fact, American journalism in general has seen a steep decline in quality since the days of the Watergate era produced the hard-hitting investigative journalism that drew many of us into the field in the first place.

The reasons for the decline of U.S. journalism are many. But one reason I rarely see discussed is the increasingly shoddy way that newspapers have treated their employees in recent decades. As a former journalist, I saw first-hand just how crappy this treatment was. Journalists today have to contend with low wages, long hours and a crushing work-load.

When you have journalists making so little money that they spend half their time fretting about how to basic bills, you tend to create an environment that doesn't produce great journalism. Many journalists today are overworked, demoralized, bitter and burned out (and if the younger ones aren't, they will be, soon enough). Overall, the working conditions in America's newsrooms don't lend themselves to sort of great investigation journalism that our era is crying out for.

The New York Times arrogantly still regards itself as the nation's "newspaper of record."

But for many of us progressives, it lost that title years ago.

Indeed, if I were going to a desert island today and had to choose one newspaper, it definitely wouldn't be the Times. I'd probably select Britain's Guardian newspaper, or even The Financial Times.

Indeed, no less a commentator than Noam Chomsky has proclaimed The Financial Times as the best newspaper in the English-speaking world today.

Although it's hardly a liberal newspaper, The Financial Times offers many of the things that once appealed to us about The New York Times decades ago: intelligent, in-depth articles, extensive world-wide coverage, and a newspaper that puts substance over style.

Between The Guardian, The Financial Times and the progressive blogs, I have plenty of great reading material these days. Frankly, outside of columnists Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, I couldn't care less about The New York Times these days (and I suspect I'm not alone among progressives).

6 comments:

pygalgia said...

While I certainly agree with you that the Guardian and FT are much better sources for actual news, the NYT remains a good indicator of the pulse of the American media. If you know the bent of the columnist, you can get a heads up on the talking points that will be widespread by reading the NYT. So I still read it, with skepticism and cynicism. I like to know what the bastards are saying.

Christopher David Peter Wilcox said...

Ditto Marco! It's the local paper, NPR (our Iowa Public Radio includes broadcast from BBC every afternoon!) and internet news, (Reuters,AP, and others) for me. And I would be remiss if I didn't include Beggars Can be Choosers, In Perspective, Low on the Hog, Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues and The Reaction as must read blogs! Happy New Year!
oh...and Kristol? fuggetaboutit. He ranks right up there with Rushbo for hard hitting news.

Bukko_in_Australia said...

I know where you're coming from on he underpaid, overworked field. It's a problem of supply and demand.

When I got out of the newspaper reporter game in 1991 (not entirely by choice) I recall a statistic from Editor and Publisher that there were 60,000 editorial positions on all the daily newspapers in the U.S. Only 60 K jobs on all the dailies, and that included photogs, sports guys, copy editors, upper level brass, everyone.

Now, there are 50 states in the Union. Say each one has one university with a J-school, and each cranks out 100 graduates a year. That's almost certainly an underestimate of the numbers. So you have at least 5,000 fresh faces chasing some of those 60,000 jobs. Oversupply of workers breeds contempt.

I was lucky. I got paid good money, for the time, until my bureau got closed during the Gulf War I recession. Looked for another reporting job for almost a year without success, then noticed that even in a recession there were "Help Wanted" ads for medical people. It wasn't easy to go to nursing school with no money coming in. But now I'm in demand, I get better money with my two years of trade school than I did with a 4-year college degree and 10 years of reporting experience, and it's even allowed me to immigrate to another country. FWIW, there are 60,000 nursing jobs just in the STATE of Victoria, which is small potatoes compared to the overall population of the U.S.

Damn shame that newspapers don't provide opportunity any more. Another reason why the quality is dropping.

donna said...

Newspapers, even small local ones, can be relevant if they choose to be. When they are bought out by uncaring corporations who simply see them as money mills, though, they become a lost cause.

Someone has simply got to realize that there need to be things that motivate us as Americans, as people, beyond the not so might anymore dollar. Otherwise, that dollar becomes worthless.

A journalist isn't in it for the money. But they need to be paid enough to live on, and at least have the hope they might get that One Big Story. Otherwise, why are they supposed to be there anyway?

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, Donna, thanks for stopping by.
re:
>>A journalist isn't in it for the
>>money. But they need to be paid
>>enough to live on.

When I got a journalism degree, I knew going in that newspapers paid low wages.
When I got my first newspaper job, I was shocked at just HOW long wages would be.
I found myself making significantly less than I had in my previous job as a truck driver.
What's more, the small newspaper I worked for was bought out by a large chain just before I got hired.
They promptly fired all the staff (veterans who'd worked there for many years and who knew the local beats well) and brought in all new faces, knowing that they could pay new journalism grads not much more than minimum wage.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Red Hog: thanks for the kind words and I hope you had a great New Year's.

Pygalgia: thanks for stopping by and I do agree with your point on the NYT.

Bukko: thanks for your post. I think newspaper will continue to screw their workers as long as the employees are afraid to organize (but, of course, that's true of the American workforce as a whole).

It's a difficult time for unions when the law of the land is openly hostile to labor.