Sunday, July 3, 2011

No More "Week in Review"

Since I was at least 10 or so, I have regularly read the Sunday New York Times and have usually either begun or eventually gravitated to what used to be known as Section 4: The Week in Review. In an era of weekly magazines of all sorts, I suppose the idea of a "Week in Review" made sense on a host of levels. Whatever it may have been originally, by my time the section certainly was not actually a chronicle of the week's events, so much as a section of articles on various newsworthy topics both a little longer and a little more analytical than your average news story. It was also where the editorials and columns were, which as the years passed became more and more prominent was such features as the Op-Ed page became standard newspaper fare. I confess I often turned first to some of the columns, probably because the the facts themselves were already often largely known, and it was to making sense of all of that news that I was reading it. (Likewise on TV, I have always had a fondness for traditional discussion shows, appreciating the efforts of others to put the news in helpful perspective).
Which probably explains why The Week in Review is now gone, replaced last month by The Sunday Review, which seems to be just as fine a publication but somewhat heavier on the analysis and opinion stuff. I'm guessing the layout reflects that as well. However, since I now read The Times on-line most Sundays (not because I prefer it that way, which actually I don't, but because I don't live in NYC anymore, and it is an extra effort on a busy Sunday morning to go and get a paper copy.)

According to "The Public Editor," most of the complaints about the change "were laments for the political cartoons and late-night television gag lines that have been eliminated." His greater concern seems to be whether this change will in the long term further erode the already somewhat fine line that separates actual "news" from officially acknowledged "opinion." That's very much a clssic concern of professional journalists, but not one which energizes the rest of us very much, I suspect. My concern (such as it is) is related, but differently focused.

The cartoons are a real loss, I suppose, and I can't imagine why they were dropped. That said, I suppose the move toward even more analysis and opinion is, as "The Public Editor" notes, in sync with where our culture is right now. While I admittedly enjoy that emphasis, I am not completely convinced that is the best thing. As I've often said, few justifications are as shallow as being"on the right side of history." It's true that in this "Information Age" we may have more news than we can possibly digest, and so we really do need help in digesting it - and, frankly, I'm all for that. However, it is also true that we live in an age of increasingly compartmentalized communities of knowledge, where every ideology and point of view not only forms its own opinion but frequently creates its own facts to support them. The days when we all shared a fairly common body of facts, to which there was wide, if not universal, assent, are obviously gone. It's not obvious that this extremely "post-modern" arrangement of compartmentalized fact-substitutes really is such a great improvement. So, while I have no really strong objections to the new Sunday Review section per se (and will probalby quickly grow to like it), it is possible that the trend it represents may be just another case where being "on the right side of history" may end up being the very wrong thing to do.

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