Maybe The New York Times Could Send Some Intrepid Reporters To Talk To Its Subscribers

I recently discussed why this long-time deadwood subscriber to the New York Times is scaling back his subscription (which costs the NYT far more than cancelling an online subscription does). Two more points to be made, the first of which is related to something Ryan Cooper wrote (boldface mine):

And that brings me back to The New York Times, and the jaw-dropping business error of hiring someone like Stephens as a columnist. Defensive Times employees, like executive editor Dean Baquet, expressed bewilderment that people would refuse to “understand different views.” Op-ed page editor James Bennet argued that Stephens was merely contributing to a “vitally important debate.”

This is a crock.

If the Times were really committed to ideological diversity in its op-ed page, it would at a minimum hire a conservative who actually supports President Trump, and perhaps even more importantly hire someone with Bernie Sanders-style politics. (Sanders is the most popular politician in the country, yet there are more supporters of torture among columnists of our two major national newspapers than supporters of the senator.)

What we see here is that the neurotic upper-class liberal need for civil debate over important issues stops the moment we reach territory they actually care about. Trump is gauche and uncouth, and his media proxies tend to be really weird liars, while Sanders wants to jack up marginal tax rates a whole lot. A rich, glib, dumb, anti-Trump conservative, on the other hand, can give Upper East Side cocktail parties that frisson of intellectual disputation while conveniently avoiding most of the actually important questions. A little climate denial is just a niggling side detail.

The serious critique of the Washington Consensus, both its liberal and conservative wings, isn’t to be found to the right of Ross Douthat or David Brooks, it exists to the left of Paul Krugman (who is definitely not even ‘Bernie-curious’). Stephens isn’t even original: as this 2014 response to NYT op-ed writer Ross Douthat shows, it’s the same old shit. Which brings me to the second point–I have no idea what the hell the NYT editors were thinking. Let’s outsource this to Attywood (boldface mine):

Yet I think almost all of the commentary — and there’s been tons of it — has missed the bigger picture. The reason so many people were so mad to go so far as to cancel, or at least threaten to cancel, their Times subscriptions over the incident is in most cases only loosely related to what people believe about global warming. Rather, this is largely about branding — about what people want, and thought they were getting, when they subscribe to the New York Times. And how that was crushed.

Ever since November 8, the Times has implicitly marketed itself — and spent millions of dollars on a first-of-its-kind ad campaign — as an antidote to Trump’s America, as the avatar of a powerful idea that objective truths exist and that smart, educated. persistent people can unearth and promulgate those truths. Stephens’ column was light on science but heavy on the idea that experts are smug and possibly fraudulent — the exact opposite of the worldview that inspires people to buy the New York Times.

Simply put, the Times decision to hire and promote Stephens trashed its own brand, the brand that it’s spent years and millions of dollars building up. From a business standpoint — and yes, the New York Times is very much a business, now struggling to find new strategies to save itself — the move almost makes the 1985 debut of New Coke look good. And that the people who run the New York Times didn’t see this — and still don’t seem to understand the problem — should make people very afraid about the future of American journalism, especially at the moment when the media is also under assault from a wannabe strongman at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Times’ editors who hired Stephens were following a tired playbook that’s over a century old — even as the nature of both journalism and how readers relate to the news has changed radically in the last decade. Simply put, mainstream news orgs have an almost mystical, quasi-religious faith in the notion that to be moral and ethical they must have some approximate balance between liberal and conservative opinion writers. But it wasn’t always that way, and there’s no logical reason for this in 2017…

The 20th Century is over. A person who lives, say, in Youngstown, Ohio, can get his or her news from any of hundreds of sources, and not just the (wonderfully named) Youngstown Vindicator. That lessens any moral obligation, if there ever was one, for the op-ed editor in Youngstown — or a New York Times editor at what Trump thinks is seedy real estate across from the Port Authority — to offer every viewpoint under the sun. And something else that has arrived with the Internet is interactivity: Readers who disagree with the perspective of an opinion columnist have a chance to make an opposing argument, in real time. It’s true that a price has been paid in civility — but arguably a diversity of expressed viewpoints has never been wider than it is today….

In the wake of Trump’s election, the Times earlier this year launched the most ambitious ad campaign in its history, including a 30-second spot that aired during the Oscars at a cost of $2-2.5 million (or enough to hire 10-15 Pulitzer-quality investigative reporters for a year…just sayin’). The core message: “The truth is more important now than ever.” That selling point struck a chord: Digital subscriptions to the Times reportedly skyrocketed.

Then, weeks later, the Times threw good money after bad to hire a columnist to say don’t believe anyone who’s selling you “the truth” and that scientists, pollsters, and — by implication — their professional cousins who report the news for outlets like the Times are smug jerks, probably peddling crap. What’s more, in trying to stir up uncertainty over climate change, he was aiding and abetting Trump’s fact-free, pro-fossil fuel political agenda. That’s exactly the opposite of what new subscribers thought the Times was promising in those ads, to be a force that would counteract Trumpism. And now a number of Times editors and reporters seemed baffled that so many readers are hurt and confused. They don’t understand their own business model, or brand.

In 2017, the notion of an ideological balanced roster of columnists is about as relevant as a Smith-Corona typewriter. This won’t happen, but the New York Times should fire Bret Stephens tonight and probably some of its other small posse of conservative columnists as well. And then tomorrow the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner and the Oklahoman can fire their liberal columnists (if they have any). That doesn’t mean erecting a “great wall” around debate and discourse. If an independent writer submits a scientifically valid criticism on some aspect of the climate debate, the Times should publish that. But it shouldn’t pay a staffer a large salary to show up twice a week to trash the core values of its paying customers.

The realization that the New York Times doesn’t seem to understand why readers care about the New York Times is beyond disturbing.

I really don’t see why I should be spending my money to subsidize a climate change denialist. He can get his wingnut welfare from somebody else.

I’ll just add that it’s clear the NYT ran a con with their whole defending the truth advertising campaign. Nobody likes being conned.

Maybe the NYT should send some intrepid reporters to talk with their subscribers, instead of heartland Trump voters. Their livelihoods just might depend on it.

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One Response to Maybe The New York Times Could Send Some Intrepid Reporters To Talk To Its Subscribers

  1. Net Denizen says:

    Also don’t forget the puff pieces on the trump spawn that have come out over the last few months. And their glowing review of Marine LePen’s chances in the French election. I sometimes think I should subscribe just so I can dramatically cancel my subscription but I just won’t bother clicking on any of their links from now on instead

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