I gave up reading the NY Times years ago after their disastrous coverage of the lead up to the war in Iraq and several other internal scandals. I do not consider them "the paper of record". Sadly, lots of the media still take them as such. I have been getting more news from McClatchy, since an analysis of the media in the aftermath of the Iraq war showed that they actually got the story right. They had no Judith Miller that they had to apologize for. So that covers much of my news needs. As to opinion, I'm not much of a fan of the Times either. God knows that their opinion people get plenty of coverage on the Sunday morning blabfests, as well as on NPR. So it’s not like I don’t get to hear their opinions over and over. I used to read the Times for the “Circuits” computer section, but that has long since been folded into another section. Not a great loss as it had gotten pretty thin. The main contributor to it is a total Mac fan boy and I just reached a point of exhaustion and boredom with his work. The only section of the Times I will occasionally look at and still consider worthwhile is the Arts section. They still do have some of the best reviewers in the country, especially Holland Cotter.
Can someone be informed without the Grey Lady? I think so. I got a much better sense of the lead up to the Iraq war with Air America's coverage at the time. I got a much deeper understanding of the current financial crisis via Planet Money on PRI. I got a good understanding of what we are currently doing in Afghanistan due to Rachel Maddow's recent great work. I get a much better sense of what happens in the rest of the world thanks to the BBC. Then there is the solid day in day out reporting in McClatchy. Note that most of those sources were not in the form of text on paper, but radio and video over the Web. It just seems to me that the Times is far from indispensable. Frankly, I don't feel that the Times matters very much, except that their endorsements for local & state judges races here in NY are definitively consequential. I think that as you move out of that local range into larger state and national races they have much less of an impact. Culturally, they are also losing ground. They may be the be-all in terms of classical music reviews, but for most other kinds of music, they really don’t carry much weight. They are important for Broadway. But how important are Broadway plays and musicals to most people under 50? The Times is important to people’s grandparents and some middle-aged parents. If you are in your twenties or thirties, the opinions and recommendations of Time Out NY will be way more important. There is a kind of official culture that the Times can still be said to represent. Actually, I think that it’s more a culture of officials, like the judges that get their endorsements, or the college presidents that want nice articles about their latest educational initiatives, or the arts administrators who really want to get a nice write up about a current show or upcoming performance. If you aren’t part of that culture of officialdom does the Times really serve your interests? That is up to you to decide. For myself, the answer has increasingly been no. I think that they have come to believe their own ads, which is always a bad sign.