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Why We Need the New York Times

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For many years, I was a devoted reader of the New York Times. An unusually devoted one.

I picked up the habit from David O'Brien, an actor who played my father on a soap opera I appeared on over 25 years ago. It was my first professional job, and I watched O'Brien as he passed his down time by scouring the paper from cover to cover and doing the crossword along the way.

I picked up the paper every day, back when many places ran out of the Times, and rather quickly, by late morning. I carried it with me everywhere, as so many other New Yorkers seemed to. In New York, someone else is usually doing the driving. In a cab or on the train, the Times and the time to read it were mine.

Television news had become less relevant in my life. I was rarely near a TV at 6pm to watch the classic network broadcast. CNN was good for breaking news and convention coverage. But salacious crimes and court cases seemed to predominate more than I could bear.

On cable news, I am a fan of Keith and Rachel. But he wastes too much time pissing on Bush and his deposed cronies. She is smart and charming but her writers are dreadful and the less cutesy she is, the better. She did an excellent interview with Colin Powell recently. The next night, I missed that tougher, less avuncular Rachel. A while back, the idea of sitting down at another screen and getting my evening news seemed unappealing. Now I sit and watch Rachel and Keith while I do my e-mail and read Slate and HuffPo online.

But something has changed again. I'm back to buying the Times. I think others should get back to buying and reading a newspaper, too.

When the Jayson Blair story erupted, I realized that if the Times couldn't even properly and effectively assess their own, how could they be relied upon to assess public officials and figures? It was then that I stopped buying the paper. A lot of people did. In Manhattan, copies of the New York Times often pile up everywhere.

But lately, the alternatives seem wanting. In the Times recently was good reporting about the poor documentation of the deaths of deportation detainees by various state and federal agencies. Another article recently captured the abyss of disputed workmen's compensation cases and the endless troubles that greet those who fall into it. I don't see that on MSNBC. Frankly, I don't see that on TV at all.

Some friends of mine in the media business say the newspaper model as we know it is in its death throes. Papers will fold or go digital. The Times will survive only online. I hope that is not true. I hope that one does not need to own a computer and a high speed connection in order to stay connected with the world of news and opinion. The Times, like many other important journals, is not perfect. Sometimes its writing and its priorities are downright awful. But that is rare.

I still think people should read a newspaper every day and that children should be taught the importance of doing so in school. Television news can be good. It just isn't as good as the New York Times. And now more than ever.

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