Mainstream media is a complex institution comprised of delicate rules to preserve quality, credibility, and relevance. Utilizing six fundamental requirements for every news story—timeliness, impact, prominence, proximity, unusualness, and conflict or controversy—journalists hope to compile informative, interesting, and—most importantly—objective stories. The New York Times, a prominent source of information for affluent Americans, seems to have successfully adapted these six tools, which is evident in their ability to set the agenda—commonly referred to as The New York Times effect. As shown in Page One: Inside the New York Times other news sources seem to mimic the information selected to be in The New York Times.
Three articles, published on January 28, 2012, convey the New York Times’ ability to successfully decipher what is—and conversely, what is not—news worthy, as well as their ability to objectively present potentially partisan issues. Jim Rutenburg and Jeff Zeleny’s article, The Calculations That Led Romney to the Warpath, is a prime example, as the article fulfills all six prerequisites to being newsworthy and portrays a potentially partisan subject without bias. Timeliness, the first requirement of a creditable news article, is strongly evident, as the story was published in the midst of the Republican primary, and contained minimal information on the South Carolina primary—the reason behind Romney’s decision. Similarly, impact and prominence are both extremely evident, as the story affects—either directly or indirectly—all American readers, and is based on a well-known politician. Proximity is also apparent, as the story “hits home” with a multitude of readers concerned about the 2012 elections. Simultaneously, it is an appealing story because of its unusualness and controversy—it is rare to understand the thought process during a controversy from such a prominent politician.
More importantly, however, the article is able to present the heated topic of negative advertising from a purely factual standpoint, limiting any bias in the article. Rather than examining the context or quality of Romney’s attacks on Gingrich, the article examines the tactical decisions behind the argument. Therefore, the article is able to effectively convey the fact that Romney released attacks, without engraining an opinion in the reader.
The New York Times’ ability to present, in a nonbiased manner, issues that fulfill all six prerequisites to being newsworthy does not only apply to American news. Ken Maguire’s article, In Cradle of Games, a New Olympic Trial: Debt, demonstrates this, as it effectively reports information from Greece. While clearly fulfilling timeliness, as it was published at the heart of the financial crisis in Greece, the article more subtly fulfills impact and prominence, as the future of the Greek economy will have a strong impact on the world. The journalist is perhaps most cunning, however, in his ability to make the article “hit home.” By portraying the financial struggles through Olympic athletes, everyday Americans are able to relate to the subject. As mentioned in Reporting for the Media, “Proximity may be psychological. Two individuals separated by thousands of miles but sharing a characteristic or an interest may want to know about each other.” Lastly, the article is unusual and controversial, as an economic scandal like the one is Greece is almost unprecedented—the only Greek financial crisis that rivals the current crisis was during the Great Depression.
Similarly, the article remains impartial, as it does not make judgments on how either the athletes or the government should react. Instead, the article presents both sides of the story: while the article shows that the government simply does not have the monetary funds to allocate more resources to athletics, it also shows the athletes disappointment.
Lastly, political and economic news are not the only things considered newsworthy, which is exemplified by Matt Flegenheimer’s article, For Some Vassar Applicants, Joy Then Misery as College Corrects Mistake. Printed less than 24 hours after the event, the subject clearly fulfills timeliness. The article more also fulfills impact and prominence, as the release of inaccurate acceptance letters clearly took a toll on the 72 students who received them. When it comes to proximity, anyone who has been through the college process can relate to the potential heartbreak of an inaccurate acceptance, although most cannot say they have experienced one—fulfilling the requirement that the article be unusual and a controversy. However, the article does represent both sides to the story, as it conveys the mechanical error and the students’ disappointment.
After analyzing the three articles, it is not hard to understand why The New York Times is one of the most prominent news sources. It can effectively appeal to readers, while simultaneously keeping credibility. After years of practice, the editors The New York Times can answer one of the hardest questions: what is news? It has mastered the difficult—albeit rewarding—art.