Friday, December 30, 2005

Notes on News, continued

I promised in my last-but-one post to explain why I like the New York Times so. (And while we're on the subject of lasts-but-one, did you know that 'antepenultimate' was a word? It means what you'd expect: before the next-to-last in a sequence. If referring to a specific item of the sequence, it means the one third from the end. I only learned this two days ago, but it got me curious. Who coined this word, and why? Ok, end of digression.)

I suppose that the reason I love the Times is that one can. Let me explain that: I grew up with The Hindu and I still enjoy reading it, but one couldn't love the Hindu; it's too impersonal. There's no magic to it; it reports the news, and that's it. While tabloids are at one extreme, the Hindu is at the other. I don't mean that I'm interested in the love lives of celebrities, far from it! But reading the Hindu, one feels that every trace of character has been excised. Young World and the Sunday magazine section were exceptions, but by and large the paper just sticks to the facts. In contrast, the Times has a distinct personality, a delightful one. There are two things I find particularly endearing.

First, the editorial observers and similar contributors. Verlyn Klinkenborg, in particular, is the perfect observer; his pieces have just the right touch of wonder as he describes the little things he notices, the things that most of us simply don't see. Recent articles that stand out in my mind have described riding the train into Grand Central station, driving across western America, and the pace of life on his farm. Today, at the end of the year, the Times had six poets write for the feature Closing Time.Two days ago, Nora Ephron wrote about her quest for long-lost Cabbage Strudel. A newspaper which can publish a 2-page article on cabbage strudel can't possibly take itself too seriously.

Then there are the short-term guest columnists. This month, Alexander McCall Smith is writing The Adventures of an Itinerant Scotsman, and in November, graphic artist Marjane Satrapi wrote (and drew) An Iranian in Paris. These posts are witty, whimsical, and full of joy in life. Last week, the transit strike in New York City left millions of New Yorkers with inadequate transportation. Alongside detailed coverage of the strike, reports on negotiations, and advice for commuters, the Times featured Scenes from a Strike-Bound City, in which local writers described how the strike affected their lives in a series of little vignettes on cycling to a poker game across town, dealing with the fact that the pizza didn't show up because there was a huge backlog of deliveries, and much else.

Second, the multi-page, 5000+ word stories that draw you in and keep you at the screen clicking 'next' until you're done. They could be about anything at all: news and analysis of current events, or from trends in the New York restaurant scene to economic trends in the past quarter, from the Science and Technology sections, or the Arts, or 'Home & Garden'. Invariably well-written and instantly engaging, they're also a great way to learn about a subject you knew nothing about. I've linked to a couple in the past, on the Orange revolution in Ukraine and Social security. Also, there are series that cover different aspects of a subject; the most recent have been about the struggle to create a modern legal system in China, and gold mining.

And that's why, every morning, the first thing I do is roll out of bed, turn on the computer, open Opera, and look at the New York Times homepage.

1 comment:

toby said...

"antepenultimate" is just an application of the Latin prefix ante-, not a special coinage...