"Endtimes?" by Daniel R Schwarz

June 26, 2012

One of the major institutions in American life and of civilization itself -- and among the fine things that makes New York a great city -- is the daily paper that has been a  solid part of millions of lives for a century and a half.  A respectful reader was once moved to remark, "The Times is the only real newspaper in the city."  Concerts, specialty shops and books would advertise in The New York Times to enjoy a share of its prestige. It wasn't always so prestigious and ponderous.  Founded in 1851 by journalist and politician Henry J. Raymond -- one of the original members of the Republican Party -- The New York Daily Times was just one of many New York papers in an era of scrappy newspapering until it was purchased in 1896 by Adolph Ochs, publisher of the Chattanooga Times.  Ochs put the paper on sound financial ground, eliminated partisanship in its reporting and established the Ochs-Sulzberger family dynasty that controls The Times to this day.

The stability of The New York Times has been challenged in recent years by the changes that have affected all media: an aging and declining readership and the need to appeal to younger readers, the growing expense of maintaining overseas bureaus, the rise of on-line media, partisan publications and the 24-hour news cycle, have all upset the dignified "old gray lady".  Much of its readership now has migrated to www.nytimes.com.  Into this changing time and place, and into the crowd of journalists and managers, came a scholar: Daniel R. Schwarz of Cornell University.  Dr. Schwarz admits in the opening pages of his book "Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009" that he experiences a Times dependency.

Reading the Times is a catalyst for intellectual energy and, yes, part of the fun of being alive.  I have learned more in my life from the Times than from any single written source.  My father and grandfather read the Times every day unless strikes prevented publication.  Much of what they knew about not only national and world events but also cultural developments they learned from the Times. -- from "Endtimes"

Professor Schwarz had access to everyone at The Times and was able to interview every living executive editor.  He viewed The Times in its day-to-day troubles as it covered the Iraq War, the Great Recession, presidential elections and the paper's own economic downturn.  Even inthe midst of internal upheaval and public shock, it produced coverage of the 9/11 attacks that won seven Pulitzer Prizes.  But there were also instances of storytelling that should never have ended up in print: reporter Jayson Blair's fictionalized accounts, and the acceptance of unverified reports of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Judith Miller's use of anonymous sources on the Iraq story and her refusal to identify them to investigators caused her to be jailed.  Her reports may also have "stoked the fires for the Iraq War."   Schwarz is also critical of what seems to be a "dumbing down" of The Times, including its Sunday Magazine and the Book Review.

Daniel R. Schwarz has been at Cornell since 1968.  He is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow. In 1998 he received the Cornell Distinguished Teaching Award.  His books include "In Defense of Teaching", "Imagining the Holocaust" and "Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture."  Dr. Schwarz has stated that his study of Damon Runyon and the New York newspaper scene in Runyon's time primed him to write about the challenges now facing The Times.

Guests: 
Professor Daniel R. Schwarz