Everybody's a Critic

The NYT Answers Questions About Its Garden Coverage

In case you missed it:  The New York Times recently answered questions about its home and garden coverage.  One alert reader, quite possibly a Friend of Rant, wrote in and asked:

Why do you call it Home and Garden when you have fewer and fewer articles on gardening and plants?

Well.  Yes.  It does touch a nerve, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t we all like to see a Home and Garden section that covered more gardens than homes?  That prompted disgruntled letters from readers wanting to know why they were always going on about gardening when there were homes to be written about, too? Wouldn’t it be something if a newspaper named its section Garden & Home?

But we all know that home and garden sections tend to be heavier on the homes than the gardens.  And it makes me wonder:  why put them in the same section at all?  Just because homes and gardens are located next to each other doesn’t mean they have to share space in the newspaper, does it?  You don’t see Home & Auto sections, even though cars are often parked next to homes, do you?

What about Cooking & Gardening?  Could that work as a section?  Lots of food-oriented gardening, with enough ornamental gardening thrown in to keep everyone happy? And enough restaurant coverage to satisfy the non-cooks?

Huh.  That might be weird.  Or what about:  GREEN.  That’s the name of the section.  I know, it’s a buzzword and maybe it’s overused.  But a GREEN section could include gardening alongside coverage of conservation, restoration, outdoor activities like hiking, and other environmental news.  We’d talk about gardening as part of a larger conversation about the planet.  OR–what about calling it OUTSIDE? 

That could be cool.

Meanwhile, the Times defends its garden coverage, saying:

So sorry to hear that it seems as if we are doing less on gardening. But from our point of view, that is not the case….Anne Raver writes three times a month in the spring summer and fall, and twice a month in the winter… Stephen Orr answers questions from readers in the Garden Q and A…In addition, we run feature articles on gardens….

You get the idea.  But really, from a purely structural standpoint, don’t you think that the very nature of a home & garden section is that "gardening" ends up being the dessert, while "home" is the main course?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by on November 24, 2008 at 5:07 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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21 Responses to “The NYT Answers Questions About Its Garden Coverage”

  1. Dave says:

    I think this is a trend with all newspapers. With online media growing, newspapers are filling up with ads to make up for lost subscriptions. Our paper in TN has very few gardening articles yet pages of real estate, of course that’s a whole other issue.

  2. Susan Cohan says:

    Finally someone has voiced my thoughts about the NYT ‘Home’ section. ‘Garden’ has been eliminated completely from the section title. I still read it every Thursday…

  3. Jen says:

    I’m curious what percentage of their subscribers are in Manhattan where their gardening might be limited to window box, stoops,roofs, balconies and community plots – maybe they should try running more articles specific to small space and containers? I plan adult ed programs in Manhattan the the ones I’ve tried on gardening usually tank, then again, that was years ago before there was huge interest in sustainability. Maybe we should try them again.

  4. Genevieve says:

    Eh, I think it’s just another reason to move online. There are so many wonderful garden blogs and resources, with more cropping up every day – why encourage the dead tree versions?

    Writers can and should make a profit as the world moves online, and I think the freedom of the online format makes for better coverage, anyway. You don’t have to explain every detail, you can just include a link as you casually mention the column you wrote the previous week or a particular type of tool or plant.

    There are always books if you want to read in the bath or on the plane.

  5. greg draiss says:

    One would think that the Times, which is tied into the “green” thing, would promote gardens as the simplest way to be green around the home. After all homes are not selling and new construction always means something somewhere is destroyed to make someone somwhere else feel good.

    The food section is always about restaurant owners buying organic, GMO free ingredients………

    So what gives?

    The (Grow your own sell the rest)

    TROLL

  6. Susan Harris says:

    I like Green or Outside as section names. I think “gardening” readers are now green, outdoorsy people, and should be aligned with those topics, NOT with home decorating. There’s been a shift.

  7. Angela says:

    Inexcusable. If a tree grows in Brooklyn, how the Hell will anyone know how to take care of it? Also… why I live in California.

  8. Gloria says:

    The Chicago Tribune has recently changed quite a bit trying to stay viable after heavy layoffs of writing staff. Gardening is one of the many victims. The “Home and Garden” Sunday section is now called “house & homes” (lower case is really what the Trib uses for the title). Seems gardening is not bringing in the advertising money no matter how many read regularly.
    There is still one page of gardening within. This week it is Garden Books with the new Ken Druse book “Planthropology” included.
    Beth Botts,regular garden writer works hard at keeping the section alive. In Sell it to me she includes a garden description with three Chicago homes for sale.
    First one… renovation of home would be costly and time consuming,probably nothing left for garden for years.
    Second home…ready to move into and start tearing out 37 square feet of sod for garden space.
    Third home and garden an urban dream. Raised beds all ready there for vegetable growing,a sweet autumn clematis growing on the fence (evidence of good neighbors),shade garden,compost bins(soil stewardship already at work,plants named etc…
    Even a description of areas garden areas needing renovation.

    Beth rocks…

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/realestate/chi-sellit-irving-1123nov23,0,5100595.story

  9. ann says:

    One of our Portland papers does a Sustainable Life section (http://www.portlandtribune.com/sustainable/index.php) but I don’t see regular garden articles in it, I don’t think. I’m not sure purely ornamental gardening articles would belong there.
    I don’t know, I think Home & Garden works.

  10. Michele Owens says:

    Well, the Times is doing a much better job than it used to in covering urban farming in particular–but not necessarily in the Home & Garden section.

    Maybe it will improve, once nobody can afford new kitchens, and new plants become the new luxuries.

  11. Nikki Smith says:

    And speaking of garden coverage … did you hear a local non-profit scored DC $100K to plant new trees all over the city next spring?

    If anyone out there has a project they’d like to propose, the deadline is quickly approaching. Find out more:

    http://www.whgmag.com/index.php/380-how-many-trees-can-100k-buy

  12. I agree with your take on the NY Times’ garden coverage online. It’s pretty thin and watery for a big city paper. In Jacksonville’s Florida Times Union local extension agents and master gardeners write columns and answers to questions in Saturday’s edition. It’s okay for a medium-sized city newspaper, but not great.

    BUT, they have a community columnist program where people are invited to write about a favorite topic. I started writing my “Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener” column in 2004 and have been writing an article at least once a month since then. I’m a “featured columnist” and get front page (online) coverage when I write something and my latest column is on the community page. Some of the local (neighborhood) print editions carry my columns as well. In 2006 I started recording podcasts for them. I write the question and answer script and email it ahead of time. When I make the trip up to Jacksonville, I record 4 to 6 podcasts, which are then posted online once a week or so. I’ve recorded more than 60 podcasts. The folks at the paper are thrilled that they have more content with very little extra work.

    Why am I telling you all this? It’s not to brag (well maybe a little), but to encourage all you Garden Rant readers to beef up the local coverage of gardening yourselves. Newspapers are having a hard time–make it easier for them by contributing well-thought-out articles. Cover the topics near and dear to your heart. Do some research to add some depth to your content. Spend some time on your writing to make it readable and create interesting headlines to grab people’s attention. I have two people read my columns before they are posted to check for silly errors, to point out when I’m not absolutely clear, or to keep me from straying from the main topic.

    One other thing: my Transplanted Gardener columns helped to secure my book deal at University Press of Florida. I’d be happy to answer anyone’s questions on this.

  13. chuck b. says:

    Yeah, I have zero interest in “home”. I would much rather have “Outside & Garden” section where the “outside” has everything about local parks, festivals, open space and preservation issues. That’s all important news to me.

  14. kim says:

    Online is where it appears to be going, but to respond to Genevieve – having a cup of coffee by the fire (or on the screened porch in summer) hanging over a laptop, inundated with blinking ads, is just not much fun. I do research online, but I enjoy my morning paper. Trouble is, I’m enjoying it less and less as the life gets sucked out of it. The newspapers sing woe is me about losing subscribers, but it’s the newspapers that are driving me to magazines and books for my morning reading.

  15. PeonInChief says:

    Uh, folks, the intention of the Home and Garden section (no matter what it’s called) is to supplement the real estate advertising. This means that they’re really interested in people building or buying homes, remodeling them, adding to them etc. Landscaping, even if very expensive, professional landscaping is inexpensive compared to the house stuff. And the NYT is most interested in urban lofts and suburban Westchester. It’s fun to read, but a little like “restaurants you could never afford to go to.”

    I wonder though if gardening will return once housing is no longer the profit-center that it was a few years ago.

  16. Genevieve says:

    I’d disagree entirely, Kim, though I don’t go to sites that have blinking ads – I love my RSS reader for helping with that! I can’t think of anything nicer than sitting in front of the fire with a cocoa and a laptop, browsing and feeling fully connected to people with similar interests.

    But I understand where you’re coming from. I have replaced all my newsprint reading with the internet, but can’t stomach the idea of giving up paper books.

    I do think that reading online is the greener option, and will be more so as we develop cleaner energy. I’ll probably even be willing to give up my beloved books in time, as we get better tech for reading digitally.

    Peon, I think it’s going to be a long time before housing stops being so profitable (current downturn excepted) – I bet as soon as we stop spreading out we’ll start an aggressive spread upwards. More container and rooftop gardening, I’d guess!

  17. Aunt Ida says:

    The Idaho Statesman has their Home and Garden sections separated. For years, they’ve run a weekly gardening column in the Life section. The Home portion is in the Business section under Foreclosures.

    There’s also a large Outdoor section on Thursdays that includes all the outdoor activities the state has to offer except gardening (Idaho has the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 – so lots of outdoorsy stuff goes on here).

    Just this past March, the Statesman started an online gardening newsletter which includes all the printed gardening articles plus a Master Gardener column (which I write).

    Ginny – I’ll contact you about what you’re doing in Florida. I’ll see if it’ll fly here.

    The Idaho Native Plant Society just started negotiations with the paper about doing a Yard of the Month – featuring water efficient gardens. We’ll see how that pans out.

  18. kim says:

    Genevieve, I need the tactile pleasure of paper – and I HATE (with capital letters) to type on a laptop. My aging eyes also don’t like to read on the screen. The only thing I want on my lap is a nice warm throw, not a computer, but I understand where you are coming from, especially with the green aspect. Yes, newsreaders are great, but I haven’t figured out how to get only the things I want from the Post without maybe missing something. :-)

  19. James says:

    Let’s face it. The US doesn’t have a strong gardening culture compared to many other countries (especially the UK). The money spent on lawn care far, far exceeds money spent on gardening. Much as I’d like it to be different, I don’t think the audience for more gardening coverage exists among the NYT readership.

  20. Happy Thanksgiving! In today’s NYTimes, Ann Raver’s so-called gardening article covers the annual bird count at backyard feeders. This is fine, but it’s not a gardening article. She could have encouraged gardeners to create more habitat areas by planting food sources such as plants with berries and seeds. Birds also need cover in the landscape. An opportunity wasted, in my opinion.

  21. I agree to many articles do not really tie in as gardening as advertised in the general topic. I think the US has a marginally strong gardening culture depending on the State. The midwest absolutly flourishes as do some parts of the south. It is no longer a necessity in urban areas and the joy of gardening is too far between.

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