Is the Advertising Fit to Print?
Many Liberals and Progressives seem to have a very strong love/hate relationship with the New York Times. The love comes from the genuine investigative reporting that the New York Times does into issues like how healthcare costs are spiraling out of control for many Americans and what it is like to be young child and homeless. The hate comes from the fluffier and advertising sections of the New York Times which covers relative economic elites looking for apartments in NYC at expensive prices. The Billfold publishes “Good Enough Homes and Destinations” every Friday to mock the tendency of the New York Times to cover expensive real estate.
The Public Editor of the New York Times felt compelled to write about this issue on Sunday in an essay titled Pricey Doughnuts, Pricier Homes, Priced-Out Readers because many readers had enough. The public editor straight up admitted that fluff pieces in the Styles section pay for the Investigative journalism that liberals and progressives love. The Public Editor also admitted that they see the average reader of the Times has being an upper-middle class professional or aspirant to said socio-economics.
I think the interesting thing about these debates is how it shows that the Times occupies an interesting place in the Media landscape and also a potential divide on the left in terms of debates over economic policy and income inequality.
The Internet has largely wrecked havoc on the Newspaper Industry because it destroyed the advertising revenue that most Newspapers depended on. Many cities have seen their newspapers become on-line only organizations with much smaller staffs like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Other daily newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News have folded entirely. Alternative Newspapers are also largely a dying breed. The Boston Phoenix ceased publication in 2013. The Bay Guardian ceased publication suddenly a month ago. The reason is the same. The alternative weeklies depended on advertising revenue, usually from barely innuendued sex-workers and “massage parlors”. This advertising went on-line very quickly as well.
The Times has largely managed to survive the Internet loss of revenue stream but not without difficulty. There were many years in the mid-aughts when the Times ran in the red and needed to take out loans from Mexican Billionaire Carlos Sim. But they survived and this turned them into the de facto national newspaper for the center-left and liberals and working as a counter to the conservatism of the Wall Street Journal. The Times is still the New York Times though and I think they do have a responsibility to cover the local arts and restaurant scene even if most people will never go to see a show by The Debate Society, Bushwick Star, or Bedlam Theater. I also think that arts journalists have a responsibility to find new and exciting artists and tell their readers “Hey check these new people out.” There is a strain of Internet populist writing that declares covering highbrow culture to be snobby and wrong and I have very little sympathy for this line of argument.
The more interesting thing about this debate is what it says about income inequality. Most of people who talk about income inequality and using those terms are under-50, well-educated, usually white progressives. These white progressives can probably be described as “relatively economic elite.” They are also the ones with the most concern over student debt and how expensive things are getting in many cities. The issue for many of these white progressives is that by personality and background they are often not meant for careers in finance or tech. One of the reasons we had the law-school crisis/crunch is because law school was long the fall back of Arts and Humanities majors who realized that they needed to pay the bills. We might have produced too many liberal arts grads (I don’t think there is a solution to this problem that is not very cruel.)
What I think the income inequality debate can sometimes be about is cynicism, depression, and despair. A friend of mine from law school mentioned that in any other market we would have been associates by now. She gave up looking for legal work entirely. I think there are a lot of college-educated people in their 20s and 30s who were scarred by the fiscal crisis and see their status as underemployed freelancer and temps as being permanent positions and they have largely resigned themselves to lowered economic expectations even if their elders give them stories about how things have always been hard and said elders graduated into recessions as well. When I was a first year law student, my school made us come in on a Saturday and listen to some old-timers give their career stories. One guy said when he graduated in the late 1970s, he could only get jobs painting houses. Another lawyer said that when he graduated you could only get experience by walking into law firms and saying “I will argue your loser cases.” I don’t think these stories made anyone feel better about their economic prospects.
Liberals tend to suffer from an issue where they confuse today for tomorrow. I can often do this as well. Maybe there is just no way to tell people not to do so without seeming insincere even if we might be the people on the panel in 20 or 30 years saying “When I graduated the economy was so bad that I could only get work as a Lyft driver or a bartender.” There is also the possibility that this time it really could be different. I can’t say which is more likely.
This still does not make me very concerned that the New York Times runs splashy ads for auctions for Christie’s. The simplest solution to not being annoyed by 1 percent ads is to not pay attention to them. There is also the fact that media like the New York Times and the New Yorker have aimed themselves at upper-middle class professionals with some very vague but not really actual bohemian pretensions.
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