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August 10, 2014 3:48 AM   Subscribe

In their long and seemingly hopeless search for answers, journalists have internalized the abusive rhetoric of the “disruption” brigade. Jarvis tells beleaguered journalists that they themselves, the lowly content-serfs—not short-sighted newspaper proprietors, not the Wall Street backers of corporate media conglomerates, not the sociopathic unchecked tech monopolies, not hostile politicians and prosecutors—are to blame for their sudden loss of livelihood. Don’t blame remorseless corporate Vikings like Craig Newmark for killing the news business. Blame old-school reporters like Dana Priest for failing to cultivate their Facebook fanbases.
The Baffler puts the boot into cyberjournalist hustler Jeff Jarvis.
posted by MartinWisse (42 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
J.J. is just another Publicity Whore for the Cyber Utopians. Nothing more, nothing less.

Just like the Tofflers before him he is selling his Consultant Babble to anyone who wants to hear it. He has no Allegiance to the Truth or any Morality.
posted by homodigitalis at 4:56 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


It seems that with our modernity comes the redefinition of many jobs and careers that used to be stable and reliable. Now everybody has a voice and everyone is entitled to an opinion on any subject (researched or not, reliable or not) as people don't get their news from news outlets anymore. They get their news from their social media. So your credentials, education and research mean less now. What matters is how good you are at grabbing attention and keeping people coming back. And the better you are at that, the more ‘reliable’ and trusted you are. "May you live in interesting times", indeed.
posted by I have no idea at 5:36 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Wait, Craig Newmark is the bad guy here?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:49 AM on August 10 [7 favorites]


Craig Newmark (via Craigslist) killed the classified ad, a major source of revenue for newspapers.

Not that what is bad for the papers is bad for the general public trying to sell or buy something, necessarily.
posted by themanwho at 5:52 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


To me Jeff Jarvis will always be the guy who wrote reviews for TV Guide.
posted by cropshy at 5:58 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


They get their news from their social media. So your credentials, education and research mean less now. What matters is how good you are at grabbing attention and keeping people coming back.

I'm really not sure how that differs from modern news values.
posted by jaduncan at 6:10 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


I see your point and you're completely right. I don't think it differs that much. I suppose the modern news values changed to try and keep up with the social media and it's been getting worse ever since. Although I still like to believe that some proper research goes into the news in some papers or on some channels. Or am I completely deluded?
posted by I have no idea at 6:19 AM on August 10


The grand poobah of the journopreneurship society is “hyperglocal thinkfluencer” Jeff Jarvis...

This article has been up for days and still it links to the parody Jeff Jarvis Twitter account.
posted by griphus at 6:20 AM on August 10 [16 favorites]


It's hard for me to feel bad about the ubiquity of Craigslist, which has been a tremendous communitarian asset for finding housing, finding jobs, finding things to buy and sell. Newspapers are changing their business models as everyone else is, it's not like people don't care about local news just because some hipsters can slap some hash tags onto their snarky twitter feeds.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:34 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


I have no idea: It seems that with our modernity comes the redefinition of many jobs and careers that used to be stable and reliable. Now everybody has a voice and everyone is entitled to an opinion on any subject (researched or not, reliable or not) as people don't get their news from news outlets anymore.

Yes, the real story here is how journalism, too, is now being turned into deprofessionalized piecework for "permalancers" through the usual mythology of disruption, entrepreneurship, and VC.

The same thing is slowly happening in education to K-12 teaching and has largely already happened at the college level. It's what AirBnB might do to the hospitality industry, as well. (It gets fewer objections there because that industry was already popularly perceived as working-class, part-time work anyway.)

In every case, the immediate result is slightly greater convenience for a particular generation or consumer, coupled with and implied compliment to her or his neotericism. And in the not-much-longer term, it's a program for widespread immiseration and precarity.

griphus: This article has been up for days and still it links to the parody Jeff Jarvis Twitter account.

Considering the article's attitude towards Jarvis, I don't think that's inadvertent.
posted by kewb at 6:41 AM on August 10 [6 favorites]


The Jeff Jarvis parody account is my favorite thing on twitter.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 7:02 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


I suppose the modern news values changed to try and keep up with the social media and it's been getting worse ever since.

I'm an old so I know you have your timeline messed up. News was in serious quality decline before social media. Before the internet even.
posted by srboisvert at 7:55 AM on August 10 [9 favorites]


News was in serious quality decline before social media. Before the internet even.

As an old, too, I would target the beginning of the real decline around the time corporate consolidation started (roughly post-Watergate) and news departments started coming under pressure to show a profit in their own right, rather than being supported by ad and sales revenue.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 AM on August 10 [23 favorites]


Journalists, writes James Breiner of the News Entrepreneurs blog, “tend to view ourselves as high priests of an exclusive profession

And that's the problem, except I'd argue they view themselves as high priests of information. When MSM writes about an earnings report or legal decision or whatever, they rarely link to it. A good niche blogger, on the other hand, will aggregate the MSM coverage, provide some sort of analysis, and, most importantly, link to the underlying primary source so I can assess it myself. It drives me insane when journalists don't provide those hyperlinks.
posted by jpe at 8:17 AM on August 10 [9 favorites]


The 1970s and 1980s were the fattest years for newspapers. I worked for a paper in Connecticut in the 1970s that would routinely turn down advertising because it had too much; I worked for another in New York into the mid-1990s and looking back, the 1980s seemed to be a party that would never end. Even then, we could see some nibbling around the edges--video-based, scrolling news, for example, increasing use of computers, etc. Very few newspaper executives were quick or far-seeing enough to realize what was coming. In 1995, I interviewed with the editor of a major American newspaper and we talked about the internet--he said it would kill newspapers, I said not if the business figured out a way to take control, as in, making the newspaper the central source of information, strengthening reporting, etc. I think I was right in principle; he was right in effect. And at the moment when journalists should have been digging in, doing their jobs better, they were distracted and lazy, in many cases, going for the cheap story instead of the meaningful.

And yes, corporate decisions, such as what the owners did to the LA Times, requiring each newsroom department, such as the sports department, to function as a business, was a freaking disaster for readers, not to mention journalists.
posted by etaoin at 8:48 AM on August 10 [9 favorites]


I worked in news (as IT) for 13 years for Gannett from 2000-2013. I survived 7 or 8 rounds of layoffs and there's been at least 3 since I left 18 months ago. Over these years my compensation was reduced 7 or 8 times over the years through elimination of my pension, furloughs, wage freezes, etc.. I watched as a Classified department went from 100 reps to a couple handfuls. This was blamed on Craigslist. One of the most lucrative ads was the "Recruitment" ad ("help wanted" to most people). Dice.com, monster.com, citynamehelpwanted.com and Craigslist killed those. Add in your sites like Groupon and whatnot and you basically cut out a large portion of income. You put pressure on what remains. People don't really run car ads anymore unless they are online. The papers scrambled to make competitors to these products, and by scrambled I mean they sat back and laughed at them. They did the same thing to the iPad and app based news. "That thing doesn't even have Flash! All our ads are Flash based! It's a non-starter! End of story!" (I was actually told that by the a VP.) The Classified department consists of (now paid) Obituaries and Legals (and governments are passing laws to stop those as well).

The tech blogs came along and made the tech sections of Newspapers obsolete. Someone like John Gruber covers tech better than any Newspaper. Or, if not covers, delivers? Different model, but point remains the same. I stopped looking at a newspaper for tech news and started paying attention to guys like him.

Same with sports. Why wait for box scores when you can get them on your phone live? Hell, I don't even pay attention to sports, but I still have my phone read me the score of The Rangers games because my girlfriend pays attention and it's that easy for me to be "in the know."

I could go section by section, department by department, and show where pressure was applied and where the industry got hit by outside pressures. There was also massive consolidations in the 90s where many papers leveraged themselves to the hilt to buy up competitors only to basically have been sold a depreciating asset. Hard to make a profit when you are servicing debt.

Throw in declining circulation and you have something worse than a perfect storm.

Then there's the top heavy executives with their millions of dollar salaries and bonuses. You have to sell a lot of papers to keep these folk in their walled fortresses with armed guards and private jets. There's pretty much zero hyperbole there. I maintain, a printing press is still permission to print money, and they way these folks spend it proves the point. Problem is that the stock market wants to see gains, and that's not going to happen. The top think they are deserving of their "cost reduction" bonuses when all they did is gut their workforce over and over again.

At the end I felt like I was doing three jobs and all of them badly. Every time someone was let go someone else had to pick up their work. I was one of the primary people in charge of the entire Gannet Midwest group's print (and text based digital) workflow and I still did desktop support for the local paper and weeklies. Moving on was a good choice for me. It could be argued it was good for my employer as well.

But you can only make that argument so many times. What do you call an out of work journalist? Waiter. What do you call 100 out of work journalists? The competition. Seriously, I can't count the number of journalists that are now freelance and wouldn't dream of giving content to their former employer. I know tons of journalists that are now in the private sector because of their former employment; spin doctors and spokesmen, public relations and communications. You can do a lot of jobs when you can write and speak well. Many of these people fired up their own alternative papers or joined startup news sites. Most failed, but they still add to the pressure.

This last week Gannett spun off the Broadcast and Digital divisions from Print. Many of the print sites are requiring their content producers to reapply for their jobs. In most places there are fewer jobs than people. So you have a de facto round of layoffs again. They are spinning this as "starting from square one," a "reboot of the industry," ect. This will be interesting to watch. They plan to more heavily rely on "focus groups" to find out what kind of news people want to read. One former journalist friend said this is akin to asking what kind of chairs you would like to rearrange on the Titanic.

But the bigger story here is that Broadcast is facing the same pressures now that print was facing 15 years ago. Kids watch more video on YouTube than on TV. Netflix is preferred by most consumers over content with commercials. Broadcast is laughing at the new upstarts and doing their best to kill them (i.e. Aereo), but they didn't learn any lessons from print. They are still profitable. They still imagine growth. But they have 500 channels of shit on the TV to compete with and more on the internet. I can't remember the last time I watched anything other than news live, but even that's changing. I have tons of streaming options now and it's only habit that keeps me tuning in for the nightly news. They are so screwed when the 20 year olds grow up. They see anything with a commercial as "broken."

I could go on for days. Literally. I could write a book.

I'm still optimistic on news. I am even considering completing a masters in journalism. I just think the existing model is fossil fuel. It wishes it were still a dinosaur, but reality is journalism as it exists now is only the fire for the rebirth of what is yet to come. My prediction: it's not going to consist of a bunch of non-producing, highly paid, executives and managers. You'll see more and more niche publications and sites. Some might even make enough money to keep their writer's fed.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:54 AM on August 10 [83 favorites]


20+ year broadcast and journo vet here. Gotta agree with the observations from cjorg above.

Except the last few sentences. I've watched this with interest too...including all the lay-offs and restructuring and current business-speak neologisms (got caught in that one once).

But through it all, I don't see a dent in the executive and upper management areas. I don't see any kind of scenario where that will ever change.
posted by CrowGoat at 9:27 AM on August 10 [6 favorites]


I do think Jarvis is a shyster, but journalism hasn't always been a job that required an MA or a degree from an Ivy. There was a time, not all that long ago when smart, savvy people with hustle, curiosity and a way with words could pick up jobs for newspapers and wire services fairly easily. Turning reporting into a "profession" might have made more money for universities, but was the quality of writing and news gathering improved?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:28 AM on August 10 [6 favorites]


Craig Newmark (via Craigslist) killed the classified ad, a major source of revenue for newspapers.

I don't know Newmark personally, but I know people who do and I get the impression that he is anything but a "remorseless corporate Viking."

Journalism has taken many forms over the years; it's crazy to think that its final form should be the one where a monopoly on advertising junk sales and escort services is a necessary condition for our democracy to function.

Does that make me a member of the disruption brigade?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:41 AM on August 10 [19 favorites]


The top think they are deserving of their "cost reduction" bonuses when all they did is gut their workforce over and over again.

At the end I felt like I was doing three jobs and all of them badly. Every time someone was let go someone else had to pick up their work. I was one of the primary people in charge of the entire Gannet Midwest group's print (and text based digital) workflow and I still did desktop support for the local paper and weeklies. Moving on was a good choice for me. It could be argued it was good for my employer as well.


Oh god you're describing my current employment situation. Got bumped up to a management position, but I'm still carrying around every duty I've had since I started working there in an entry level position. And there's no way these duties will go away, they'll just stick like barnacles no matter where I go in the company, because why hire new people when someone else can do the work? It's not just me, that's the way it's gone across the board at the station.

On top of that, our new parent company is the worst when it comes to ethics in journalism - I'm trying to keep a modicum of anonymity, but if you've read anything about huge media corporations hoovering up local stations at an alarming rate, pushing shitty right-wing spin into news departments and basically spitting in the FCC's face, you've heard of them - so I'm scrambling to get the hell out. Used to be we were constantly in the red but we were scrappy, and made do with what we could to produce good news. The moment a big company with deep pockets came in and bought us it sent a wave of disillusionment through the entire news department. We've lost some good people because of the blatant political spin we're pressured to put on the news by our owners. Happily, some of them went into the kind of new media journalism jobs that will put a stake through the heart of this old lumbering beast of a business model.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:46 AM on August 10 [9 favorites]


I do think Jarvis is a shyster, but journalism hasn't always been a job that required an MA or a degree from an Ivy.

I'd say that it still isn't, really. Sure, it's appealing, but hustle still goes a long way.

I've spoken with a few j-school alums, and one of them only went because he needed a life change after a career trading oil futures (he's since done quite well, for the record). In cases like that, j-school can help, but I know just as many young pro journos (on serious beats) who got to where they are by relying on hustle and savvy.
posted by Chutzler at 10:08 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Don't be mad at Craig and his List. That has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with an unsound business model. Your business plan should never include "and then we'll just hope that everyone else refrains from competing with us for the rest of time because we're super cool guys."
posted by the jam at 11:06 AM on August 10 [12 favorites]


I highly recommend the parody @ProfJeffJarvis account on Twitter.


"Can ISIS be defeated using #brands?"

posted by Joe Chip at 11:17 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Don't be mad at Craig and his List. That has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with an unsound business model. Your business plan should never include "and then we'll just hope that everyone else refrains from competing with us for the rest of time because we're super cool guys."

The paper out here just decided to become a Monster partner and resell Monster.com services. That's becoming a huge thing for newspapers and local broadcast stations, just becoming a remora feeding on scraps and reselling digital services with a markup to anybody who hasn't figured out that they can just buy that stuff themselves for much cheaper. It's kinda fucked up, that's the kind of job I found myself in - when I started, we were providing real, legitimate, we-do-the-work-ourselves services, and then Big Company with vendor partnerships came in and bought us and forced us to do the shady bottom-of-the-barrel scraping thing. It's just grafting marked up turnkey digital products onto the local media sales culture, and, surprise, management keeps getting blindsided by local businesses who are smart enough to go out and buy these services their damn selves without the markup. Feels goddamn gross to sit across from a business owner and pitch this stuff when I'm sitting there thinking "Uh, I could just teach you how to do this for yourself and you could save a ton of money..."
posted by jason_steakums at 11:26 AM on August 10


Feels goddamn gross to sit across from a business owner and pitch this stuff when I'm sitting there thinking "Uh, I could just teach you how to do this for yourself and you could save a ton of money..."

So why not go into business for yourself doing exactly that?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:42 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


There's an expression in news regarding print ads vs. online ads: "Trading dollars for dimes." People don't want to pay the same for an online ad as they do for print, but you have to have online, so you price what the market will bear and you are lucky if you get dimes.

I don't like to talk about my job online. It's the one area of my life where I am not really an open book, so writing the above feels really weird for me. I guess I did because I've been gone for a year and a half and I can't imagine going back.

So why not go into business for yourself doing exactly that?

Anyway, this is actually why I am considering going back to school to get a masters in journalism. I am with jason_steakums there. I'd love to go in and teach businesses how to market themselves, how to engage in social media, how to engage with customers. I study this stuff. I did it as a hobby and I participated in it professionally. If I ever return to journalism it won't be in IT and it won't be in as a journalist. It'll be teaching others how to fulfill the role a journalist used to hold.

All the time I get asked for advice on how to create a good press release. I always answer, "There is no such thing." Seriously, if you think these are ever read you are fairly delusional. Or authors or bands ask, "How do I make my demo stand out?" Don't send it? But you can do the things you are hoping to get from a press release on your own. If you insist on sending a demo or a press release or an advance reader copy of your book, then for fuck's sake, make sure you target it. Pick up the phone, call the journalist, tell him you are sending it and why. Make sure she understands why you picked her as a recipient.

Expertise in how to navigate journalists is more valuable than journalism (value defined by dollars in your pocket).

I can't find a citation for this, but I read that in 2013 there were more graduates in journalism than there were journalists currently working. This is close. Another 2012 study with sobering numbers: [1.2 mb PDF link].
posted by cjorgensen at 12:03 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


So why not go into business for yourself doing exactly that?

That's exactly the plan :)
posted by jason_steakums at 12:03 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


One thing that's interesting, and telling, to me is how many local media outlets look solely at their local media competitors' performance to measure their own. The actual competition, from new media, is so far ahead that it's not even acknowledged because hey, we're doing better than the other three stations in the market, which is like winning a popularity contest on board a sinking lifeboat.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:24 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


It has always been the case that when you have the mass appeal, you can sell advertising without also offering programming. The internet has certainly shown this maxim to be true. Craig Newmark and EBay deserve a lot of credit for killing off the newspaper advertising business. What has been so stunning, truly, is that publishing degrees like the one I got at Southern Oregon have completely disappeared from the marketplace at a time when design skills are most needed. I am so thankful I can make a website and sell something.

That's the rub I think. Many journalists who are my age (34) and have even attended graduate school do not know how to manage the publication of their own work, much less work with others on a business project. Jarvis is doing nothing that any other journalism school has not already tried. My alma mater, Birmingham City University was famously pilloried by the Daily Mail for having a Social Media Journalism master's degree. The reason for these programs taking place in the first place is because universities like BCU and even University College London can no longer supply work experience placements to their students in the numbers that match the level pre-recession.

I find a lot of people, myself including, grumbling about what journalism is supposed to be. Does it really matter?
posted by parmanparman at 2:43 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I could go on for days. Literally. I could write a book.

I would buy and read that book (on my Kindle).
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:30 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


"Trading dollars for dimes."

Is there an intellectual or creative industry left that the internet hasn't or won't do this to?

3D-printing of food and places to live had better come pretty soon, or we're really in trouble.
posted by bonaldi at 3:44 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


There's another issue here and that is quality. I am NOT going to claim that newspaper reporters are automatically better than every blogger; that would be stupid and wrong. But people seem willing to accept poorly edited, dubious blogs and websites that rely on unresearched stories and real fluff with zero actual value. And I'm sorry to see newspapers often using that lightweight content to fill the spaces around their stories.

But I firmly believe a real news story, reported by a reporter, is better than opinion pieces, rounded out by a few links, that have supplanted reporting. That it's free seems to be their main value. I'm not even a fan of calling some of the newer sites blogs, even if they started out as blogs, because they have real stories on them--TalkingPointsMemo, for example. But what do some of the other prominent sites give us--a paragraph or two on some obscure angle to an ongoing story and calling it news. And that's before we get to the aggregate/steal model of the Huffington Post. If people are willing to use cheap/free versions of everything, from news to music--I honestly don't know how any regular folks are going to make money in the future.
posted by etaoin at 4:25 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


BTW, 'shyster' is an old anti-Semitic slur.
posted by waxbanks at 4:57 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


@parmanparman asks:
I find a lot of people, myself including, grumbling about what journalism is supposed to be. Does it really matter?
David Simon has already issued a 10-hour 'YES!' in answer to this question, in the form of Season 5 of The Wire.
posted by waxbanks at 5:03 PM on August 10


Incidentally, there is a Bloggingheads discussion about non-profit journalism here:

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/30441
posted by Loudmax at 5:13 PM on August 10


BTW, 'shyster' is an old anti-Semitic slur.

I would have thought so too, but wikipedia says otherwise, referring to the oed (which I do not have available.) So here's an article in Tablet that has some detail, straight from an etymologist.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:30 PM on August 10 [9 favorites]


Seems like the problem in the US is almost identical to what we see in healthcare and telecommunications. They are "industries" that work best when everybody acts with some basic decency and the pure pursuit of profit is not the motivating objective.

Arguably those two things are tied up in the fundamental "general welfare" of a population, like that thing mentioned in the US Constitution -- which is why we have a postal service that is still more efficient than any for-profit institution in the US despite all horrible attempts to smother it, and why journalism was considered "the fourth estate" and the first amendment to the US constitution mentioned the institution by name. The founders recognized that the government should probably print its own currency but not do anything to stifle the efforts of those who had printing presses and wished to disseminate information of any kind. Unfortunately they did not do much to stifle the inevitably march of corporations into every facet of American life, effectively becoming far more influential and powerful than The Government.
posted by aydeejones at 6:20 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


(I won't go all AND NOW, FEDERAL RESERVE on the "printing money" thing, but it's interesting and unfortunate to me that the government did decide to give up that fundamental responsibility to a cartel of bankers while the money those bankers set on fire while snorting cocaine with a diamond tube off a genetically modified cloned sex worker's back is simultaneously being used to merge institutions and destroy any value they provide that doesn't directly benefit them and none of the supposed public beneficiaries of post-Enlightenment institutions)
posted by aydeejones at 6:23 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


"As it turns out, the journalism moment we are living in is more about running for your life than it is about optimism. Newspapers continue to generate cash and solid earnings, but those results are not enough to satisfy investors."

From a timely column by David Carr at the NYTimes.
posted by Chutzler at 8:47 PM on August 10


@ProfJeffJarvis:
Just had a great @Lyft in Palo Alto. Driver writes for NY Times on the side. Drives a Jaguar!
possibly relevant
posted by hap_hazard at 9:24 PM on August 10


cjorgensen: "Pick up the phone, call the journalist, "

remarkably, this happens less and less. which makes it more and more effective. it irritates the hell out of me when people fall back on e-mail / press releases when a simple phone call will do. or even lunch. it's hard to delete lunch.
posted by chavenet at 3:18 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


NYT on this. Ironic headline.

[Ooops, Chutzler posted the link above.]
posted by cjorgensen at 6:37 AM on August 11


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