First, let’s stipulate right off the bat that judging a daily newspaper section from only its first two days out of the gate is unfair. Noted.
But those are the only two days we have to go on. And, given the months of planning that went into The Wall Street Journal’s Greater New York Section—and the hoopla over its rivalry with The New York Times—we assume that the first two issues are a decent indicator of where the thing is going.
So what of it? It’s perhaps what you’d expect from The WSJ: a respectable, sometimes boring take on New York City. At times over the first two days, it felt as if the section were written and edited by outsiders, intended to be dropped off outside your hotel room in Times Square.
Rats uptown! Shootings in Harlem! Crazy-expensive apartments on the Upper West Side! This sensibility was capped off by an absurd graphic in the first issue telling us how to use a MetroCard.
In terms of news, the section was dominated by mini-scoops, a disappointment given the paper’s resources and lead time. The first-day lead story on how the Port Authority may have let a would-be terrorist slip through the cracks felt incremental. Similarly, it’s hard to see how a hospital bid-rigging story on day two would have made it outside the inside of The Times’ Metro section.
Other choices seem random. Does Greater New York think New Yorkers care enough about a shooting at Yale to justify putting a photo on the front page, as the Journal section does? They don’t. On the same day, a compelling one-on-one interview with Governor David Paterson was buried inside, right above a story about how box office for Broadway’s American Idiot is improving.
The lighter coverage, of the arts and society, is where the section feels weakest. (No surprise, given that it’s not The WSJ’s strong suit. And yet the new section boasts an unusually large number of expats from The New York Sun, which had a notably robust culture section.)
It’s here that the section’s overall blocky design and Kelly green tints hurt the most, though the stories and headlines don’t help: “Socialite Rolls Out Cookies” headlines one story that no one could possibly have read. The “Heard & Scene” (get it?) society coverage is politely old school.
The sports section seems to have the most fun. On Monday, there was a chart on the average speed it takes a Yankee to round the bases after hitting a home run (Derek Jeter does it quickly; A-Rod likes to strut). The columns of Jason Gay—an Observer alum—have been a fun read.
All in all, The New York Times should live to fight another day. But the next time an Icelandic volcano erupts, spewing ash all over Europe, and we have strangers crashing on our couch for days on end, we know just the newspaper they should read.