Staring at the Sun –- An Open Letter to New York’s Newest Paper

02.10.2005 | Jonathan Leaf | Media Affairs | 7 Comments
Tuesday’s New York Sun included an incisive and rather damning article by Roderick Boyd about the lack of any traction in the finances of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The piece raises the overdue question of how The Sun is doing as a competing broadsheet. However, since The Sun isn’t a public corporation, information on its finances is scanty, although it’s known that it continues to lose money. More open to assessment – and also overdue – is an analysis of the paper’s editorial progress. On this front there is much that is good to report. A publication that initially seemed thin and watery has developed flavor.

What’s working?

On the editorial side, James Taranto’s Best of the Web and Mark Steyn’s Chicago Sun-Times dispatches provide wit and amusement while the presence of Daniel Pipes is another obvious plus. All three are actually wire service pick-ups. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this. In fact, it seems that one of the more enticing things about The Sun is its use of wire service stories — from the Hollinger International Group as well as the AP — that can’t be found in any other New York paper. During the invasion of Iraq, this meant that readers got British military historian John Keegan’s daily analysis of events, which meant more informed and penetrating coverage than was available elsewhere.

Use of the Hollinger stable has also meant that The Sun has occasionally run obits from London’s Daily Telegraph, which more often than not are a hoot.

The Sun’s arts section is extensive, and it too offers much that can’t be found in other New York dailies. The recent discovery of classical music writer Fred Kirshnit seems to be the editors’ latest coup.

Already, the sports section has assembled a crack staff that includes New Partisan’s own Tim Marchman on the baseball beat along with the always readable and compellingly contrarian Wallace Matthews, formerly of The Post, covering all the major sports, and occasionally boxing. They’re joined by former Village Voice and Wall Street Journal football writer Allen Barra, provocative erstwhile internet reporter Aaron Schatz on the pro football beat, and John Hollinger, the man who brought sabermetric principles to pro basketball writing, on the NBA beat. While I don’t know enough about the sports to comment on the paper’s tennis, hockey, soccer or cycling writers I can say that the men I named above are among the city’s best sports writers — and that as a group they are more numerous and given more latitude to be interesting sportswriters than the group at The Times, which for no apparent reason continues to employ writers like Robert Lipsyte.

What else? By remaining open to outside writers, the paper has managed to get major reportorial scoops from authors including Tom Lipscomb and our own Fred Siegel. Moreover, the coverage of society, food and wine is excellent.

Newspaper Man. Sun editor and publisher Seth Lipsky.                             John Dorfman

All that said, let’s step back and ask how can the paper be made better?

I think there are at least five things that the paper ought to be doing which it hasn’t yet done:
  1. Reduce the number of 1800 word articles on Christopher Isherwood. Very long book reviews about obscure modernist poets may be of interest to readers of The New Criterion like me, but it’s unlikely that there are all that many other consumers who want this. It’s a safe bet that the paper’s readership is buying The Sun for its price, its politics and its relative brevity as against The Times. So show some restraint with the length and frequency of articles about modernist poets and authors.

  2. Teach real estate reporter Michael Stoler how to write a lede. Please.

  3. Include abbreviated earnings reports taken from the wire services. The paper’s financial charts have greatly improved. Earnings reports are something that a paper with a mostly well-heeled readership should have to go with these.

  4. Stop requesting so many outside pieces from business leaders and hire at least one more business writer. Roddy Boyd (full disclosure: he’s a friend) is doing a great job digging up stories on the Street. But get him some help. And stop asking corporate executives to write articles. It may be cheap, but the stories that result can be deadly.

  5. Include more solid news stories on the front page, even if these are from wire services. Again, there is nothing shameful about using the wires. At the same time, if you’re going to match up against The Times, you need to prominently feature and not bury your own hard news pieces. Last Thursday’s Sun had original stories entitled “Volcker Report Sharply Critical Of Sevan” and “Murders In Darfur Region May Be Underestimated By More Than 200,000”. Both ran on page 6. Both should have been cover stories.
The paper has made quite a start. But to win a race you have to watch your feet every step to the finish line.

Full Disclosure — Jonathan Leaf has written one article for the Sun, which can be found here.

Daniel Pipes is not among the Sun's "wire service pick-ups". He is most definitely a Sun columnist and his weekly column always appears there first. Besides that, he is not part of any wire or syndication service.

Grayson Levy
Webmaster for Daniel Pipes
02.10.2005 | Grayson Levy
I stand corrected. Thanks for the note.
02.10.2005 | Jonathan Leaf
What's your beef with Robert Lipsyte?
02.10.2005 | Big Al
As Samuel Johnson is said to have remarked: "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good." So is Lipsyte's writing.
02.11.2005 | Jonathan Leaf
I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way. I'm guessing that you never read THE CONTENDER, ONE FAT SUMMER, or THE CHEMO KID.
02.11.2005 | Big Al
I haven't read his books. I know they've been praised. I have read many of his columns in The Times.
02.11.2005 | Jonathan Leaf
"As Samuel Johnson is said to have remarked: "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good." ..."

And we might, in emulation of Mr. Leaf, point out that his own critique "is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good."

Mr. Leaf's uncanny flair for blindingly trenchant self-referential critique never ceases to amaze!
02.11.2005 | ts brock

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