Wednesday, November 12, 2008

See, there's this guy Jeff Jarvis, and he's kind of an asshole...

Most people I know probably don't care much about the future of journalism as an industry, and I don't blame them; there will always be news, from somewhere, produced by someone, so from the point of view of a consumer, who cares who the someone is?

But those of us who work in the industry kind of obsess over crap like this:

I have heard about this dude Jeff Jarvis for a while, without really paying close attention to what he actually says. He is one of a growing body of "new journalists" who say, generally, that print is dead (probably true) and that all the old ways of doing journalism are defunct (not so sure about that).

People like Jarvis promote things like "citizen journalism," which basically involves news organizations recruiting people off the street to report for them. (For free, of course.) An easy example is CNN's "iReporter" thing, where they encourage viewers to send them video of car crashes or fires or whatever disaster happens to be going on in the neighborhood.

That's fine, as far as it goes. But it's no replacement for professional journalism.

Anyhow, I've long had an uneasy feeling about Jarvis and his acolytes. I wasn't sure why; it just seemed to me, a working journalist, that this dude Jarvis, a former journalist turned consultant, was more talking down to the industry than working with it. While he seemed to know what was wrong with journalism (people don't read papers anymore, duh), he didn't seem to know so much how to fix it, or what was still right with the profession.

"Citizen journalism" ain't the answer, put it that way. It ain't even part of the answer, best I can tell.

Ron Rosenbaum puts my uneasiness into sharp focus in this Slate piece.

My favorite part is this little bitch-slap:

It makes you wonder whether Jarvis has actually done any, you know, reporting. Particularly when he tells you that in doing his book on the total wonderfulness of Google, he decided it would be better not to speak to anyone who works at Google, that instead he's written about the idea of Google, as he construes it, rather than finding out how they—the actual Google people—construe it. What he's done, Jarvis claims, is to "reverse-engineer" the reality of Google. This means deducing how Google got to be what it is and do what it does by conjecturing about its effects from the outside.

Allow me to make a conjecture: Did Jarvis sound out Google informally and get rebuffed, prompting him to "decide" he wouldn't talk to them "on principle"? Of course, I could ask Jarvis about this, but that would be mere "reporting"; it's more fun to "reverse-engineer" his decision.

Jarvis has responded on his blog. And in the first paragraph, his response really crystallizes, for me, everything unlikeable about the man:
I am the honoree of an attempted hatchet job by Ron Rosenbaum in - what’s the name of that site? Salon? no, Slate (I always get them confused).
This crap is straight from The Politicians' Guide to Responding to Criticism.

Step 1: Adopt a haughty, better-than-thou attitude ("I am the honoree...")
Step 2: Dismiss the criticism as a personal attack, or "hatchet job."
Step 2: Denigrate the critic, in this case by pretending you don't know what publication he's from.

What an asshole.


Here's what's wrong with journalism today, in my view. Back in the early 90s, the geniuses who run most of the nation's newspapers -- still the primary source for most of your news, no matter where you think you're getting it -- made the fateful decision to give away everything they produce for free on the Internet.

Now, the entire public is conditioned to getting its news for free. And surprise, surprise, it turns out that giving away everything you produce for free isn't a very viable business model.

Here's my suggested solution: Every newspaper in the land should start charging one cent to read each article it publishes online, or perhaps even just a fraction of a cent. Condition people to understand, like they used to, that news isn't free; it's a product like anything else, and you've got to pay for it if you want it.

Otherwise, good luck with your "citizen journalism."

Update: This guy Simon Owens sent me a nice e-mail the other day with the subject line, "Alex, a news tip for your blog." I am sucker for any kind of tip, news or not. Anyhow, Simon has ripped Jarvis at his own blog and also sends along the work of a colleague, who wrote about something called "crowdfunding" for journalism.

I don't know about this "crowdfunding" stuff as a business model for an entire industry, but I do think that there's a strong possibility all the best journalism in the country will be produced by nonprofits in the near future.

Also: very cool that people other than my mom and sister occasionally read my blog. Not that I don't appreciate my most loyal readers, but still. Thanks, Simon.

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