Friday, December 06, 2002

Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and Jack Shafer, among others, have been documenting the New York Times's transformation from the "paper of record" to a publication out to pursue whatever crusades Howell Raines wants them to.

First of all, Howell Raines can run the paper anyway he and the other folks in charge of NYT want to. If they want to devote the paper to pressuring folks to do their bidding, that's their perogative. The market will decide if that's a viable direction.

Of course if that's what they want to do, it's important that we know what's going on, which is why it's appropriate for Kaus and Sullivan to point it out loudly and often. What I think bugs Kaus and Sullivan so much is that Raines is borrowing from NYT's repuation as the "paper of record" to advance an agenda. The price for doing this is damage to the reputation, which is what's happening now.

It occurs to me that this opens up the possibility for another publication to fill the void NYT is leaving. Who is positioned to do that? Of the top of my head, I can think of the Washington Post and the USA Today. One way these papers could differentiate themselves would be to eliminate unsigned editorials.

Or maybe not. Maybe changes in the news marketplace have made the concept of a "paper of record" obsolete. Maybe NYT's shift isn't a result of Raines getting out of control, but a savvy business decision, and there's a bigger market for people wanting to look down their noses at Hootie Johnson than reading balanced news coverage.

It seems unlikely that when future generations study early 21st Century history, they will be poring over microfilms of editions of the New York Times. They might look at them, but they'll also look at TV news, magazines, and maybe even web logs. So maybe the days of the New York Times, or any other publication being the "paper of record" are long gone.
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