Sunday, May 03, 2009

The end of the Times's City section likely means even less attention to AY

After today, you have two more weeks to say goodbye to the New York Times's weekly City section, which on May 24 (as noted in the Observer) will be replaced by a section consolidating it and the other regional weeklies, thus saving spending on newsprint and freelancers.

(In other Times budget news, the price of the newspaper may again be going up. Hey, as advertising declines, someone's got to pay. I'm even feeling a little sorry for the Times these days, even though some boneheaded decisions--like spending $1.1 billion for the Boston Globe--made things worse. )

I've been critical of the Times's use of the City section to cover Atlantic Yards, but also recognize that it's better than further diminishment of space and attention. (The Observer ran a nice piece about the loss of the section's urban essays.) But that's the newspaper business these days.

City section on AY

I criticized a 10/22/06 cover story in the City section for not fully depicting the scale and voices around AY.

I had criticized the Times for relegating the first Atlantic Yards op-ed, as well as editorials, to the City section, given that the issue is of interest well beyond the five boroughs and also involves state subsidies.

Keep in mind that a year ago, the Times cut the editorial and op-ed pages of the City section after three and a half years. So, given the consolidation of the regional sections, even if there is space for editorials/op-eds (and I doubt it), there'd be less room for commentary on issues like AY.

The Times's explanation

Last week, in the Times's Talk to the Newsroom feature, a reader asked about The End of the City Section. 

Q. As a native New Yorker, like yourself, I have been reading the City section for many, many years. I was so sad to hear that this section is being discontinued. The section had the most interesting stories about different neighborhoods and profiles of real New Yorkers? Why oh why is this section being discontinued? I love the articles about the history of the city as well as the human interest stories. Let us have less about Wall Street and more about the people of New York City. Within these stories you will find the "heart and soul' of the real New York." Keep up the good work. Your stories are awesome

— Rosanne Alberts

A. I posed your question to Jodi Rudoren, the deputy metropolitan editor who will be running our new Sunday metropolitan section:

Many of us in the newsroom, too, are sad to see The City section go. The City, along with parallel weekly sections that circulate in New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut, had terrific ground-level neighborhood coverage, wonderful photography and interesting non-Times writers that brought different voices into our pages. That said, it always seemed a bit strange to some of us that local coverage was scattered in different places on Sundays — and that so much of it was only available in print to narrow slices of our audience.

The decision to close these sections was driven largely by costs, but we are seizing the opportunity to invent a splashy new Sunday section that we hope will retain the best of The City and the regional weeklies while experimenting with new storytelling forms. It is conceived as a magazine-style feature section, with deep narratives and columns, as well as highly visual graphics, interviews and neighborhood guides, and will be a writing showcase for some of our biggest talents. One in 8 Million, our hugely popular audio and photo series about individual New York characters, will be migrating from the Friday paper to the new Sunday section, where it will get a bigger display. We'll also be trying out some unconventional ideas, and stretching our own boundaries a bit every week. Some of these new features will also have related content online and on City Room.


While nobody is happy to lose The City, we are quite excited about what we're creating. We hope you will become a dedicated reader. And that you will let us know what you like, what you don't, and what you'd like to see instead.

Well, I don't doubt that there will be some improvement, but, given the lower number of pages, it has to be a net loss, with a higher threshold for coverage and only "bigger" regional stories making the cut.

Others are lamenting the situation. At a conference on the "newspaper crisis" at Princeton University Friday, Charles Layton, a former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, called the loss of the weekly regional section "another blow to New Jersey," given the layoffs and other diminishment of coverage by newspapers in the state. 

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