DANIEL SCHWARZ: I was taught to read by my father by using the New York Times. He actually began with numbers, the sports pages and the stock pages and gradually taught me how to read the words even before kindergarten. And I grew up in a culture where knowing about the government and foreign affairs was very important. I knew all 100 senators when I was 12 years old and I knew most of the places on the map, of course.
And so it was really something that was part of my life. Everybody in my family read the Times and we discussed it at dinner. And my dad would have in the house six seven newspapers a day. So this is how I became interested. And I read the Times throughout my life.
A second reason is I had written a book called Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon in the making of New York City culture. And that had gotten me interested in the history of newspapers. This has been the most difficult and complicated book I ever wrote, partly also because it changes every day.
I mean, James Joyce and Damon Runyon and Conrad and Wallace Stevens, people on whom I've written books before, remain dead. But these people change-- the Times evolves and changes every single day. And of course the changes were accelerated by the internet and by their desire to have an internet product that was competitive.
I would point to the following major changes. Number one, when the print Times arrives, it no longer is produced. It's no longer giving us News. We know the news. We know it from the internet. We know it from a 2d-hour radio news. We know it from the cable station.
So it has to do something else. And the one thing the Times excels at now is analysis. They're almost like the economist now.
Much of the Times is an analysis of the news and a discussion of it by very informed people. Some people don't like that blurring and it's certainly important that they separate reporting from analysis. But what you get from the Times is a deep reading of foreign news, for example. So that's number one.
The second thing the Times does is what they call enterprise journalism and we call, I call, investigatory journalism. The Times still, even in this day, has 1,100 people on the news desk, basically. That means editors and reporters. This far exceeds any other newspaper in this country. And they're willing to still assign 1, 2, 3, 4 people to a story and say, come back when you have the story.
And so they've done things like exposures of nursing homes in New York and, most recently, the exposure that 100% of the conductors on the Long Island Railroad trains have disability. This is rather extraordinary. And what they did is they found-- they delved into this and they found out that there were doctors who were fixing this for insurance companies and they even followed a few people around to watch their athletic activities who were claiming disability. And they blew the whistle and now some people are in jail.
So that's the kind of thing they can do. They can say, go find this story and don't come back until you have it. And that's really something nobody else does anymore.
The third thing they do that's different is what might be called lifestyle journalism or what they call-- I call it lifestyle journalism. They call it value added journalism. Value added journalism is all of the things in the Times which tells people how to invest, where to travel, how to deal with your adult children when they come home, how to deal with your aging relatives, what to eat, where to eat. And that is something that they have stressed and other newspapers have, too.
This is what I mean by the newspaper is becoming more a magazine. The money for print and even online advertising comes from soft sections. Today, somebody blew up the intelligence building in Syria. A plane crashed in Russia, in Indonesia, a Russian plane. Nobody wants to have an ad next to people, bodies being dragged out of disasters. So that's why these soft sections seem to work.
There's two other things I think we should stress about the contemporary Times. One is the readership is much more national and international. And, of course, online readership is also national and international. So it's become less of a local paper.
You notice there's no longer the B that's dedicated simply to New York. It's now in the national section, A. So that's one thing. And the other thing we should stress, I think, very importantly about the contemporary Times, it's the only news media in America that still does sustained international news. You may see Anderson Cooper on the tarmac, but that's not the same as sustained international news.
Times has 26 foreign news bureaus, including the one at the UN. And to run a news bureau, a serious news bureau, in Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, very difficult, very-- Afghanistan. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan are probably the three most difficult. But Lebanon in the sense that has to sneak into Syria is also difficult.
What do you need to do that? You need extremely informed reporters. I can send one of my students out to Dubuque to interview Ron Paul and he'll do as good a job as a professional because there's really nothing to do. Basically, the press secretary gives him a schedule and tells them what Ron Paul is going to say. You really don't even have to go there.
But foreign news very difficult. What do we need? We need reporters who are extremely informed, know the history, know the contexts. We need translators. Some of these countries there, they have 50 different languages and different tribes.
You need people embedded and people who aren't even identified by name. Because if they are, they might get killed. You need safe houses. You need armored cars.
Sometimes when you send people into dangerous areas, you actually need medical personnel, security people. All of this is extraordinarily expensive. And no one else is doing this. In fact, one of the economic problems with the Times is to get people to share the costs because all of the things you see on the major networks and in most of the major newspapers is basically the Times stuff. And while there is something called the Times News Bureau that small papers pay a pittance to, this is not going to share this immense cost of foreign news.
I think that, for the foreseeable future, the print model will exist because the Times is committed to that. They're almost like the last man standing. There's no other newspaper in America, really, that's doing what they do.
So will it survive? I think, for the foreseeable future, yes. But it may survive in ways that we don't quite recognize.
It may be that, in certain time, they'll publish a smaller newspaper, or at least I think, like something on the version of the IHT, the International Herald Tribune, which they own, and perhaps a weekly or even a daily magazine as a second product. So because there's so much, how much can you charge for a newspaper? You can't charge $10 for a daily paper.
How can the Times sustain revenue? Well, the answer is they've had to create deal of trouble. Print revenue, print advertising is more expensive than internet advertising. It's very important to understand that.
We started talking about the early and even middle Times of the 70s. All of the department stores in New York used to take double pages. The automobile companies would take double pages. So even though there was still the carnage, there was less carnage perhaps because there was-- but people would take them in the A section, which then was more expensive. And much of the Times in those days, in the A Times, was a big hunk of advertising.
Internet advertising is a real issue. And this is why, say, many of the internet sites like Huffington, which I was in last week, they can operate on a string. They can steal news from the Times.
They have a handful of people. Many of the people who work for Huffington are younger than everybody in this room by our-- they're all 20. Somebody, one of the Huffington people came to one of my talks, you know? I thought it was one of my undergraduates. They're young people and what they know is tech stuff. But they're not out there interviewing the president of Pakistan.
Well, I think it can survive as a news gathering operation, I think, as long as one could imagine. But it could survive in a form that is much less expensive with fewer employees, not the time for investigatory journalism, not the sustained foreign coverage they now have.
What are they doing economically to survive? Maybe we should mention that. Well, one thing is the paywall. The paywall means that everybody who's not a subscriber pays to go on the internet. And that's worked out fairly well for them.
They say they have over 450,000 people who are doing that. And they started with a model of $20 per month. Now they're going to charge-- that people could get free, anybody. Now it's $10 per month.
I think that the Times is still the iconic newspaper. What I say about the Times in my book is it it's the worst newspaper in the world except for all the others. And that parody, that sort of parallels what Churchill said about democracy. So I think there's going--
I mean, nobody, or at least nobody outside of the right wing, wants the Times to die. I mean, the Times is very much criticized. There are internet sites that just criticize the Times because they try to be in the middle.
I mean, they've always tried to be in the middle and objective as a time. And that's no longer in vogue. I mean, they're accused by the left wing of being too far to the right and the right wing of being too far to the left.
My first interview was with Dan Okrent. He was the first public editor. And since I was thinking of myself in some way as an informal ombudsman trying to figure out what was going on there as an outsider, I thought he would be a good connection. And he really hadn't had a lot of experience in newspapers, so I thought he was a privileged version of what I was trying to be.
So I wrote him and he said, sure, come on down. And we talked and had a good interview. And he was really new on the job, but he mentioned that I would like to interview Bill Keller, who was the recent editor succeeding Howell Raines who had been deposed in a coup d'etat by the staff. And I think the word got around the building that I knew what I was talking about among senior people.
And people liked to be interviewed. Sometimes they are very cautious and they'll say, well, if I raise my hand, please turn off the tape. But they very rarely remember that the tape is on when they get excited.
They are very skeptical of academics. I think they're surprised that I knew anything. And they think of us as either-- ostriches are worse, our head in the sand while living in some ivory tower up in the air.
I think we had fun with the Cornell Connection in different ways. When I went to the interviews, I always took a student with me who is working, an independent studies student who would be working with me or a presidential research scholar or some-- and I'd bring them into the building. And this was a great experience for them.
Some of them were interested in media. And, in fact, working with me on this book seems to have helped a few people get some media jobs. Obviously, they do it because they're the talent, but it helps them to have those credentials.
So I think it was good for several Cornell students. Because each time I went down there, which was many-- I wouldn't say it took a different one every time, but there was a lot of rotation. And so a lot of them had the experience of being in the building and taping. And I always encourage them to ask a question or two and not only feed me questions but actually let them ask them themselves. And that, I think, for most of the interviewees, was attractive.
My conclusion is that the Times will, in the foreseeable future, stay as a print newspaper and will remain. And I think the news gathering in some way will continue. The audience has changed. People were much more cynical about not only government but about information.
We're much more partisan. In other words, we are much less trusting. We know fewer people read the newspaper. And we also know-- and that includes going on the internet for news, that people spend-- so they spend less time on the newspaper when they read it and fewer people read it.
So I think that we're in a more partisan era. There's less interest in news. It's probably people are more self immersed, the kind of world since we started with that, where my father thought being informed when I was five, six, seven years old and the war, World War II, was just ending-- because I'm going to be 71 Saturday. I think that world where information, being informed is of value, is probably less so for people than it once was.
Timely, important, exciting, relevant to today, foregrounding, major issues, not only in the media but really in the American culture. In other words, I think this is a book that really is foregrounding American studies and it's a very important story.
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In an interview about his new book, "Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times, 1999-2009," Daniel Schwarz discusses the past, present, and future of the New York Times.
Daniel Schwarz has been described as "the Times's informal outsider ombudsman with insider knowledge" and has interviewed significant figures during the 1999-2009 period. Drawing upon his extensive one on one taped interviews he comments on various aspects of the New York Times and the prospects of their survival.