The failing NYT

My kid, because he’s a good kid and it probably didn’t cost him much, slipped his old man a guest subscription to The New York Times a few months ago. He “gets the paper,” as we used to say, in digital form, because he likes to cook — the kid is different, in a very good way — and The Times has a cooking section that will make you ashamed of every boxed meal you ever opened.

I enjoy the cooking section, too (in my recipe box still to try is blond puttanesca; linguine with tuna, arugula and capers … once I find out what arugula is). But I find myself, after a few months in the old Gray Ladies’ pages — OK, that sounds a little pervy — deep into the regular sections of The Times;  news, politics, the opinion pages, the arts.

In fact, it hasn’t taken me long to make The Times — do I really have to capitalize ‘The’ every time? — my go-to news source. It’s everything a great newspaper used to be and great journalism should be and in some places still is, despite all the headwinds the industry has been facing for the past two decades-plus. It’s smart, it’s well-reported, it’s well-written, it’s thought-provoking and, yes, it’s surprisingly entertaining.

**

To get this out of the way, and then I’ll leave it alone: Among the funnier/stupider/most outright of the lies that the current-but-please-not-for-long president spews regularly is his nonsense about the “failing” New York Times. The Times has been smacked, of course, like many other businesses in many other industries, by the rise of the internet. But The Times, unlike many, has learned. Since 2011, when the company first started charging for its online content, NYT stock has risen 362 percent (compared to 92 percent for the S&P 500. This, from Investorplace:

NYT is in better shape than rivals such as Gannett (NYSE: GCI and upstarts such as BuzzFeed that find themselves hostages of Facebook(NYSE: FB)and Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) unit Google’s dominance of the online ad market. Unlike many other news organizations, The New York Times is hiring journalists, not laying them off. The company’s news operations employed 1,600 as of the end of last year, the most ever.

If other media companies were failing like that, the president would be in big trouble.

**

At least once a day an opinion piece in The Times makes me pause to consider something I hadn’t or, honestly, to teach me something I simply didn’t know. The news pages are the same way. In a country where, increasingly, you have to pick a side and stay on it, The Times plays things as down-the-middle as possible. Does it lean? Yes, it does. But not blindly so, in my view. And if it does at all, it’s probably to counter the forces pushing America the other way, to point out that what we often hear is, in an acronym, BS.

The Times is great because it not only caters to New Yorkers — it is The New York Times, after all, so it covers, as it should, the latest use of a pied-à-terre in the city and the happenings in the Bronx — but carries international and national news, most often originally done, as well. It’s all over lifestyle. History. Travel. It’s really amazing. (And, yes, I had to look up pied-à-terre.)

Just some favorites, as examples: (If you can’t get to these, try ’em in an incognito window. That seems to work sometimes.)

Here’s a piece on a young family’s decision to journey to Italy with kids and the adventures and life lessons that follow. It’s absolutely fantastic.

Yes, Italy! We would go to Italy. At the time it seemed like such a good idea. Culture! Sun! Vespas! Ciao! It was only after buying the tickets that I remembered the problem with traveling with young children is that when it comes time to travel, you actually have to bring your young children with you.

Just earlier this month, The Times unveiled a critique of the newest wannabe jewel of Manhattan, a $25 billion dollar real estate venture on the West side built over a mess of railyards. The entertainingly interactive piece on Hudson Yards was written by The Times’ architecture critic — The Times, my god, has an architecture critic — who was none too kind about this skyline interloper.

Over all, Hudson Yards epitomizes a skin-deep view of architecture as luxury branding. Each building exists to act like a logo for itself. The assortment suggests so many crowded perfume bottles vying for attention in a department store window display.

Back in 2012, which really wasn’t that long ago, The Times introduced one of the first truly interactive pieces — re: built for the internet and all the good it has to offer in storytelling possibilities — titled “Snowfall.” It was admirably ambitious — again, something that great papers should be — and included video, graphics, stunning photography, audio and the usual superb writing and editing that, again, is the hallmark of good newspapers.

The Times is a great paper, probably the greatest paper we have left, not because it does what it’s supposed to do, like keep powerful politicians in check and investigate wrongdoing (by placing a premium on good reporting, good writing, good editing and that superb storytelling).

It’s great because it continues to innovate. It moves with the times, as we all have to do, without losing track of the duties it has to its readers.

Some have suggested that The Times is not what it used to be, and maybe they’re right. I didn’t grow up with The Times. I didn’t get lost in its Sunday paper as a young man. I don’t have those long-ago memories to call on.

Certainly, The Times has screwed up along the way, plenty of times (and here, sadly, I have to make the obligatory reference to Jayson Blair). The paper has wrestled with dwindling ad revenues and staff cuts and competition — from legitimate outlets and those far, far from legit — the likes which never before has been seen. The Gray Lady has been attacked, relentlessly, stupidly, wrongly, by a president who has called the press the “enemy of the people.”

Yet, somehow, The Times continues, head up, providing a critical source of news and entertainment and opinion that is as good or better than any in the country.

I went to journalism school because of the work that papers like The Times and The Washington Post did, and continue to do. And though I wandered away from hard news, I still consider myself lucky to be a part of an industry, led by The Times, that, at its best, continues to show the power and the necessity of good journalism.

We get my local paper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and we have for years. Thanks to the kid, I get The Times now, too. I feel better for it. I feel smarter. I feel like, if we all were informed by papers like The Times, we’d all be better off.

(Last year, The Times worked up an interactive piece — honest to god — titled “A Map of Every Building in America.” Zoomed in, my neighborhood, and my house, are represented by the graphic on top of this post.)

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