Can the Times Save Us—and Itself?

May 6, 09 | 9:15 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The Times is sounding almost cheerful about the economy. It’s posted two stories in the last 24 hours about optimism and recovery. The day before it was marveling about the fact that the S&P had made up 4 months of losses on Monday.

Are these signs, if not of an economic recovery, then of a tonal recovery at the paper? Certainly, the Times' coverage over the last 8 months has not been of the glass-full type. It has rather been an intense expression of I-told-you-so-isms by reporters who, as it happens, didn’t particularly predict any of this—hence they became much more inclined to prove their end-of-the-world chops.

But self-interest and wistfulness might now be setting in.

If only ever-so-slowly, it may have caught up with the Times that its future hangs in the balance of recovery. The difference between a recovery this year and one next year is pretty much the difference between the life and death of the paper.

(AP Photo)

During the eighties, when the Times had immeasurably greater power, I had a theory about how its new business section—before the business news had been little more than one page—had helped inspire the great growth of business culture. The Times’ interest had made business cool on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

So can the Times make business positive again—does it have that kind of juice left? Can it plant the suggestion in its audience of doctors and lawyers and West Siders (and those status-conscious people in the Twin Cities who get the national edition) that they’ll be missing out if they don’t jump back in? That up is the certain direction? And would dedicated optimism at the Times force the Wall Street Journal into step? That would be an interesting competitive face-off: What would you rather buy, pessimism or optimism?

Now, it is just as logical that the Times is simply looking for a turn or reversal in the story. Recession-depression has become rather old hat. It has to go somewhere; we need development. And, give the president credit, the economy doesn’t seem to be headed, at least at the moment, for another plunge. Which is, with some interpretation, almost a recovery. No?

But, honestly, how could it not have crossed their minds over there that, with a little legerdemain and sunny disposition, they could save themselves from the abyss? After all, the pressure must be enormous. If their colleagues and union brothers at the Boston Globe have been forced to agree to huge cuts and give backs, how long can it be before management comes to New York with similar demands? The people at the Times have always thought they were different than the people at the Globe—but they don’t think they are that different anymore.

You probably don’t have to send this kind of memo. Everybody’s got to pitch in. If you wish for it hard enough, a recovery could happen—maybe even in time.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at

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