Jarvis & Weaver’s $1,000 Bet: Kum-bay-yah in 4, 3, 2 …

Posted: December 27th, 2008 under Catching a Falling Knife, Dead Cat Bounce, Denial of Reality, Digital Migration, Newspaper Deathwatch, Webconomics.

Been a while between posts here – I’ve had writing deadlines, presentation deadlines and a dauntingly ambitious editing task to try to manage. 

Anyway, despite this being the Christmas season, oft-assailed  gadfly & jilted lover of newspapers Jeff Jarvis wrote yet another opinion piece about how the entire newspaper industry is screwed as though it had stood in the way of one of those Martian drilling machines in “Total Recall.” The cheery news was under a headline of “No hope,” and it went downhill from there.

A sampling:

* McClatchy shares hit 60 cents yesterday. As I write this, it’s up to
a big 78 cents. Bubble! Gatehouse hit 4 cents (and I’d still short them
given their current attitude); market cap: $2.3 million. See Alan
Mutter’s excellent analysis of how debt did in papers. I’d say it’s more than that: It was
misplaced optimism in the form and in the incumbents. If these papers
had instead taken on debt to innovate and create or to buy innovates (a
la the New York Times buying About), that might have been productive.
Instead, they bought newspapers, which was only an indication of how
snug their blinders were.

Well, that couldn’t go unchallenged for long, and it wasn’t. Howard Weaver commented and blogged:

I get so fucking tired of correcting you, Jeff. Has it *ever* occurred
to you to do some reporting — like asking questions of those involved —
before pronouncing such apocalyptic conclusions?

…aaaaand the slapfight was on.

They went back & forth over whether or not McClatchy employees were screwed as hard as the Enron employees whose retirements were stuck in suddenly worthless company stock.  Which they apparently were not.  Although Weaver does admit that his own stock options are worth bupkis. Meanwhile, they also attempted to define just what the internet is – if it’s a medium, a delivery system, or the tool with which we will achieve universal brotherhood & peace.

(Wait for it … it’s coming…)

By the time we get to the end of the comments section on Howard’s blog, the two are all but embracing, tears in their eyes, beer slopping from their mugs, pledging blood brotherhood, and singing “Sweet Adeline.”  Off-key. 

My retirement may be a little diminished by the lost value of those options, but I’m confident it will be enriched by watching McClatchy emerge successfully as the model of a new public service journalism company.

Thanks for participating — here and elsewhere.

Right on cue.

Now, I’m not entirely comfortable siding with Jarvis.  He’s been criticized pretty heavily for his downbeat analysis, and for what a lot of people see as poorly disguised schadenfreude over newspaper crisis.  Some of that criticism has elicited an angry response from Jarvis, and then later muttered apologies … which feels familiar to me, since I’ve been guilty of the “Burn, baby burn” attitude myself.  It comes out of real feelings of frustration over opportunities that just keep sliding by.

But it strikes me that when people really don’t want to hear the content of what you have to say, they start focusing in on the tone & tenor, whether you misspelled a word or mangled a phrase. Nitpicking on all the little things, distracts the attention from the Great Big Scary Thing.

So let me make this a little easier. Some of us out here bagged the newspaper gig to go work at start-ups, and this is all starting to feel real, real familiar to us.  The cuts on top of cuts, the constant fear, the daily “Spin the Wheel of Long-term Strategies.”  Freshening up the resume, calling your friends at the competition to see if they know of any secure gigs out there … checking fuckedcompany.com to see if your name is on there …

And then comes the day that you walk into the office and the CEO is puking his guts out into a garbage can, and sobbing “We lost everything! It’s all gone! We’re all dead!”

Those were some real bad times for some of us out here in Digital Land.

‘Member what the reaction was from the newspapers and the rest of Big Media when we started going down in flames?

What’s that?

Sounded like the faint echo of a thousand keyboards pecking out the phrase “Serves you punks right.”

BTW – really do take the time to click through to that last link – it encapsulates perfectly the Old Media thinking at the time that Web 1.0 cratered:

In the 1950s, it was TV that was going to kill the newspaper industry. Now, it’s the Internet. “We’ve heard it all before,” says Morton. “A newspaper is cheap, easy to use, portable, and a great way to get information out to the masses without straining eyes or a budget.” Right now, investors are thinking the worst. Perhaps they should think again.

Tribune Co. at 66. Dow Jones at 83 (now part of News Corp, which is at 9). Gannet described as having a “fat war chest” and looking at hitting 90 (currently below 9). Reads like some kinda fairytale these days, doesn’t it?

Back when our startups were dying, I remember getting laughing calls from print colleagues, reading me the latest “Drillbit Stock” quotes. Was that piling on? Rubbing it in? Probably, although we were all so abashed at the way the bottom had fallen out, we weren’t in a position to protest.

What we did do was suck it up and learn from the disaster.

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