Tuesday, June 18, 2024

New York Times versus Washington Post

In recent years, two of the largest newspapers in the U.S. have struggled under the challenges of operating print and digital publications in a time when news operations are closing all over the U.S. and the world. Both papers have deep pocketed owners are navigating a world that shouts fake news for reporting that doesn't reflect their views. In America, newspaper readers are more likely to vote Democrat in recent years. This should not diminish their importance in news gathering. For the Washington Post, the commitment of their reporters has seen one assassinated and another held hostage for treason in a very short time.

The New York Times has about 1500 staff and the Washington Post has about 1000. Both have had their share of controversies over the years including that of bias and continuing bias. Some of this even applies to something like the New York Times Best Seller list that some conservatives says works against them. A recent Economist magazine investigation says they are right.

At one time books stores like McNally carried New York Times but that is an expensive proposition when the digital forms are so available today. Almost all print papers that used to come to the city from other places have ended. A place like Dominion News used to carry so many newspapers from all over daily. There was a time when Washington Post Syndicate columnists would appear in newspapers all across North America including Winnipeg. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Washington Post began to be known as being the investigative and insiders report of Capitol Hill. The reporter as hero with Bernstein and Woodward became synonymous with The Post.

It isn't like the New York Times was being a slouch. They had reporters in the various bureaus such as Vietnam covering some of the biggest stories in countries all over the world. But they also also reporters throughout the U.S. including fair size coverage in Washington. Between the Times and the Post, the amount of world-wide reporting bureaus easily surpassed U.S. TV and cable networks. No one quite has the coverage of the Wall Street Journal though. They have over 80 bureaus in over 50 countries. But it has always been different for a business newspaper reporting on markets across the world.

Almost all newspapers including the Times and the Post have laid off workers. Google, Facebook and others are hoovering up advertising dollars while using content produced by others. The Times has gotten better at subscription service and content people want to read and participate in such as Wordle and their crossword puzzle. Not everything is politics. New York City has so much media in it that if a publication does meet the needs, there are several newspapers in the city that will. Washington has a few newspapers but really only one is the daily newspaper where you would get your weather, sports and locals news as well. The Washington Post can't really think the Washington Times is competition.

There is a lot of disillusionment with newspapers in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. They have made big errors in the past, made choices in their coverage but in some cases, it is just cynicism about all established forms of government, media, religion and culture. At worst, it is outright hostility. The culture wars writ large where the media is the enemy. Even business papers like the Wall Street Journal which are more likely to have conservative views are not embraced as they still don't show enough deference to Trump or his movement.

The Washington Post is going through some angst about losing readership and has changed their editor in the last while. So what is happening and why does the New York Times seem to have an edge in the new journalism world? I mentioned a few areas. The Times tries to engage with specialized areas such as book reviews, crosswords and other things. They have been known for their cooking section for a very long time. These are things along with video games that drive new audiences. The Times also makes use of social media and podcasts. They cut their sports department and contracted it out to wholly owned The Athletic. There was some calls that this might be union busting. Since sports reporters were transferred elsewhere in the paper, the argument didn't go anywhere.

The changes at the top at the Post possibly reflect that the paper, despite the need to be innovative, has failed to add value in the way as the Times has. The New York Times Books and Games sections make it a must read. They have a climate section and recipes section but recently shut down their weekend section of the paper. Politics and Investigation are too areas of strengths but if Republicans are not reading your newspaper, you are hooped.

The Boston Globe, another big metro paper, makes sure they are the go to for real estate in Boston. They also have advice columns. They also embrace podcasts which is where many of the younger news people go for information.  A few other sections are must reads and that is why their digital subscriptions are up. In Winnipeg, the Free Press has a religion section that other newspapers don't touch. They tried cannabis a few years ago but it didn't stick. They once had an exceptional pets section. Cars and real estate have made the Free Press a must read for many.

The Post is probably saved by their Metro section covering Washington, Maryland and Virginia. The local news and sports is what will keep readers coming back. There is nothing wrong with newspapers having an editorial slant. It is important to label news, analysis and opinion as clearly as you can. There will be people who dislike coverage no matter what angle it takes. In recent years many American newspapers have recruited reporters and editors from the UK who are thought to have a more spirited approach to news gathering. The opposite certainly isn't true where there are few American editors of the big papers in Britain. The Free Press is not immune and have hired some Brits from time to time to the staff themselves.

There are some fantastic columnists on the Washington Post but the New York Times does more to show them off on the first page of their website. And has been clearly pointed out, it is the editors job to make sure the paper is not boring. That is not to say to filled with clickbait but interesting coverage, strong analysis and well argued opinions. The new people in charge at the Post recently called their reporting boring. It remains to be seen if the Washington Post can reclaim lost readership. At the moment their CEO and publisher is fighting for his career in court over his time as leader at the Times of London. 

It is the New York Times that seems to have come up with ways to be relevant, make money but serve the public interested in a variety of things a newspaper provides. The line has blurred a bit and it is not just about print but pictures, video, podcasting and up to date breaking news. Still, a newspaper will take longer to develop stories, give them more in depth, develop sources and then break news themselves rather than just reporting after the fact. In recent years though, newspapers have fallen on manufacturing grievance rather than reporting. It is the low hanging fruit in journalism. 

The Times just doesn't have columnists. They have some very good reporters and do investigations well. These often require resources and time to do those stories. Not all are politics. Consumer and technology stores often take time take to put together. The various foreign bureaus offer insight just not found in television news since there are just fewer TV reporters based elsewhere. 

In the United States, polarization seems mean talk radio is a conservative medium, newspapers a liberal one. TV network news liberal and cable a mix of liberal and conservatives but even more slanted. Online it is often most slanted. It is sad that newspapers are being abandoned by conservatives. It didn't matter who you were in Washington, everyone read the Post. Now conservatives want to only hear from conservative sources and liberals want to hear from liberal sources. It is a confirmation bias that bangs it's head against certain realities. Unless some people accept alternate facts or narrative.

There is still much debate about social media like Google and Facebook hoovering up ad dollars. Even the Canadian federal government has spent millions on foreign owned social media advertisements. It seems counter to what is needed for a national media of any kind. Not every small newspaper can adopt the subscription model as successfully as the New York Times. Advertising remains important. The big social media companies seem prone to hacks, agent provocateurs from foreign governments and actors and sharing information with other companies who don't take privacy or security seriously. Worst, is the anti-competitive nature which concentrates everything in fewer and fewer hands.

So when it comes to Washington Post versus New York Times, it probably has to land with the Times because of all the extra stuff they bring to the table. And they have managed to change to a subscription model that makes money. The Times continues to be a newspaper that innovates and draws reader. Even Republicans read The Athletic which it owns. This might be the key for newspapers to beef up their sports and arts coverage to make the newspaper more universal. For kids, many read their first newspaper for the comics. After that for the sports, arts, etc. The only difference nowadays could be reading or viewing in digital. A newspaper needs to be able to deliver the goods digitally nowadays and how they present it is key. So for other newspapers out there, they should look at the New York Times to see what the future is like and how to be meaningful as well as successful.

No comments: