BEHIND THE CURTAIN CONTINUED: Behind the screen at the New York Times!

MONDAY, MAY 1, 2017

Part 1—Useful, addictive, fun:
In December 2012, the New York Times chose Jim Holt's ridiculous book, Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story, as one of the year's ten best.

(Half the selected books were novels. Holt's book was one of the five best non-fiction books of the year.)

Four years later, it happened again! The Times chose Sarah Bakewell's wonderfully hapless book, At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, as one of the year's ten (or five) best.

Apricot cocktails and detective stories, mixed with the thrill of "existentialism" and "existential" concerns! This seems to be a heady mix for the souls who sit behind the curtain at the New York Times, the allegedly brainiest newspaper within our dying cultural realm.

Long ago, Dorothy was quite surprised when she peered behind a certain well-known curtain. According to the leading authority, this is what she found:
Back at the Emerald City, the Wizard delays granting their requests. Then Toto pulls back a curtain and exposes the "Wizard" as a normal middle-aged man who has been projecting the fearsome image; he denies Dorothy's accusation that he is a bad man, but admits to being a humbug. He then gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a ticking heart-shaped watch, granting their wishes and convincing them that they have received what they sought. He then prepares to launch his hot air balloon to take Dorothy home...
And so on. That's what Dorothy is said to have seen when she finally got the chance to peek behind the curtain.

Next week, we'll return to Holt's ridiculous book. On our way to this quintessential post by Professor Horwich, we'll show you more of the ridiculous work the New York Times inevitably judged to be among the year's best.

First though, a question arises. What the heck might a person find behind the curtain at the Times? How in the world did our brainiest paper heap piles of praise on those two books?

Long ago, "a normal middle-aged man" was sitting behind the curtain when Toto drew back that screen. Who can be found behind the curtain at today's New York Times, and within the wider guild of which it forms the key part?

"Fearsome imagery" to the side, who sits behind that curtain? We'll suggest a hint was offered on March 2, in an official statement from behind the screen.

As best we can tell, the important report from behind the screen never appeared in the hard-copy Times. The author (or authors) of the report went unnamed. The unnamed author's important report only appeared on-line.

That said, the important report from behind the screen announced an exciting new reimagining of one part of the New York Times' news product. Headline included, this is the way the important report began:
The New York Times Reimagines A2 and A3 Pages

Published: March 2, 2017

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mar. 2, 2017-- The New York Times today introduced a reimagined presentation of its A2 and A3 print pages, featuring a richness of Times content and a new look under the direction of Tom Jolly, associate masthead editor, and Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine.

The redesign, aimed to give readers an overview of what The Times is doing both in print and digitally, is modeled after the “front of the book” concept of a magazine. Pages A2 and A3 will become a place where readers will find interesting, useful and fun information about what The Times is doing not only with its core news report, but throughout the entire organization. The pages will offer stories and content that has not been part of the print paper before.

“The Times has a universe that extends well beyond the print newspaper, and we’re excited to transform pages A2 and A3 into a must-read destination that gives readers a sense of that,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor, The New York Times.
According to the important report, the people behind the screen had "reimagined" pages A2 and A3 of the print edition of our brainiest newspaper. For unknown reasons, they announced these exciting changes on-line, not in the print edition itself.

In a set of semi-coherent statements, the people behind the curtain tried to explain what these reimagined pages were going to do:

According to the unnamed authors of the report, readers of pages A2 and A3 would now "find interesting, useful and fun information about what The Times is doing not only with its core news report, but throughout the entire organization."

In case that wasn't fuzzy enough, Dean Baquet was called in to perform further fogging. According to Baquet, pages A2 and A3 had been transformed to give readers a sense of the fact that "the Times has a universe that extends well beyond the print newspaper." Inevitably, folk who produce such statements will think that books like Bakewell's and Holt's are among the year's ten best.

Whatever! We'd already learned that the two reimagined pages would be "useful" and "fun." As the authors continued their report, they listed the featured which would appear on the reimagined pages.

Among other features, readers could expect to find a daily "behind-the-scenes look at [the New York Times' own] journalism." They could expect to find "a memorable headline from [the New York Times'] archives."

Readers could expect to find "reportage and repartee from Times journalists." There would even be a "Here To Help" feature, including "tips for daily life, movie and tech recommendations, recipes, and more." Finally, the Times would give us tips for daily life!

The reimagined pages would be "useful" and "fun." We'd get to listen to repartee! Addiction might even occur:
"The new A2 and A3 pages are meant to give a reader a sense of the scope of what’s happening in the world of The New York Times each day, from the contents of the print paper to the stories that are trending on our site to what our journalists are posting on social media,” said Jake Silverstein. “We hope these changes transform this valuable newspaper real estate into a delightful part of the daily newspaper reading routine.”

The redesign of these pages has also made room for a small and addictive puzzle. The Mini Crossword, which until now has only existed in digital form, will now run in print on page A3 each weekday.
As things have turned out, that new puzzle hasn't just been "addictive." It has been amazingly "small."

This important report emerged from behind a journalistic curtain. As with Dorothy, so too here:

We will submit that the reimagining of pages A2 and A3 helps us learn an important fact. It isn't true of the Wizard alone! The figures behind this second screen are remarkably unprepossessing.

Tomorrow, we'll look at some of the useful, addictive, fun material which has appeared on these reimagined pages. As the week continues, we'll takes a few more looks behind the screen, both at the Times itself and around the wider guild, which is often addicted to humbug.

We'll suggest that the figures behind the curtain at the Times have produced some pathetically gongy features on those reimagined pages. We'll suggest that this helps explain a key fact:

It helps explain why we're all sitting around waiting for Donald J. Trump's future war. When so little heft lies behind our screens, are such meltdowns certain to come?

Tomorrow: Useful, embarrassing, fun

13 comments:

  1. If you abandon the idea that newspapers should be commercially viable economic ventures, then the main means of keeping them alive becomes government funding. But if you subsidize newspapers through the government, they will become (or be perceived as) outlets of political propaganda, as they are in other countries.

    It seems wrong to blame the NY Times for trying to increase its subscribers by appealing to what will most likely sell more papers.

    Unless Somerby wants to grapple with how the NY Times can support itself, his complaints that the paper doesn't truly serve the needs of the intelligentsia seem churlish. It would be great if the NY Times served a more educational function, but would people buy it then? Probably not as many, would be my guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps it is your youth that causes you to say it, but the purpose of a newspaper is to "[serve] a more educational function."
      When newspapers instead print propaganda, accepted narratives, soothing pap, and info on the house that you can buy in Arizona for $2.5 million, rather than what is a more objective "reality," we are "within [a] dying cultural realm."

      Delete
    2. In addition to their civic function, newspapers sold advertising space to local businesses and promoted community activities, like Elks dinner meetings and church bake sales. Those functions are now obsolete. Without them, how does a newspaper support itself so that it can carry out its educational function?

      Delete
    3. Corby,
      Since you contend they are a business, and the educational function is secondary (if at all), why provide them media protections? Let them earn an honest living like the rest of us.

      Delete
    4. They are being asked to earn an honest living while being expected to be a watchdog of the people. Maybe an arms-length relationship like the fed, funded by a $1 donation on every tax return might enable real journalism to return. In the meantime, every individual can be a publisher and benefit from constitutional protections, but just not afford to engage in the kind of coverage an organization can do. Citizen journalists and publishers certainly deserve those protections. Who will protect the journalists at MSNBC from themselves (and their parent corporation)?

      Delete
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  2. Somerby was perhaps told he was smart, especially as a youth when he got into Harvard. Then he met the other smart kids there and started wondering if he was really that smart. After all, you can always find smarter people around you, especially at a school that attracts them.

    Then he spent a lifetime wondering if he was really smart and trying to figure out whether he was or not, trying to be smart instead of smart alecky in his stand-up and trying to do smart things to help kids be smarter.

    Now he suspects he isn't that smart but has been faking it. So he projects that status onto the NY Times and onto professors and onto anyone else who people think of as smart, and shows that those folks aren't as smart as anyone assumes. They have feet of clay (just like Somerby does).

    He is working through his own ambivalence about intelligence and his own tenuous claim to being smarter than average by attacking anyone he sees around him who is proclaimed to be smart but is actually human.

    What a sad condition to still be struggling with this kind existential issue so late in life. Somerby, accept your flaws and move on. Expend some of that famous empathy on yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wonder if Susan Faludi's "In The Darkroom," made the list for last year. It's one of the very best things I have ever read.

    I also like the post on Salon about how Rachel Maddow has been vindicated for the Tax story. Though I wouldn't say it is one of the greatest things ever written or that the writer should be elected President. You know, like crazy Bob.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was on the list. Here is their review of it: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/books/review/susan-faludis-in-the-darkroom.html?_r=0

      Many of us might like to support the NY Times in their hour of need but cannot because of the boycott to protest the hiring of Bret Stephens, the climate change denier. His first column was horrible but Somerby was too busy talking about Holt to notice.

      Delete
  4. Pop psychology aside, Bob and the rest of us must get used to major dailies following the successful trends of social media. This means the stolid who, what, where, when and why will also contain clickbait and headlines not supported in the text body.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pop psychology is fun! It is obvious that Somerby feels like the man behind the curtain himself.

      Delete
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