Slimmed down Times

The New York Times …

is the “grey lady” the same paper it’s founder Henry Jarvis Raymond imagined it to be? Under the wikipedia page for “grey lady” it states:

“The Gray Lady, a nickname for The New York Times newspaper, in reference to its tradition of presenting many words and few pictures”

a few lines below that, it gives another definition:

“The Grey Lady, the name of a ghost said to be haunting the Willard Library”

A ghost it seems to be …at least when it comes to reporting on it’s primary ‘sugar-daddy’, Carlos Slim.

Is the Times worth the media coverage it continously receives? Sure, we are in the midst of a critical moment in newspaper history. Few would deny this (and if you are one of the few who disagree we are in the midst of something revolutionary, might I suggest you subscribe to the PEW Center for media research weekly feeds).

The over-saturated news on the dwindling U.S. newspaper industry seems to be revolving around a select few newspapers. It’s no surprise that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or the Chicago Tribune are among the newspapers hogging the spotlight during this very odd period in U.S. newspaper history. Some of this for good reason. After all, Sam Zell who drove the Tribune Company into the ground, could perhaps go down as one of the biggest antagonists in media history.

However, over the past few years, I have been closely following the transition from print-to-digital journalism. During this time, I have been alarmed by the content (and sometimes lack of content) on the newspaper industry coverage. I suppose the feuding battles between The New York Times and Wall Street Journal over readership is worth noting …(yawn)… but like most media coverage in this country, it continues to be gossip and fluff at best.

It should come as no surprise that the newspaper industry (and media industry in a large part) continuously fails in reporting on ITSELF. Take for example The New York Times’ coverage of their investor, Carlos Slim.
Slim, who owns 6.9% of the Times Co. and loaned the company $250 million In 2009, was spotlighted in a February 15th Times article titled “Carlos Slim Helú: The Reticent Media Baron” by Marc Lacey.

The article raised a few key points, such as:

“Stung by suggestions that he is a some kind of robber baron — a label used by Eduardo Porter, a Times editorial writer, in a 2007 op-ed article — Mr. Slim has granted more interviews in recent years and expanded his philanthropic work.”

…Interesting, but I was hoping for a few key comments from Slim himself. After all, he was and is a primary shareholder in the newspaper who is paying Lacey to report this article. Instead, Lacey noted:

“Mr. Slim declined through his spokesman and son-in-law, Arturo Elias, to be interviewed for this article.”

Lacey also mentioned that Mr. Slim “has a complex relationship with the news media.”. He continued to note that, “He invests money in an array of television and newspaper companies and says he sees a bright future for those media companies that adapt. But when the news media focus their spotlight on him, he sometimes gives the impression that he wants to be left alone to make more money in peace.”

A post on the website titled: “Slim chance the Times are a’changin’” seemed to sum it up best: “Two things haven’t changed: New York Times reporters — with a few exceptions — tend to accept the prevailing theories in Washington about the way the world SHOULD work, and report through that filter. AND… while the Times’ reporters are better prepared linguistically, they often know very little about Mexico or Latin America, and rely on “official sources,” as did George Carrothers, the “embedded reporter” with Pancho Villa’s army.
Today’s Times reporters STILL seem to rely too much on “official sources”, not just in Mexico. And, too often, sprung from the loins of the elites themselves.'”

Slim is worth over $53.5 billion and owns over 200 companies. His Telmex phone company controls more than 90 percent of Mexico’s fixed lines and more than 70 percent of its cellphones. He also owns an array of television stations and newspapers aside from his heavy investment in The New York Times.

After several decades of the newspaper industry attempting to protect the sacred “church/state” wall between business and journalism departments, we have seen a handful of corporate raiders escalate the decline in the industry. From Stanton Cooke to Mark H. Willes to Sam Zell …major investors in newspapers who’s primary background is not in journalism (sometimes not even in media) tend to use troubled companies to purchase cheap and drive into the ground. It is worth noting, that Slim has done the opposite, so far, with his large financial loan to the Times. However, his ‘loan’ acted more as a brace for a company which would have otherwise been eroded even further had it not accepted …quickly.

There was a call for alarm into the New York Times’ coverage on slim …not from the NYT of course, but from The Huffington Post which ran the headline: “New York Times Silent On Major Carlos Slim Lawsuit” for it’s 2/22/2010 article.

There’s no question Slim has done amazing philanthropic work in his time. But are we to assume that a billionaire who is tied to so many media companies, and doesn’t come from a journalism background, would really give a shit about the Times?

If I were to have recommended a single question for Lacey to have asked Slim, it would have gone as such: “do you even read The New York Times everyday, Mr. sugar daddy Slim?”

– Adam Chadwick


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