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The mystery of New York

To me, one of the great mysteries of the American media is the New York Times op-ed page. How exactly is one recruited to write for it? Given that this Thomas Friedman op-ed generator managed to produce copy that makes at least as much sense as real Tom Friedman op-eds, when is the page going to be outsourced to computers?

Also, when is someone going to create an automated David Brooks? This will surely be at least as funny.

46 comments to The mystery of New York

  • PersonFromPorlock

    This is actually quite easy to explain: for many years, The New York Times owned and operated an excellent classical music station, WQXR-AM, which after dark brought good taste and sophistication (and announcers with wonderfully odd accents) to listeners up and down America’s East Coast.

    In 1993, they sold the station, which under its new owners mutated into a teen-oriented Disney channel.

    Now the Gods, having decided to destroy the Times for this act of unpardonable crassness, are ‘first making them mad’: Thus, their present-day op-ed page. And all the other pages too, of course.

    Divine justice is slow, and splendid.

  • I want one by Maureen Dowd…or maybe rather not.

  • James Waterton

    Ha! Great find, Mike. Just keep clicking ‘generate new column!’ down the bottom. Very droll.

  • Michael Jennings

    No. Maureen Dowd would be too far.

  • Paul Marks

    New York City is not a mystery – it is supported by the financial services industry, that (in turn) is supported b the New York Federal Reserve (in short the largest city in the United States is a huge example of CORPORATE WELFARE).

    But the New York Times – now that baffles me.

    It is not just leftist propaganda – it is also badly written BORING leftist propaganda.

    So how does it survive?

    Why do people read it?

    It is clear that even Michael reads it.


    Does his firm have one of these “internet subscriptions” to the New York Time, which they boast have gone up by 40%?

    Even if the “electronic subscriptions” are a vast fraud, some 700 thousand physical copies of the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune (as a minor fraud they count these two different newspapers as if they were one newspaper) are sold every day.

    700 thousand people (round the world) like the New York Times )(or the equally vile Herald Tribune) so much that that they actually pay money to have a physical copy of it.


  • MakajazMakako


    NYT probably students

    IHT because its quite often the only paper you can find written in English

  • Paul, I doubt most people who actually do read the NYT (I imagine that many just skim it out of habit), read it for its op-ed page – or, for that matter, for its politics or economics (sorry for repeating myself) in general. Like most papers, it has many other sections, mostly having to do with culture. (I happen to like some of their film reviewers, for example). Also, I can’t prove this, but I’m certain that certain circles one just has to keep up with the NYT in order to remain in those circles – its just one of those things, like clothing style etc.

  • …and, of course, as for an occasional reader of The Newspaper of Note, my typos are occasionally to be forgiven.

  • Perry Metzger

    Answering entirely seriously at the moment, as I’ve thought about this problem for years:

    My long-standing belief, having been a long time reader of the New York Times, and also being a friend of a number of Times employees and stringers, is that the majority of the Times staff are very well educated but moderately dim people, the sort who know many facts but can’t really reason very well (and who laugh about being bad at math and science at cocktail parties).

    Such people are even more susceptible than average to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, believing themselves to understand far more than they actually do. Almost everything about Times decisions and editorial policy, as well as a large fraction of their reportage, can be explained on this basis. Such people also tend to hire more like themselves, perpetuating the syndrome.

    There are some very prominent exceptions, of course, including some people I’m friends with, but overall, this seems to be their problem.

  • RRS

    It is possible that much of the “readership” of print media in the classifications of The New York Times and the Guardian are actually seeking reaffirmation or reinforcement of emotional convictions that shape their opinions of how the world should be, and what human relationships should be.

    That “readership” also shares with the producers of media content a failure to distinguish between information and knowledge. The efforts to shape the perceptions of such information as is presented, so that any knowledge formed from that information falls within prescribed patterns are generally evidenced by very similar adverbial and adjectival phrasings. Those syntactical methods continue to be reflected in a great deal of the informal media that is populated by the same wordsmiths of the diminishing formal media.

    Others, in addition to myself, have noted similar failures of differentiation of information from knowledge in publications as historic as the Economist.

    I may add a little more a bit later.

  • veryretired

    Cultures change slowly, except in extraordinary circumstances, and their basic, pervasive features evolve slowly as well.

    For the last few centuries, especially as literacy increased among the common people, periodicals of various types, from daily newspapers to weekly papers and magazines to monthly journals and catalogues, were an important source of information in a world still living in an news desert with only infrequents oases of data. Such a landscape elevated the newspaper into something much more than it is today.

    I am an old fashioned guy, and I like to read a newspaper in the morning.I used to read two a day, as well as several magazines each week/month, but those times have passed, and I get most of my news and information now from the internet. I don’t bother much with TV news, although it can be valuable in emergencies, because it is just as the characters in “Network” described it, and has little value.

    New York used to have dozens of daily and weekly papers, in several languages, and they were powerful opinion creators for the average man who had no other sources until radio, and then TV, entered the mix.

    My kids are mystified by my clinging to such an outdated thing as a daily paper, and I understand their lack of appreciation, as they are media and internet people, especially the younger ones. In this current era, I read the paper in a very selective way, picking out the facts of this or that incident, and ignoring the endless speculation and political spin that accompanies practically every story, no matter how mundane.

    We are in the middle of an enormous cultural and social transformation. It is often hard to see the outlines because we are here in the midst of it, but certain elements are very clear.

    This little machine in my lap has all the power of the printing press, radio, and TV combined. Its capabilities will drive fundamental changes in every aspect of our lives, even deeper and more far-reaching than it has already, and its basic function, the processing of data, will transform information transmission, from the daily news to lifelong education, in ways we can only guess at.

    The legacy media will be a distant memory in just a few decades, taking the NYT and so many other seemingly powerful institutions into the same land of quaint curiosity as vinyl records and black and white movies.

    “Why the NYT?” Once great institutions linger, long after their day has come and gone, not realizing that the sun has set.

    And twilight is as good a metaphor for the state of the media as I can think of. Soon, the dark of a moonless night will fall…

  • The purpose of the New York Times is to reassure its readers (and staff, including the publisher) of their moral superiority over their political and social rivals. Moral superiority is a credence good. The way The Clerisy promote credence goods is by creating an illusion of consensus.

    All is proceeding as I have forseen (The Market for Sanctimony, or why we need Yet Another Space Alien Cult).

  • Jacob

    People buy the NYT becuase they like it. Strange that this explanation didn’t occur to anybody… The great majority of poeple are not like us, they are different. They are the kind that likes the NYT.

    I, too, read the NYT on the web, I must confess. I don’t read Thomas Friedman or Paul Krugman, or any other op-eds, but there is a lot of information in other articles. Even if I don’t agree, it’s instructive to know what the majority thinks and how they think.

  • Jacob

    I read in the NYT interesting articles about medicine, for example, or history (their series about the civil war) or an ocasional story about life in Spain or India, or even their reporting about the damages of hurricane Sandy, and the folly of fedreal flood insurance.

  • Paul Marks

    veryretired sums it up – as normal.

    As for New York – the Sun was good (wildy different from the British newspaper of the same name).

    In the popular market the Post is not that bad – although it is gun control supporting (and ….. well New Yorkish).

    That leaves the WSJ – although its news pages are American bland (written by School of Journalism types). Still its editorial pages are O.K. (ish) certainly not the Hell-on-Earth of the vile NYT.

    By the way – New York City is the best of the American big cities for newspapers.

    In most cities there is only one newspaper – and it is terrible.

  • renminbi

    People read this boring paper so they can feel superior to the rest of us,but isn’t that what “Liberals” do? I remember one one of their slogans: “Read it. It is so interesting,and you will be, too”

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa I can visualise someone reading the style (or travel or….) sections of a newspaper – say they have found it disgarded on some site and it is a long security shift.

    But BUYING the newspaper for this?

  • RRS

    If you really want to think this issue through, the enquiry might be directed to the advertisers, those who pay to be seen by someone whom they assume will be a reader of the general content of the newspaper.

    So what shall we suppose the advertisers conclude as to why some persons purchase the newspaper and in reading it will be exposed to their advertisements?

    While I have not read the New York Times for many years, and am not aware of its advertising content, it is possible that an examination of that advertising content and the audience it presumes will provide a clue as to the composition of the “readership,” and further clues as to the reasons for that readership.

  • Paul Marks

    Interestingly even the NYT admits that its advertising revenue is falling.

    In spite of its much shouted about “internet success” (“we may be falling in physical sales by yet another 7% – but our internet readership has increased by 40%”) NYT adverstising revenue will collapse in 2013.

    So much so – that we should (I hope) see the end of the NYT before the New York elections of November 2014.

    I hear the present owners are trying to sell the NYT (talking up its success in 2012 for the purpose of getting a buyer).

    They may be guessing the same thing that I am.

    In the longer term the NYT has no future – sell up and get out.

  • Paul, people pay for it because they like it.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    January 1, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Paul, people pay for it because they like it.

    Hmm… or maybe it’s like the musical bank in “Erewhon” – just the ‘done’ thing?

  • It’s ‘the done’ thing because they like it’, or they like it because it’s ‘the done’ thing – why does it matter? And would it be too much to presume that in certain other circles it is ‘the done’ thing to dislike the NYT?

  • Jacob

    I think that the news about NYT’s demise are a little premature.

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob – I repeat what I actually typed, not what you imply I typed.

  • Eric

    A Paul Krugman generator would be pretty easy to write as well, though it couldn’t be automated. You’d have to input which party is in power before it could generate the economic analysis.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    To publish a printed newspaper, you need a lot of capital investment in printing and distribution, and particularly in the past, the ongoing costs of things like newsprint were high. So there were only a few voices in newspapers. The New York Times established itself and its reputation in such an environment. This is no longer so. People who write for the NYT might have liked to have thought that they had their large readership due to the high quality of what they were writing, but it was in a context of very narrow competition. Today, the NYT and other newspapers can be read further and wider due to electronic distribution, and the print readership is declining in favour of electronic readership. The competition is now far less narrow, and publications such as the NYT can coast on their past reputations for a while, which the NYT is still doing. Ten years or even five years down the line, though, there is no obvious reason why the NYT should be preferred to other publications which have never had print history. Yes, money probably does have to be spent on quality reporting, but there is no reason why it has to be spent by descendants of the legacy media.

    I have largely stopped reading newspapers and magazines, and this is mainly due to the fact that newspaper and magazine journalism had become fat, lazy, and entitled, with no idea just how bad it was. (The experience of discovering that mainstream print journalism commonly made elementary errors on most subjects one has good knowledge of oneself is a common one, I think, and good personal knowledge is easier to come by these days). The NYT is actually better than many newspapers in this regard. It’s cultural and non-political stuff is generally written by more knowledgeable people than is the case with most publications.

    The op-ed page, though, is a dazzling example of writing by entitled over-educated people who are actually a bit dim and think they know and understand a great deal without actually knowing or understanding very much, and who could never have a significant audience without the pedestal that they pontificate from. Friedman is a truly hilarious pundit due to being so dim and so wrong and having no idea that he is. David Brooks was, I think, chosen deliberately for his dimness. It was necessary to have a supposedly “conservative” voice, so they hired someone who would not challenge anyone seriously, even Tom Friedman. Maureen Dowd is, well, Maureen Dowd. Paul Krugman is different, because he actually is very intelligent. Who would have thought that he could sell out so totally, though. (His wife, possibly?) I honestly don’t believe that even the rest of the NYT editorial staff can take these people very seriously.

  • Laird

    I have yet to see any evidence that Paul Krugman is “very intelligent”, so I’d appreciate it if you could point me to some. (And don’t get me started on that wholly unmerited Nobel Prize . . . .)

  • David Henderson used to work with Krugman, and thinks he’s a sellout rather than an idiot.
    You can find a lot more by going to EconLog and searching for Krugman.

  • Paul Marks

    Michael – actually there were more newspapers (more different voices) when it was far more expensive (relatively speaking) to produce a newspaper.

    But I agree with some of your other points.

    As for Paul Krugman – he is Lord Keynes, without the wit and charm.

    That is my point about the whole enterprise.

    I do NOT deny that some leftist products can be entertaining.

    For example, the socialist “Jon Stewart” (and he admitted that he was a socialist to Larry King years ago – in one of the few serious interviews he has ever given) is an entertaining performer, and his team of writers do well.

    But the New York Times is NOT like the Jon Stewart show.

    It is not just leftist propaganda – it is also badly written BORING leftist propaganda.

    That is my point.

  • Paul: Yes, but there were still only a small number of voices. I think in the US what happened is that newspaper proprietors (and other newspaper interests such as print and other unions) became powerful and well connected, and used this power and these connections to restrict competition, as vested interests always do. Thus the number of voices declined and the quality and political diversity of the newspapers than remained declined. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher broke this open, the print unions were destroyed and barriers to entry were lowered by new, lower cost technology. As a consequence, the number of British national newspapers was significantly higher in 1990 than it was in 1975. The British newspaper industry is now being pounded by the internet and electronic distribution like everywhere else, but that is a later phenomenon. (The

    As for Krugman, if you read his popular writing before he became a NYT op-ed writer and compare it to what he has written after becoming a NYT op-ed writer, there is a stark difference. He used to write a column for Slate that (at least on the microeconomic side) was usually well argued, pro-market, and would at times take positions that he would never take in the NYT now. (See this piece defending third world sweatshops, for instance. I also recall another blistering attack on rent control and other distortions of housing markets). Then he took the NYT job, and has pretty much abandoned even pretending to be an economist in favour of being a shrill, anti-republican attack dog. The change is so stark that I can only include it is a fundamentally dishonest one. He likes being a member of the New York establishment, getting invited to all the best parties- or perhaps his wife does. Whereas Tom Friedman is simply a fool, Krugman isn’t. I think this may make it worse.

  • Paul Marks

    Michael – what happened was simple, it can be summed up in three words….


    These taught a “scientific, objective journalism” (i.e. leftist propaganda [Walter Lippmann and the others were quite open that the press should exist to “educate” the public with Progressive opinions) – but written in a pompous style “this reporter believe that” “we are the Fourth Estate”, “the Constitution gives a special duty to….” the Consitution actually makes no mention of “journalists” there was no such CASTE at the time).

    Any newspaper that did not go along (even if aimed at the popular market) was frozen out of polite discusssion.

    After all, all those “High School newspapers” and “college newspapers” showed people what a newspaper SHOULD be like.

    Campainging for “better schools”, “more compassion for the poor”, “regulations against big business” and so on – and all the pompous “objective scientific journalism” style.

    Even if the editoral pages were different – the “news” pages (and the cultural pages – the film reviews and so on) would NOT be different.

    And if that is the case (and it was) then the logical thing is to have one major newspaper per city.

    Or perhaps two – a “serious” newspaper, and a “popular” one.

    As normal the problem is….

    “education, education, education”.

    As Mr Blair would put it – although perhaps not in the way he meant.

    But there is a limit…..

    And the limit is de facto ECONOMIC BANKRUPTCY – and it is comming (demented fools on the stock markets of the world, to the contrary).

    That will destroy the media.

    A silver lining to a very dark crowd.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Another curious thing about the newspaper business as it existed until maybe a decade ago is that classified advertising was generally crucial to profitability. A lot of the money came not from large businesses advertising to consumers, but from individuals selling to one another, or from small businesses selling things very locally. This money was then used to subsidise the editorial side of newspapers. This business had rather extreme network effects – ie everyone would want to buy and sell things in the same place. This led to those papers that were dominant in classified advertising in a particular market having financial advantages over their competitors, which increased the barriers to entry to their competitors and was one factor that led to the single newspaper markets that we see in America (and Australia, for that matter. Rupert Murdoch talked about the “rivers of gold” that were the classified advertising of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age – two papers he was never allowed to buy). When this advertising mostly moved to the internet, this particular source of profits (which also encouraged monopoly) went away. Newspapers have never quite been the same since.

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed Michael.

    Although (so far) whenever the NYT gets into real trouble – some zillionaire (some Tides Foundation type – the appear to have watched the Bond films and come to the conclusion that the person with the base in the Volcano is the good guy( buys full page ads (saying nothing much).

    Or take out lots of “internet subscriptions” to the NYT (in much the same way that the Obama campaign got small donations from lots and lots of people – most of whom appear to have no address, they must be “street people” – bless their hearts for sharing the money the collect in their cans, with Comrade Barack).

    But I still think it will be gone before November 2014.

    I refuse to believe in a world where people will devote unlimited resources to keeping this boring rag going.

    The alternative is to believe that human nature is totally plastic – that people will “like” anything they are told to like.

    In which case if the schools and universities (backed by the media) ran a campaign that eating live babies was a good “compassionate” thing to do – people would do it, it would become the fashion.

    Surely there must be some limits on how plastic human nature is?

    Then Paul gets to watch the event on January 20th.

    What is being thrown to the crowds?

    What are those strange (high pitched) cries?

    Why do so many of the (laughing) crowd, have red stains round the mouth?

    Why are the media dancing with savage joy?

  • Jacob

    “But I still think it will be gone before November 2014.”

    Hey, when you make a prediction, never put a date on it!

    You are biased. The NYT caters to current tastes.
    It is loosing some money, but it has big and deep pocket supporters.
    I think that the prophecy about NYT’s demise is a little premature.

  • Paul Marks

    I always put dates on predictions – otherwise they are not checkable.

    By the way I understand the humour in your comment.

    Of course I am biased – I believe that human beings are not (at base) utter scum.

    It is not just that the NYT is leftist propaganda – it is also badly written BORING leftist propaganda (I point I have made several times).

    If it can just go on and on – with people buying it because they are told it is good, then human nature is totally plastic.

    In short if people were told that eating live babies was good – they would do that as well.

    I do not think highly of human beings – but I do believe that there is some limit on human depravity. At least for most people.

    I have no desire to live in a world where this is not true.

  • Jacob

    What you are biased about is the quality of the NYT, not the people in general, though you may be biased about that too. The quality of the NYT is not as terrible as you state.

    As I said, while many articles are indeed rubbish, even boring rubbish, many others are fine and informative, mainly those that are not about politics or current affairs. What I read there is about science, medicine, history, life styles, etc.
    I don’t buy the NYT and would not spend money on it, but it’s definitely a good source of information provided: a. it’s not the only source, b. you can read between lines and filter out the rubbish.
    Try this fascinating obituary of Beate Sirota Gordon.

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob – since the New York Times started to play up their internet footprint, I have made it a rule to never go to any article of theirs on the internet.

  • Jacob

    Oh, that’s silly.
    When your 10 “free” articles are finished, you just delete the cookies on your computer and you get another 10. The NYT is pretty dumb, but some articles are nice.

  • Paul: you may find the NYT boring, stupid, evil and anything else for that matter (and I will agree with you much more often than not), but this whole thing started with you wondering why are people still reading it. The answer to that is: because. they. like. it. Why do they like it? Some of them are stupid, boring and/or evil themselves, and also: not all of the NYT is boring, stupid and evil. Of course you will have to take my word for it, because you made it a rule not to look at the NYT articles. Which is absolutely fine, as even though you are missing on some interesting things, so do all of us. As to making predictions, I’m sure you were joking and know better than that.

  • Midwesterner

    Paul is not the only one. I refuse to read anything but the blogs on NYT. I find their ridiculous registration is a convenient way to help me honor my boycott. There was a brief period of time when I actually “mouse-over”ed links to avoid clicking NYT links.

    It is purely a tactical choice on my part. NYT is a top commander in the war on Western culture in general and individual liberty in particular and, regardless of what delicious goodies they use to bait their propaganda (I’ll grant that some of the article titles and excerpts are tantalizing), I don’t want to give them hits and any collateral ad revenue that may go with them.

    On occasion I read links to their blogs on the hope that they are not too heavily censored and allow reasoned dissent.

    Anyone who will lie to you about one thing, will lie to you about anything. Since I know NYT are untrustworthy in the matters where I have prior knowledge, I have to assume they lie about the stuff which I have no knowledge of my own and am at the mercy of their integrity. They are not a trustworthy information aggregator irrespective of field.

  • Paul Marks

    No doubt you are correct Alisa.

    Some people like the NYT (by the way I did not start this thread – Michael wrote the post), and it may well last beyond November 2014.

    Normally when I think people “can not possibly be so bad that they will….” that is exactly what they do.

    Midwesterner – agreed.

    It is certainly not “silly”.

    Register on their website and they count you as part of that “big internet footprint” they sell to advertisers.

    And, as they are lying scum, I have no great desire to help their business enterprise.

  • Paul: I didn’t say that you started the thread, I said that it turned into an argument when you wondered why people are reading it:-)

    BTW, there are ways to read their articles without leaving a footprint, but I’d absolutely agree with you if you say that it’s not worth the effort. They do publish interesting stuff occasionally, but so do many other websites, and we can’t read them all anyway.

  • Paul Marks

    You are right Alisa.

    And I am just being Mr-Grumpy-Head.

    A few public hangings would cheer me up.

    But there is this pesky non-aggression-principle.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Given that my post consisted of one short paragraph attacking and mocking the NYT, I am hard pressed to think this is easily interpreted as my endorsing it in some way. Anything is possible, though, I suppose.

  • Paul Marks

    Michael who said that you endorsed the vile rag?