BEHIND THE CURTAIN CONTINUED: A useful and fun new approach!

TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2017

Part 2—And a peek at a low-IQ culture:
On March 2, the New York Times described a fun new approach the paper would be taking.

(For fuller background, see yesterday's report.)

The paper said it was introducing "a reimagined presentation of its A2 and A3 print pages." Starting that day, those pages would be "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 Times' description was fuzzy but intriguing! The reimagined pages wouldn't just be interesting. They'd also be useful and fun!

In our view, the reimagined hard-copy pages have given readers a bit of a look behind a curtain. Such transactions have been described in the literature of old.

When Toto let Dorothy take a peek behind a very famous curtain, she discovered an underwhelming fellow positioned at the controls. So it has been with these reimagined pages. In our view, they give us a look at the soul of the Times—at a deficient intellectual culture which, after decades of operation, has left us with Donald J. Trump in the White House as we await his war.

What awaits us when we peek behind the New York Times' cultural curtain? Let's travel to pages A2 and A3 as they appear in today's hard-copy Times.

Just to be completely unfair, let's start with the "Quote of the Day" on A3. For unknown reasons, this feature doesn't exist on-line. But in the paper's hard-copy A3, the "Quote of the Day" is this:
Quote of the Day

"I took care of Roy, and I had to use the facilities myself. So I figure, you know, kill two birds."

TOM MCDONALD, a Mets fan who who is dispensing with the ashes of his childhood friend Roy Riegel by flushing them away in ballparks across the country.
The Times says that's the "quote of the day." No, we aren't making this up.

This time, let's try to be fair. The Mets' home ballpark, CitiField, is located in Flushing Meadow. That may be a factor.

Also, the New York Times told us, right up front, that these reimagined pages would be loads of fun.

Still! Of all the things that were said yesterday, the Times picked that as its "Quote of the Day!" Forget the peculiar things that Donald J. Trump may have said. Tom McDonald's "two birds" remark was the day's top quote!

We'd have to rate today's top quote as perhaps a bit underwhelming. But so it very much tends to go on these fun new pages.

It isn't just the quote of the day! When we looked to the top of today's A3, we thought we saw a theme developing. Let us describe what we saw:

At the top of page A3, the Times now presents this feature:
Of Interest
Today, the Times presents eight "noteworthy facts." Just for fun, we'll transcribe our favorite three:
The breath of diabetics sometimes smells of rotten apples, experts report; the skin of typhoid patients, like baking bread.

Before natural gas is exported, it is cooled to minus 260 degrees, condensing it to a liquid known as liquified natural gas.

There are about 100,000 species of fungi, but only about 80 of them biluminesce, or glow in the dark.
If we're able to follow that second fact, when natural gas is turned into a liquid, it's known as liquified natural gas!

Whatever! We're omitting the "noteworthy fact" about how many volunteer musical performances occur each day in the Portland, Oregon International Airport. We're omitting the fact about the ages of the wolves inside Yellowstone Park.

Briefly, might we talk? Each day, there are actually quite a few "noteworthy facts" in the New York Times. Whoever is running page A3 seems to have a peculiar idea of what the word "noteworthy" means.

Yesterday, one of the noteworthy facts concerned the material in the prosthetic nose worn by a tenor in the Metropolitan Opera. On Saturday, we were clued to this noteworthy fact, among other clunkers:

"Wags Lending is a company that offers high-interest loans so people can lease new pets."

So people can lease new pets? We don't understand that either. Noteworthy facts can be like that!

Occasionally, some of this page's "Noteworthy Facts" almost do seem noteworthy. On a daily basis, the collection seems more like a grab bag, like entertaining trivia items pulled from a very large hat.

What the heck is taking place on these reimagined pages? Weirdly, these pages don't exist if you read the Times on-line.

Strange but true! If you go to the Times' "Today's Paper" site, each item in the paper is listed in order—except those found on pages A2 and A3.

Those items have been disappeared from the "Today's Paper" site. The site jumps straight from the front page all the way to page A4. Pages A2 and A3 look like North Korea as seen from space at night.

What's happening on these pages? What type of insight are we getting from this peek behind the curtain?

These pages are almost wholly inane; essentially, they seem to be devoted to a type of low-IQ marketing. If Madison Avenue designed an ad for these helpful, fun new pages, that ad would go something like this:
You are the dumbest people on earth.
We at the Times want to serve you.
That's what these new pages say.

Surely, you think we're being unfair. Let's discuss that addictive new feature, "The Mini Crossword," along with the "Here to Help" feature.

As we noted yesterday, "addictive" is the word the Times used to describe the Mini Crossword. (Apparently, it already existed on-line.) Here's the way the Times introduced this new hard-copy feature:

"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."

Truth to tell, this addictive new puzzle is just extremely small. For eons, the Times has been known for its extremely challenging crossword puzzles. This puzzle appears in the form of a square, with just five meager spaces across and just five spaces down.

Given the nature of the clues, the daily puzzle may take as long as a minute to solve. One clue today was this:

"Go down the bunny slope"

Let's see. Could the three-letter word the puzzle seeks possibly be the word "ski?"

Yesterday, the puzzle sought "Senator Orrin Hatch's state." Could the four-letter answer be "Utah?" So it goes, on a daily basis, on this addictive feature.

Next to the Mini Crossword, we find the "Here to Help" feature. This morning, the feature helps us with this:

Here to Help

Yesterday's heading looked like this:

Here to Help

On Saturday, we were helped in the following way: "How to make a champagne cocktail." On the new A3, the help dispensed to readers pretty much never stops.

We haven't mentioned the daily feature on A3 which is headed like this:


Today's "reportage and repartee" is drawn from a Facebook exchange between a Times reporter and one of the actors on Veep. Often, the repartee involves intemperate tweets the reporter probably shouldn't have made.

Next to the daily Spotlight feature we get this daily feature:

The Conversation

In fairness, there are many posts to share and discuss across the vast sweep of the Times. As often happens with this new feature, we get an embarrassing suggestion today about the nature of this newspaper's readers.

According to the Times' selection, the number two shared-and-discussed post has been this week-old report about Zuri, a fashion line by two New Yorkers "that makes only one dress." Again and again, this daily selection suggests that Times readers may not be obsessively focused on the day's most important topics, human survival-wise.

We haven't discussed the reimagined page A2. We'd say the page has been reimagined in a way designed to make you think well of Times reporters and columnists.

Today's submission is unusually relevant; it involves the debut column by Bret Stephens, a topic we expect to discuss by the end of the week. Yesterday, the page's main feature concerned the recent retirement of a Time obit writer.

On the whole, we'd have to say that these redesigned pages may give us a glimpse of a world. As with Dorothy, so too here! A curtain has been drawn away, and we're able to view an unimpressive substructure.

According to the leading authority,
The Wizard admitted to Dorothy that he was "a humbug." Each morning, when we scan these pages, we think of that exchange.

These pages suggest the possibility that a bunch of humbugs at the Times are looking for ways to talk way down to the paper's subscribers—to a bunch of people from whom they don't expect very much.

Is a culture being revealed in this way? Does our glimpse behind this curtain help us see how we got to our current dangerous place?

Tomorrow: He brought Fawn Hall to the dance


  1. We are all midgets trying to reach the shelf.

  2. Somerby keeps forgetting to change the dates on his posts. It would be confusing if we weren't smart enough to figure it out.

    1. I think that you would be an apt consumer of the new New York Times pages A2 and A3.

  3. To be fair, I'm interested in the ages of the wolves in Yellowstone. The rest of the facts, not so much.

  4. It's 'bioluminesce', not 'biluminesce'.

  5. “As often happens with this new feature, we get an embarrassing suggestion today about the nature of this newspaper's readers.”

    Actually, it’s an embarrassing suggestion of the readers the poor Gray Lady is attempting to court.
    The fact is, print media has been declining due to the need to compete with other forms in terms of advertising, a fact well-documented. Try going to Salon – there you see the ongoing trajectory of the NYT.

    Actual Journalism has always been a money-loser for papers like the NYT, but it’s often very informative and competent. Even Bob quotes the good stuff. You just won’t find it on the front page most of the time.

    I really appreciate what Bob is doing here – media criticism is important, and when you’ve watched a great institution fall so far, one cannot help but notice. Hell, Chris Hedges used to write for that paper, until he was fired for his opposition to the Iraq invasion. Go figure.

  6. Not a big Bob fan, but what the NYT is attempting to publish is their version of the venerable, Harper's Index. The difference of course, is that The Index aggregates all of those facts to tell a story, or sometimes, a number of stories.

    The NYT version apes the style, but lacks the substance.

    We now call these bits of content, "Listicles."

  7. Maybe the Times is publishing this stuff because it is what Americans are interested in...we should all look in the mirror instead of pointing fingers all the time.

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