Friday, April 19, 2002
First impressions of the New York Sun, after 3 days of subscription:
(1) Not enough special New York dirt. I remember fondly Lipsky's days at the Forward. I valued that paper not only for its extremely well-thought-out and strikingly independent editorial line but because it covered things that other papers wouldn't or couldn't. For example, it covered - and uncovered - news in the Orthodox Jewish community and in the Jewish philanthropic world far better than, for example, the often apologetic Jewish Week. By contrast, what I've seen so far of New York reportage is stuff I already knew, or could have learned anywhere. And there's not a strong enough New York focus. Look, if I want to get a right-wing slant on events overseas or in Washington, I can read the Jerusalem Post, the Washington Times, National Review Online, the Daily Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal, etc. etc. If I want to read about the world's largest ant colony, I can log on to Yahoo News. The Sun isn't doing their own reporting on these things; they are just using stuff from the AP or from other parts of Conrad Black's empire. This does not add too much value to my news day. I want to know more about the politics of the new City Council. I want to get inside the Bloomberg administration, not read a fluffy interview with the Mayor. The political stories that ran under the "Rockerfeller Republican" headline were quite weak; I wasn't sure there was any news at all in the stories, and certainly no analysis that I couldn't have written myself. I want the Sun to cover demographic trends in the city that I might not otherwise know about. I want them to really cover the unions, give us a sense of the play of personality and what their political strategies are, and what they mean for the city. I want them to cover academic politics at Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn and City College.
(2) The paper needs more and stronger arts and culture coverage. Who is the Sun reader? The Sun reader is someone who has the same politics as the New York Post but wants a more upscale alternative. One way to get and keep such readers is by providing them something they are not going to get from the Post - that is to say, extensive and smart coverage of arts and culture in New York. The Sun should aspire to be the newspaper that tells people with real taste what is worthwhile in theater, music, restaurants, books, movies, dance, popular culture, etc. It should cover off- and even off-off-Broadway. It should be skeptical and opinionated about, for example, restaurant trends; the piece on Jean Georges was exactly wrong in this respect. It should cover the gallery scene as well as the major museums. Most of all, it should have a strong editorial perspective on what constitutes good art, what is conducive to a strong cultural life in the city, and it should tell us who the players are in the important battles taking place.
(3) The fonts are a problem. The front page looks like the pages from the Onion's book, Our Dumb Century. It looks somehow amateurish. It looks crowded and empty at the same time. I have a suspicion that the headlines are using fonts that the old Sun must have used. If that's the case, ditch them; nostalgia is no excuse for lack of clarity. And the text font is strongly reminiscent of the Forward, but somehow looks wrong next to the title fonts. If the Sun wants to see what a strong, clear look can do for a paper, look at the Wall Street Journal redesign, which is absolutely marvelous. The new Journal has clear visual continuity with the old, while looking cleaner, sharper, and more-up-to-date - the whole layout looks just reminiscent enough of a high-end web page. The Sun should aspire to the same. As it is, it looks both old-fashioned and slap-dash.
I'm being very negative here because I have very high hopes for the paper. It has been pointed out that New York has plenty of conservative papers, and doesn't need another. It has the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and, for the coffee-house set, the New York Press. This is all true, but there is absolutely room for another conservative voice in this town. The Sun aspires to be an alternative to the Times, but that is not in immediate view. It could be a strong third paper for those who already subscribe to the Times and the Journal - an upmarket alternative to the Post, in other words. But it should also be an alternative to New York Magazine. It should tell us about life in the city without being obsessed with Sex in the City. It should be a style and opinion leader for people who eat and shop at the same places as New York Magazine readers but who hate their politics and general cultural stance. People will read the Sun if it tells them things they won't know from reading other papers. If the Sun delivers that, I'm sure it will rise. If not, I fear it will set far too soon.