Let The Sun Set. Let’s Have The New York Times Instead.

Media

With Rupert Murdoch in town to clean out the Augean stables of News International, the general theory is that he’ll leave the Sun newspaper twisting in the wind and concentrate on overseas arms. And why not?

Choice isn’t everything. The UK may have eleven or twelve national newspapers but it now lacks a single newspaper offering a quality benchmark as high as the New York Times. The Times and the Sunday Times took an appreciable step down to populism when NI became involved in 1981, and that was a deal predicated on the restructuring (i.e. breaking) of the print unions in favour of new technology.

Everyone knows that print unionists’ behaviour in the seventies was detrimental to a free press, but while we concentrated on the end of hot type, the Times brand was turned into an upmarket version of the Daily Mail. This was not the fault of the journalists; the newly reactionary tone of The Thunderer was decided by directives from above.

The Sun launched an even more mealy-mouthed attack on public sensibilities, with its now notorious headlines and features – and yet even this stance was preferable to its next incarnation, when it became a toothless slave to soap celebrity and manufactured telly rows.

Like the News Of The World, the Sun stopped causing outrage long ago. Murdock recognised that its readership (and the readership of the Times) could be pandered to and satiated without wasting money on real news. Technology is partly to blame – no longer do journalists spend a year court-reporting, and it’s impossible to spend your day conducting interviews and fact-checking when you have to file not one but ten stories in the same time.

The New York Times maintains a position that is the envy of the world thanks to a rigorous awareness of what it has to lose. In the same way, BBC Radio Four provides a level of excellence that encourages others. The problem, of course, is that so-called ‘quality’ programmes (like ‘Newsnight’, which fights to contain so much information in a small slot) have tiny audiences compared to almost everything else.

One thing changing the landscape is the quality of online podcasts in NYC and London that make most of the old radio stations, which were designed to be heard in factories, sound dated and redundant. And if we want trashy gossip we can also get that from the internet, which leaves newspapers as something of a baroque luxury.

This suggests that it’s the papers at the top that will gain, and the ones at the bottom that will be edged out. I don’t count the Daily Mail, which maintains its hugely successful figures by merely parroting readers’ fears and suspicions back at them.

When computer technology first changed our world, we thought it would free the poorly paid from drudgery with essentially robotic jobs being handled by machines, but that’s not what happened. Those jobs remained – there’s always someone who can be forced to work longer hours for less – and the middle-range jobs, accountants, managers, engineers, technicians – were the ones replaced by technology. So it is with news – the internet has created millions of providers who happily work for nothing, and the middle-range professionals have lost their jobs.

The mantra is that ‘content cannot remain free’ and yet the evidence still points to the reverse. The reasons for closing the Sun and the NOTW is the result of shameful corrupt practices first learned in the 1980s, but closure would not be considered an option if these papers were effortlessly successful. In the same way, paper books will continue (and perhaps even hardbacks, although I’m not sure what purpose they’re meant to serve) but as a luxury for the middle classes.

If the tabloids all collapsed tomorrow and we gained the New York Times in their place, would there be a public outcry about the loss of information about Strictly Come Dancing? Of course not, because it’s now provided by online content. The problem here is that the New York Times would have to carve its reader demographic from the UK broadsheet pie; recent research showed that when the NOTW vanished, its readers did not join other newspapers. They simply broke a long-outdated habit and stopped buying.

If the Sun goes, we’ll miss their bottom-fixated headlines, but very little else.

13 comments on “Let The Sun Set. Let’s Have The New York Times Instead.”

  1. This is required reading, preferably for the general public. The Free Content revolution makes my stomach turn to water, yet I am as guilty as everyone else in obtaining my news online.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    A very nice post, Admin.
    I read news on line, but mainly for the updates(sort of like the old “Extra!Extra!Read all about…”). But,I remain a long-term subscriber to the print-editions of the NYTimes and the Washington Post, which is shedding pages, although is still good for political news.(Used to read the Washington Star, a better DC paper, but the Post and changing times dug that paper under years before the internet.)
    The NYTimes routinely prints so many well-researched pieces and daily has so many informative international articles, it is invaluable. Its daily special sections are gold mines of info.(Tuesday’s separate Science section!) And the Sunday edition with its many sections produces a lot of clippings for the background files.
    Yes, I am displaying a nasty case of boosterism here, but it’s worth it AND we need to keep “the Gray lady” publishing, although it is no longer so print-gray in color.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Ahhhh! I forgot to mention a favorite: the daily NYT book reviews and (Ta-dah) the separate, yes separate (18 to 40 pages) of the Sunday Book Section, a handsome guide to more reading than one has the riches to buy. Enough from me already.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    My local literary friend would agree with you, Dan. The Times Literary Supplement and other book reviews are regularly clipped and sent my way. Our local city paper is celebrating its 100th year with much fooferaw and trumpetting.I enjoy the paper but I certainly am aware that there is no great competition locally, except from the television stations. The on line presences are becoming more noticeable and readers of the paper are regularly referred to on-line blogs and articles for further details. There comes a point when a medium gives up on itself and just sends its consumers to the newer form. Unfortunate, but if it didn’t happen we would be reading hand lettered scrolls.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    On the other hand, I might have had a full career hand lettering those scrolls.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    I’ve read somewhere that at one time for a really popular scroll(top 10 best seller?)wooden rollers were “lettered” and then rolled down a blank scroll. Then the process was repeated again with additional rollers until the complete text had been printed. (I guess Admin. would have gone to a roll-out party, rather than a launch party.)The price for a rolled scroll was far less and produced faster than for a hand-lettered and illustrated one. Wooden blocks were also used to insert illustrations and could be in a different color from that of the text.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    And we scribes gathered outside the roller shops to protest this reduction of our work. We cried out against the blurriness of some rolled scrolls, the misalignment of text, and particularly against the starting of the roll at an incorrect point so the reader had to go up to the top for the scrolls ending – somewhat akin to reading the last page of a book first. All to no avail of course.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    And we scribes gathered outside the roller shops to protest this reduction of our work. We cried out against the blurriness of some rolled scrolls, the misalignment of text, and particularly against the starting of the roll at an incorrect point so the reader had to go up to the top for the scrolls ending – somewhat akin to reading the last page of a book first. All to no avail of course.
    The worst part was the use by some lazy scribes of rolled posters!

  9. Helen Martin says:

    And we scribes gathered outside the roller shops to protest this reduction of our work. We cried out against the blurriness of some rolled scrolls, the misalignment of text, and particularly against the starting of the roll at an incorrect point so the reader had to go up to the top for the scroll’s ending – somewhat akin to reading the last page of a book first. All to no avail of course.
    The worst part was the use by some lazy scribes of rolled posters!

  10. Dan Terrell says:

    Assume Helen that your post was trapped in the “Internal Server Error” dead area, which appears after the longest time and makes you wonder if your post was posted or sent to the dead post office.
    Either that or you rolled the scroll post three times, just for the heck of it.)
    I think there’s an error on the Admin’s server. I find if you wait for the “Internal Server Error” to appear, and then go to another website, wait for the count of 3, and then return to this one you will find your post has been posted. It is, however, confusing. Also the “Submit Comment” tab needs a bit of an oiling as it’s sticky.
    (If you should read this Admin, a service call may be required. At first I wondered if my some times lengthy jottings were being submitted to a word count.)

  11. Dan Terrell says:

    This time it took me 12 minutes to get back on Chris’ website as the “Internal Service Error” kept bracing me on my every attempt to enter. Like having bad Karma at the door of a popular night spot.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Thank-you for your patience. By the time “duplicate material detected. You seem to have said this already” appeared I didn’t know what to think. When that screen appears it usually means the post is being sent & I’ve never had duplication like this. I tried going elsewhere and had the same result coming back, Dan.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Thank-you for your patience. By the time “duplicate material detected. You seem to have said this already” appeared I didn’t know what to think. When that screen appears it usually means the post is being sent & I’ve never had duplication like this. I tried going elsewhere and had the same result coming back, Dan.
    And now it says there’s an encoding error.

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