Alexander Chancellor

Diary – 28 June 2008

Alexander Chancellor returns from New York

I’m just back from New York, where I met friends from the New York Times. Their morale, they said, was low. This is a typical complaint of journalists everywhere; for not only are they seldom content with their lot but, more than people in any other trade, they love to analyse and expound upon their collective state of mind. But those at the New York Times do have reason for feeling a little glum. Circulation has been falling, advertising revenue is down, and the management recently made some 140 journalists redundant. It’s the same sort of story on most newspapers, but the Times used to seem so mighty and impregnable that its present difficulties feel particularly ominous. Its editor, Bill Keller, told me that retrenchment was now complete and there would be no more editorial redundancies. But it takes more than that to cheer journalists up when they have decided to feel gloomy.

Something, however, recently lifted their spirits, and this was the occasion earlier this month when two men — separately and just hours apart — scaled the paper’s spanking new 52-storey skyscraper on Eighth Avenue. Although some veteran reporters find the new building too silent and sterile and wish they were back in their grubby old home on West 43rd Street, it is an elegant and lavishly appointed tower by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, who with Richard Rogers built the Pompidou centre in Paris. Every precaution was taken in its design to protect it against terrorist attack, but it occurred to nobody that anyone might want to climb it. In the event, it was made unusually easy to climb because of the ladder-like horizontal ceramic rods that encase it from top to bottom. The first man up was a 45-year-old Frenchman, Alain Robert, who has much experience in the strange business of ‘buildering’, as the passion for scaling buildings is called, and who counts the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House among his conquests.

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