Does New York Times believe
its own cable television ad?

          Posted: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The New York Times advertises relentlessly on CNBC. Hopefully it pays off. It should mean something that a massive purveyor of advertising such as the Times or any print newspaper is so eager to advertise itself.

The present ad shows faces representing targeted demographics telling why they love getting the Times Friday through Sunday. All of these reasons for loving a famously in-depth publication are delivered in quick little soundbites.

If that merely seems like irony and not a problem, consider this example:

"The best journalists in the world work for the Times. And, there's no debating that."

The first sentence can mean only one of two things. It could mean the Times possesses the best overall collection of journalists of any news organization. Or it could mean that the top journalist in every conceivable category works for the Times.

Put simply in baseball terms: the Times is either calling itself the Philadelphia Phillies, or the National League All-Star team.

If the Times sees itself as the Phillies, or the best overall "team" of journalists, many would agree, but then the "best journalists in the world work for the Times" claim is dubious because it could mean the Times employs only a few, or even none, of the best journalists. The 2008 Phillies for example, according to, put only two players on the 2008 All-Star team, a second baseman and relief pitcher. There were acknowledged better starting pitchers, outfielders and infielders who did not play for the Phillies.

If the Times sees itself as the All-Star team, it would have to field the best journalist in every distinction. But according to the Pulitzer Prizes, widely acknowledged as the industry's top measure of greatness, the New York Times did not have the best journalist in every category. For example, editorial writing was won by Mark Mahoney of the Post-Star of Glens Falls, N.Y., and the two finalists represented the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. In commentary, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post edged out the Times' Paul Krugman.

Robinson won a Pulitzer. According to the commercial, he is not one of the "best journalists in the world" because he doesn't work for the Times.

The "best journalists" soundbite occurs near the end of the ad. Why is such an important statement not the first statement, and why is it tucked away almost as an afterthought?

Here is how the ad proceeds, excerpted in some passages:

"I think it was the Sunday Styles that brought us together."

"I think it was the Week in Review."

"Getting the Times delivered for me, well that's really the best part of the weekend."

"That's why I love the Weekender. It's a Friday-Saturday-Sunday subscription that puts you in the center of the conversation."

"The depth and breadth of reporting, the insight."

"Just $5.20 a week."

"Best deal around."

"I'm fluent in three sections actually: Business, Travel, the Book Review."

"Sunday Styles."

"Save 50%."

"I just went to Spain, and the Travel section helped me plan my trip."

"Save 50%."

"50% off home delivery? Fantastic."

"The best journalists in the world work for the Times. And, there's no debating that."

"So call now — get the conversation going."

"I'll trade you the magazine for the book review."

This ad sells leisure news and reviews. There is nothing wrong with that, except for the sad realization that perhaps the most famous newspaper of hard-hitting journalism is relying on "Sunday Styles" and steep discounts to acquire readers. That says much about the state of the industry.

The industry needs all the help it can get. Perhaps this advertisement works. But it seems to downplay great journalism and even characterizes it in the type of illogical sales puffery that Times reporters would normally snuff out from other entities.

Many of the world's greatest journalists do work for the Times. There's no debating that. None of them, obviously, wrote this ad copy.

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