In a recent article in the American Journalism Review, New York Times editor Bill Keller did not hold back from explaining what’s wrong with the NYT’s top competitors:
When we talk in mid-December, he begins by citing the three excellent rivals he feels are indispensable reading: the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. Then he lets loose.
The Dow Jones Co., which owns the Journal, “seems to be pumping out a lot of smoke to mask a retreat,” covering business for business and offering a more “magaziney” approach, Keller muses, leaning chin on hand and looking contemplative. “My sense is that they’re hollowing out the reporting behind it. This really struck me between the eyes during the war on Lebanon… Not every day, but a lot of days during the war in Lebanon, they were writing stories that could have been written from their offices in New York. They were smart, analytical, almost op ed pieces. I mean, I’m not faulting their analysis. But you sensed a real absence of reporting on the ground.”
Next up, the Tribune Co.’s Los Angeles Times: “Nobody knows who’s going to own it six months from now, and nobody knows what the owner will decide is his business model, so that’s kind of hard to say,” he stipulates. “But what they have been going through is a fairly relentless cost-cutting exercise driven by people in Chicago..who all but say it would be just fine if the L.A. Times were the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Tribune is an OK paper. It’s a fine paper. It’s not the L.A. Times.”
And then the Post: “The Washington Post, you know, has become an education company that happens to own a newspaper,” he observes. While professing “unqualified admiration” for Don Graham and Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., he says “the reality they’re dealing with is that it’s not really a journalism company”; rather, the Post “is one of the properties that the Kaplan Co. owns,” and is “certainly under a lot of pressure.” Its talent is getting “picked away from outside,” Keller continues, citing Allbritton’s recent coup in luring two of the Post’s top political experts to its nascent Web site. He concludes, “They’ll probably go hire all the good people from the L.A. Times.” (He adds later, “All the good people who are left after we’ve finished our own hiring.”)
All this, from the editor of a paper whose stock price has dropped 50 percent in the last four years. (h/t Romenesko)