The New York Times as Chronicler of the Great Recession

When I lived in New York City from 1982 to 1994, I had a love-hate relationship with the New York Times. Oh, how I enjoyed those big, fat Sunday editions, brimming with goodies like the Book Review and the Week in Review. And just buying the paper made me feel like more of a New Yorker, no small thing during the height of my love affair with the Wonder City.

But the paper also started to bug the hell out of me. With its advertisements reeking of conspicuous consumption and its content embracing of the excesses of the 80s and 90s, I stopped reading it every day. (In its place was the amazing New York Newsday, which during its run produced some of the best journalism I’ve seen in a big city newspaper.)

Today, I find the Times is an indispensable source of news and commentary about the Great Recession. Whether it means the paper is simply a reflection of the era, or a conscious shaper of our understanding of it, I’m not sure. But it merits enormous credit for consistent, in-depth coverage of the economic, social, and political conditions of our day.

An honor roll of reporters and columnists

Some ongoing highlights:

  • Reporters such as Louis Uchitelle and Michael Luo regularly deliver superb accounts on how the recession is hitting everyday people economically and psychologically.
  • Steven Greenhouse, one of America’s last dedicated labor reporters, consistently reports on how workers and labor unions are dealing with the recession.
  • Bob Herbert’s op-ed columns about the recession’s on-the-ground impact and the human costs of growing poverty deserve a Pulitzer, plain and simple.
  • Paul Krugman brilliantly weaves together economics and the bigger political picture.
  • David Leonhardt’s economics column is informative and insightful, blending policy with nitty-gritty reality.
  • Ron Lieber’s columns on personal finance often speak to the concerns of middle class folks trying to make ends meet and save for retirement.

A voice for the Times

Yup, the Times still runs pages of ads for stuff most of us can’t afford, its wedding announcements still read like abbreviated bios of the wealthy & connected, and its periodic fashion magazines tout exorbitantly-priced duds that often look plain silly on any normal human being. I see it as a necessary trade-off: The revenue generated by all this helps to pay for the rich coverage in the rest of the paper.

During the two years I have written this blog, I find myself increasingly linking to pieces in the Times. The content is so relevant, and so good, that I have to watch how often I do it.

I tend not to gush over mainstream institutions; I find that they rarely deserve the hype. For me, however, the Times has become the essential chronicler of our times. Forgive the cliche I’m about to invoke, but when newspapers everywhere are facing the realities of the digital economy, it stands as a beacon of journalistic excellence.


Cross-posted with Second Thoughts, a new blog on adult education, lifelong learning, and positive social change, for which I am a co-host and regular contributor.

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