May 30, 2003

VIRGINIA POSTREL has some advice for the New York Times:

I’ll just add a strategic point, the kind of thing they teach in business school. If you are going to adopt a strategy to be a national newspaper, you must add the capabilities to be a national newspaper. That doesn’t mean parachuting in reporters from Manhattan to interview a few natives and report back on their peculiar habits. It means having lots of well-staffed bureaus and, if necessary, credited stringers. It also means breaking out of a worldview that considers Manhattan normal and every other place weird.

The truth is that the NYT is not a national newspaper. It is the New York Times (more accurately, The Manhattan South of Harlem Times). It assumes its readers have the prejudices of well-educated, affluent Manhattanites, and it staffs, writes, and edits accordingly. To take an apolitical example, from a national perspective, the Times business pages grossly overcover the media business. From a Manhattan perspective, that makes perfect sense.

There is nothing wrong with this strategy, but it is a different strategy from the stated one of being a national paper. The mismatch between strategy and capabilities seems to account for many of the paper’s current managerial problems, including the seeming inability of editors to keep track of exactly when and where reporters travel.

Makes sense to me.