There's been much hand wringing over the decline and potential total implosion of the New York Times. But, really, is there any news organization that would benefit more from being wrested from its family control and given new ownership than the Times?
The so-called "paper of record" has been, since its inception, insular and incestuous, and has remained so by design. A nifty covenant drawn up in the mid-1980s guaranteed that the family's stock in the paper could only be traded within the "The Trust" for decades forward.
This insured little opposition in January of 1992 when Arthur Sulzberger Jr. -- often called "Pinch," but rarely to his face -- became the 5th member of the Ochs/Sulzberger family to run the paper. And by all accounts, the least qualified. From poor strategic decisions (buying Abuzz.com in 1999 for $30 million only to shut it down, taking a nearly $23 million write down, a mere three years later) to lax oversight, Sulzberger has been to liberal nepotism as the Bush clan has been to the conservative kind.
The issue isn't just that under Sulzberger's leadership the Times has occasionally gotten stories wrong. You can't have the world as your beat and not make mistakes. The issue is that the Times has built up a culture that prefers celebrity above journalistic ethics. How else could you explain a cycle of flawed reporting from its "best" writers?
The Wen Ho Lee reporting. Howell Raines's crusade against Augusta. Jayson Blair. Rick Bragg (among others) doing the "toe touch." Judy Miller's WMD reporting. Judy Miller's Plame reporting (and her showy stint in jail. And, considering their close past, Pinch should have completely recused himself from another entanglement with Ms. Miller). The Kurt Eichenwald mess (did he finance kiddie porn?). Right on up to Dowd getting a pass on plagiarism and Friedman taking speaking fees from government agencies. In every instance there were editors and higher-ups aware that the reporting was suspect or going to print with minimal fact checking. And in every instance nothing was done until the scandal broke.
Fox News may be a hack outfit, but they're up front with their bias. And despite their lowered bar of expectations, can you honestly name as many scandals of significance perpetrated by their "reporters" over a similar period of time?
The Times would dearly and severely benefit from new leadership that was more responsive and responsible to their shareholders. In that regard, the paper cannot change hands quickly enough.
For more perspective please visit That Minority Thing.com.