New vs. Old Media Flamewar – We Really Don’t Have Time for This, Guys…

Posted: November 13th, 2008 under Digital Migration, monetizing mobile content, Multimedia, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Platform obsession, Webconomics, Wrongheaded solutions. Tags: , ,

Let’s set the stage.

First, Ron Rosenbaum unloads on Jeff Jarvis for being “increasingly heartless” about newsroom cutbacks, layoffs & the general death spiral.

A sampling:

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.

Oh, that’s nasty. Shorter Rosenbaum: “Jarvis is an substanceless, fluffy airhead, taking advantage of gullible publishers, peddling his New Media snakeoil & banking fat stacks while real reporters who actually work for a living are being thrown to the wolves.”

The dodo, too, frowned and squawked over its fate.

The dodo, too, frowned and squawked over its fate.

Next, Jarvis fires back at Rosenbaum, mocking him as a petulant, immature child who can’t deal with the New Reality of Media. Sample:

Sadly, Rosenbaum doesn’t debate the idea and history and fate of journalism, which might be productive or at least provocative. Instead, like a pissy third grader, he attacks me. Because of my opinion, he says he doesn’t “like” me anymore. Take that, Jarvis! You can’t sit at my lunch table ever again! He reminds me of that same third grader who, when he doesn’t study for a test and sees the results of his inattention, whines, cries, and stomps his little feet, declaring, “It’s not fair.” No, kid, life ain’t.

Shorter Jarvis: “You can’t handle the truth, you sissy. Your whole industry is doomed.  Doomed, I say!”

These powerful beasts once dominated the landscape.

These powerful beasts once dominated the landscape.

And then the catfight continues down in the comment section, where web luminaries like Seth Godin chime in with support, reactionary trolls addicted to the right-wing media victimhood meme blame press declines on the liberal bias that tricked America into electing Obama, and most of the self-identified print reporters want to know where their next paycheck is coming from.

This whole slapfight is actually quite timely for me.

The dinosaurs eventually became useful again.

The dinosaurs eventually became useful again.

Just yesterday, I cautioned my writers that we have to tread very carefully while making our recommendations to the newspaper industry. Anyone still working at a newspaper has to feel somewhat like the grognards at Verdun: starved, exhausted, trembling from incessant shellfire, and depressed at seeing way too many of their comrades-in-arms fall.

I’ve fallen prey to the digital triumphalism. I’ll admit it. It’s really easy to hang on the rim and hoot, when you’re on the outside looking in.  This provokes a reaction much like the one we’re seeing here.

The digital enthusiasts feel like the crews on lifeboats, trying to pick up survivors after the Titanic has gone down, only the survivors are shooting at them with pistols, yelling “You smug bastards in the lifeboats! You don’t know what it’s like here in the freezing water! Sure, it’s easy to be warm & dry when you’re in a lifeboat! Aaaaaggghhhh! Bang!(blows own head off)

Meanwhile, to the guys in the water, what they see is the lifeboat crew saying “Sure, we’ll give you a hand up. But first you have to sing a tune apologizing for how stupid you were while we pee all over your head. And maybe we’ll smack you around with the boathook. But you have it coming.”

And what both sides are missing is that while the lifeboat is a good stop-gap solution, the oars seem to be missing, and the crew in the lifeboat is arguing amongst themselves as to which direction they would row in, should the oars ever be found, while others say that rowing is so old-school, and that what we should concentrate on is inventing a nuclear reactor that would provide endless propulsive energy, while still others think that the whole lifeboat thing is wrong, and we should jump back in the water in the hopes of evolving  gills.

OK, I’ve abused that metaphor enough for now.

I think this guy is flipping off the oncoming dinosaur-killing comet. Or perhaps posting on Slate.

I think this guy is flipping off the oncoming dinosaur-killing comet. Or perhaps posting on Slate.

The larger issue here is one that only tangentially gets addressed: how do we support expensive “good journalism” in the New Media, when the biz model there is so stripped-down and bare bones?

A clue comes from a poster who says that assuming that big, heavy NY Times-like investigative reporting is necessary to cure social ills is proceeding from a false premise.

A commenter known only as “Mike” quotes Lippman, who 80 years ago wrote about the dangers inherent in conditioning gov’t and society to depend on newspapers/media ginning up “public outrage” to effect needed societal course corrections.

Nut graf:

My guess is you want a more responsive, well run gov’t. And apparently to get there you want newspapers to report on things, and then for those things to magically to get better. You and people like Ron’s wet dream is for Obama to read their article and be so moved that they will be driven to action. And that’0s the best case scenerio. That’s the expert, closed approach of the past.

What I am saying is maybe instead of spending a month reporting on something and then running one article that I may or may not read, why don’t you build something that interested people can engage with and actually solve problems with?

The Long Island rr and everything else needs to run itself, and when a problem there arises we need citizens who are informed and can solve the problem themselves. We can’t depend on the New York times to report on everything-they can’t do it and we can’t expect them to.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

The whole justification for why we need great big newsrooms full of specialists keeps coming back to the argument that if we don’t have them, then Big Stories are going to go unreported, corruption & malfeasance will flourish, and our whole way of life as we know it will collapse.

Reality check: Look outside the window. Collapse currently in progress.

We have had the Big, Well-Staffed Newsrooms. Hasn’t stopped the U.S. from disastrous invasions. Hasn’t stopped corporate corruption and greed.

Hmmm.

Let’s look at this from the Newspaper Next POV – if the “job” we want to accomplish for the public is getting better gov’t, then how do we go about doing that? Is it through producing 110-inch, multipart stories that cost tens of thousands of dollars, man-hours, and that are read only by those most interested in the industry/agency being spotlighted.

As Skip Taft, editor of the Shelby Star said to me, ““People won’t read those 60-inch takeouts anymore.
Maybe on Sunday, but you know people go to work on Monday.  “I mean, what the hell? They’re going to sit there and be late to work just to read some story?  I don’t think that’s realistic.”

I’m working with the NAA on a project aimed at helping newspapers to come up with a way to preserve journalism; new businesses that people will actually read & use & interact with — and that MAKE MONEY.

I’m open to ideas.

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