An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paper of record? Not so much.

By AR.

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.

1 comment:

  1. The New York Times lost most of its credibility for me in the 1990s as I read the now defunct Lies of our Times (LOOT). Sadly an archive of this publication has yet to appear on the web, but bits of it, such as this jpg of a page detailing how the NYT mistranslated Arabic appearing in photographs, then not posting corrections after Arabic experts pointed out the "error."

    The Times credibility took another hit after the Jason Blair scandal (fabricating stories). Then Judith MIller acted as a stenographer for the Bush Administration to bring us into the war with Iraq. As has happened with other publications, continuing to protect sources who knowingly feed you blatantly wrong information does not enhance your reputation either. Some of the great gadflies, such as I.F. Stone, never attended the White House Press Gala (or Dinner or whatever), nor did they have to cultivate "sources."

    Some defenders of the old-style pulp and paper publications have denounced web-based media as mere copy-cats. "Who produces the news stories that bloggers or others use as the basis of their stories, they ask? Well, increasingly, its old-fashioned gadflies using publicly available sources, rather than the empty-suits-who-are-feeding-you-lies sources.

    A careful examination of publicly available information where the truth lies buried under tons of turgid bureaucratic prose can reveal a lot more information than you might expect. Anyone can slog through campaign finance filings, a non-profit organization's tax returns, The Federal Register, and lots more. Remember that Judical Watch posted the Financial Disclosure form revealing deep conflicts of interest of the Judge who overturned the Administration's moratorium on risky test drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Publicly available document. No one had to give anonymity to anyone to obtain it.

    The journalists at publications such as the NYT have wasted so much time and effort cultivating their "insider status" in Washington that they often miss not only the elephant in the room but the whole damn circus. Given the proven mendacity of "official" sources how much credibility could a journalist "insider" have anymore anyway?

    to AR's list of high-quality non-mainstream sources I would like to add Lindsay Beyerstein's Focal Point (Formerly Majikthiese, but too many people failed to get the Douglas Adams reference and besides, people calling out "Magic thighs" from across the room lost its entertainment value for her pretty quickly). There are more in the "Links" section to the right in this blog.