The Book of the Week is “Behind the Times, Inside the New York Times” by Edwin Diamond, published in 1993. This book tells the history of the newspaper and the people who, through generations, to help it stay in business, changed its contents, its target readers (and therefore its sales territory) and its personnel.
In the 1950’s, the Times consisted of four realms: the weekday paper, the Sunday edition, the foreign correspondents, and the Washington bureau. Each had its own hierarchy, but all employees encountered an arrogant corporate culture because their difficulty in getting hired helped project an image of an exclusive club from which they derived prestige.
In the 1980’s, the paper was forced to look to the suburbs for readers, and acquire various west-coast newspapers, a magazine group and broadcast properties. Advertisers were able to glean significantly more marketing data and more predictable circulation numbers on readers with expanded home delivery.
The Times was a family-owned enterprise whose eventual patriarch, Punch Sulzberger served as the top leader for three decades, into the early 1990’s. Unfortunately, he was resistant to change, so finalizing a decision to make a major revision to the paper, say, to add a section or column, took months or even years.
A task force did not always help speed up the process because the business and news departments had different goals. Finally, in 1982, the business side sold out in the name of staying in business. The managing editor began to allow “product placement” in news stories. In the 1980’s, a financial turnaround was enjoyed by the paper, in large part thanks to fashion reporting.
Around the same time, the Times’ hegemony reached its peak when competing print news sources had gone out of business. Many readers used the paper as their bible as to which performing arts shows to attend, which movies and videos to view, and which books to read. The paper was eventually taken to task– for its conflicts of interest in its exertion of extreme undue influence of such entertainment for decades– by someone who had a point. However, that someone also had an ulterior motive aside from exposing greed and abuse of power.
Sadly, the 1990’s gave way to more and more opinion writing rather than conveyance of new information. Read the book to learn much more about the reasons for the changing Times.