Why are you restarting Smartertimes?
Same reason I started it in the first place 12 and a half years ago. The New York Times is so well regarded by many of my liberal friends that it all too often is simply accepted as the final authority rather than being treated with the skepticism that it deserves, the skepticism with which the Times itself properly treats many other revered institutions. I read the Times every day, and nearly every day I see things in it that are wrong, or that are so skewed that they deserve to be pointed out to readers who might not otherwise notice. It seems like a nice use of the Internet to enable me, rapidly, to share the things I notice with other Times readers, so they can get a fuller and more accurate view of the world than what they may be getting from the Times alone, and so they can read the Times themselves with a more skeptical eye.
What took you so long to restart Smartertimes after you stopped in 2002?
Well, for a while I was busy with the New York Sun.
Yeah, but the Sun ceased print publication in 2008. Why has it taken you more than four years since then to restart Smartertimes?
Truth is, I was ambivalent about it verging on reluctant, for at least four reasons.
First, I think the Times news coverage is better now than it was back in 2000 to 2002, which included some of Howell Raines' editorship. There's still a leftward skew, but it's more muted. The paper is also less slow to news than it was. It has speeded up in response to all the online competition.
Second, the Times is a less important target now than it was then. Back then there were a lot of people who still got most of their news from the print New York Times. There are fewer and fewer of those people, and the Times is now more just one voice of many, not so much the dominant voice that it was.
Third, I have a career as a book writer, a journalist, and a Web entrepreneur, and the Times remains influential enough that I don't particularly want to make an enemy out of an institution that might be reviewing my books or writing about me.
Fourth, part of me would rather be building institutions than sniping at them. Or, to put it another way, I'd rather if the Times were writing about me than if I were writing about the Times.
Well, those are all excellent reasons. Why'd you decide to do it anyway?
The other day I ran into William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, who wrote a column for the Times op-ed page for a while, and he said there was a discussion in the office of the Weekly Standard about what I should do and the consensus was that I should restart Smartertimes.
And then I was visiting with a friend and longtime reader, someone with good judgment, who told me that she really loved FutureOfCapitalism. It was, she said, "almost as good as Smartertimes."
And it turns out that there are answers to all four of the objections listed above. Yes, the Times is better than it was, but it could be even better, and it's still sometimes infuriating. Yes, the Times is less important than it was, but it's still pretty important. Yes, I risk alienating the Times, but one can't live in fear of retaliation. Back in 2000 to 2002, plenty of Times staffers took this enterprise in the respectful and friendly spirit in which it was intended. Some of them fed me tips, or invited me to lunch, and lots of them read the site or the email newsletter. I realize that the Times is a collection of individuals, not a monolith. Finally, I hope that what I'm doing isn't merely sniping. It's part of the institution-building I am doing through FutureOfCapitalism, LLC, which also operates the sites FutureOfCapitalism.com and NewsTransparency.com. I actually have a good deal of admiration for the Times, more now than I had back in 2000 or 2002. I think enough of it to spend significant time reading it nearly every day. I know and like some of the people who work there, a few of whom are my former colleagues from the New York Sun. I admire the endurance of its owning family. If the Times takes some of my criticism onboard it might wind up a stronger institution for it, and even if it doesn't, readers who read what I have to say along what the Times says will, I hope, be better informed.
Do you have anything else to add?
Yes. One of the really wonderful things about Smartertimes back in the day is that it wasn't just me. It was a community. Some days before I even started reading the paper I had emails from three Smartertimes community members with ideas. Sometimes my phone would ring at 7 in the morning with a Smartertimes community member with an idea. The support of a community of reader-watchdog-participant-community member-content co-creators is going to be essential to making this a success, both on the idea front and in terms of funding the site via the how to help page.
– January 2013
Founded in June 2000, Smartertimes.com is dedicated to the proposition that New York's dominant daily has grown complacent, slow and inaccurate. Even an ordinary semi-intelligent guy in Brooklyn who reads the newspaper carefully early each morning can regularly catch in it errors of fact and of logic.
Smartertimes.com is dedicated to assembling a community of readers to support a new newspaper that would offer an alternative to the dominant daily.
Smartertimes.com – "Smarter than the Times, and almost as arrogant."
To reach the editor, e-mail email@example.com
– June 2000
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