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'Dear Mr. Sulzberger, won't you reconsider?'

ASK THIS | September 06, 2008

A letter-writer implores the New York Times publisher to reconsider the decision to eliminate a stand-alone daily Metro section. The writer, Joel Berg, is an occasional contributor to Nieman Watchdog.

Dear Mr. Sulzberger:

I am writing to implore you to re-consider your decision to eliminate a stand-alone daily Metro section. Respectfully, your claim that you “are not reducing the space devoted to Metro” news does not seem credible.

When the Times recently eliminated local-themed editorials and op-eds in the City section in order to cut costs, the paper assured the public that there would be no reduction in the overall number of local-themed items in the regular opinion pages. That simply hasn’t been the case, as the few local and regional items in the daily opinion pages haven’t come even close to the volume of such items previously printed in the City section.

Even before the decision to eliminate the Metro section, it’s been harder and harder to find news in the Times regarding the day-to-day living conditions of the 80 percent of New York City households with income below $100,000 per year. In the last year, it has been particularly distressing that excellently reported Metro stories on poverty and hunger that have appeared in the “City Room” blog have appeared in the print edition only in dramatically edited-down versions or not appeared in the print edition at all. This dispiriting trend will likely only worsen without a stand-alone Metro section.

I urge you to look beyond the economic bottom line to consider the long-term legacy of the Times. After all, the paper made its original name by exposing the municipal corruption of Boss Tweed. Growing up, I and every fellow student knew that, if you really wanted to know about events in the history of New York over the previous 150 years or so, the best way to do it was to review microfilm copies of archived editions of the Times in our neighborhood public library. If you further diminish Metro coverage, future generations of students and scholars won’t be able to do that.

In addition, what a disservice it would be to the people of New York if our only option for finding significant news every day about our hometown was to purchase tabloids with little interest in the truth and even less interest in substance.

Yet, even as a purely business matter, even though the Times has had great growth in national and international sales, I would argue that it would be a mistake to forsake your hometown readership.  This is a city with eight million residents, after all. Given that I see fewer and fewer people on subways reading the Times, surely it harms company profits when you lose local circulation wars to far inferior publications, which provide more coverage to the type of local news that city residents crave to read.

If you further tone down the New York-centered aspects of your esteemed publication, I believe that this action will only harm your long-term bottom line. I do hope you save – and improve—the Metro section. That would be good for the community and good for your profits.

Joel Berg
Executive Director
New York City Coalition Against Hunger

In Defense of the NY Daily News and Others
Posted by Joel Berg
09/10/2008, 12:36 PM

I regret that, in my plea for the New York Times to save its Metro section, I carelessly lumped all other NY newspapers together as lower quality “tabloids”. I should have been far more precise in order to make it clear that my criticism was mostly aimed at the New York Post.

The Post almost universally refuses to cover hunger and poverty issues in its news pages and then slams poor and hungry people in its far-right wing editorials. I stand by my assertion that they have very little commitment to either substance or accuracy.

In contrast, the New York Daily News has, in fact, provided consistent coverage to hunger and poverty issues (including coverage to the work of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which I manage). The Daily News even ran a crusading editorial series on the need to raise the state minimum wage. They provide far more coverage to working-class issues than does the New York Times.

I also want to go on record praising Spanish-language publications such as El Diario and Hoy for covering these issues fairly and fully. Other language newspapers in the city, as well as borough-specific publications, have also done a good job covering these issues.

That being said, I do stand by my broader point that -- while there is a need for all types of communications with the public including popular broadsheets, I do think there is still a vacuum in New York (and virtually every city in the United States) for detailed, lengthy, investigative reporting on local issues.

Still, especially since I am critical of the media for lumping all advocates together, it was wrong of me to lump all newspapers together. Just as I want the media to own up to its own mistakes, I will own up to mine.

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