The Underdeveloped Profession

"The Underdeveloped Profession," The Public Interest, Winter 1967.


It is becoming high fashion, in some circles, to sling an occasional shot at the New York Times. The temptation is both powerful and understandable. The Times is such a big, smug, solid target that any individual is bound to add a journalistic cubit to his stature by taking it on. Victory, moreover, is cheap: the writer demonstrates – usually quite convincingly – either (a) that he knows more about a particular comer of the world than the Times’ correspondent there, or (b) that he writes far better than the average Timesman. The net effect of these incidents is to inflict a superficial wound upon the Times’ self-esteem. Predictably enough, recovery is swift and complete.

Now, what is most unfortunate about this whole business is that there is indeed a very serious problem connected “the matter of the Times, ” and the usual slings and arrows, for all their f orce and accuracy, do not penetrate to the heart of this matter. The problem is not that the Times has flaws. It is that these flaws flow naturally from the history and present condition of American journalism itself. We are not dealing merely with an imperfect newspaper; we are dealing with an entire profession, and an entire industry, that is in a critical state of decay – and which doesn’t know it, doesn’t even begin to comprehend it.

I would put the matter this way: the Times is not only our best newspaper, it is a truly great newspaper. Why, then, is it not a truly good one?

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