When I read the first chapter of Manufacturing Content, I assumed that its scathing remarks about corporations’ influence on the media were irrelevant to the New York Times. I remembered an article from two years ago that discussed the Sulzberger family’s hands-off approach despite their sizable control of one of the world’s most respected news sources. Journalists and editors hailed the Sulzberger family for giving the newspaper’s staff the freedom to write about what they wanted without any outside influence or demands from their publisher.
A recent article entitled, “U.S. Shifts Focus to Press China for Market Access” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/world/asia/19prexy.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2) caused me to question my previous assumption. What I originally took for a news brief on corporations seeking to gain a grasp on Chinese contracts began to appear as an assortment of hidden advertisements.
In the fifth paragraph, I was struck by the article’s mention of General Electric and Microsoft. Why was it relevant to mention these two particular companies? True, both have tremendous ties to China in terms of manufacturing and their enormous customer base, but wouldn’t it be more succinct to not mention either company by referring to ‘all other American companies’ as a collective? What reason did the New York Times have to mention these two American companies besides impressing upon the reader how substantial and global these two firms were. I began to look at other citations of corporations with a less trusting eye.
In particular, I didn’t find the inclusion of Nucor Corporation particularly relevant to the article. Even if Nucor is of particular relevance to China’s market, there are dozens of other companies that could have been referred to including Microsoft which has seen an incalculable amount of its programming and applications used illegally by Chinese companies.
The most striking example of a calculated effort to mention companies not for the sake of news, but for the subliminal advertising and name recognition was the paragraph about Google’s difficulties in dealing with the Chinese government. While Google’s excursion from China and recent setbacks with policy makers in the State Council Information Office is relevant to this article, I was struck by the exclusion of three other American corporations that have faced greater challenges in their interactions with China. Two years ago, amidst the Xinjiang riots, the Chinese government surreptitiously blocked Facebook and Twitter across Mainland China, effectively snatching hundreds of millions of potential users and customers from these two social media outlets’ grasp. Youtube has faced a similar predicament in China though its blockage did not occur quite as recently.
As I skim through a single page of a news brief on China, and find myself overwhelmed by irrelevant or perhaps convenient references to corporations, I wonder what role companies play on what is presented to me in not just The New York Times, but across an array of media outlets in America.