Being invited by email to complete a survey for The New York Times, I said this when they asked me why I liked reading the paper best on my iPad app:
It works well for me. But I prefer the old app to the new one, for the simple fact that I can see the name of the author of an opinion piece before clicking on it. That’s important to me, because there are certain columnists I don’t want to miss. I have no idea why that feature is missing in the new app.
See what I did there? I told them what I didn’t like about it, even though they didn’t ask that. I’d been looking for a chance to get that gripe in, and I figured this was my chance. I’m putting it on my blog now on the slim chance that it might get to the attention of someone who can do something about it this way.
It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference in my enjoyment of the paper, as well as in its usefulness to me.
Over the years, I have come to spend most of my time interacting with newspapers reading the opinion pages. I prefer that to “straight” news. I like getting my information within the context of an argument. Don’t just tell me who, what, where… tell me what you think of it, and I’ll decide what I think of what you think of it.
This is a deeper way of engaging with news than reading the front page. I’ve written about this a number of times over the years. I find that there are certain questions I want answered about an event or an issue, and too often those questions don’t even occur to “straight” news reporters. Why? Because they’re not trying to figure out what they think about the event or the issue, so they approach it on a more superficial level.
When you’re going to make an argument about something, and thousands of people are going to read that argument and judge it, you think harder about it. And yes, this process works best with people who do it for a living. The same principle seldom applies in the case of the loudmouth on the barstool proclaiming his own gut impressions to everyone around him. Not necessarily because the professional is smarter; he’s just doing it within a more demanding context. And doing it day in, day out. And when you’re doing it for a living, and even more so when you’re syndicated, or appearing in a publication with famously high standards — such as the NYT — you’ve got to prove yourself every day.
And while I will sometimes click on a piece purely because of the headline, I’m just much more likely to do so when I see it’s by someone whose thoughtfulness I’ve come to respect.
And no, it’s not about just reading people I agree with (although I’m sure it would work that way with a lot of people, such as the blowhard on the barstool, assuming he reads). It’s about reading people who, whatever they think, have demonstrated to me over and over that they will make a good case well. I like people who make me think, “He’s wrong, but he almost convinces me…”
By the way, this preference of mine came into play when I became editorial page editor of The State in 1997. I immediately started requiring my writers to write at least one column a week, in addition to editorials (which by definition are not signed, because they speak for the institution rather than an individual, and represented a consensus of the board). I did this so that readers would see the editorial board less as a monolith, and know the people who crafted our positions. But I also did it because it made the page more the kind of page I liked to read myself.
These days, some of my favorites in the NYT are David Brooks, Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat. And yes, those three have some views in common with me — they are all never-Trumpers, and none of them are Democrats.
What that means is that, in explaining the problems with the current occupant of the White House, they have to think harder about their views and how they want to express them — unlike someone like Paul Krugman, who is painfully predictable. I’ve never been able to stand Krugman, as I’ve said many times before — although if the headline intrigues me, I may read even him.
I keep thinking at some point the NYT will upgrade the new app so that it shows the bylines. But they haven’t yet…