170 years of the “New York Times”

The 170 year old logo of “The New York Times” now adorns the displays of millions of digital subscribers (picture alliance / Pacific Press)

New York mid 19th century. The up-and-coming city on the US east coast already has a million inhabitants. But there is no serious daily newspaper with a noteworthy distribution. Publicist George Jones and Republican politician Henry J. Raymond recognize the market and information gap. Your “New York Daily Times” saw the light of the then culturally still relatively provincial metropolis on September 18, 1851. The young publisher Adolph Simon Ochs from Cincinnati bought the title, which was ailing after initial success, in 1896, shortened the name to “New York Times” and became the founding father of the Ochs-Sulzberger family dynasty, which still runs the world’s best-known daily newspaper.

Ochs consistently aligns the paper with the interests of the city’s upper class: at the turn of the century, this consists largely of Jewish business people of German descent. Ox himself is one of them. If you want to climb into this group, you need the necessary know-how, which the “New York Times” provides: information about the important people, as you can find them in the marriage and engagement advertisements, or about finances and the real estate situation in the city. Ochs invents the slogan that is still associated with the NYT today: “All the news that’s fit to print”

The “gray lady” is not always as independent as assumed

All messages that are worth printing – a confident announcement. The “Gray Lady”, her nickname because of the page-filling texts, is acquiring the reputation of a hard-researching and impartial medium parallel to the rise of New York to the world’s financial capital. Reading the “New York Times” is becoming a status symbol, not just in the USA. But in its long history it does not always report as independently as its own claim suggests. The historian Kai Burkhardt sees one of the reasons for this in the paper’s patriotism, which is promoted by Adolph Ochs. In the media database of the Institute for Media and Communication Policy, Burkhardt writes: “The newspaper was deliberately developed into an agency for US national consciousness.” This goes so far that even Jewish-sounding names of editors are Anglicized, and the editors establish close contacts in the White House:

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“Which was also easy because the New York Times recruited its editors from the same academic background as the government apparatus. Journalists and politicians came from the same social class and often knew each other personally from their studies.”
The newspaper knows of US plans for an invasion of Cuba, but keeps it to itself. The fact that the paper published the secret “Pentagon Papers” of the Ministry of Defense in 1971 is primarily due to the aggressive press policy of the Nixon government. Here, too, the Times feels called to fight for the independence of the media.

The “NYT” missed the greatest political scandal of the 20th century. Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger personally persuades the newspaper’s executives not to cover the looming Watergate affair. The great triumph of American investigative journalism – it goes to competition from the Washington Post.

Clever use of the digital media change

The fact that the “New York Times” is now the most important newspaper in the world has to do with the clever corporate policy of its publishers. The general business crisis of the daily newspapers, which is battering the industry, did not of course bypass the paper. But with a clever digital strategy, the US newspaper publisher became a media company that today reaches a global audience with its online content and its own podcasts.

How the “NYT” profited from the “Trump Bump”

By constantly questioning its own journalistic role, the “New York Times” has now developed a role model for other media companies. That it is now seen as the bulwark of American democracy is also thanks to Donald Trump, who declared the newspaper his main enemy. The New York Times sells almost seven million digital subscriptions today. The next few years will show whether this success, also known as the “Trump Bump”, will continue.

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