Does the New York Times actually want anyone to read Angelina Jolie's piece?

If the NYT wants to ensure its pieces are never sullied by the corrupting eye of a reader, it can lock them in lead-lined boxes and drop them in the Hudson. But if it wants to help Angelina Jolie in her mission to spread awareness about breast cancer, it

The New York Times is famous for being either serious or boring, depending on your viewpoint. It's not nicknamed "the Grey Lady" ("referring to its historical tendency to present a higher-than-usual proportion of copy to graphics") for nothing, and at heart this comes from a praiseworthy aim: to never put commercial considerations above editorial ones. That motivation drives the decision to avoid flashy graphics as much as it drives the courage to run an 8,000 word piece exposing corruption in one of the world's biggest companies (and one of America's biggest advertisers).

But sometimes it goes too far. Here is the New York Times' front page today. See if you can spot the story they have which is driving conversation worldwide, and which, doubtless, a huge number of their readers have come to their site to read:

In case you aren't sure, it's this one:

Angelina Jolie's decision to write about her double mastectomy, performed after discovering that she has a genetic marker which vastly increases the chance that she will develop breast or ovarian cancer, has been rightly hailed. Not only does it serve to spread awareness about the genetic test she took (one which can provide an early warning to women like Jolie with a family history of certain types of cancer), but it will help destigmatise her operation – still one which, for many, strikes at the heart of their identity.

Getting that piece read by as many people as possible isn't crass commercialism, it's an inherent part of the paper's implicit bargain with Jolie. There is no point in writing a piece to spread awareness and then burying it on the front page under a vague headline and a six-word sub-head.

That's not to say that the piece needs to be headlined MY BREAST CANCER HORROR and be accompanied by glamorous full-colour photos of Jolie; but it needs to be findable in a way that it simply isn't at the moment.

Good site design, just like good internet-friendly headlines (another thing painfully lacking at the paper) isn't editorial cravenly bowing to the demands of its marketing department; it is there to ensure that people who want to read stories can actually read them.

If the NYT wants to ensure its pieces are never sullied by the corrupting eye of a reader, it can lock them in lead-lined boxes and drop them in the Hudson. But if it wants to help Jolie in her mission to spread awareness and "open a conversation", it needs to get over itself.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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If only I could wangle a job in the John Lewis menswear department I’d get to say, “Suits you, sir”

I’m afraid I am going to have to stick to writing.

So now that I have made the news public that I am even deeper in the soup than I was when I started this column, various people – in fact, a far greater number than I had dared hope would – have expressed their support. Most notable, as far as I can tell, was Philip Pullman’s. That was decent of him. But the good wishes of people less in the public eye are just as warming to the heart.

Meanwhile, the question is still nagging away at me: what are you going to do now? This was the question my mother’s sisters would always ask her when a show she was in closed, and my gig might have been running for almost as long as The Mousetrap but hitherto the parallels with entertainment had eluded me.

“That’s show business,” she said to me, and for some reason that, too, is a useful comment. (I once saw a picture of a fairly well-known writer for page and screen dressed up, for a fancy-dress party, as a hot dog. The caption ran: “What? And give up show business?”)

Anyway, the funds dwindle, although I am busy enough to find that time does not weigh too heavily on my hands. The problem is that this work has either already been paid for or else is some way off being paid for, if ever, and there is little fat in the bank account. So I am intrigued when word reaches me, via the Estranged Wife, that another family member, who perhaps would prefer not to be identified, suggests that I retrain as a member of the shopfloor staff in the menswear department of John Lewis.

At first I thought something had gone wrong with my hearing. But the E W continued. The person who had made the suggestion had gone on to say that I was fairly dapper, could talk posh, and had the bearing, when it suited me, of a gentleman.

I have now thought rather a lot about this idea and I must admit that it has enormous appeal. I can just see myself. “Not the checked jacket, sir. It does not become sir. May I suggest the heather-mixture with the faint red stripe?”

In the hallowed portals of Jean Louis (to be said in a French accent), as I have learned to call it, my silver locks would add an air of gravitas, instead of being a sign of superannuation, and an invitation to scorn. I would also get an enormous amount of amusement from saying “Walk this way” and “Suits you, sir”.

Then there are the considerable benefits of working for the John Lewis Partnership itself. There is the famed annual bonus; a pension; a discount after three months’ employment; paid holiday leave; et cetera, et cetera, not to mention the camaraderie of my fellow workers. I have worked too long alone, and spend too much time writing in bed, nude, surrounded by empty packets of Frazzles and Dinky Deckers. (For those who are unfamiliar with the latter, a Dinky Decker is a miniature version of a Double Decker, which comes in a bag, cunningly placed by the tills of Sainsbury’s Locals, which is usually priced at a very competitive £1.)

I do some research. I learn from an independent website that a retail sales assistant can expect to make £7.91 an hour on average. This is somewhat less than what is considered the living wage in London, but maybe this is accounted for in the John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street. It is, though, a full 6p an hour more than the living wage in the rest of the land. Let the good times roll!

At which point a sudden panic assails me: what if employment at that store is only granted to those of long and proven service? God, they might send me out to Brent Cross or somewhere. I don’t think I could stand that. I remember when Brent Cross Shopping Centre opened and thought to myself, even as a child, that this was my idea of hell. (It still is, though my concept of hell has broadened to include Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush.)

But, alas, I fear this tempting change of career is not to be. For one thing, I am probably too old to train now. By the time I will have been taught to everyone’s satisfaction how to operate a till or measure an inside leg, I will be only a few months, if that, from retirement age, and I doubt that even so liberal an employer as John Lewis would be willing to invest in someone so close to the finish line.

Also, I have a nasty feeling that it’s not all heather-mixture suits with (or without) the faint red stripe these days. The public demands other, less tasteful apparel.

So I’m afraid I am going to have to stick to writing.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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