By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: The new New York Times

I am a lifelong New York Times reader -- all right, so I actually didn't start reading it till I was 12, in sixth grade -- although I read the Post when I am in Washington. For decades (if not centuries), the Times has been characterized by an extremely straightforward, declarative style, without even the slightest bow to literary flair.


However, as everybody knows, newspapers are growing desperate. They are flailing around trying to figure out how they can possibly survive in the Internet, instant-news era. A lot of people feel that by the time something is in the newspaper, it's old news (my kids now actually do read the Times online, but they roll their eyes when I urge them to get a subscription to the hard copy version).


A number of months ago, presumably as part of an effort to make the Times more attractive to read, a major change has clearly occurred, though to my knowledge it hasn't been announced or discussed, in the style in which the Times is written.


They are actually now trying to be hip. Articles on the news pages are more likely to featured the forbidden noun "I" to describe the author. There is much more use of idiomatic speech and slang expressions ("that was then, this is now," or "get over it") that would never have sullied the paper before. Stylish writing is no longer limited to Maureen Dowd's columns on the op-ed page.


There was a fascinating example of this in Monday's paper. The article was called, "Mr. President? Not Quite, but Quite Presidential." The article was making an interesting point, which is that there has been a growth of presidential-like activities by candidates -- most obviously Barack Obama's recent foreign tour, featuring 20-car motorcades and a faux presidential seal in front of a podium, but also John McCain beginning to give Saturday radio addresses.


The article continued, in ironic style, "It is unclear when the two presidential candidates will hold their first state dinners, spend their first weekends at Camp David or welcome this year's N.B.A. champions, the Boston Celtics, to the Rose Garden."


The next paragraph was the kicker: "Oh, wait, neither of these guys has been elected yet."


"Oh, wait"???


"Guys"???


This is not the New York Times of yesteryear, or even last year.


My dad, now 89, is also a legendary Times reader. His office used to be located in the Long Island suburb where we lived, and he would read the Times as he walked to work. He read few other news sources or magazines sources -- I always used to say he was a testimony to how knowledgeable one could become about the world by just reading the Times. We've had a number of laughs talking about these style changes -- I called him about the "quite presidential" story last night.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jul 29, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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