I’ve finally done it. After much hemming, hawing (what is that, exactly?) and hand-wringing, I’ve gone and cancelled my subscription to the New York Times. It’s bittersweet.
Truth be told, I’m only a Sunday Home Delivery subscriber; the rest of the week I’m too busy to sit down for the Times experience. There’s something about settling down with a broadsheet that I will indeed miss, maybe a sense of exploration, hope and the promise of intellectual rigor that for me was once as much a part of the experience as the journalistic ideas themselves. Note the past tense there.
Especially on Sunday, when the entire heft of the paper was matched by nothing less than a the excitement of expectation and potential, and made real through processed wood pulp. Yes, Kindlites (yes, I have one too, and have warmed to it), the tactile sensation was an important part of the experience.
So, I thought as I hung up the phone having finally severed my umbilical cord from the Gray Lady, what changed?
A lot of things, I guess.
Sure, the op-ed guys like Friedman and Kristof are still terrific, but now that I see them on Morning Joe or somewhere else on the ‘net throughout the week, the anticipation of reading them on Sunday has become somewhat lessened. And I’m happy to recognize the real journalists whose names are not yet brands: the Times still has some truly great folks working the front lines of news – and I still appreciate their analysis and courage.
But some things have changed, that’s for sure. I don’t actually read the whole paper anymore, because somewhere the experience, for me at least, lost that inviting sense of exploration. And that’s probably because the drive to explore is inevitably grounded in the desire to find something new. We explore not to find confirmation of groupthink or agenda, but to truly experience the thrill of discovery.
Now, for some reason, with The New York Times and others, I go in with a sense of what I’m likely to find and most of the time am quite correct, which relegates the entire experience to an exercise of more of the the same.
I want to be enlightened, surprised, challenged and stimulated – that’s what journalism is about. I don’t want to go in with an understanding of ‘well this publication (or site or tv channel)’ is right-leaning, or left-leaning, liberal or conservative, so any conclusion drawn from their ‘reporting’ is molded by their corporate or political editorial policies and thus what I expected and already knew.
That’s a waste of time.
Nor do I want to see content designed only to inflame and capture page views, or to be part of a punchboard designed to ensure that every possible demographic slice has something to relate to, because that’s equally false.
The Times appears to have gone in this direction, becoming less unique, and more and more mainstream; a pop caricature of a previously respected publication relying on a few foundational leftovers to retain a degree of credibility.
I don’t need more of the same. I don’t need People magazine light and a more verbose version of USA today. I don’t want a Book Review that seems so nervous to justify and defend itself that it will only review obscure mid-list fiction in the driest, most convoluted and intellectually snobbish manner possible while casting disdain upon the most popular titles on their own esteemed best seller list in the back of the very same publication. For God’s sake, man, review at least one popular title a week, even if the author’s name isn’t Jhumpa – most readers like myself actually read all kinds of things – there’s no shame in it, so how about reviewing some less obscure, even popular titles in a more engaging manner – and one in which it doesn’t seem like the reviewer is threatened by or has a bone to pick with the author in question. That’d be nice, and it keeps me from skipping to the last 2 paragraphs of the review. A little life and objectivity, please.
Alright, that last part are my gripes, but to be honest, I think that the core of my frustration is in watching a publication that I loved not evolve, but instead decay. It was a bastion, and a comfort. It would always be there, and it would always be important and credible. But then decisions were made to broaden it’s appeal not based on its inherent strength, but instead on a more populist approach. Smaller, more digestible and less satisfying. Like fast food.
It has become diluted; an also-ran among many. And in an age where I can cherry-pick my news sources, I need a reason to both pay for and rely on one. I need something that I can’t get somewhere else, and for me, anyway, the New York Times is no longer that thing. Funny, but I started writing this not to pen an indictment, but instead to explore just why this was such a troubling decision for me. Like many forms of art, honest writing remains a strong means for exploring the things that matter most.
Perhaps newspapers need to remind themselves of the incredible power of the tools of their trade – good writing, honesty, research and courage – instead of trying to trade these tools for ephemeral gain.