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A New Time for The New York Times

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BBC4’s recent Storyville documentary series episode “Deadline: The New York Times” provides an interesting insight into working for a traditional, historic and old school media stalwart in an increasingly digital modern age. Throughout the programme, the battle between old and new media was ever-present, fierce and often underhanded. However, for such a weighty topic, with such significant implications for how the world generates and consumes its media, the most disturbing element was the loss of objectivity and considered debate as both sides attempt to simply out-shout the other.

What should be an intelligent, sensitive (given that this has a direct impact on people’s livelihoods) and measured debate is most often symbolised in the most simplistic black versus white / good versus evil terms (depending on which side of the fence you sit on). However, with something as important as this, maybe it would be a good idea to sit on the fence a little longer before deciding which side to jump down. The seriousness of the debate cannot be underestimated, not just at a personal profession level but at a global economic level.

Whilst it was the old school New York Times that was the predominant host of the programme, the BBC did not explicitly pin its colours to the old mast. However, those representing online PR and reportage did little to portray themselves in a good light. It does not need an expert to recognise that new media has landed some very serious blows over the past decade and old school media giants are not taking the hits very well. With advertising revenue diverted to new means, old media cuts a pitiful stance; many have already gone out of business and those once great establishments, such as The New York Times, are just about holding on.

The argument is that this is simply evolution, survival of the fittest. There is absolute validity in this statement. However, the new pretenders’ desire to continually put the boot in and kick the old champ when he is down, has actually elicited considerable sympathy for the old powerhouses such as The New York Times. Most measured consumers recognise that at some point soon, new media will rule the world and old media will go under. However, the requirement to burn the house down rather than leave it to natural erosion is particularly unpleasant and unnecessary – and no doubt expedited by the financial greed of those whose new media star is suddenly rising.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching element within the documentary was the excerpt shown from the 2009 Good Riddance to Mainstream Media debate at New York University in which the two sides did battle. If ever there was a title to sum up that rush to put the boot in, then this was it.

Given that new media still aggregates the vast majority of its successful and popular content from traditional media, the short-sighted and downright vitriolic desire of new media to bite the hand that feeds it is confusing at best. Those most eager to stick the knife in would do well to consider the maxim of not wishing it away. Once it has gone, it’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible to get it back, so rather than wasting time in hostile arguments, time would be better invested in ensuring a suitable legacy of content.

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