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The Press

May 2024
1min read

In his otherwise lively survey, Peter Andrews promotes one of the enduring myths of journalism when he repeats the story of the New York Times ’s selfless wartime decision not to cut back on its news coverage while the greedy New York Herald Tribune profited from increasing its ad space. This is the Times ’s party line. It was debunked by Richard Kluger in his affectionate history of the Trib (The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune , Knopf, 1986). I also looked into the story for my recent (not so affectionate) investigative narrative, Behind the Times : Inside the New New York Times, Villard Books, 1994. The facts are these: there was indeed wartime rationing of newsprint. The Times did use its ration to continue to report the news; it printed 8,800 columns of war coverage—more than any other American paper. But the Tribune also gave strong news coverage to the war, and it did not “fatten up” on wartime ads. Nor did the Trib lose “reader acceptance” because of any alleged wartime slacking. As I point out, the Times moved ahead of the Trib for much more down-and-dirty reasons and later, in the postwar period. After the war the Trib decided to raise its newsstand price from 3 cents to 5 cents (the bigger Times remained at 3 cents). Then the Trib failed to hitch on to the great 1950s migration to the suburbs. The Times circulation department, meanwhile, quickly grasped the new notion that home delivery was the most efficient, long-term way to build readership.

I could go on, and do in my book, which deals with several other myths about the Times and modern American media. I’m sorry that Andrews, whose own father worked for the Trib , has swallowed the Times ’s, unofficial history. Andrews worked for Hearst; so did I, at the old International News Service. Our slogan was: “Get it First, but First Get It Right.”

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