17 February 2012


The death of print media in the face of a new age digital era of the Internet is an issue that continues to envelop the media industry. When the iPad was announced by Steve Jobs, some in the print media business felt it was a potential lifeline for a dying old media form. Others felt it was simply Apple staking their claim and right to digital print media through aggressive innovation. All of this and the recent Assange Wikileaks story forms a backdrop to this fly on the wall insider look at the prestigious New York Times newspaper. I have a great distrust of most mainstream media outlets especially ones which regularly collude with the establishment to perpetuate prevailing dominant ideologies, which usually go against the interests of most people. Andrew Rossi supposedly gained unprecedented access to the newsroom of the New York Times but whereas this so called access points to unrivalled autonomy, the truth is that the documentary fails to show us anything new or revelatory about the print media industry and the New York Times as a media institution. Rossi’s attempts to take an even handed approach to such a reputable institution means he covers the Judith Miller story. Miller, a widely respected journalist, covered the lead up to the Iraq war and ended up becoming a mouth piece for the conservative right, helping to reinforce many of the myths which had been propagated by the mainstream media. The most significant lie was that of Saddam Hussein possessing WMD. The NY Times was just another media outlet that joined in the march to war, helping to galvanise public opinion against the non existent threat posed by Iraq. Miller later justified her reporting by excusing propaganda for poor intelligence sources. Rossi seems to skim over the ideological role that traditional media still play in shaping public opinion and by doing so he brings into question the intentions of his documentary. Ironically, Miller is criticised for having become embedded yet the same could be said for Rossi’s documentary - access to such a closed and influential institution would surely mean some kind of ideological compromise, wouldn't it? The truth we are given is that the NY Times is a media institution that needs to preserved and protected as it has played an important role in the arena of investigative journalism. This might have been true in the past but the turning point clearly seems to have been the Watergate scandal, which was famously covered by Woodward and Bernstein for the NY Times. Today, more than ever, most mainstream media is slavishly subservient to demands made by advertisers and many of them have become outright extensions of corporate hegemony; the notion of hard news has dissipated into something more than soft. If the story of blogger Brian Stetler turned media reporter for the NY Times suggests the traditional gatekeepers have faded then such a misconception is challenged by the way news bloggers continue to use the NY Times as a springboard for ideas, reporting and analysis. What this means is that someone still has to go out and get the story but traditionally this would have been a professional news journalist yet today it could really be anyone. What Rossi’s look at the NY Times proves is that the democratisation of the media has happened but power to shape the news agenda and subsequently circulate popular ideology still remains in the grip of a privileged hegemonic elite. So what else is new?


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