Posts Tagged ‘the media’

Whose newspaper is it, anyway? The New York Times and the 1%

In business, culture, journalism, Media, Money, news, US on November 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm

By Caitlin Kelly



Loyal readers of The New York Times consider it one of the world’s greatest newspapers. Founded in 1851, today it’s read by millions of people worldwide thanks to its digital version. Some consider it the only news source they can rely on for accuracy and depth of reporting; others find its coverage of the world grotesquely skewed.

My husband and I — to use that classic American sports analogy — have skin in this game; I’ve been writing for the Times as a freelancer since 1990; my latest story for them, about Americans married to a foreign national who choose to retire overseas, runs in this weekend’s edition. My husband, a photo editor there, has been a staff photographer and photo editor for the Times for 30 years.

But the paper is now going through what one insider calls a “tectonic change” as it shifts increasingly to digital and prepares to rid itself of 100 staff. It’s offering them buyouts which must be accepted by December 1.

The Times is also shifting in the way it covers the world and, according to some, not for the better.

Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor — whose unenviable task it is to take her own employer to the woodshed within its pages — recently addressed the paper’s new and consistent attention to the concerns of the wealthiest:

I often hear about from readers who are frustrated by what they describe as elitism in the paper’s worldview, and who would like The Times and its staff to remember that the median household income in the United States is close to $52,000 a year, and that about 15 percent of Americans live in poverty.

It’s not hard to see why they feel that way. The featured apartments with their $10 million price tags and white-glove amenities seem aimed at hedge fund managers, if not Russian oligarchs. The stories on doughnuts at $20 a half dozen are for those who are flush with disposable income, not struggling to pay the rent. Many of the parties, the fashions, even the gadgets are well beyond the reach of the middle class.

It’s no secret that The Times often is intended to appeal to its many affluent readers and, at least sometimes, the advertisers who want to reach them. (Consider the ad-heavy special section produced twice a year and called, simply, “Wealth.”)

Claudia Griffiths, a reader in Maine, put it this way: “$160 flashlight and $219 level? Do the one percent of the one percent need your home-tool shopping help? Hello. Could the Times editors consider for WHOM they are actually writing? Here, not most Americans.”

I’ve lost patience with it, both as someone who wants to write about a broader and more diverse cross-section of sources, and as someone weary of other media outlets chasing down the wealthy and sucking up to them hard — from the FT’s (yes, this is really the name of their magazine), How to Spend It to The Robb Report to Town & Country, Tatler, you name it.

It’s so much more amusing for editors, writers and the advertisers of expensive goods they need to keep selling to coo over the cars/homes/furs/jewels of the filthy rich than contemplate the misery and frustration of the poor, let alone the struggling middle class, whose stagnant wages, stuck for decades at appallingly low levels in an era of record corporate profits, have left millions running as hard as they possibly can just to stay in place.

If a newspaper with the putative authority and depth of the Times keeps fawning over the rich — and just take a quick look at the quarter-page ads that run in it every day from Chanel, Cartier and other luxury goods purveyors — what signal does that send to the rest of us?

If the world’s soi-disant best newspaper barely looks at, let alone seriously addresses the underlying policy shifts that have created the worst income inequality in the U.S. since the Gilded Era more than a century agowho will?

Some people — and you may smile indulgently at their naievete and idealism, and yes, a career journalist I’m one of them — believe that journalism exists not merely as a megaphone with which to trumpet the “achievements” of the wealthy and powerful but to shine a light on the many interwoven reasons so many Americans languish in poverty.

(My last book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” talked in very real terms about what it’s like to live on low wages in the U.S. Only by working 2.5 years, even part-time, at $11/hour [a wage many employers here consider munificent] did I appreciate what a nightmare of a life it is.)

Jose and I read Neiman Reports, a magazine about the business of journalism, which last year addressed the paucity of poverty coverage by American journalists:

Nearly 50 million people—about one in six Americans—live in poverty, defined as income below $23,021 a year for a family of four. And yet most news organizations largely ignore the issue. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism indexed stories in 52 major mainstream news outlets from 2007 through the first half of 2012 and, according to Mark Jurkowitz, the project’s associate director, “in no year did poverty coverage even come close to accounting for as little as one percent of the news hole. It’s fair to say that when you look at that particular topic, it’s negligible.”

Instead, as Tampa Bay Times media critic Eric Deggans notes, at most news organizations poverty comes up sporadically. “Poverty becomes a sort of ‘very special episode’ of journalism that we sort of roll out every so often,” he says.

The reasons for the lack of coverage are familiar. Journalists are drawn more to people making things happen than those struggling to pay bills; poverty is not considered a beat; neither advertisers nor readers are likely to demand more coverage, so neither will editors; and poverty stories are almost always enterprise work, requiring extra time and commitment. Yet persistent poverty is in some ways the ultimate accountability story—because, often, poverty happens by design.

“Poverty exists in a wealthy country largely as a result of political choices, not as a result of pure economics,” argues Sasha Abramsky, a journalist whose upcoming book is called “The American Way of Poverty.” “The U.S. poverty rate is higher than most other developed nations, and the only way you can square that is there are political choices being made—or not being made—that accept a level of poverty that most wealthy democracies have said is unacceptable. We make these policy choices that perpetuate poverty, and then because poverty is so extreme, it becomes impolite to talk about.”

Do you find the media’s coverage of poverty adequate?

Does it matter to you if journalists ignore the poor and their struggles?

As ABC News Lays Off 300 to 400, Who Are 'Journalists' Now? Do You Care?

In business, Media on February 24, 2010 at 9:38 am
Journalists in the Radio-Canada/CBC newsroom i...

Image via Wikipedia

As ABC News today announces the layoffs of 300 to 400 members of their news staff, the question — begged almost daily these days — is who’s bringing us/you the news and information you value and trust?

Writes Jeff Bercovici in The New York Observer:

In the latter half of the last century, journalism mutated from a relatively prestige-free trade into a hoity-toity profession that, like medicine and law, involves graduate degrees and six-figure salaries. But journalism is not a profession, or even a trade, really. It’s an act. And anyone who performs that act is, at that moment, a journalist.

This recognition comes as the journalistic establishment slides beneath the water line, taking with it the six-figure jobs necessary to pay off all those J-school loans.

As fellow True/Slant contributor Paul Smalera recently told The New York Times, it’s pretty unclear who’s going to be able to make a living producing journalism without the back-up of a major media organization like ABC News, no matter how cool or edgy or interesting readers find information from less-traditional outlets:

Dozens of Web sites have correspondingly sprouted up, posting articles written for free or for a fraction of what a traditional magazine would have paid. Into this gaping maw have rushed enough authors to fill a hundred Roman Colosseums, all eager to write in exchange for “exposure.” Paul Smalera, a 29-year-old who was laid off from a magazine job in November 2008, is now competing with every one of them. And after months of furious blogging, tweeting and writing for Web sites, Paul has made a career of Internet journalism, sort of.

In the process, he’s had to redefine success. While he is doing work that he finds satisfying, he is earning around half of the $63,000 he made as a full-time employee, and he doesn’t have health insurance — or prospects for getting any. He has very little in savings and a mountain of credit-card and student-loan debt. “I think the economics are bleak right now, but in the long run, the opportunities are going to be online, and that’s why I’m willing to make the investment,” he told me over coffee.

Bercovici has it half-right. Very few well-paid J-jobs remain available and the pool of veterans competing for them is becoming even more Darwinian than ever, and it was crazy to begin with.

But this notion that anyone with a cellphone or Twitter account is offering “journalism” doesn’t work for me — any more than a lumberjack who cuts down a tree has created a dining room table or set of chairs. Beginning the chain of news production with a tweet or cellphone image snapped and sent within seconds by someone who gets what’s happening in front of them and feels the urgency to share it is inarguably potentially valuable — but not without subsequent checks, balances, fact-checking, analysis and the primary tool of anyone with experience — skepticism.

Remember, please, the names Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair — rising young stars initially sheltered and lionized within serious newsrooms producing thoughtful, reliable material.

As the saying goes, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Amateurs, civilians, citizen journalists — whatever you want to call them — have a place, and a growing one, at our shrinking table. They are not, and must not become the only place to which we gravitate for the information we use to make important decisions about our lives. Publishers thrived for years on profits of 15 percent or more — orders of magnitude higher than those of many other industries. Now everyone’s scrambling to get the cheapest work possible out of the journalists still hoping to do the work they/we love and value.

Our challenge, as those trying to do good work and pay bills and pay off student loans and save for retirement — call that an annual income of $45,000+ in most parts of the United States — is becoming a tough(er) row to hoe with every passing day. It’s not just random whining about losing a profession we love(d) or incomes that allowed us a life, not a scrabble for survival.

Driving costs into the ground means driving many smart, talented veterans out of the business. This affects the quality of information available to readers, listeners and viewers.


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