Nikki Usher’s Remarkable Inside Scoop: Behind the Scenes at the New York Times

by Phillip Witteveen on May 21, 2014

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Professor Nikki Usher is a former journalist with expertise in media theory, social media and communication studies who has turned her formidable attention to the newsrooms of America. There is a shift going on in this subset of our culture — the values and practices of journalism that are transitioning from print to web in a number of ways we don’t fully understand yet.

So what is this shift in journalistic culture?

Now more than ever, there is less of a distinction between outlet and audience. As the accessibility to news platforms in blogs and social media increases, we are all of us, now more implicated as participant-observers in the same breaking news, the same political drama, and the same achievements and mistakes of the same interesting people. In a nutshell, formerly coherent, professional, for-profit mediums of broadcast and publishing have been cracked wide open. We’re all in this together now, and at the breakneck speed of an Internet culture’s attention span.

At the outset of her new book, Making News at The New York Times, Nikki Usher was interested in the way we produce and consume journalism in this culture, and how that is changing. The book she would write, after spending five months in the New York Times newsroom, would be, as a study of culture, an ethnography. The culture of interest was not like many of those featured in other ethnographies; it would be distinguished not by ethnicity, but by profession. This was a record of journalists in their native habitat. Like other ethnographies, however, the insights gleaned from the microcosm would serve as a thesis for insights into the greater species – into journalism at large. The subject would be the New York Times for its being somewhat archetypal of an American newspaper, an office afforded to it for its “reach and resources.” In a recent interview with Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Usher quoted from the Tow Report of Post-Industrial Journalism: “We can’t just talk about the Times, but we can always talk about the Times.”

Now completed and in print, Making News at The New York Times is not only a study into the way journalism is changing in the rank and file of those who read and write it, but how a people reconciles their traditions to emergent culture in general. For a thumbnail of Usher’s inside scoop on the Times, check out the Nieman Lab interview.

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