Washington: A new research has revealed the reason behind 'The New York Times,' that paragon of journalism, covering cat-stories for more than 140 years.
The researcher Matthew Ehrlich from the University of Illinois, after compiling hundreds of cat-related tales from the Times' digital archive, found hero cats and nuisance cats and victimized cats; street-wise alley cats, abandoned waterfront cats, killer deli cats and pampered office cats. He found numerous stories on cats versus birds, cats and women, cats as urban symbols, and story after story about cats getting stuck and then usually extracted from almost every conceivable place - including trees, ledges, chimneys, piers, sewers, packing crates and airplane cargo holds.
Cat stories have been part of the news diet that the paper of record has been serving up almost since its beginnings, according to Ehrlich, who says that the commercial reasons for writing about cats seem apparent based on the ebb and flow of stories over the years, he said.
The stories began to appear in the 1870s, and increased during periods when the Times faced increased competition in the 1920s from tabloids, in the 1970s from papers with new lifestyle and feature sections, and more recently from the Internet. In recent years, cat stories in the Times have averaged almost one a week, he said.
Ehrlich writes that that doesn't mean, however, that the stories should be dismissed as just "click-bait" or, to use an earlier term, "ballyhoo" as those stories are rooted in history, and they point to intensely political debates over how animals should be treated and what journalism should be.
The Times coverage, for instance, shows that cats were more despised than fawned over in the late 1800s, especially in cities, Ehrlich said. They were regarded then as an urban nuisance.
Ehrlich said that the stories demonstrate that cat and animal news is not all just for fun and many ongoing issues relate to human-animal interaction, ranging from livestock farming to animal experimentation to the rights and responsibilities of pet owners.
Ehrlich also thinks that animal news, cute and otherwise, may have lessons for the future of journalism and the academic study of journalism, given that even "serious" newspapers have always included stories appealing to the heart as well as the head.
The study is posted online by the journal Journalism.