What's up with the New York Times? Or maybe its the readers that -- faced with a world in flames -- are crawling into themselves and a coddly little world of home improvement and inane children oriented, soft news stories?
Let's check out the top 25 most emailed articles' list for the last 30 days. This list tells a story about what the readers really are interested in -- as opposed to what the editors put on page one ('most read' would of course be better than 'most emailed' because there's bound to be elements of "show off" in the selection. Yet even this list confirms that people spend more time, energy and mental investments on social life that on policy important subjects). Now, if we take the NYT's own categorizations, the articles add up like this (the full list is copy-pasted below):
5 entries: HEALTH
3 entries: EDUCATION, SCIENCE, NATIONAL, and FASHION
2 entries: BUSINESS, and BOOKS
1 entry: TECHNOLOGY, OPINION, TRAVEL, and WASHINGTON
Well, that may not be that bad for public policy concerns you might say: either of these could be macro-oriented. In fact, only about five deals directly with public policy choices -- and only one, number 24 on Washington, deals even partially with foreign policy (actually, its mostly about the role of religion in domestic American politics).
So lets redo the categories and divide the articles into two groups. First group contains those articles with primarily micro-level perspectives, and are focused on familial concerns, spare-time, dream time, couple time, consumer life, etc. Give aways are words like "your cell phone". The second group then contain those that have a macroperspective and are concerned with finding solutions to concrete sets of problems for large groups. The 'rest group' then contains articles that cannot reasonably or without argument be placed in either of the other two groups.
The results are as follows:
FIRST GROUP: 17
SECOND GROUP: 3
REST GROUP: 5
This enormous bias towards the private sphere, interests in gossipy or miscellany subjects is even bigger when accounting for the rest goup entries: three of these five are about children or adolescents albeit with a systemic perspective -- but the article relevance is clearly on the private sphere side. Aggregate result: the NYTimes readers are about 10-15% interested in public policy, and 85-90% interested in their personal lives. Surprising? Perhaps not. Consequential for the status of participatory democracy and general enlightenment? Perhaps. Striking as an illustration of the do-good-conscious classes' limited factual reach? Indeed. Annoying for anyone interacting with NYTimes-readership-like people? Oh, yes.