The (Former) Paper of Record

My grandfather had to drop out of high school during the Great Depression. He eventually got his GED, but said that most people he spoke with assumed he had a college degree. He was a very bright man, but he credited this to reading The New York Times every day, cover to cover.

Seth Godin writes about how business is poor at The New York Times, while standards and focus are slipping. Recent articles include two stories on Barbara Walters and her new book, and a review of The Olive Garden. Yes, The Olive Garden. After reading this, I have serious doubts as to whether someone could repeat what my grandfather did.

I remember growing up hearing that The New York Times was “the paper of record“. I looked up that term in Wikipedia and found there is resistance to that venerable term by Western newspaper editors, especially those at NYT:

Daniel Okrent, at the time the public editor of The New York Times, wrote on April 25, 2004 that his paper is no longer a newspaper of record, and that this change is to be welcomed. In his view, the journalism of a “newspaper of record” is “as much stenography as reporting, as much virtual reprinting of handouts (in the form of verbatim transcripts of unexceptional speeches) as provocative journalism.” John Geddes, the managing editor of The New York Times, expressed this even more strongly: “I don’t think there can be a ‘paper of record’. The term implies an omniscient chronicler of events, an arbiter that perfectly captures the significance and import of a day in our lives. I don’t work at that place.”

I think we’ve lost something good here.

2 thoughts on “The (Former) Paper of Record”

  1. It used to be that the Times created scandals by uncovering, then reporting, the stories that no other paper would touch. Now, unfortunately, the scandals have been more of their own doing, which I don’t think has helped things much.

    This was probably inevitable, in a way. Sooner or later, Marketing gets its fangs in something, and starts talking in terms of demographics, focus groups, and the like, draining the blood from it. While I’ll freely concede that electronic media have changed the game somewhat, it’s possible to remain competitive in a changing market, with changing demographics, while still remaining true to certain core principles. Instead of doing that, the Times seems to be slipping, slowly, toward the lowest common denominator.

    Another paper that’ll be interesting to watch is the Wall Street Journal, since Murdoch purchased it. While I don’t think he’ll turn it into a national-circulation version of the New York Post (God help us)–it was already pretty far to the right once he got it–he hasn’t exactly built a reputation for knowing when to keep his hands off.

  2. Too bad agent Renegade does not frequent this blog. He has the definitive take on this liberal rag that has the audacity to hope to be called “the paper of record. ” And all of the denials issued by the NYT editors do not eliminate the fact that in the backrooms of their minds they really DO think they are the paper of record.

    But the extra sized pages make for really good kitty litter liners. I lived in NY for 2 decades; I would know.

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