Monday, August 01, 2011

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Page One: Inside the New York Times initially bills itself as the 'daily fight to get on A1' (the front page). But if you were expecting a no holds barred dirty office fight between journalists and editors you'd be disappointed.

The New York Times likes to think of itself as America's premier newspaper. For years it has been aided and abetted by other American newspapers and TV networks taking their daily cue for what is news by what is printed in the New York Times. In the internet age this continues with online news publishers and aggregators (such as Huffington Post, Druge Report and Google News), bloggers and tweeters taking their cues, republishing and feeding off, commenting on and linking to NYT content. But there are two big trends that are killing newspapers around the world. Fewer and fewer advertisers interested in running adverts in newspapers. While simultaneously readers are moving to the internet where they expect to read stuff for free.

Websites like craigslist and Ebay have killed the classified adverts section. Companies large and small now have their own websites and feel less need to put adverts into newspapers. The concept that everything on the internet is free and the difficult in setting up internet pay-per-view websites has reinforced this idea.

Page One: Inside the New York Times is a documentary that gets inside the NYT and sees how it is trying to cope with this new reality. It concentrates on the Media Desk, the department where journalists report on the media itself, and in particular on David Carr, a most unlikely senior reporter.

Some of the older journalists at the Times think that the NYT is different and what has happened to other papers couldn't happen here. But ultimately there are two main views of the future. The optomistic view is that there is a technology driven change here and that traditional paper newspapers are on the way out, and that new internet media will take over the written media space. Then there is the pessimistic view that most (or all) the internet news media is parasitic. It can only exist because it feeds off traditional media. During a TV debate one NYT journalist illustrates this with two pictures of the front page of the news aggregator news site. One unaltered and the other with all the connect that came from traditional media removed. The fear is that if the internet kills the newspaper industry (and the TV news networks too) then they will have killed the golden goose that they depend on.

Ultimately the questions are:
  • Is journalism independent of the technology and hence can it survive in the internet age, if so how will it be funded?
  • Is journalism necessary to modern democracy and if so does it need protection of some sort to survive in a post-newspaper world? Will the death of journalism mean the death of democracy? (No one asked the next question: with the death of journalism will anyone notice the death of democracy?)

There was a diversion into a red herring argument that what is hurting the NYT is a couple of scandals. First the Jayson Blair plagiarism and fabrication scandal, and secondly Judith Miller's articles that lead to the US invasion of Iraq through a feedback circle. She quoted the US government as saying that Iraq was making or attempting to make WMDs and was in turn quoted by Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld using the NYT as authority. She later wrote that WMDs had been found in Iraq. As damaging as these scandals are they are not the real reason why newspapers are on the way out.

Technically this is a well crafted documentary with articulate talking heads that covers the subject well, leaving the audience in no doubt of the trends for newspapers while resisting the temptation to predict the future.

It is difficult to beat The Onion's headline on the subject.

Ian's rating 3/5

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