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War of arts

September 16th, 2010

Last week The New York Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, confirmed the inevitable; The Times will go out of print in the future. The statement was temporally vague but committal. 

In fewer than ten years, it seems economically mandated and technologically sensible that people will no longer sit at their kitchen counters with a coffee and a roll of newsprint, reading and sipping and filling in the Sunday crossword puzzle.

E-books sales are increasing. Amazon sold more e-books than hardback books in the second quarter of this year.

Newspapers are noticeably thinner. 

Barnes and Noble is for sale.

Lovers of tangible print are having their hearts broken repeatedly. 

But in opposition to the trends among print media, The Wall Street Journal is providing a hopeful news bit to book lovers and newspaper traditionalists. 

The WSJ will launch “Bookshelf,” a special book review section that will appear in the weekend editions of the paper in upcoming weeks. 

The WSJ, whose reputation stands on business coverage, is embracing the arts in a bold way at a time when the economy, finances and employment are the hottest buzzwords in news. 

As one of the only newspapers that charges a subscription fee for complete access to its web edition, the Journal is no stranger to acting against the status quo.  

This most recent move is possible because of the horizontal integration that is News Corporation. It is an investment aimed to help the Journal in its on-going battle to conquer The New York Times, a topic covered in-depth in the October issue of Vanity Fair.  

The introduction of “Bookshelf” is a reminder of the importance of reading and taking a critical look at the arts. As a society, we need this sort of thing in the best quality and greatest quantity we can muster. 

The fact that a reputable newspaper is devoting an entire section to books at a time when it is not cost-effective to do so seems meaningful, but the motive detracts from any socially favorable implications. 

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is one of several media companies that is too big to be ethical. With interests in everything from television to movies to print media, News Corp. is an example of the way acquisition and conflicts of interest corrupt journalistic integrity.

The irony is that while big media conglomerates compromise the ability of newspapers to function as watchdogs, the newspaper business would probably fall apart completely without them. The media relies on people like Rupert Murdoch, who can afford to lose several million, in order to create a new book review. 

The battle between The Times and the Journal is similar to many political races, in which the fight is often about who can afford to fight longer and harder than it is about ideas, intentions or ideologies. The Times is competing, but it is doing so at a severe disadvantage when it comes to funds. 

The goal behind the creation of “Bookshelf” and other special sections is to win. The goal is to conquer The Times, not to create a more in-depth, truthful and informative paper. 

Any news of newspaper growth and especially, coverage of books gets my support, but I have trouble finding any honor in a media-mogul’s quest to destroy the competition for the sake of his ego.