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The NYT and the NST, from top to bottom

Mon 2012-Oct-1 @ +08 09:53:55 am

To the depths of ridicule from the heights of journalism

The NST, of Jalan Riong, has had a decades-long relationship with the NYT, of Eighth Avenue, having been a faithful customer of the NYT wire service by which the New York paper syndicates its reports and commentaries around the world.

New York Times pieces appeared regularly on the NST’s foreign feature page and leader page. Years later an “Op-Ed” page came about when the NST aped the NYT by putting on an extra page for comment and analysis opposite the leader page. A wise guy said it was to justify the expense of the NYT wire and the lifting rights to the Guardian. The page became a repository of think pieces in line with current Umno and Foreign Office views, and nothing much “Op” about it. It merely faced the editorial page, physically but not spiritually opposite: from the 1980s onwards the NST was no longer that kind of paper.

The 12-hour time difference with New York meant that most NYT stuff ended up being spiked by the foreign desk; the leader page, feature and Sunday pages were the main customers. The length of NYT copy was a burden to many a sub trying to trim it to fit what was a would-be popular and later a near bottom-feeding tabloid. By the turn of the century, Daily Mail copy was a better fit, in tone and spirit and for lack of ambition.

There was no doubt that the NYT was held in high regard by the bosses of the NST in the early years: Balai Berita executives, too, aspired to the heights of 42nd Street though it was only the reputation they desired, not the actual achievement of a great newspaper and great journalism.

Pulitzer Prize day in the NYT newsroom

Balai Berita’s attempt at greatness was to run up some of the highest profit margins in the business and by several regional “firsts” in technology, including a prize for colour printing — bragging rights for more advertising and higher profits.

Editorial regard for the NYT was somewhat lost in translation when Balai Berita executives connived in the shameless borrowing, first in the mid-1970s and again last year, of the NYT’s rejuvenation slogan “The New New York Times”, merely to glorify its own series of pallid makeovers.

The NYT’s transformation in the 1970s with dramatic changes in content and design had startled and delighted readers and observers. The NST merely created marketing buzz by fiddling with typography and decorative frills: its spirit, ambition and content remained untouched.

Now even the NST’s ambitions appear to have shrivelled, along with its circulation and reputation. Where once it looked towards Manhattan, the reference point today appears to be Change Alley.

By hailing itself as the so-called New New Straits Times in the mid-1970s, the NST had allowed itself to display its admiration of the New York Times, or at least the intellectual aspirations of its then egghead editor and his unabashed admiration of Herr Sekretär of Foggy Bottom.

The paper’s current expensively-prepared reincarnation as the New Straits Times merely makes reference to the paper’s colonial origins, somewhat odd for the national paper of a government that declares itself staunchly anti-colonial. Perhaps it was just a clever way for the designer to advertise himself, having done both papers, old and New.

What a contrast to the time when the NST aspired to the heights. Nowadays it merely looks and feels cheap.

Showing up NST: this reader is not happy

To some of those aware of the slogan’s provenance in the transformation of the New York Times, the borrowing by Jalan Riong appeared to be an attempt to ride on another’s glory, perhaps revealing an unintended insight into the character of the paper’s owners and leaders.

Whatever its politics or fortunes, the New York Times will continue to hold its head high as one of the great newspapers of the world.

And whatever the politics, never mind the fortunes, of the New Straits Times there can be no doubt at all that it does look like a newspaper. Great.

(Funnily enough, it appears to be much loved by the US Embassy in KL. For the soft diplomacy, perhaps. It takes all sorts.)


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One Comment
  1. Tue 2012-Oct-2 @ +08 01:07:31 am 01:07

    Sometimes while reading the online edition of the NYT, I would come across a photo credited to a Malaysian Photog i know who works there. My first thought would usually be about how well that photo really captures the essence of the story its attached to. Then I would think, “man, he really deserves to be there”. Finally, I invariably end up thinking about the state of journalism in Malaysia, and I would feel depressed.

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