The Good Life of a New-Media Guru
Is Jeff Jarvis gloating too much about the death of print?
The fall of journalism is, indeed, journalists' fault. It is our fault that we did not see the change coming soon enough and ready our craft for the transition. It is our fault that we did not see and exploit—hell, we resisted—all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented. It is our fault that we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left the business to the business people. It is our fault that we lost readers and squandered trust. It is our fault that we sat back and expected to be supported in the manner to which we had become accustomed by some unknown princely patron. Responsibility and blame are indeed ours.
I have a strong feeling that when he says "we" and "ours," he really means everyone but him and his fellow new-media gurus. Not all reporters had the prescience to become new-media consultants. A lot of good, dedicated people who have done actual writing and reporting, as opposed to writing about writing and reporting, have been caught up in this great upheaval, and many of them may have been too deeply involved in, you know, content—"subjects," writing about real peoples' lives—to figure out that reporting just isn't where it's at, that the smart thing to do is get a consulting gig.
But Jarvis believes the failure of the old-media business models is the result of having too many of those pesky reporters. In his report on his recent new-media summit at CUNY, he noted with approval one workshop's conclusion that you'd need only 35 reporters to cover the entire city of Philadelphia. Less is more. Meta triumphs over matter.
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.
Yes, by Jeff Jarvis' logic, the hardworking reporters now on the street were fools: They didn't spend their time figuring out how to multiplatform themselves. I think of that guy John Conroy, who wrote about police torture for years for the Chicago Reader, which is now bankrupt and had to let Conroy go just as—after years and years—Conroy's reporting (100,000 words!) on the subject was vindicated and an official investigation began at last. Dedicated guys who did great work at the dying dailies are being made to feel by Jarvis that they deserve to be downsized. Yet who has the most honor, the men and women who did the work or the media consultants who mock them?
Here are a few excerpts from Jeff Jarvis' blog over the last month that illustrate his self-congratulatory attitude: First, the demise of a venerable print daily (and the suffering of who knows how many families) causes Jeff Jarvis to reflect on how right Jeff Jarvis was and is and probably always will be:
The Christian Science Monitor is turning off its press and going fully online. I heard about this at my conference on new business models for news last week and said it makes perfect sense.
Next his international audience of Rich Guys Who Want To Understand This Internet Thing calls:
I need to write an essay on a bold goal for the internet for a World Economic Forum (aka Davos) Global Agenda Council on the future of the internet. My thoughts:
The internet is a right.
I can't imagine a bolder notion than that. Or maybe it's not so bold. ...
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.