Trickle-Down Cuts

Early the other morning, my wife said she had seen breaking news about the CIA giving money to someone in Afghanistan and she was trying to get the story by watching CNN.

I had just freed my local newspaper and The New York Times from their plastic wraps, putting the local newspaper on the kitchen counter to be read with my next cup of coffee and the Times on the coffee table in front of the sofa to be read later in the day during happy hours. I had already skimmed the Times online, but prefer to read hard copy and don’t even give it glance when I unwrap it in the morning.

“The story’s right there,” I said, pointing to the Times. I knew that much from my morning online skim. “It’s probably the lead story,” I said. I walked over to the coffee table, picked it up and handed it to her.

It was the lead the story, complete with a four-column photograph and a two-column headline, indications of the high value Times editors placed on the story: “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.”

This was not the first time I’ve pointed out to my wife that many of the in-depth stories she hears about on TV appear first in The New York Times. And that’s why cutbacks in the newsroom at the Times—and the most recent announcement that 100 more will occur—is bad news not just for the Times, but for all of journalism.

The story had three bylines on it and a fourth reporter was credited as a contributor at the end. It was a massive reporting effort both in Washington and Afghanistan. How many newspapers or cable news channels are going to put four reporters on an in-depth two-country story?
But how many newspapers and news channels picked up on the Times’ story and used it in some fashion, including as a topic for the talk shows?

And there’s where the loss of 100 positions in the Times’ newsroom really means 100 fewer positions in newsrooms around the country. It means less coverage for everyone.

So while I am sure there are those who are happy to see the Times in reduced circumstances, they too will suffer in the long run. Democracy is fueled by information and a free and open debate. Journalists, through their work, help provide the fuel.

1 comment:

  1. Good essay, Tom--I worry about that too. On the other hand, Seymour Hersh broke the My Lai massacre story as as a freelancer. I seem to remember that Black Star, the photography wire, distributed the story.