[FOUNTAIN]The Gray Lady gets some rouge

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[FOUNTAIN]The Gray Lady gets some rouge

When the New York Times faced a financial crisis in the 1970s, it had two options to weather the storm. One was to cut the number of reporters on its staff, which was much larger than the staff of its rivals. The other option was to fill the paper with more substantive articles to attract more readers.

Abe Rosenthal, then chief editor of the Times, decided on the latter course, and Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of the company, agreed with Mr. Rosenthal's decision.

Then Mr. Rosenthal made a famous speech, later called the "soup speech," to the staff. He said the newspaper had to choose between two paths, either "watering the tomato soup" ?in other words, lowering the quality of the newspaper ?or "adding more tomatoes to the soup" ?increasing the quality of the product.

The Times expanded its capital investments between 1976 and 1978 and thoroughly shook up the paper's structure, increasing the number of sections from two to four.

Mr. Rosenthal's policy, the "tomato strategy," did not stop there. He challenged the reporters, saying that if the newspaper carries a food article, the article should be of the same quality as the newspaper's international news, generally conceded to be the world's best.

The same newspaper conducted another noteworthy experiment in 1979. Until then, the newspaper had been called the "Gray Lady" because it had the same dense, gray-looking layout in 1979 as it had in 1881. But on Oct. 16, 1979, the New York Times carried color photographs on its front page, one of the baseball teams, who were in the World Series that year, and one of Secretary of Justice Janet Reno attending a congressional hearing. The day was special to the newspaper. It published 138 pages, its largest-ever weekday edition. The same day, Mr. Sulzberger stepped down from the post of chairman in favor of his son, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., then 46, after leading the newspaper for 34 years.

The New York Times recently won seven of the fourteen Pulitzer Prizes in journalism for 2001. The prize winners included a Korean cameramen working for the newspaper. Maybe the "tomato investment" contributed to the victory of the New York Times.

Recently in Korea, many politicians and reporters have been discussing the rights and wrongs of the scandals that have broken out here recently. I wish they would take the time to step back and deliberate on the quality of their own work.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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