Where the NYT beats the WSJ

By Felix Salmon
August 17, 2009

Around the beginning of 2009, the two daily newspapers I subscribe to (the NYT and the WSJ) started being left on the sidewalk outside my building, rather than delivered indoors. This annoyed me, since anybody could (and frequently did) simply walk away with the paper I’d paid for. After altogether far too much work on my part, I eventually determined that the papers had switched newspaper delivery companies, I provided them with keys to the building, and the problem was more or less solved — until a month or two ago, when I noticed that although the NYT was still being delivered indoors, the WSJ was back to its old location on the sidewalk.

This time, I didn’t care. I desultorily tried to report the problem on the services.wsj.com website, but got an error message saying that for continuing difficulties of longer than a few days I needed to phone an 800 number during certain office hours. And that was as far as I got: I never picked up the phone, and the WSJ is still being delivered to the sidewalk every day. And I’ve noticed two interesting things. The first is that when I pad out in my blogger pyjamas to pick up my morning paper, I don’t particularly care if the WSJ is there or not. And the second is that the WSJ is always there.

I’m not paying much money for my WSJ subscription: my last payment, of $149, was in April 2008, and the next payment isn’t due until March 2010. Maybe that’s why I don’t value it very much. But then again, no one else seems to value it much either, seeing as how (in contrast to the NYT) it’s never stolen from outside my front door.

All of which is to say that insofar as there’s a big (if quiet) national war being fought between the NYT and the WSJ, I fully expect the NYT to win it. It’s better designed, easier to comprehend, broader in scope, and in general much more of a pleasure to read than the WSJ.

I think the WSJ is competing against former self: it’s trying to become better than it was, or at least a little bit more accessible to a non-managerial audience. The jury’s still out on whether or not it’s succeeding on that front. But it’s nowhere near becoming genuine competition for the NYT.

More From Felix Salmon
Post Felix
The Piketty pessimist
The most expensive lottery ticket in the world
The problems of HFT, Joe Stiglitz edition
Private equity math, Nuveen edition
Five explanations for Greece’s bond yield
Comments
14 comments so far

I think you’re overanalyzing, Felix.

The NYTimes is a rag, but it is (for you) a LOCAL rag and has value for any and all local residents. Maybe the thieves want to see a movie or a play or read about hot new restaurants (that’s why they can’t afford the paper, they’re saving up). More likely though they want to check the ball game scores and maybe the winning LOTTO numbers.

The WSJ is different and has more national appeal. If you lived in Chicago IT would be stolen first.

Posted by K-squared | Report as abusive

If you don’t care whether or not the paper is stolen, you should just cancel it and save the paper.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive

first, if people want the ballgame scores or the winning lotto numbers, they’re much more likely to steal someone’s post or daily news. those are the actual local papers in NY.

Second, I have to say that, while I’d like to think that I cancelled my WSJ subscription years ago due to their ridiculous editorial page, it was actually because they kept screwing up my delivery as well. I lived in a doorman building so I didn’t have (or shouldn’t have had) the “key” problem, but on the days when I was lucky enough for the paper to actually show up, it would more often than not have a front section that was ripped to shreds. I had the 800 number programmed into my phone. I still get the Times on the weekend, but only for the magazine. everything else gets read online these days.

Maybe whoever was stealing your copy of the times wanted to read Ben Stein’s column.

Independent marketing surveys also show a strong preference for the NYT among thieves and would-be thieves. They tend to be mostly in cash and marketable commodities, and the WSJ simply doesn’t address their investment needs.

Posted by maynardGkeynes | Report as abusive

It’s the crossword puzzle.

Posted by Ken | Report as abusive

I was for Murdoch buying the WSJ & am not a big fan of the NYT….BUT

these days I find the NY TIMES offers a better business section than the WSJ

but the F.T. trumpets both.

Posted by Sechel | Report as abusive

On September 2, my WSJ runs out. THE ECONOMIST weekly summarizes thw world. U. S. newsmagazines are a farce especially NEWSWEEK. WSJ provides everything in business and the world you don’t need to know repeated each day a development changes a little. The first section is the only part worth reading, but after two days is nauseous.

After reading how the WSJ changed its newsroom culture from prizing lengthy PAGE ONE investigative reporting in favor of breaking news, I sort of just look at it cursory–and rely on Bloomberg News for more detail (i.e., what it reports is getting less and less unique).

Even worse, my guess is that with this change of newsroom culture MORALE must be super low at the WSJ with the best and the brightest figuring out how to exit (e.g., Greg Ip, Henny Sender).

Mr. Murdoch has grand schemes for the WSJ, but as another Rupert wrote: “We always get what we wish for, but in the form we deserve.” Murdoch took a world class newspaper and is turning it into a second-class political rag.

How sad.

Posted by Mikey10011 | Report as abusive

You may have a preference for the NYT, but the WSJ has twice the subscribers and is holding its subscriber base steady at a time the NYT is loosing subscribers. Maybe the paper thief prefers a sympathetic ear on the editorial page to an Ayn Randian view on dishonesty. Why lay a bunch of guilt on the down-and-out paper thief who’s being put down by the “man”.

I think that the WSJ reader outpaces the NYT reader in relative demand for respective content, as well as wealth and IQ (not that any of that matters). My theory is that WSJ cashflow is extremely envied by every other rag. And the NYT may not stay solvent long enough for your prediction to be realized.

You should all be reading the Financial Times anyway.

Posted by MIke Sandifer | Report as abusive

One word: Murdoch. I killed my WSJ subscription after ten years. I get all my news from NYT, Financial Times and The Economist (plus all the free stuff online from WSJ). And I don’t have to endure the editorial uber right wing nonsense that the WSJ has begun to spew with abandon…

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

“After reading how the WSJ changed its newsroom culture from prizing lengthy PAGE ONE investigative reporting in favor of breaking news,”

This is the nub of it. The WSJ used to be worth reading. Now it isn’t. Its remaining readership are a combo of leftovers who haven’t noticed the decline in journalistic standards, and right wing nuts who want their viewpoint confirmed. The businessmen and financiers who formerly considered the WSJ essential are switching to the Financial Times, or the Economist, or Bloomberg, or some combination of them.

The WSJ is now retaining subscriptions by slashing prices — step one in losing all paid readership. It’s dead and it’s going to die a lot faster than Murdoch thinks.

Posted by Nathanael | Report as abusive
Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/