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04.29.10

Newspaper Wars: The Times vs. The Journal, Day 4

Heading into the fourth day of competition, upstart Wall Street Journal was nipping at the heels of the Gray Lady. So how did the two papers do in today’s pitched battle for New Yorkers’ attention? Legendary newspaper editor Harold Evans keeps score.

Heading into the fourth day of competition, upstart Wall Street Journal was nipping at the heels of the Gray Lady. So how did the two papers do in today’s pitched battle for New Yorkers’ attention? Legendary newspaper editor Harold Evans keeps score. Plus, read his scoring of Day 3, Day 2, and Day 1.

Who owns New York? Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger’s New York Times or Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal? In a classic newspaper war to win eyeballs, the invading Wall Street Journal left The New York Times standing at the start of the race last Monday when the Journal launched its separate section called Greater New York. It represents another fairly sizeable investment by Murdoch in revitalizing the paper he bought from the Bancroft family in the expectation of being rewarded in sales, ad revenues, and influence. The Daily Beast invited me to score the race for a week loosely based on news content, including writing and relevance, organization and design, and the width of appeal. I will sum up on Saturday.

I scored Day 1 for Journal editor Robert Thomson against NYT’s Bill Keller. On Days 2 and 3, Keller cut back sharply on Thomson’s big opening lead by better use of the NYT space advantage in sports and the arts (while the Journal’s news content was slimmer). And the Journal takes no notice of the deaths of important New Yorkers, duly recorded in the Times. That gave Keller two days, but not enough to overtake Thomson. Opening both papers on Thursday morning, the scorecard read WSJ, 63, and the NYT, 51. Today the Times pulls even.

NEWS
WSJ: 2
NYT: 9

The Times’ most important story, a scoop, was that thousands of children who need special education will be moved into mainstream schools, a tough and controversial policy. But it also detailed the scam of a state senator; how the dead man feature on the subway trains saved lives on Wednesday; what happens to immigrants detained in New Jersey jails, and more bad news for subway and bus riders, with plans to lay off hundreds of workers.

There were more hard news stories in the Times, but the Journal got points for itemizing the violations in flights over the Hudson; the tough times coming for hospital workers; how the city agencies are lacking in providing information for websites; documenting how school districts are hoarding taxpayer cash, and the bad news for tennis players—they won’t be getting bubble roofs over Central Park’s 26 tennis courts between 94th and 96th streets.

WRITING
WSJ: 2
NYT: 8

Can this be spring? The first promising green leaf of humor in the week popped up in the Times with Andy Newman’s delightful spoof on the prospect that Mayor Bloomberg’s radical reorganization of city traffic might lead to one thruway for gondolas—or maybe for high occupancy bowling lanes for all roadways south of 42nd Street. Newman’s crystal ball included May 25—the opening of a network of tightrope lanes: “Wheeeeee, the mayor declared, seconds before cutting the rope he had mistaken for a ribbon.” It is predicted in a November headline: “City to melt snow with salt confiscated from restaurants.”

Also in the Times, Robin Finn interrogated a former police sergeant and supervisor of detectives on how, in his new job looking after New York trees, he compares cutting off dead branching at perilous heights with perps on the run.

There’s only one way the Journal can compete with the Times on sports, and that’s with news features. Russell Adams hit a double with a tantalizing analysis of who has been the greatest Yankee ballplayer. He points out that for the Yankees, it’s not enough to go by the stats, but one must also factor in a player’s ability to inspire myths, generate revenue, curse entire cities, and compel otherwise rational people to do crazy things—like spend $23,000 on a catcher’s mitt. Let the arguments begin!

ORGANIZATION AND DESIGN
WSJ: 8
NYT: 4

WIDTH OF APPEAL
WSJ: 5
NYT: 8

TOTALS TO DATE
WSJ: 80
NYT: 80

Clearly, competition has made the Times better.

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Harold Evans, author of two histories of America, just published his memoir, My Paper Chase. Editor at large of The Week, he was editor of The Sunday Times from 1967-81 and The Times from 1981-82, founding editor of Condé Nast Traveler, and president of Random House Trade Group from 1990-97.