The New Soma? The NYT's "last man standing" strategy

Pravda with sushi? Liberal pabulum with Prada discounts? Well, not quite. But that’s arguably the outcome of the new strategy for the embattled New York Times“:


“As other newspapers cut back on international and national coverage, or cease operations, we believe there will be opportunities for The Times to fill that void,” [Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive] said, for both readers and advertisers.

But before it can execute what the industry regards as a “last-man-standing” strategy, the company has to get there first.

Of course, I’m being more than a little snarky with the Pravda reference. We all know the Times sneaks in a report now and then that goes against their monolithic Olde Liberale grain. But the idea that the Times could be the “last man” is rather disturbing. What we would have is a media dominated by a bizarre sort of left-wing consumerism run by an expanding bureaucracy somewhere between La trahison des clercs and a bourgeois version of Djilas’ The New Class.

The consumerism is a key part because every time I return to New York (I am here now doing book promotion, speaking of consumerism) I am struck how much the onetime “newspaper of record” increasingly resembles the New York Magazine of the Eighties, a guide to local entertainment and, more importantly, sales – basically how to be trendy and spend your money, assuming you have any. In the current atmosphere, that feels like the new “soma.” As the inventor of the old “soma” – Aldous Huxley – put it in Brave New World: “…there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”


Walking around New York now, you can smell in the air the need for some kind of soma. Last night late I passed by the Sony Building. I used to go into its large atrium for espresso and free wifi. Not now. It was filled with homeless. Outside another line of sad homeless folks had formed behind a car where food was being distributed, right there in one of the tonier districts of Manhattan. No wonder the WSJ has a front page article “Saks Upends Luxury Market With Strategy to Slash Prices.” If my grandmother were alive, she would be in pig heaven.

But the problem for media… for information… is severe. We live in the era of that euphemism “troubled assets” and most media companies, left and right, new and old, are among them. Few companies are exempt, but you will excuse me if I find the NYT’s last man standing strategy slightly sinister. THe last man standing smacks of totalitarianism – or, at the least, it is anti-democratic. There is only one thing that comes from monolithic access to news: thought control. Under those circumstances, I do not wish them well… even if they keep me abreast of the best sushi bar.


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