By Ralph Nader
I read the New York Times in print, flipping pages and reading through all the various sections. Over the past year, a nearly life-size face appears in many full-page ads. This same ad appears in any section of the Times including the coveted pages of the Sunday New York Times Magazine. The same full-page ad has been printed at least 100 times.
The ad intensely promotes the Ezra Klein Show! – a New York Times Podcast featuring their newest star.
Mr. Klein, formerly from the Washington Post and Vox, holds forth with interviews that range far and wide but not as far and wide as reality would seem to demand from such a well-read, inquiring young mind of 37 years. This repetitive full-page ad, once you get beyond his portrait, the top of his black t-shirt, and the American flag, tells you what to expect, to wit:
“How do we address climate change if the political system fails to act? What are the effects of markets infiltrating our lives? What is the future of the Republican Party? How can our food system be more just? What do psychedelics teach us about consciousness? What does sci-fi understand about our present? How can conversations and ideas help us to better understand?…… Ezra Klein invites you into a conversation about something that matters.”
Do large advertisers on his Podcasts like Facebook and Fidelity Investments invite you to patronize them? Podcasts are a key component of the New York Times business model that is designed to reach the younger aliterate generation and others who have a short attention span. Mr. Klein, also an occasional columnist for the paper, declares that only the Times management makes the decisions about ads, and that he has nothing to do with the corporations wrapped around his content. Alas Mr. Klein has no say, he would insist, over how the Times promotes him. I wonder. He could at least vary the ad, which hasn’t changed an iota. For example, the ad could feature some eyebrow raising or enlightening excerpts and exchanges between him and his guests.
How about varying the graphics to avoid the humdrum reaction by readers seeing the same presentation over and over again? (Attempts to reach the head of the advertising and graphics departments at the Times by phone and by email were not successful.)
Even a corporate critic told me that listening to Ezra’s show “is a great education.” Yet direct words like “corporate crime,” “corporate welfare,” “corporate greed,” and “corporate control” over our political economy, culture, children, genetics, war machine, tax inequities, health care chaos, housing and food supply are rarely used in promotions or podcast questioning, despite their authentic pulling power. The preferred word is “markets,” not the power-hungry CEO or a named corporation plundering the innocents. Ezra did, however, have an entire show with Noam Chomsky, a globally recognized public intellectual, war and corporate critic, and mega-author. For years the Times news and editorial pages have reduced Chomsky to a virtual non-person.
As a deliberative progressive, Mr. Klein probably has a nuanced view of his full-page promotions that expands well beyond delights of ego. A full-page in the Times is valuable journalistic real estate. These pages could be filled with news and features on subjects neglected by the New York Times, including issues involving New York City.
For example, the 50-year performance of the New York student Public Interest Research Group’s accomplishments remains largely ignored, other than its Straphangers Campaign monitoring the City’s subways. NYPIRG is part of the most productive nationwide civic (student) movement in modern U.S. history (See USPIRG.org).
It has also been puzzling to see the Times use valuable pages endlessly promoting the same book by their ace White House reporter, Peter Baker, or their columnist Paul Krugman. Month after month, with diminishing returns, these ads produce very modest Amazon rankings and other sales. Large space is taken up which might cause loyal readers to say, “Enough, already, we want more print content from all those talented underutilized reporters.”
Graphics, seen by the Times as necessary in a visual age to attract readers, have been allowed to go way overboard. Graphic designers now reign supreme over what were the most valuable pages in American journalism such as the front pages of the Sunday Review and the Sunday Business Section. Often full-page graphics exude no message; and are little more than eye candy.
Readers of the print edition these days tend to be serious and more elderly. They can be forgiven for feeling robbed of the content that once graced these front pages, such as the brilliant investigative financial reporting by Gretchen Morgenson, whose reporting gave many CEOs indigestion at their Sunday morning breakfast. That was before she left when the editors decided to make the section “more business friendly.”
Returning to Ezra Klein, here is my entreaty. You’re a big star. Superstar athletes, such as Tom Brady, LeBron James and others weigh in on management decisions. This level of intervention by you is hardly a major stretch. Enough of these full-page, diminishing return promotions. Promote what you’ve mined from your podcast, and free some space for reporters hungry for space to cover the uncovered.
Imagine trading some ad space for a story on what the tiny financial transaction sales tax, collected and instantly rebated in the billions of dollars each year by New York State, is all about. The Times Albany reporters would like getting that assignment at last.