For Whom Is The New York Times?

I often hear about from readers who are frustrated by what they describe as elitism in the paper’s worldview, and who would like The Times and its staff to remember that the median household income in the United States is close to $52,000 a year, and that about 15 percent of Americans live in poverty.

It’s not hard to see why they feel that way. The featured apartments with their $10 million price tags and white-glove amenities seem aimed at hedge fund managers, if not Russian oligarchs. The stories on doughnuts at $20 a half dozen are for those who are flush with disposable income, not struggling to pay the rent. Many of the parties, the fashions, even the gadgets are well beyond the reach of the middle class.

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, addresses the thing we always joke about here, and that Ester works to counteract every Friday with her real estate column for normal people, which is that The Times is written as if everyone who reads them is some kind of absurd millionaire, except the Times is “the paper of record” meaning it’s supposed to be THE paper that you know, tells the truth or whatever, and is a public service / a higher calling / the fourth estate. And YET?

I asked the executive editor, Dean Baquet, whom he has in mind when he directs coverage and priorities.

“I think of The Times reader as very well-educated, worldly and likely affluent,” he said. “But I think we have as many college professors as Wall Street bankers.”

On the question of all that high-end content, he called it “one of the bigger tensions” in The Times’s big picture. The paper has become expensive to subscribe to, and it is supported financially by advertisers who want to reach a high-earning readership, but “you don’t want to become an elitist news operation.”

He thinks of the Times reader as “likely affluent,” really strikes me. I could see him saying this in a meeting with ad executives but that he said this in a comment to the public editor makes me feel that either he is out of touch or I am. Maybe it’s me! I mean, certainly it’s me, but he is, too. We’re both out of touch in different ways, though I stand by the fact that “Blank Space” is the best song on Taylor Swift’s new album.

Of course newspapers are, if we’re being cynical here which we are, a way of disseminating advertising. But shouldn’t they still strive to be populist? Shouldn’t they pretend to strive to be populist when they are responding to accusations of elitism in conversation with the public editor?!?! Not a single attempt at Everyman? Not even a gesture toward it? A school teacher vs a college professor, even?

Margaret Sullivan argues that the rich person coverage funds the rest of the paper, which is so much like the click-bait articles funding Buzzfeed’s real journalism that it sends a naive little shiver up my spine. Her final note, at least, is this:

In the end, the upscale doughnut and the penthouse apartment — lofty as they may be — have nothing to do with The Times’s highest purpose.

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