NYT's Sunday Revamp Heralds Increased Influence for Paper's Liberal Commentators

May 11th, 2011 7:42 PM

Some traditional media outlets, faced with harsh economic realities in the digital age, have begun to turn ideologically inward in the hopes of shoring up support among an enthusiastic and sympathetic audience. The goal is to raise the floor of potential readers or viewers, even while the ceiling drops.

The New York Times, for its part, has decided to revamp its Sunday opinion section - currently called Week in Review, but which might change its name to Sunday Review - to place more emphasis on opinion content. The move may be rooted in the recognition that opinion sells. For the Times generally, it means a more overt, in-your-face liberalism.

The strategy, as detailed by the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, "marks a significant departure from the long-running 'Week in Review' model, whereby Times reporters and editors penned analytical, non-opinion pieces in the front of the section and Times columnists and outside op-ed writers filled up the back pages."

The re-imagined approach, it seems, will move further from simply reciting the week's events (not that simple recitation free from opinion has ever been the Times's strong-suit) and instead embrace an approach more closely resembling that of cable news: discussing the week's events from a certain perspective (a leftward one, in the Times's case).

Calderone reported Wednesday:

Major weekly news magazines have increasingly tried to move away from the perception that they simply summarize the previous week’s news -- a model that looks out of step with today’s 24/7 news cycle. Similarly, the Times is striving to create a Sunday section that’s seen as looking forward, not backward.

Editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal declined to comment on upcoming changes but, in conversations with Times staffers, some details have emerged beyond the possible name change.

Star columnists like Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd will soon have the opportunity to write long-form pieces jumping off the front page of the relaunched section. (Most weeks, the columnists will continue writing standard 800-word opinion pieces.)

The changes mark two trends at the Times, Calderone wrote: the increasing dominance of opinionators in the weekend edition, of course, but also the larger role for the Times's editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal in the paper's operations generally.

The "Week in Review" has traditionally included work from both the news and editorial section of the paper. Such collaboration has continued over the past few months, with staffers from each side hashing out ideas at meetings. But with an uptick of opinion in the section, it's clear the editorial side will exert more control. Indeed, op-ed editor Trish Hall is heading up the project and reports to Rosenthal.

Times watchers see the new section as an opportunity for Rosenthal to assume a bigger role within the paper. Rosenthal, a favorite of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., is on the shortlist -- along with managing editor Jill Abramson and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet -– to succeed executive editor Bill Keller when he hits mandatory retirement age in about three years.

The Times, like every other newspaper, is concerned about its financial future. This gambit seems to show a belief by Times brass that a solidified and loyal left-wing readership base can keep the paper afloat. This being the Times, it is unlikely that the idea of promoting ideological diversity and thus reaching out to a larger market ever entered into the picture.