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.

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