THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 4, 2008
The first real job I ever got in journalism was at the softly right-of-center New York Sun. It was an internship after the summer of my freshman year in college, and it paid (as too few newspaper internships do). I worked for both the editorial and news pages, an assignment that might seem inappropriate in today's ethics-obsessed media world but not uncommon at the Sun, which was re-birthed in 2002 on the explicit promise to revive a sort of 19th-century style advocacy journalism. I covered so many fascinating stories that summer: the funeral of Cuban Salsa singer (and, as the Sun was quick to point out, committed anti-communist) Celia Cruz, Hillary Clinton's first New York City book signing, the murder of City Councilman James Davis on the floor of City Hall, among many others. On several occassions, I was tasked with transcribing the late, great muckraker Jack Newfield's columns, which he would punch out on a typewriter and then messily edit with his chicken-scratch handwriting. I learned so much during that brutally hot summer, my first time living in New York City and life-changing in so many ways.
And so it was with great sadness that I read the letter by Sun editor Seth Lipsky in today's paper. It is simply titled, "The Future of the Sun," and it lays out the paper's financial situation starkly:
Certainly, launching this paper in the months immediately after September 11, 2001, was an optimistic project. Nearly seven years later, our editors and backers are even more of the view that there is indeed a place for the kind of intelligent, thoughtful broadsheet we envision in our city, which is why we are scrambling to find others who share this vision and the sense of possibility. If we fail, the newspaper and its voice will die. All the more energetic will be our efforts in the coming weeks to ensure that the conversation we've begun these past few years will continue.
From its very beginnings, the Sun has been a whipping boy in the usual quarters for its unfashionableness; too Jewish in its outlook, too hawkish in its politics, too provincial in its New Yorkish obsessions (in January, the Sun editorialized for a Clinton v. Giuliani v. Bloomberg presidential race, what they termed the "New York Central"). But unlike so many "mainstream" media outlets that try to mask agendas behind a veil of "objectivity," the Sun has no pretensions about what it is, or what it believes. And, day after day, it produces great journalism. Its Arts section is widely considered to be the best in the country, even by those Manhattanites who loathe its neoconservative polemics. Chief book critic Adam Kirsch, a frequent TNR contributor, simply is the best in the country. The Sun's coverage of New York politics matches, and frequently tops, that of the Post and Daily News. Gary Shapiro's erstwhile "Knickerbocker" column was unlike anything else in American journalism: a daily, moveable feast covering the wide intellectual and cultural landscape of the world's capital city. Seth Gitell covered Mitt Romney as only a Bostonian could. My friend (and TNR contributor) Eli Lake frequently scoops his competitors on the national security beat. Not long ago, the Sun recruited John McWhorter--a TNR contributing editor (notice a pattern?) and the most trenchant writer on race in America today--as a columnist. In his open letter, Lipsky proudly produces a missive he received from New Yorker editor David Remnick: "OK, I agree with about ten percent of your editorials, but so what ... I'm a lot happier, and richer, for having faced the Sun in the a.m."
And the top of all this, it must be mentioned, is Seth Lipsky. He's been at the founding of three papers in his life, which must be some sort of record: the Asian Wall Street Journal, the English edition of the Jewish Daily Forward, and the Sun. I remember him roaming the aisles of the office in a 1930's-style fedora, actually asking reporters for "scoops" and proclaiming, "God, I love the newspaper life!" He's also produced some great talent. Perhaps you've heard of the following journalists? Philip Gourevitch. Jeffrey Goldberg. Seth Mnookin. Ben Smith. Rachel Donadio. All of them got their start in journalism working for Lipsky. An uncompromising advocate for his political corner, he displays an uncommon grace towards his adversaries (the very fact that Lipsky would publish a regular column by Newfield, a political radical who made his name at the Village Voice, is evidence of this). Just a few weeks ago, in the midst of a mounting controversy over Charlie Rangel's owning four rent-controlled apartments and his using congressional letterhead to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College, I was taken aback by Lipsky's column praising the Harlem congressman: "Rooting for Rangel." Go read it now. "My own views on policy may be different from Mr. Rangel's, to put it mildly," Lipsky writes. "But if we live in a time when our young people need heroes, whose name would be better than his over on the lintels of a school of public service in the heart of Harlem?" How often do you see this magnaminity today? What an example for all of us fighting the war of ideas.
All of this is to say that if you happen to know a philanthrophist with center-right politics, a concern for the "Jewish cause," as Lipsky puts it,and a real appreciation for the civic responsibility that is daily newspaper journalism, please direct them to Seth Lipsky, pronto. It would be a pity--for both the country and the state of journalism--to see the Sun set so early in its second life.