The Times, They Are A’Changing

Public Editor Liz Spayd has been charged with breaking the news.

We did a story a few days ago that said we don’t have a reporter in New Jersey right now. Look, I wish we had the resources to have what we used to have in New Jersey and Connecticut, but the reality is that we don’t. And I think to do the window dressing of having one reporter running around doesn’t quite make it.

While the Gray Lady grasps to its “paper of record” legacy, New York is part of a tri-state region that includes New Jersey and Connecticut. Well, it used to, anyway.* Now, the Times can’t afford a reporter for these states? Not even one. The old Metro desk may not even bother with New York for much longer.

I’m not being coy. I don’t think so, if you think past the actual desks. I think of Metro as everything from local investigative reporting, which we do a lot of, to local culture reporting, which we do a lot of, to local business reporting, which we do a lot of. So I’m not sure people will see the word “New York” appear less in The New York Times. I think they will see less — and I have already seen less — incremental New York news coverage.

Subscriptions are down, revenues are down. Staffing is down. As to news, anyway. And the thing about dead trees are that they’re dead.

I think readers will continue to see more exploration of ways to tell stories, a continuing emphasis on video and multimedia online, and more of an effort in which we acknowledge the phone is a completely different medium than print. We’re going to think harder about how we’re going to edit The New York Times. Trying to edit The Times the way we edited it in a purely print era is unreasonable. The layers of editing, the number of people who touch a story.

For quite a while, this has been coming, a dedication to the trends of the future, both in medium and in content. “Layers of editing” only applies to good writing and accurate reporting. They need speed. They want flash. But more than anything else, the New York Times is selling confirmation and validation. Why? Because that’s what readers will pay for.

Example 1: The Times may not be capable of mustering a reporter for New Jersey, they they keep a clear focus on Texas. Not because they care more about Texas than Jersey, but there’s an issue that will grab their readers by the neck and squeeze.

Given North Carolina’s self-defeating legislative efforts to restrict where transgender people can use public bathrooms, it’s mind-boggling that politicians in other states would be tempted to go down a similar path. Yet, Texas Republicans opened a new front in the nation’s debate about transgender rights on Thursday, when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced a bill that would require transgender people to use public restrooms in schools, government buildings and public universities that align with their “biological sex.”

So what if transgender people are estimated to comprise 0.3% of the population?*** The vast majority of New York Times subscribers care deeply about their welfare, as their privilege demands, and so the Times, which can’t afford a New Jersey reporter, has its editorial board on the job.**

Set against Mr. Patrick’s ignorance and bigotry, the response from private-sector leaders in Texas has been tremendously encouraging.

The Texas Association of Business last year commissioned a study about the impact a state law that discriminates against gay, bisexual and transgender people would have. Using the backlash from private industry set off by North Carolina’s law, known as HB2, as a gauge, the group concluded that Texas could lose as many as 185,000 jobs. A discriminatory law would also result in billions of dollars in lost tourism, canceled business investment and an almost certain decline in the state’s vibrant conventions business.

Except the study is about religious freedom laws, focusing on the right to not serve people whose behaviors violate a person’s religious beliefs, not transgender bathrooms. The Times calls bathroom laws “unconstitutional” though the Supreme Court hasn’t, but worse, the editorial flagrantly misrepresents the report.

What’s the problem? The Times doesn’t have enough people to read the report to find out that the editorial is a lie, or the layers of editors needed to correct false inclusions like “unconstitutional.” But at least they can obsess about Texas, even if Jersey isn’t worth a whirl.

Example 2: Crime is down. Way down, which makes the Times very happy because Trump said otherwise, and the Times is obsessed with Trump.

The crime rate keeps falling in New York City, and falling. The trend has held for many years, and not even 2016 — so terrible in so many other ways — broke the pattern. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill hit the high points at a news conference on Wednesday: The year ended with fewer than 1,000 shootings, a record low. There were fewer murders (335) than in 2015 (352), fewer rapes, fewer burglaries, fewer robberies. Over all, 101,606 major-category crimes were reported in 2016, compared with 105,921 in 2015.

There is a laundry list of reasons why this has happened, ranging from demographics to the shift from crack to heroin as the drug of choice. Naturally, the NYPD takes credit for it, ignoring that it’s a nationwide trend.

The Times notes that this fall in crime is happening despite the elimination of the “stop and frisk” tactic of tossing black kids against walls, which was held unconstitutional by Judge Shira Scheindlin and yet was promoted by that Trump guy. But the good news for some isn’t for all.

The news is good, but 335 homicides in a city of more than 8.5 million is still a lot of human agony. The Times spent the last year logging every murder in the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx, one of several neighborhoods beset by gangs, drugs and guns, where violence and poverty and mistrust of the police are entrenched. New Yorkers there have not shared in the peace dividend the city as a whole enjoys.

Maybe that’s why the Times can’t put a reporter in Jersey, because they were too busy “logging” (no clue what that means) murders in the South Bronx. And what are they talking about with this “peace dividend”?

The Police Department’s job is the same across the city; its methods and commitment to crime prevention should also be the same. The challenge for Mr. de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill is to keep tamping down violence in the hot spots, deploying resources as fairly and effectively as possible.

New York City has about 36,000 police officers. That’s a lot of cops. And apparently, the Times thinks the investment in cops (which, I guess, is where “dividend” comes from) has neglected the South Bronx. Had they sent a reporter there instead of logging murders, they might realize that they have tons of cops in the South Bronx, because that’s where the busts get made. They “tamp” all the time, usually with their tamping club. Usually on people’s heads.

Mr. de Blasio and his commissioners, William Bratton and now Mr. O’Neill, as well as the 36,000 officers of the department, deserve a lot of credit, and the city’s gratitude.

Unless the cops had little to do with any of this and the reason crime in the South Bronx remains higher is because it’s poor, it’s immigrant, there are no jobs and selling and using drugs, with the usual collateral crime, is what they do there. If only they had enough reporters to send one to the South Bronx and find out what was happening there. But then, even if they did, what are the chances the Times’ coverage would be about who was using what bathrooms?

The reader has far more power than ever before — and they should. It’s the healthiest thing that’s happened to us.

Feed ’em the news they want to hear. And as long as they get the gender pronouns right, they have enough editorial layers. At least this is the New York Times, and not one of those fake news sites. All the news that fits the agenda.

*Edit (because John Hawkinson tried to shame me for doing this): In fairness, the underlying issue isn’t that the Times can’t “afford” a single reporter in Jersey, but that it would be merely “window dressing” rather than serious news gathering. Aside from this being disingenuous claim, one that ignores the Times’ purges of reporters over the past decade to the point where it’s all window dressing, which can then be discarded because it’s just window dressing, excuses don’t change the fact that they’ve given up. It may explain why, but it doesn’t make it legitimate.

**Edit (Yup, Hawk too): Yes, I’ve mixed news and editorial. So does the Times. At least I’m honest about it.

***This statistic isn’t offered to suggest that transgender people should or shouldn’t be able to use whatever rest room they want, and that such decisions shouldn’t be made at the local political level. Rather, the point is the obsession with laws applicable to issues affecting minority portions of the population while issues affecting the majority of the population are ignored, because they’re privileged and not marginalized.

21 comments on “The Times, They Are A’Changing

  1. RICHARD KOPF

    SHG, not covering NJ with a local NYT reporter is like not covering NE with a local NYT reporter.

    All the best.

    RGK

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      New York Giants, Judge. Does Omaha have a football team? No. No it does not.

      By the way, got 8″ of snow yesterday, and plowed it with the Gator. Thought about your John Deere tractor. So cute.

      Reply
          1. Patrick Maupin

            We can all see you started it with that 8″ shtick, and all that talk of “plowing” while day-dreaming about the judge riding John Deere.

            Reply
          2. Jim Tyre

            I can’t believe that you never did anything with the John Deere related story I sent you several weeks ago. Perhaps now, you will realize the error of your ways. Perhaps now, Judge K will issue an extraordinary writ compelling you to write about it. (We’re in a blog, not court. Don’t bother me with notions of compelled speech, jurisdiction or other craziness.)

            Reply
            1. SHG Post author

              In order to blog, you would have to have a blog. In order to blog about your John Deere. you would have to have a Deere. You have some work to do.

  2. PDB

    1000 shootings in a year? Hah! That’s what we here in Chicago call a “weekend.”

    Yeah, I know I’m going to hell.

    Reply
  3. Keith

    Perhaps they took some of your advice?

    They’ll still find an orthodox Jewish angle to poke in random stories though, I suppose?

    Cheers from the garden state.

    Reply
  4. B. McLeod

    Obviously, the NYT can do what it’s doing without a reporter in NJ. If you think about it, NYT doesn’t really need a reporter anywhere.

    Reply

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