March 6, 2012

Professor Schwarz Charts New York Times’ ‘End Times’

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Despite a wave of scandals and financial instability in a tumultuous print industry, The New York Times stands out among newspapers today, a Cornell professor argues in a new book.

At the last event in a Jewish Studies lecture series, Prof. Daniel Schwarz, English, spoke Tuesday about the turbulent history and uncertain future of The New York Times. Schwarz’s new book, EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009, explores a decade in the newspaper’s history through the voices of its publisher and editors.

Despite the decline of print advertising and circulation, Schwarz said, The Times is still a high quality newspaper.

“The Times, even in its moments of crisis and turmoil, is the worst newspaper in the world, except for all the others,” Schwarz said.

Though Schwarz noted The Times’ comparatively strong reputation, he said that the declining popularity of print newspapers has shook the institution’s stability.

“It’s important to understand that The Times is resting on a shaky foundation, or, one might even say, quicksand,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz noted that The Times has had to constantly adjust to the changing market for print news by appealing to readers’ new preferences.

“In the Internet age, the paper changed greatly and is continually in search of a new identity,” Schwarz said. “This is what has changed. The Times morphed into a hybrid newspaper-magazine-Internet site.”

Schwarz said that the development of the Internet has forced the paper to restructure, which included changes like downsizing staff and moving towards a more web-based product.

“The Internet really opens up the informational world infinitely,” Schwarz said. “What has happened to newspapers? Many of them have cut back radically; this downsizing is the direction that the industry is moving.”

In addition, Schwarz said, a series of scandals, involving Times reporters such as Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, have hurt the reputation and credibility of The Times.

“Those [scandals] are some of the big errors that have embarrassed The Times and brought down its stature,” Schwarz said.

Speaking to an audience of approximately 50 people at the Andrew D. White House, Schwarz said that while The Times was founded as an impartial record of daily news, it has now evolved to provide content that directly caters to the interests of Americans.

“It’s hard to be a paper of record when there are so many views of what the record is,” Schwarz said. “Now its motto, ‘all the news that’s fit to print,’ has become what the reader wants to read.”

Other difficulties facing the paper, according to Schwarz, include the high number of its Internet readers who do not pay subscription fees, as well as the challenge of creating content that will attract both readers and advertisers.

“The Times is desperate to print sections such as the Style section that will attract print advertising,” Schwarz said. “Print ads are still paying a good portion of the bills in that building.”

Schwarz said that when he wrote the book, the main challenge that he faced was the volatility of the industry, which evolves from year to year.

“I was in a situation where everything is changing day by day,” Schwarz said.

Still, Schwarz reflected on The Times’ advantages — demonstrated by its strong investigative journalism, international reporters and   staff’s enthusiasm for the paper.

“The Times always had a passion to inform the public, and the commitment to do it as well as possible,” Schwarz said. “To find news, you need to dig, and that’s what The Times has done best.”

Original Author: Caroline Flax