Trying Times for the Times
posted at 1:12 pm on February 2, 2010 by Howard Portnoy
According to the financial website MarketWatch, shares of Gannett Company, the country’s largest newspaper publisher, declined as much as 11 percent yesterday following reports that the signs of the big 2010 economy recovery that many observers had been anticipating were greatly exaggerated. Among the “many observers” that had been anticipating that turnaround were writers at — drum roll — Gannett newspapers.
Another major newspaper company that is also feeling the heat is the New York Times Company, which suffered a 3.3 percent drop in share price yesterday. Like Gannett, the Times predicted that the economy would turn around on cue if Barack Obama were elected. And, like Gannett, the Times participated in the see-nothing, hear-nothing, say-nothing coverage of Obama during his candidacy, giving no space to the Reverend Wright controversy or any of the embarrassments the administration has endured during its first year.
The tough times at the Times is nothing new. Last October, the paper cut jobs in its newsroom by 8 percent. This represented the second cut of that magnitude in two years. During the same two-year period, even deeper cuts were made in other, non-newsroom departments, where layoffs occurred several times.
One might argue that these are bad times for the news industry and that everyone is feeling the pinch. But that argument would not be valid. One media corporation had an increase in the price per share of its stock yesterday. In fact its stock value has risen by 36 percent since last March. The operation in question is News Corporation, owner of FOX News.
Is it a mere coincidence that NewsCorp is feeling its oats while its MSM competition is hurting? Or is it related to a difference in M.O.? To answer this question, it is instructive to examine the Times’ and FOX’s coverage of a single story. For a test case, let’s focus on the recent legal difficulties of reporter James O’Keefe.
Some background is essential. Last summer, O’Keefe made headlines — or at least should have — by visiting branch offices of the national “voter aid” organization ACORN, posing as a party interested in starting up a brothel that would sell the services of underage women. The exchanges, which were captured on videotape, were quite damning in some instances. FOX News did due diligence on the story. Some might argue that they went overboard in their coverage.
How did the Times treat the story? They didn’t. ACORN’s remarkable ethical and moral misconduct, as captured on the tapes, received not one word of commentary or reportage — nothing, nada, zilch.
At least such was the case until O’Keefe was charged last week with plotting to tamper with the telephone system in the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu. The Times ran a 1,000-word article on the story. By way of context not previously provided, the Times described O’Keefe as a “political activist” who “gained renown in conservative circles by poking fun at the left through pranks and undercover video.” Poking fun at the left? Prank? Imagine for a moment that O’Keefe had been a liberal and the organization he targeted in his sting videos was the NRA. Not only would the Times have covered every juicy morsel of the story, but its writers would have commended O’Keefe for his tireless and hard-hitting journalistic efforts. The paper would have followed up with no fewer than half dozen editorials demanding that the government investigate this organization. It is highly doubtful that the Times would have described O’Keefe’s videos as “poking fun at the right” or as “pranks.”
That is why the Times is hurting and will continue to do so. It also why FOX News is flourishing and will continue to do so.
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