This morning in my home delivery copy of The New York Times came the note I was hoping wouldn't. From the senior vice president for marketing and circulation, it began, "I wanted to let you know that you will see changes in the Times's layout, starting Monday, October 6."
I had read the press release widely reported last month, but hoped that maybe in the meantime, they would have a change of heart. But no, it was true. They were killing the Metro section.
Those of you who read the Times National edition have no idea what I'm talking about: you never had a Metro section. You get a little two-page snippet of New York news in your main news section. But for those of us in New York City and its environs, our paper had a special section, all its own, with 6-12 pages of news about the city and suburbs, enough to make us believe, even in the face of many other indications, that The New York Times was our hometown paper. A city paper.
When the Metro section was announced (was it only in 1991?), the Times proudly proclaimed, "Today the New York Times begins expanded coverage of the New York region and the five boroughs in an enlarged and redesigned section. More pages will be devoted to metropolitan news, gathered and organized by a larger staff of reporters, editors and graphic artists."
In announcing the contraction last month, citing cost savings, the Times promised, "There will be no loss of content for readers." Which, even if you believe this is their intent, cannot possibly be the result. Will advertisers, who formerly had their own section to advertise in and could select prime real estate near the local news, transfer their allegiance so easily to Page 17 of the first section, following the three-page index, the international report and the national news?
And then what happens? You know. With less advertising to support a dedicated news section for city news, the hole shrinks ("we just couldn't support six pages of city news every day") and the news shrinks along with it. Leaving those of us desperate for news about the city, its government, its neighborhoods, its courts, its crime, its police, its churches, synagogues and mosques, its schools to the Daily News or the New York Post. Not terrible, but certainly not The New York Times.
I suppose we should have seen it coming. When a grand city newspaper puts news that its mayor announces he wants the law changed so he can run for a third term -- currently illegal -- on the front page of its Metro section and not on Page 1, something's up.
What's up is that the Times, despite its pretense of being of and about the great city of New York, long ago abandoned New York: its presses are elsewhere, its D.C. Bureau successfully led the charge to remove the last executive editor, and its front page is looking more every day like that of the Wall Street Journal than of an urban daily.
The truth is, whatever one reads about the death of newspapers being caused by readers turning elsewhere in droves: the Times left us before we left the Times. While other daily newspapers in the country are emphasizing local news to stem the tide of those turning to the Web and elsewhere for their information, the Times is leaving us devoted city readers to the tabloids for our city news.
My only consolation is that the cycle seems always to swing. And so, I live in hope that one day, in the not too distant future, someone in the Times hierarchy will pipe up in a meeting about how to attract back their fleeing readers with the suggestion, "Why don't we devote a whole, separate section to news about New York City?"
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