"EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at 'The New York Times,' 1999 - 2009"
By Daniel R. Schwarz
Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2012, 474 pages
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The New York Times, like most newspapers, is facing difficult times. Readership is declining. Advertising revenues are dropping.
For years, many have considered the Times to be the nation's flagship daily newspaper.
Dan Schwarz, a Cornell University professor who has written several books, including studies of authors Joseph Conrad and James Joyce, said, "The Times is the worst newspaper in the world except for all the others."
Throughout his rather dense, but fascinating, book, Schwarz raises many questions about the future of printed newspapers and about how Americans will stay informed about news.
Newspapers still have many more reporters than television and radio stations or Internet news sites.
Newspaper reporters do far more research on daily stories and on more complicated investigative pieces. Television, radio and Internet news sources depend on newspapers for much of their own information.
Since 1990, newspapers have cut 25 percent of their jobs because readership has dropped. Today, less than 20 percent of Americans between 19 and 34 read daily newspapers. Those who do, spend fewer than 15 hours a month reading them.
But "reading paper-and-ink is a different, more reflective, and more contemplative experience then using the Internet," Schwarz insists.
The good and the bad
Schwarz praises the high points in The New York Times history, such as its courageous publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing flawed government decision-making about Vietnam between 1945 and 1967.
"The Time's benchmark for revealing secrets, the Pentagon Papers represent the historical fault line between a press that stands with the government in mutual trust and one that has an adversarial relationship based on standing up to the government," Schwarz writes.
The Pentagon Papers revealed how top government officials repeatedly lied and manipulated the news media and the public to promote the Vietnam War.
"EndTimes?" stresses the continuing strengths of the Times, including investigative reporting, news bureaus across the world and the staff's continued enthusiasm working there.
Schwarz criticizes the paper's executives for editorial mistakes, ignoring major truths and overlooking irresponsible reporting.
"EndTimes?" also criticizes the increase of "fluffy" stories about topics designed to appeal to advertisers and many readers -- style, traveling, shopping, banking, investing, exercising and keeping healthy.
"In the Internet age, the paper changed greatly and is continually in search of a new identity," Schwarz said during a lecture he gave in March. "This is what has changed. The Times morphed into a hybrid newspaper-magazine-Internet site."
Today, the Times has become "a diluted product that is less an authoritative newspaper than a potpourri of information, some of it cutting-edge material in terms of news and investigative journalism but some merely prolix, soft, magazine-type articles."
The Times still has 26 foreign bureaus and more than 1,100 people on its newsroom staff. If the paper was transformed into a website, it would continue to lead in reporting international news, but there would be major cutbacks.
As the major news entity covering foreign affairs, Schwarz argues, the Times should "stop giving away its product" to websites like The Huffington Post and Politico, as well as to newspapers and cable channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.