The New York Times

May 06, 2004

Arts and Ideas at The New York Times

Posted by Ed

The New York Times, it seems, is shutting down its "arts and ideas" section. A New York Observer article describes this decision, and Scott McLemee gives his own reaction. The section was often lame, he says, and its approach qas questionable:

One aspect of the problem is what I tend to think of as "news desk epistemology," which holds that, in principle, any reporter can "cover" any given development using certain techniques that are more or less equally valid, or at least transposable, from one situation to the next. Whether it is a philosophical debate or the election of a dogcatcher, the journalist brings the same tool-kit to the task of reporting it.

Now, there are things about this approach that I do like, at least in the abstract. But it creates all kinds of problems when the "beat" is something less tangible than a war, a scandal, or some other event that is simply "out there," happening in the world, in some relatively unproblematic way.

For one thing, it means that there will be a very strong tendency for cultural coverage to be influenced by the work of publicists. It also means that any given development will be framed in terms of conflict and/or "the hot new trend." (How much do I loathe that expression? More than words can express.) The cumulative effect is stupid-making.

My reaction to the decision is mixed. I found the section extremely hit-and-miss: some of its articles were fascinating, but others seemed random and dull. Some weeks I'd look at the section and find several articles I enjoyed reading, and then I'd go through a dry spell where I never saw anything worth looking at for over a month; unfortunately, even when the section was good, it always seemed a bit peripheral. The paper's coverage of ideas was always tucked away in a seldom-read section of the Saturday paper, after all, and it never seemed even vaguely comprehensive in its coverage.

Posted by Ed at May 6, 2004 11:40 AM

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