An Interview with Amalia Perez
Brown Journal of World Affairs: As an undergraduate at Brown, you were contracted quite radically—and under strictly clandestine orders—to travel to the Soviet Union and interview dissident Andre Sakharov. One could argue that this pioneered, or at the least occurred in tandem with, a new era of journalism in which nontraditional, individual journalists (rather than big corporations) shape media discourse. In your current position on the editorial board of the Washington Post, do you observe this evolution—or devolution—of power? Are individual journalists dictating journalistic production of news and knowledge?
Lee Hockstader: Yes and no. On the one hand, there are still large, influential, powerful, and deep-pocketed media corporations, and new ones spring up all the time. You may have seen that in a recent issue of the New Yorker, there is a long article about TMZ, which has reshaped the coverage of Hollywood, entertainment, and celebrities in general. The New Yorker compares it to an organization that operates like an intelligence agency, rather than a traditional media organization. Nonetheless, TMZ is still in the business of gathering and purveying information and news, and it has been unbelievably successful. Obvi- ously, there are many other examples of news corporations, old and new, which still do news gathering. You have the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dow Jones on the one hand—old, traditional news sources—and TMZ, Huffington Post, and too many others to count on the other. But with regard to whether individual journalists have become more pow- erful or even supplanted traditional journalistic enterprises: to an extent, yes, because of the ability to brand oneself. Branding is now such an important tool for journalists. Journalists can have their own brands because of social media platforms that enable and en- courage them to project themselves in ways that individual journalists certainly couldn’t when I was new in the profession. That gives them leverage in the marketplace that journalists never had before. Even if they need to play ball within the corporate structures of journalism that still exist, they have more leverage—more of an ability to plant their flag—than they used to.