It turns out yesterday's warning to reporters to cut back on text messaging was just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the NYT organization, evidence abounds that the institution is rapidly running out of money.
[July 9 UPDATE: Article Skimmer is back! Thanks to the NYT for putting a few of its remaining bucks on one of its most innovative new formats. We're also getting reports that the Customer Care Center is now working. We can't seem to access it. Any chance the amazing J.D. Biersdorfer would make a house call?]
This week, for the first time in recent memory, the letters column in the NYT Book Review -- where authors attacking their critics had become a blood-sport tradition -- was dropped from the July 5 edition.
In A 20-page edition with only 1-1/2 pages of paid advertising sprinkled through its pages, the NYT apparently dropped the weekly feature to make room for reviews. No regular readers could remember a previous instance of the letters feature being dropped -- it's a hugely popular part of the section that allows writers to attack their critics for sins of omission, myopia and stupidity, and for those authors to then defend themselves in what amounts to a debate.
Fun stuff for the schadenfreude crowd, who cringe at the painfully inappropriate lengths writers will go to defend their honor. We want the letters back, but will we get them? NYT Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus and NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis didn't respond to requests for comment. [UPDATE: Mathis emailed that "the July 4 issue (like Labor Day, and some other big holidays) is pretty tight on space, and they didn't have room for letters in it." (Note -- last year's NYT Book Review published on July 6, 2008, did publish letters.) Mathis said the letters will return next weekend.]
Exhibit B: Remember the Article Skimmer? It is a much-ballyhooed (including by us) new way to consume the NYT online, organized by sections for easy scanning of headlines and summaries. On June 18, designer Andre Behrens announced a Article Skimmer version 3.0, which offered improved navigation, arrow keys and other improvements.
But within a couple of weeks, the Article Skimmer hit the skids. At some point in the last week, it became inaccessible via two major web browsers, Safari and Firefox. Whatever its current failings -- Behrens didn't respond to a request for comment from The NYTPicker -- its shutdown and problems haven't been acknowledged on the NYT's "First Look" blog that typically keeps readers informed of new developments.
Exhibit C: Home delivery subscriber like us? Then perhaps you're familiar with something called the "Customer Care Center," normally reachable through a single click from the home page. It takes you to a page where subscribers can arrange to suspend or resume delivery, change their subscription, donate vacation papers to charity, etc. In other words, it gave home-delivery customers the option -- now an industry standard -- to manage their subscriptions from their computers.
That's broke, too. For weeks, a click on the "Customer Care" button on the front page of the NYT's website takes you to the web address http://homedelivery.nytimes.com, where you'll be met by this message:
The specified URL cannot be found.
That's been there since at least the beginning of June. Presumably they've called the repairman by now.
Exhibit D: Got the new iPhone 3.0 update? Have you downloaded the new NYT app for 3.0? Then you've discovered that it's worse than before. Now, you no longer get a special tab that takes you to Styles stories, or Food & Dining. In fact, those sections' stories don't even seem to fit in the new "streamlined" options available to readers of the NYT on the iPhone.
Just another something to complain about. Last night we came upon this Twitter post from a once-loyal reader called ClaudiusRex:
GRRR. STUPID NYT iPhone update. Removed Food & Dining, the only section I read religiously. Now not sure theres a point to using the reader.
We know just how she feels. We'd text our friends at the NYT to get some answers, but we already know they can't really afford to text us back.