NYT op-ed warns against canceling newspaper subscriptions, even though we have many reasons to cancel that paper

In general, I support good journalism. For many years I subscribed to the New York Times paper version, looking forward to the daily dollop of doings on my doorstep. Then I stopped for a while, and then subscribed electronically (I still do). I recently added a subscription to the Washington Post. But as they said in the old days, “By God, sir, things have gone too damn far.”

In this NYT op-ed, Margaret Renkl mounts a vigorous but (to me) unconvincing argument that we need to keep supporting newspapers no matter what they do. Renkl is a continuing opinion writer for the paper as well as an author; she lives in Tennessee.

Renkl begins by defending The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily morning paper, calling its journalists “heroes.” And indeed, the paper, progressive in a conservative state, has a history of fighting for civil rights and for diligent coverage of local news. Now the paper is bleeding money and jobs, and has, according to Renkl, become “a shadow of its former self.”

That’s true of many local papers. As Renkl reports, 7800 journalists lost their jobs this year, and papers are disappearing or becoming moribund right and left. The Chicago Tribune, once my city’s flagship paper, is thin and barely worth reading, and don’t even mention its rival the Chicago Sun-Times. The pandemic isn’t helping matters.

Of course the NYT has a self-serving interest in Renkl’s message. While digital subscriptions have topped 5 million, a record, overall profit has dropped by 15%, largely due to a decline in ad revenue.

Still, Renkl defends the need to describe even in light of recent turmoil at the paper.

As the “first rough draft of history,” journalism will always be prone to mistakes, no matter how assiduously reporters and editors try to prevent them. But canceling your newspaper subscription because of one ad, no matter how hideous — or because of one deeply offensive headline, or one flagrantly dangerous op-ed — will not cure journalism of what ails it.

The only thing canceling your subscription to a newspaper will do is hasten the death of journalism itself. It will leave your community with even fewer full-time reporters to tell you what local leaders were up to while you weren’t paying attention. It will leave you with a far poorer understanding of the place where you live.

I do worry about hastening the death of journalism, for the good journalists at the Times will have a hard time finding other jobs, and it would be sad if the Times and the other once-great American paper, the Washington Post, went belly-up, or turned into versions of the Chicago Tribune or (more likely) HuffPost. And yes, I still subscribe, but only to read the increasingly fewer pieces of good journalism.  I did try to cancel my subscription when I decided the paper had become too woke, but they lured me back with a $4/month digital offer. I still feel like somewhat of a hypocrite.

Where Renkl’s argument becomes unconvincing is her claim that “canceling your newspaper subscription because of one ad, no matter how hideous — or because of one deeply offensive headline, or one flagrantly dangerous op-ed — will not cure journalism of what ails it.” Then how do we cure journalism—in particular the Times’s increasing wokeness and bleeding of opinion into its journalism? What alternative do we have? Stick with the Titanic as it goes down?

Most important, with the Times it’s NOT just one ad or one op-ed, and the op-ed mentioned, by Republican Senator Tom Cotton, was not flagrantly dangerous—a gross misrepresentation if there was one.  The Times is afflicted with a bad case of Wokeism, and it’s manifested in many ways. What do we do about a paper that:

Publishes an op-ed about sending the military in to stop violent protests (not all protests)—and then apologizes for it after defending it?

Fires the opinion editor James Bennet for “mishandling” Cotton’s op-ed?

Has a staff that claimed Cotton’s editorial endangered the black writers at the paper, a palpable falsehood?

Increasingly shows a bleeding of opinion into the news? The Times is becoming not “The News Fit to Print”, but an ideological rag converging on HuffPost.

Prints op-eds that are nearly all from the Leftist point of view, most from the lefter part of the Left? I read op-eds because I want to hear a variety of voices—I want to be made to think and re-examine my views. That function of the paper is disappearing rapidly.

Fires tech writer Quinn Norton for hateful tweets but keeps on Sarah Jeong, who also emitted hateful tweets, because, after all, Jeong is a Writer of Color who was simply answering Twitter hate with ginned-up hate that wasn’t serious?

Publishes and backs the 1619 Project, a historically dubious enterprise with an express ideological purpose: to propagandize readers and school children with Critical Race Theory?

And, to cite just the latest offense, publishes a puerile video explaining why, since the National Basketball Association is socialistic in equalizing good players among teams, the U.S. should also be socialistic?

These are just a few of the things that irritate me about the New York Times, and make me constantly question why I should continue subscribing. For are we supposed to support journalism that is increasingly deviating from the kind of journalism that made the paper famous? I would never pay the HuffPost for its boilerplate views and ideology, so why should I pay the New York Times?

54 Comments

  1. Herbert Gintis
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Although I quite agree with all of your criticisms of New York Times editorials and op Ed’s,I still find it indispensable for understanding what is going on in the world. I would like to find a way to punish it for its stupid identity politics but I haven’t figured out how.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      I just get their “daily briefing” email. No editorials or op Ed’s, just summaries of the top stories; and it’s free.

  2. eric
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I think the ‘don’t cancel us over a bad ad’ is dissimulating. It’s the content, NYT, not the ads, that is reducing number of viewers.

    I don’t subscribe; I actually very much prefer the ad model vs. the subscription model for online content, so I go with news sources like CNN (plus BBC, which I’m not sure is subsidized by the UK any more or is fully revenue-based). But that’s just me, and I see no reason why a good source of news wouldn’t offer both.

    I also question how much we really need the NYT, etc. as the bastion of good news. You look at the bylines for their national and international articles, many of them are bought from Reuters and AP anyway. So maybe we need Reuters and AP, but we don’t need the papers that function as middlemen.

    • Filippo
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      “You look at the bylines for their national and international articles, many of them are bought from Reuters and AP anyway.”

      Perhaps my memory is faulty in that I haven’t seen many such bought articles. In the print edition the Times acknowledges these sources in seemingly the smallest font size available, and wherever it can in these articles the Times will make sure readers understand that the Times also contributed reporting. Strikes me as a bit grudging.

    • Eli
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Given that the op-ed author is from Tennessee, I think the “bad ad” in question refers to the ad printed in The Tennessean last week that claimed that “Muslims will destroy America”. This justifiably outraged people, the newspaper apologized but I guess they had to cope with a wave of cancellations.

      But more broadly, it is interesting that all the incidents of mass newspaper cancellations referred to in the op-ed are from the left. For example, the incident when the NYT (international edition) printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon of Netanyahu as a dog is not mentioned. The op-ed is basically supplicating only the left, begging for mercy from the social media mob. According to this, the problem with the NYT printing Tom Cotton’s op-ed is not that the newspaper didn’t stand by its decision and fired the editor responsible, no, it’s that the NYT allowed such “flagrantly dangerous” material to be printed in the first place. This just demonstrates the slant once again.

      • eric
        Posted June 30, 2020 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        Ah. That would seem to me to require a minor fix, not an appeal implying ‘the press’ writ large is at risk. Many firms regulate what sorts of ads they will accept. There is IMO nothing difficult, new, or tendentious about the Tennessean doing the same thing, if it chooses to do so.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      The Beeb continues to be fully funded by the (compulsory for all TV owners) licence fee. The BBC World Service gets some Government financial support.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The NYTs and the WP are the only two journals with the horsepower to give us the national news. Without them you are left with the useless and false information everyone loves on the net. Just ask yourself what would we know about our government and Trump if not for these two papers. And who will inform us once they are gone. Then you will be living in the world of FAKE news. And there will be more Trumps of the world we need to know about because our society is just dumb enough to elect them.

    • Pete Rice
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Exactly why I continue to subscribe. Being older, I always took the media for granted (it will always be there). Now imagine not having them; Trump mania all the time. And just imagine someone like trump, only smarter. I admire people holding the media’s feet to the fire, but cancel? No.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Renkl begins by defending The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily morning paper, calling its journalists “heroes.” And indeed, the paper, progressive in a conservative state, has a history of fighting for civil rights …

    Covering the Civil Rights movement for the Tennessean is where David Halberstam made his bones in journalism, IIRC.

  5. phoffman56
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    “…the increasingly fewer pieces of good journalism”

    Is it really that, or is it perhaps not fewer of those but more pieces of that woke stuff by comparison?

    There do seem to be many things that their reporters dig up (e.g. Russian bribes to Taliban claimed with Generalissimo Drumpfranco’s lack of action) which might never otherwise have seen the light of day.

  6. Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Realistically, few of us will pay simply to save journalism. Not for long anyway. Papers need to find a way to make us want to subscribe for our own reasons.

    As I have said before, I cope by subscribing to both NYT and WSJ. I take a sort of perverse pleasure in reading WSJ editorials, where intelligent editors try their best to justify tRump’s crazy actions.

    Getting a good long-term rate for the WSJ is another matter. I spent an hour on the phone negotiating yesterday and the best I could do is $9.99 per mo for a year.

    • dd
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      How were you able to do that? I think it’s more like $400/yr for us inadequate negotiators….

      • Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        I negotiated a WSJ App rate rather than all access. I don’t need access to their vast financial data base. I also used the “poor me” strategy—a long-time subscriber who is now retired and living hand-to-mouth on Social Security but needs the WSJ. I asked for the WaPo $30 per year rate and they just laughed.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    The Chicago Tribune, once my city’s flagship paper, is thin and barely worth reading, and don’t even mention its rival the Chicago Sun-Times.

    Hell, I can remember when Murdoch bought the Sun-Times, Royko quit saying he’d never work for the sonuvabitch, and moved to the Trib. Damn, but the memories bought back by this post make me feel older than a hot-metal linotype machine.

    • Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Loved Mike Royko. Still have my first ed. copy of Boss.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        I miss his voice something fierce. Wish we had his take on Trump, along with that of a handful of other journos who’ve gone the way of all flesh.

      • Filippo
        Posted June 30, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        “Loved Mike Royko. Still have my first ed. copy of Boss.”

        I look forward to reading it. Have read his “Sez Who? Sez Me!”

        • Posted June 30, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          I think that is a collection of his old columns, isn’t it? I thought I had it but I just checked and I don’t. Many of my old books disappear mysteriously. I suspect my wife.

  8. dd
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    To second your thoughts, Dr. Coyne, I cancelled mhy NYTimes subscription 3 or so years ago after having subscribed to it for 35+ years. And yes, I remember waiting for the thump on the lawn when the Sunday edition arrived and the ink-stained fingers.

    English is my second language which I gained fluency at the age of 15 or so, and the NYTimes was a big reason I was able to learn English.

    I cancelled because the paper became more and more editorial, and its supposed wall between editorial/news a thin tissue curtain. The writing became lighter….what its audience may want.

  9. rickflick
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    ‘Nicknamed “The Gray Lady”, the Times has long been regarded within the industry as a national “newspaper of record”.’ Well, not so much anymore.

  10. AD
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Possible typo “Still, Renkl defends the need to describe”. Should be “subscribe”?

  11. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I find adequate news of the world in The Economist; its weekly rather than daily format is adequate for those of us already living in the slow lane. [I allowed my subscription to The New Yorker to lapse several years ago, due to its growing wokeism and the deterioration of its cartoons, trends that are undoubtedly connected.] Further bits of news reach me via this website and the links in its thoughtful comments.

    I should add that, after several decades of reconnoitering for a rational corner of the Left, I have become more and more comfortable with the editorial stance of The Economist. Something like it used to exist in the US among an extinct species called liberal Republicans. The reason this species went extinct is still uncertain. Was the US political world hit by a meteor?

    • JP415
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      . . . the deterioration of its cartoons

      The cartoons have always been inscrutable! (At least since the early 90s, when I began reading it). I seem to remember there was a Seinfeld joke about nobody getting the cartoons in the New Yorker.

    • Posted July 1, 2020 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      The Economist is excellent. I’ve been reading it for 30 years and there is no better international, intellectual option.

      When it comes to TV all I really watch in news is Al Jazeera and PBS’s nightly roudup.
      Al Jaz is what the BBC used to be.

  12. Robert Bray
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    The local newspaper in the mid-sized twin-cities where I live (ca. 150,00 metro area)is called the ‘Pantagraph’ (I know, I know–it’s named after a writing machine and is subject to all manner of ridicule, e.g., ‘panting graft,’ etc.). For more than a century-and-a-quarter this daily was a solid local institution. Sure, it was never progressive enough to suit the universities, never conservative enough to suit business; but it covered the ground with actual reporting and tried to lead opinion among its readers with editorials of substance.

    The ‘Pantagraph’ was owned by ‘old money,’ including the Adlai Stevenson extended family. Such folks were hardly Republican reactionaries and were themselves committed to their communities.

    Oh, to have all that back! The ‘Pantagraph’ is now part of the Lee Enterprises stable of newspapers. It is edited online, printed and managed in another city. The old gray concrete hulk of a building in which its offices and press were housed sits empty and useless, like much of downtown. Nearly two centuries of history hollowed out.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The WaPo and NYT can take care of themselves, and will survive, come what may, in one form or another.

    I do have a concern for this nation’s top-notch regional newspapers like the Tennessean. They fold their tents, citizens seeking to stay abreast of the malfeasance of their local governments will be left to the predations of conglomerates like Sinclair Broadcasting.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      … or the rumor-mongers of NextDoor and Facebook.

      • Posted July 1, 2020 at 3:23 am | Permalink

        I’ve never seen it but that nextdoor thingie sounds terrible – just terrible.
        And the predations and propaganda of Sinclair make Fox look like middle of the road, non-retarded people.
        D.A.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for good journalism and the truth. I don’t like this right or left leaning of papers and magazines. Just tell the damn truth.

    • JP415
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      ” ‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.”
      — Francis Bacon

  15. Curtis
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Newspapers are for old people (like me) and I think that means they are doomed.

    If they try to appeal to the woke youth, they lose their current subscribers. If they appeal only to their current subscriber, their audience will literally die in the next few decades.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Then they should try to appeal to no one and simply report the truth. I’d rather go down with my integrity intact.

    • Posted June 30, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Same with classical music and opera.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      But young people get older, and many of them warm to the virtues of newspapers (and opera, and serious music, and literature, and BBC Radio 3 and 4, and…)

      • Curtis
        Posted June 30, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        I hope so but somethings just die out. I used to play bridge but I have always been a young bridge player. The last time I tried finding a group, I was in 50s and was still one of the youngest. I imagine coronavirus will end bridge in most places.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 30, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          Maybe people will play online.

          • Curtis
            Posted June 30, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            Online is not the same and the average age of a bridge player is around 70. They are not the most tech savvy group.

            • Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              😀 I am imagining a group of septuagenarians trying to play a game of bridge on Zoom.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                There are online websites so it’s not on Zoom. I see a number of them.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                There are online websites so it’s not on Zoom. I see a number of them.

  16. ladyatheist
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    My local paper uses Biblical quotes whenever they need filler for their layout. I REEEEEEEEEEEEALLY hate that, but I support the other work they do. I haven’t reached a tipping point on that yet.

  17. ploubere
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    The Times produces a great quantity of content every day, most of it fact-based, reliable reporting. It is one of the few remaining US papers with the resources to do so. In our era of unlimited information it’s easy to forget where good information comes from, which is getting swamped by bad information. As an example, the most recent story that Trump was briefed on Russian bounties on US troops came in large part from NYT reporting.

    To imply that all their reporting is tarnished because of some questionable opinion piece and editorial decisions is to disregard their valuable contributions to public knowledge, and counterproductive to the public good.

    The Tennessean is my local paper now, and although of immense value to the state, it has nowhere near the resources of the NYT. It’s also owned by Gannett, which will continue to strip it of resources until it is unable to do its job.

    We need journalism of the kind produced by the NYT, as much as we need investment in science research. It pains me to read people tossing either aside with no consideration of their value.

  18. Posted June 30, 2020 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I read the piece last night. I think they make a good point: they make mistakes but try to keep pushing society forward. And in my case it helps with improving my English (Mexican Spanish is my first language)

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Interesting that you’re the second commenter that said the NYT improved their English.

  19. FA
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    What they did to Slate Star Codex is unforgivable. I loved that blog.

    • JP415
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking the same thing. There’s a petition online somewhere asking the Times not to publish Scott Alexander’s real name. I happen to like the blog, but I would still defend Alexander’s right to anonymity even if I didn’t. He’s not a public figure so I don’t see what business the Times has in doxxing him. They’re just being stupid, stubborn, and inconsiderate.

      • chrism
        Posted July 1, 2020 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        Perhaps if someone has the URL for that petition, Jerry would publish it with the suggestion we go and sign it?

  20. Gerald P
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I no longer subscribe to WaPo or NYT. I used to. I don’t see a need to support these organizations anymore. Any time I’ve read articles in my area of expertise (science & medical) or my wife’s (finance) they have been outrageously bad. I assume the rest of the paper is just as bad. I still subscribe to the WSJ and avoid the oped section. And surprisingly I’ve found USA Today to be reasonably unbiased (also corroborated by a few organizations that measure bias) if not a little fluffy.

  21. Posted June 30, 2020 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    If we want to save newspapers, a good start would be to make the news aggregators pay more for the content they produce. The Googles and Facebooks of the world grab content, sell ads off it, and pass on near zero of that revenue to the original source. There was an Australian effort to put a stop to some of this (“For every $100 spent by advertisers in Australia on online advertising, excluding classifieds, $47 goes to Google, $24 to Facebook and $29 to other participants,” said one report). France and Spain as well have tried to restore some equity to the process. It’s their ads that appear on the news web site and they get paid for it more than the news site. They get crumbs while Facebook pigs the whole pie.

  22. openidname
    Posted June 30, 2020 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Dare I speculate that this op-ed is a response to the blowback the Ties got from its attempted to dox Slate Star Codex?

    After all, in his last blog post, SSC listed the email addresses, Twitter handles, and phone numbers of the proper people at the Times to complain to. I emailed and phoned a few myself.

    There’s no way for us outsiders to know the magnitude of the blowback, but I suspect there was a surge of subscription cancellations. At least, let us hope.

  23. Posted July 1, 2020 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    Totally agree, professor. Their uber-wokeness is terribly annoying but I find their endorsement of The Woo to be even more offensive. On wokeness one’s individual temperament can differ from others, but …. ASTROLOGY? Damn ASTROLOGY? I was appalled and there have been a few articles on it lately. I complained.
    Sadly, as a NYer I really have no choice but to subscribe lest my peers not speak to me anymore.
    Plus their international and science sections are excellent.
    Where I write – themoderatevoice, democracychronicles.org, counterpunch and Forbes…. are all free still !
    hehheh – little plug there.
    Best,
    David Anderson, J.D., Chelsea, Manhattan

  24. chrism
    Posted July 1, 2020 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Found it!
    https://www.dontdoxscottalexander.com/


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