With apologies in advance for the self-referential quality* of what I'm about to say, I recommend this recent entry by fellow Atlantic Monthly contributor Adam Minter on his ShanghaiScrap blog. He makes a point that is obvious once you think about it, but which I hadn't seen laid out quite this clearly anywhere else:
The point is that a nationwide firewall-block on the NYTimes.com site, if that is indeed what's happening, is not simply questionable as a PR strategy for the Chinese government. It also emphasizes how much the information ecology has changed.
The NYT is, in my view, indispensable as a source of reported news around the world. One of the big and really alarming trends of 2008 is the hugely-accelerating economic pressure on organizations like the NYT that support reporting rather than pure opinionizing. But as Minter details, blocking this flagship site means a lot less than it used to -- and a lot less than the censoring authorities may assume -- no matter how good a job the NYT's team is doing, because of the rise of reported blogs:
What's curious to me - in fact, what's astounding to me - is that the Chinese authorities either haven't picked up on this phenomenon, or they don't care. Instead, they are doing what Chinese officials always do: focusing their attention on the entity with the most prestige. Quite honestly, I think most Chinese officials would have a hard time believing that the rather rag-tag unwashed mass of (for the most part) young, male, poorly compensated bloggers could actually drive news coverage.
* The self-referential part is that Adam Minter originally sent this as an email to me, which I encouraged him to spread more generally. I hope you agree that it's worth reading.