The Not-So-Funny Papers

Being the paper of record, the New York Times was always slow to change. They held to eight columns forever before reducing it to a modern readable six. And color photos? They were late to adding color to the paper.

When digital came along, they were also late but finally put together a pretty good app. None of it worked. They lost readership. They lost advertising.

So they made a big change. The Times became a giant daily comic book of current events. That’s what people wanted to read. They hired people, talented people, who knew the art. Neil Gaiman and Art Spiegelman were added to the staff. The The Times wanted to do this right.

Within a month they stole about a third of the readership of the Post and the app version had a rapidly growing worldwide following. Comments sent in by readers were often illustrated as well.

Criticized or praised previously for being liberal, the tone was now surrealistic. It was more like storytelling than news, with interesting characters, tension and unexpected twists. The Times now delivered a unique version of the news best described as magical realism.

Still, it was rarely funny and usually tragic—like the old news. The strangest thing is, people began to care.

In New York, there were huge spontaneous protests against war when it was reported in the Times, even distant obscure wars with no involvement by the United States. Donations appeared from all over for crime victims who’s stories appeared in the Times. People and organizations and companies that did bad things reported in the Times’ powerful illustrated style found themselves shunned or out of business.

A great secret was discovered. Stories are more powerful than real life. Kill off a million people and nobody cares. Kill off a story character—even in a true story—and all hell or perhaps simply humanity breaks loose.