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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.