Jurassic Park Redux: The Wall Street Journal's New NYC Edition Debut

T-Rex Dinosaur
Image by Scott Kinmartin via Flickr

Welcome to Jurassic Park. Daily print newspapers are supposed to be dead — watch the the T. Rex and the Brontosaurus claw at one another anyway!

I was underwhelmed by today’s first edition of the Journal’s new, much-anticipated Metro section.

The new section is called Greater New York, ( a sop to advertisers that they’ll also include the suburban hedge-fund wives of Scarsdale and Greenwich, CT and Short Hills, NJ) and the best story on front page today — albeit not a breaking news piece — was about a rat infestation on the tony Upper East Side. Chewed Manolos!

One front-page piece looked at the state deciding whether or not to borrow money to avoid a looming $1 billion shortfall and another focused on a commercial real estate story about a Fifth Avenue property. An inside page offered tips on how to swipe your Metrocard properly, a fairly basic urban skill. There were two food stories, two pieces about auction houses, a Tribeca penthouse at $28 million and the Mark Hotel, one of the city’s oldest and most elegant, now struggling for business.

If you’re rich — as most Journal readers are — this sort of thing matters. For the rest of us, who just live here, not so compelling.

Only sports columnist Jason Gay — as WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show admired this morning in their assessment of the new section — won plaudits for his self-deprecating sense of humor:

1. Goes without saying, but this column will be primarily dedicated to New York-area fox-hunting and squash. On occasion, it will cover fringe sports, like that science experiment with a basketball in Madison Square Garden.

2. We’ll do our best to devote equal attention to the Yankees and Mets. On occasions where there is a conflict, we will simply lavish praise on the Yankees. Just kidding, Mets—calm down! Stop being the Jan Brady of New York sports.

The tone of the new section feels stiff and tentative, sort of New York Observer light.

It should be an interesting horse race. The Post is unrepentantly itself — today’s wood (front page) had Boobquake — and the Times will retain its own perspective. The Times and Journal will be duking it out for affluent readers, so their race for ad dollars is one to watch, reports today’s Post:

Shares of the Times Co. fell for a second day on Friday, dropping 68 cents, or 5.5 percent, to $11.61. On Thursday, the company reported first-quarter results that showed ad declines were easing but that the market had not yet hit bottom.

Despite the pressure on ad rates, media buyers don’t foresee advertisers abandoning the Times for the Journal’s Greater New York.

“It’s an attractive opportunity for advertisers looking to heavy up in the New York market,” said George Jansen, director of print at WPP’s GroupM media-buying unit. “Do I think they will pull out of the Times and put it all in the Journal? Absolutely not.”

The Times has some factors in its favor. Roughly half of the paper’s more than 900,000 daily print subscribers are in the New York market.

While the Journal has 1.6 million print subscribers, Greater New York is expected to reach about 300,000 readers. The paper also skews more heavily male than the Times, which makes it a tougher sell for retailers.

Still, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman are advertising in the new section, according to Ad Age. Both also advertise in the Times and fall into the paper’s high-end, New York-centric retail base.

Feel the earth tremble. Let the newspaper war begin!

Will The WSJ Kick The NYT's Butt Covering NYC? Will Anyone Notice?

Image by vaticanus via Flickr

Here’s a New York magazine look at the upcoming battle — which starts April 26 with the launch of the Wall Street Journal’s new Metro section — between The New York Times and The Journal. Typically old-media, it lists all the names of all the reporters covering each beat (the same parlance as cops use, your specialty area, for civilians reading this), and suggests that with twice the bench strength, the Times is set to conquer.

Not so fast.

If you actually read the Times‘ metro-area coverage, you’ll see its focus on — surprise! — the wealthy and powerful, with an equally consistent attention to the downtrodden. Someone, somewhere, finally persuaded the copy desk that the oft-used euphemism “gritty” — as in X is a “gritty neighborhood”  is a lousy, weak substitute for the simple word “poor.” But then, that word can be construed as making a value judgment, while “gritty”, vague and polite and oblique, offers an adjectival deke.

The Times actually has a list of “forbidden” words that one bumps into as a freelancer when a copy editor says, “No, you can’t use that word.” Some are obvious cliches, others a decision made by someone higher up.

The Times recently added a new city beat, covering what goes on in Manhattan’s private schools. Has Gossip Girl really caught on to this degree? I attended private school for six years, and can’t imagine who wants to read a word, (except wealthy parents, their subscriber base) about the $25,000/year darlings of Spence, Collegiate, Horace Mann or their ilk. These kids are interesting because…?

As anyone who reads True/Slant knows — or listens to the BBC or (insert favorite website/blogger/news source here) — it doesn’t take a huge staff to break national or international stories. You don’t need an Ivy or graduate degree. The notion of “shoe leather” (pleather for the vegans) reporting remains unchanged. It’s also called GOYA — as in Get Off Your Ass. News is not found in press releases, at press conferences, in pundits and academics and think tankers’ opinions — so much easier on a snowy/rainy/humid day than actually interviewing real people a 45-minute cab or subway ride away from the office.

You need intelligence, the willingness to take some risks, and the patience, curiosity and people skills to winkle out great stories from people you take the time, over time to get to know.

Then, having read your stuff and knowing it’s accurate and fair, they decide to trust you and may tell you first– instead of your many competitors — some really good stuff.

I was the first reporter to land a major national story in 2006 when at the Daily News.  I snagged the story the way many of us do — I read a short AP story from Connecticut, sensed a much larger issue in it not yet told, (and out of our coverage area) and made a call to the primary source. My piece did not run for many weeks because it would have offended major advertisers. Only after 60 Minutes, Time and The New York Times got it — because my source, fairly enough, was fed up and wanted his story told and gave up on me — did it run.

Yet he called me a few weeks ago, telling me because he remembered my initial passion for his story, with its latest twist.

A news “battle” relies far less on the number, strength and training of the troops. Like every decisive fight, it also relies on the courage, morality, intelligence, strategy and quick thinking of the generals, the city editors who decide what deserves coverage in the first place, and who hire, run, praise or punish their reporters by giving them great stories to cover, space/time to do them properly, great art or photos or graphics, good play in the paper and on-line.

I was, for a month or two, the national editor of a short-lived, insanely wacky (but fun and a good idea) daily newspaper in Manhattan, called Her New York, whose focus was to be on women. We were a laughingstock, but gave it our best. Our owner ended up going to prison for financial misdeeds. My desk was a slab of formica, my desk “drawer” a cardboard box on the floor. We still broke some stories.

It will be interesting to watch these well-paid soldiers, an elite corps simply by having a newspaper job these days, don their intellectual armor and clank their away across the five boroughs. The city is complicated and has, like all huge cities, many untold stories, entire constituencies deemed too snoozy or uninteresting to cover, thereby ignored or resigned to their invisibility.

Bring it on.

Stop The Presses! Bloggers To Get Official NYC Press Passes, Just In Time To Compete With New WSJ Metro Section

*(en) press pass *(nl) Perskaart *(fi) Lehdist...
Like this, but new, and cooler. Image via Wikipedia

If there is any artifact I treasure more than the oversize official NYC laminated PRESS pass I was issued while at the Daily News, it’s my green card. These two bits of plastic are as work-life-defining as anything I own.

They are, sue me, so cool. I felt some serious envy (they expire, as mine has) while covering the Madoff trial here last fall and watching everyone swagger about with theirs.

Now bloggers can get one too.

From Fishbowl NY:

We can thank blogger Rafael Martinez Alequin, who filed the lawsuit that precipitated the change.

Update: Gotham Gazette alerts us that two additional plaintiffs — the Guardian Chronicle‘s David Wallis and Featurewell.com‘s Ralph E. Smith — also pressed the case.

Before today, journalists who worked online were routinely denied press passes, presumably owing to antiquated definitions of what it means to work in media. Frankly, we’re surprised it took this long. From today’s announcement:

Under the proposed new rules published today, to obtain a press credential, an applicant must show that he or she has covered, in person, six news events where the City has restricted access, within the two-year period preceding the application. In addition to employees of traditional news gathering organizations, the new rules cover self-employed newspersons and other individuals who gather and report the news. The new press card will be issued every two years.So it’s not like any old yahoo with a blog can get special access to exclusive or difficult-to-access events; the yahoo must be invested enough in the beat to have written about restricted events six times. Only the most dedicated bloggers get access. Seems fair.

Next month, the Wall Street Journal finally launches its new Metro section. It’s going to be fun!

From editorsweblog.org:

Rupert Murdoch announced The Wall Street Journal‘s plans to launch a New York edition this April during a speech before the Real Estate Board of New York yesterday. Murdoch has reportedly set aside a $15 million budget for the new metro edition with the hopes of rivaling The New York Times in local news.

Murdoch, whose’ News Corporation acquired the Journal in 2007 and also owns The New York Post, had not previously acknowledged public reports over the new section, one of the worst-kept secrets in the newspaper industry. His remarks mark the Journal’s first foray into local news with a stand-alone daily section featuring articles on culture, sports, politics, and other news from New York.
“I’ve always believed that competition starts at home. So in the next few weeks, one of our other papers will be giving the Post some competition on their home turf. I’m talking about the Wall Street Journal,” said Murdoch.

Murdoch did go into further details, but did confirm that the new section “will be full color — and it will be feisty.”

New York City already has more dailies than most North American cities, but The New York Times shut down its Metro section in 2008, the Post is the Post and I don’t read the Daily News. For a city of its size and complexity, it’s still not well-covered; the obvious stories (the rich, Wall Street, sleazy politicians) get too much attention while entire communities and voices remain unheard. Manhattan gets most of the coverage and Manhattan remains a boys’ town.

I’m hardly looking to the WSJ for feminist redress but anyone, anywhere, seriously kicking butt on this stuff might do us all a bit of good.