The Daily Miracle is waiting every morning at the top of the driveway, courtesy of a diligent delivery lady, who never misses a day.
Friend of mine at the New York Times plant in College Point, Queens, calls it “The Daily Miracle,” because it returns every day (with the collaboration of thousands of journalists in Manhattan, in Queens, and all over the world.
This bundle in a blue bag is a miracle even though everybody knows young people don’t read newspapers, but there are enough of “us” who want to hold the paper in their hands and flip pages and peruse, peruse, peruse.
(The plant also prints 50-odd dailies and weeklies – part of the miracle but also the foresight of the people who run the NYT.)
Take this from an octogenarian who must have his fingers on “the paper,” there is another miracle in the journalism world – the ever-changing website of the same New York Times, thousands working around the world in all the continents and all the time zones. As we speak.
Nothing like flipping electronic pages in the middle of the day to keep up with the judicial progress against the larcenous and bumptious Trumps. Or waking up and checking what has happened in the Middle East since the cut-throats came across the border to kill and kidnap on Oct. 7.
We get the news and the embellishments from a great news-gathering organization (where I used to work), and that is a miracle because it took decades of insight and doubt and trial and error to save the blue-bag Daily Miracle but also to create the alter ego known as nytimes.com.
The evolution of newspaper into the journal that never sleeps is documented in a new book, “The Times: How the Newspaper of Record Survived Scandal, Scorn, and the Transformation of Journalism,” written by Adam Nagourney, one of the many great reporters, who is still working there.
For 43 years, I knew, I witnessed, I even managed to grumble and whine about the changes being foisted on us. (I do not do change well. I can provide witnesses.)
I was around as a news reporter in the ‘70’s, when bulky and balky Harris terminals swallowed entire masterpieces after hours of pecking away at the keyboards, even though we had pushed, poked, whacked the “Save” keys. A living technology pioneer-saint named Howard Angione talked some of us out of our rages. Later there was another saint named Charlie Competello.
Meanwhile, our bosses competed in their lairs. Some of them understood the online era at first and some did not. The book goes into Shakespearean length to show the decades of the long knives, over policy, over technology, and over flat-out human emotions.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”—King Henry the Fourth, Part Two, William Shakespeare.
Top editors feared the managing editors they had just appointed and even publishers and family had a mix of human strengths and weaknesses. But four decades of friction came and went – and the NYT is in Ukraine and the Middle East and all over the United States.
I’m not getting into personalities in this review. I just want to bear witness to the foresight and talent and perseverance of the owners and the editors and the reporters – and the readers.
I had the honor of working for national editors Gene Roberts and Dave Jones and the great copy editors on that staff. I remember being assigned to the federal pen in Marion, Ill., where a lifer bank robber had completed his bachelor’s degree in a prison program. I turned in my article and copy editor Tom Wark called me and said, “This is not up to Vecsey standards…could you run this through the machine again?” I tried. The NYT had dozens and dozens of great editors like him.
Later I worked for Abe (Rosenthal) and Arthur (Gelb) as a Metro reporter in the 70s. They could forget about you for weeks…but then they could give you an assignment that made you glad to be a journalist. (The end of the Vietnam War, 1973, as seen by cynical veterans in a steamy bar in deepest Queens, my choice of venue.)
The computer age was under way when I returned to Sports in the 80s.
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, with his snarky sense of humor, held an occasional lunch meeting with us in Sports. One day I played grumpy-lifer and asked why the NYT needed the color that was starting to appear in the paper. The publisher said, as I recall: “We live in color. We dream in color. The Times needs color.” Look at the great reporting by Amelia Nierenberg and brilliant photos by Hilary Swift on grieving Maine in the past week. Of course, Arthur was right.
The book describes how the Times dispatched long-time editor Bernard Gwertzman to bridge the gap between the traditional NYT and the infant Web-era NYT. One day, Gwertzman held a lunch with Sports types ad one of our many great reporters complained about his scoops going on line so early that his good pals on other major papers were poaching his work.
Gwertzman was unflappable: “A year from now, we won’t be having this discussion,” he said. He was right. The reporter became a star in the Web age, too.
(Recently, the NYT blew up its talented sports section. That decision will undoubtedly be in the next NYT history book.)
But for now, Adam Nagourney has given Times readers (and Times lifers) a thorough view of the comings and goings of talented, driven journalists. I am in awe of the lavish meals and copious alcohol consumed by our leaders, often followed by sharp managerial decisions ...placed between career shoulder blades.
Nagourney reminds us how long it took for female journalists and gay journalists to get a fair break to use their talents. Good for him.
The editors argued and decided and changed courses. But somehow, somehow, The New York Times is better than ever, 24 hours a day. In print. Online. Either way, a daily miracle.