May 1, 2018

The uncomfortable reason Australian journos don’t like The New York Times

The US publication has been plagued by criticism since hitting our shores, but is its coverage really so unusual? This is what the rest of the world has always dealt with.

Ruby Hamad

Freelance writer

New York Times Australia

It’s been exactly one year since The New York Times set up an Australian bureau in Sydney. And almost as long since some Australians began grumbling about it.

Grievances -- mostly from local journos on social media -- include perceptions the NYT is needlessly explaining Australia to Australians, engaging in parachute journalism, and not employing enough local journalists.

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34 thoughts on “The uncomfortable reason Australian journos don’t like The New York Times

  1. Moving to Paraguay

    A wonderful refreshing take. If only there was a global perspective like NYT from an antipodean perspective – an Al-Jazeera of the south. Nonetheless I subscribe to NYT because their platform is so good, especially their Asia roundup. The Age app is execrable.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      Al-Jazeera began well but it is now indistinguishable from the BBC; not altogether a bad thing but it can no longer be said that Al-Jazeera is in anyway alternative. I, for one, could do without an Al-Jazeera of the south but something like the Straits Times but with a bit more analysis : perhaps.

    2. peterh_oz

      Why don’t you just use the websites rather than bother with the limited & execrable apps? What does the app offer that the website doesn’t? And yes I read crikey on the Web, on all my devices including my phone to write this.

  2. Rais

    I subscribed to the NYT newsletter, quickly found that I didn’t like it and attempted two or three times to cancel. The ‘cancel’ option didn’t work so I redirected it into junk mail where it goes reliably every day and I never see it. I wonder how many other ‘subscribers’ don’t actually read it?

  3. AR

    To invoke Said’s brain burst as other than a sad admission of wasting time suggests a want of wit.
    As for “Said’s scathing assessment that western writers on the Middle East are convinced they know Arabs better than Arabs could ever know themselves. The presumption being that only the West can be “objective”. Who said so? The West, of course.”
    And, demonstrably, experience. The hoary old stat that more books in Arabic are translated into European languages every year than have ever been translated from a European anguage into Arabic.
    Effective introspection and behavioural self management is not a noticeable trait.

    1. Ruby Hamad

      To which Said would respond, “Knowledge is power.”

      1. Ruby Hamad

        Invert those. Sorry, long day.

        1. kyle Hargraves

          The question is : does (from a distance) Power depend (ultimately) on knowledge or is it the other way about. Play with the graph for a moment or two. Power on the ‘Y’ axis seems to be more creditable. While knowledge may come to be ameliorated by power it isn’t so clear that knowledge ‘depends’ (knowledge on the ‘Y’ axis) on power.

          So yes : the perils of long days. The first association seems to be correct (after all).

          1. Ruby Hamad

            Said borrows from Foucault’s analysis. Power requires knowledge and knowledge engenders power. So no, I definitely meant “power is knowledge.” The European project of translating Arab texts and studying the Arab world was not driven by mere intellectual curiosity but as part of the colonising process; to know you is to rule you.

    2. Janno

      AR: You clearly don’t know how funny/ironic your comment is: The Arabs’ early translations into various European languages of libraries of eastern science, including medicine, maths, algebra (an Arab word) philosophy, as well as stories (Aesop’s Fables comes to mind but there are many) is one of the great gifts of early Islam. And the revelation of an Indian zero to Europe/China.
      Not only that but the Ottomans devoured the Alexandria library, read the Greek philosophers, were influenced by what they read. Empires fall, the wheel turns.
      Yep, latter day European powers got into translating Arabic, among other languages, you have to know your possible future enemy/opponents/colonial subjects. – among many other easy-to-find web references.

  4. Arky

    I didn’t even know about the NYT’s Australian bureau and I consume more news media than 99% of Australians soooo… bang up marketing job there.

    I find it hilarious that it’s even a complaint that coverage from an American news outlet, which they would no doubt expect to be read by some of their US readers, bothers to explain Australia. So what? As long as they aren’t presenting Australia as the country where everyone is throwing shrimps on the barbies and hunting crocs. Or confusing us with Austria again.

  5. kyle Hargraves

    Said had his critics. Indeed to end of of Said’s life he had a major falling out with Hitchins (for what it might be worth to anyone). It so happens that I have mentioned Orientalism on rather more than one occasion when, it seemed to me that the (insular – non-traveling) arm-chair theorists were in dire need of correction.

    As for the NYT it was the only paper (of my reading) that conveyed that Trump possessed some tangible chance of becoming president; in other words the coverage amounted to the antithesis of The Guardian or (for that matter) Aunty. I haven’t superscribed to the “newsletter” but like all newsletters (that I have read) – particularity those from political parties – assume an education level of about 10 years of age.

    While by no means original in any sense the article does serve as a useful reminder of (just how might one put it) indexes of comparison.

    1. Ruby Hamad

      Please let me know who else has made these arguments in relation to the NYT and Australia. I’d like to know who I am inadvertently ripping off so I can properly credit them.

      1. kyle Hargraves

        I was taking the wider view Ruby. I don’t think there is (at last I am unaware of) any specific comparison between (e.g) what is or has been written by the BBC or The Guardian regarding Australia and ditto for the NYT.

        As an example, as recently as of today, there is a review on Swartz Media regarding yet another biography of Patrick White; this time by Christos Tsiolkas but utilising the perspectives of, as the reviewer put it, “a lesser-known book by the critic and academic Vrasidas Karalis ..[regarding] his Recollections of Mr Manoly Lascaris”. As the review expressed it : White came to assess Australia vis a vis the experiences of Lascaris. For those that prefer “simple” the adage : “(military) history is written by the victors” might suffice.

        No one (at least not I) is accusing you of plagiarism. As conveyed : the article is useful, if only as a reminder, but the theme is not original. The theme exists in any course on discourse analysis or indeed anything with an oblique reference to post modernism.’

        I trust that I have clarified any confusion that my have existed.

        1. bref

          OMG. You read that stuff? Surely life’s too short 🙂

        2. Ruby Hamad

          I’m wondering why you felt the need to disparage my work in this manner. I don’t claim to have invented discourse analysis (hence my reference to Said) or to be the first to point out the patronising tone employed by western journalists covering other countries (hence my references to Keating). I am however, as far as I know, original in suggesting that this may be what lies behind the resistance to Cave’s coverage of Australia. It’s pretty frustrating that you felt the need to put me down for no apparent reason.

          1. kyle Hargraves

            {apologies for grabbing this space but there is none beneath my posts}
            Believe it or not, Ruby, I have been drumming my thumbs on the desk for some minutes considering options for the best course for a response. Let’s do it in reverse order : i.e. with your observations to my remarks appearing last.

            [snip ..] “weed out those who dismiss the words of a writer and media researcher because of her ethnic background but I guess not.”

            I don’t for a moment, Ruby, claim any great knowledge of the Crikey readership but it does seem to be that it is as long a a piece of string. There are some very talented and critical (read knowledgeable) readers and there are some who are seeking (it seems) a de facto education. Within that lot Crickey has managed to attract its (fair) share of knee-jerkers or those who respond to Pavlov’s whistle or bell.

            I don’t think you are being criticised for your Semitic background (in the strict sense of the adjective). For these guys you have failed to “join the dots”. I’d bet a grand that these guys have never heard (much less read) Raymond Williams, Althusser, Walter Benjamin or (indeed) Middlemarch – i.e. Eliot; all of whom Said refers to in the introduction and first chapter of the book that you cite. Of course others are mentioned including Kissinger and Gibbon.

            In all humility, if you are going to attempt something of a project as you have done, a good deal more needs to be “linked-in” if only for context. If such isn’t possible in the space for the article attempt an alternative approach contrasting a (western) perceived view that prevailed (on account of power/authority) with an alternative perspective that came to be vindicated. A few come to mind just in typing this sentence. Now, to me.

            “Said borrows from Foucault’s analysis. Power requires knowledge and knowledge engenders power.

            In the long term : possibly but in the short term (Discipline and Punish or Ernest Mandel) brute force will do (for power). Knowledge certainly engenders power hence Power deserving to be on the ‘Y’ axis; my assertion. As to Foucault – well : for the empiricists among us : no! So, on this basis alone, I assert what I have done.

            “The European project of translating Arab texts and studying the Arab world was not driven by mere intellectual curiosity but as part of the colonising process”.

            yes; as with stamp-collecting – agreed. Having made that point the ‘Arab world’ salvaged a good deal of the Greek of the ancient world which was damned fortunate for the early (European) Middle Ages. The literate were among the first to starve as the western Roman Empire dissolved. No messaging with Constantinople until some centuries later.

            “to know you is to rule you”. Indeed! Short version follows : the Turkish lecturer for Middle East Economics (some decades ago) declared within minutes into the first lecture that the Middle East was impossible to comprehend without a solid foundation in Islam. So we (all) learnt Islam and a failure in Islam implied an outright failure for the course. As an aside I was the kid that won the Divinity Prize each year. More could be written.

            Lastly, “I’m wondering why you felt the need to disparage my work in this manner.”

            .mmm ! stumped! I actually wrote that your article was a useful reminder which I don’t consider to be an act of disparagement and – for the record – I certainly did not (or intend to) “put you down”. For the 3rd? time I was taking the wider view. I trust the foregoing suffices as a clarification (that I attempted previously). That you happened to mention Cave and Keating is incidental – but disagree by all means.

            As to a “nation response” to international criticism Australians are not much concerned. Particular reporters may react in non-forecastable directions [or more predictable of one works for Murdoch/Fairfax] but the population (as someone on the list pointed out) in general doesn’t give a damn (and will continue to think what they do anyway). In this (small) regard the lists on Crikey prove the rule.

  6. Damon

    I really enjoyed this, Ruby. Not sure if Gjb and Camm got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning or just don’t appreciate good media analysis, but somebody should tell them it’s not compulsory for them to enjoy every Crikey article.
    I guess I just did.

  7. Paris Lord

    Thanks, Ruby, for your analysis. More, please, Crikey.
    This ex-journo knows all about how thin-skinned many journos are. White House press corps attacking Michelle Wolf is a case in point.

    1. Janno

      Oh Paris, thanks for mentioning Wolf! The video is a revelation. What guts.

  8. Janno

    Thanks Ruby. I liked that your analysis included some playfulness and reverse reflection. I suspect a bit more explanation of Iran in context could have been useful for an understanding of Iran versus Saudi+US and – well I’ll stop there.
    It was probably these sentences that got the hares/hairs running:
    “The presumption being that only the West can be “objective”. Who said so? The West, of course. If anything, the NYT‘s Australian coverage is far less objectionable given the stakes are not exactly high.” And you’ve probably heard the phrase, at least from the 1940s: “oversexed, overpaid and over here” applied by men to American servicemen with money and their ways of charming British, Australian and European women. We’re still growing up.

  9. Jane Mahoney

    **ADMIN NOTE**

    Hi all,
    Several entries have been deleted from the comment section of this article. As per our moderation guidelines (accessible here:, we encourage readers to engage in spirited discussion but not to use that opportunity to show an undue level of discourtesy to another reader — this extends to authors published to the Crikey website as well. Please ensure your comments stick to the topic of discussion and avoid personal attacks.
    Jane (Engagement Manager)

  10. [email protected]

    As an Englishman living half way between New York and the Gold Coast and a long time sub to the NYT, the most annoying thing I find about the NYT Australia coverage is the ease with which they like to fall into tropes that beat the English influence in Australia as a way to curry favour with the locals. Otherwise the NYT is going the same way as other media outlets eg the BBC in cowtowing to right wing media influencers.

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