I am addicted to The New York Times. I love it, read it every day, and can not imagine a world without it. It took strong counsel from friends smarter than me not sink the little money I have into Times Co stock.
But people keep saying the paper’s dying, that my beloved source of information is in decline. No! So it was with keen interest that I read a story last week suggesting Sam Sifton, the new dining critic, would be an excellent candidate to run the greatest paper in the world.
Really? This certainly hadn’t occurred to me when I first read Sifton would be replacing the departing (to an editor at large Times magazine job) critic Frank Bruni. But the article, in Slate.com’s The Big Money, made an interesting case:
What makes Sifton the man who ought to be considered a future editor of the Times is his ability to attack and explore popular subjects with intellectual rigor. Combine that with an ability to attract readers to stories with compelling headlines, art, and ledes, and you have all the tools necessary for leading the Times into the future on the web. Because out there on the flat, infinite plane of the Web, all stories have an equal opportunity to become the story of the day. The challenge for the Times is not to promote the soft news over the hard but to be able show, when relevant, that what happens in the kitchen (or on the playground or on television) can be just as important as what goes on in Afghanistan.
So it was with no less interest that I read Sifton’s pieces this week. The flagship one was a two-star review of DBGB, the new beer and food joint on the Bowery. OK, fine: He makes the requisite points about the place being near CBGB and how no one cares enough to retaliate by kicking in the door. Not that different than what I’d expect from Bruni, or any other competent Timesman of Sifton’s age, 43, to write.
But the second piece — a brief on a place called Cowgirl Seahorse — was a kind of sparkling revelation. You should read the whole thing yourself, if you care, but I’ll leave you with this taste:
And so there is on the menu coconut shrimp ($7.95) from Sugar Reef. Sugar Reef was nutso fake Caribbean eating in the ’80s East Village, fun like a fifth-floor walk-up with a pretty girl by your side. The shrimp are weird and wonderful time machines, crunchy and large, not so revelatory in flavor but a pleasant and intense reminder of a neighborhood filled with boys in pegged jeans late to band practice.
If the Times needs to lead the future of newspapers not by breaking news but by being the supreme cultural arbiter and guide, I think a good boss might be the guy who wrote that. (Or we’re all screwed. I just reread the piece and am concerned drug-taking may have been involved. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, too.)
So where should Sifton do requisite time on the foreign desk? Beijing? Berlin? Bogota? I want to believe the future is bright, not bleak!