Get me rewrite

In the post below about the Knight Ridder sale, someone calling herself or himself “journalist” left a long comment that perfectly encapsulates the kinds of arguments I hear from some newsroom residents who quake with fear at the new world outside their doors and try desperately to protect their old world inside. Not all are like this. But the vocal ones are. I’ve heard them. So I’m going to respond to the entire comment.

First, it’s a shame that whoever this is hides behind the nom d’interactivity of “journalist” without the conviction to stand behind these words with a name. But that itself is all too emblematic of how old news operates: They have made themselves into institutions; they have forgotten how to have a conversation, person-to-person. Perhaps their bosses make them afraid of speaking out loud and speaking their names. Perhaps they are afraid themselves. In either case, my first message to them is: Don’t fear the people you are sworn to serve. If you want to argue with me, do it eye-to-eye. If you want to serve the public, meet the public.

Though I don’t know, it appears that I may be speaking here with a journalist on a big-city paper. Now onto his or her comment:

1. Moving papers online, as you encourage, leaves behind an enormous number of citizens who are not online in a society that doesn’t support universal computer literacy or universal public access to the Internet.

Well, a daily newspaper is also an expensive thing that not everyone can afford… except, of course, for the free papers that are now cutting into big newspapers’ expensive paid circulation, just the way the internet is.

The New York Times costs $9 a week on the newsstand (and I dare you to find their regular home delivery rate — not their introductory, temporary, discount, special — anywhere on their site.) Netzero, on the other hand, costs $9.95 a month. So for less than a dollar a month more — call now! operators on duty! — you get not just the news from one source but the entire world of information, interactivity, consumerism that is the internet! Call in the next 15 minutes and we’ll throw in naked ladies and free porn!

My library has the internet for free. Soon Philadelphia — whose Knight Ridder papers are among those doomed to resale and uncertain futures — will have inexpensive universal broadband.

So I don’t buy your argument anymore; neither does this fellow commenter. Your argument says we should hold back progress to wait until the last person is on the rocketship: ‘If we can’t all afford to go to the moon, then no one should go.’ That attitude will get you precisely nowhere.

And I’m not moving papers online. The public is online. the question is whether newspapers want to be there with him.

Journalism is not a luxury.

But neither is it a God-given or government-granted entitlement. Journalism needs to be supported by audience and interest and advertising or, in an alternative model, by contributions. I never want to see journalism supported by government, for then government may withdraw that support. And I believe that the market pressure on newspapers is good and healthy; it is the marketplace, the public, the readers telling a newspaper what it should do. If a newspaper fails to serve that market, it should not survive and a better replacement will follow.

Look at Britain, where there is an incredibly robust competitive marketplace of newspapers, each one better than the next. That is what newspapering should be, not the one-size-fits-all monopoly of the dull, big-city local. That is what news can become again when there is more than one press, albeit virtual.

An uninformed society quickly becomes feudal.

You infer that you are all that stands between us and the black plague. What hubris. There are many ways to inform society. Society informs itself if given a chance, if we enable that to happen.

Instead of arguing that the world must stay as it was, instead of being satisfied informing the world the old way, your way, why not imagine the new, better, and bigger ways there are to inform society today? Why not imagine the ways that you can use the internet to connect more people to more information than ever before? Why not? Because, I suspect, you fear it cuts you out of the role of the gatekeeper. But gatekeepers are fixtures of feudal societies. The internet tears down the castle walls. You can’t win with this feudal metaphor trick, not when you’ve been a member of the closed and privileged priesthood for too long.

If you want to make a killing, sell pet rocks. The business of informing society should not be merely a cash cow for the greedy.

So we’re back to that: Evil profit. But you live in a capitalistic world. Even China is capitalistic now. It’s OK, it’s necessary for newspapers to make money. Profit fuels engines and pays reporters. It’s a good thing. Profit is what made your newspaper as big as it is. Well, was.

Corporate demands 30 percent profits from its news operations. When they were private, they thought 25 percent was lavish, and sacrificed down to 23 percent when they needed to make magnanimous investments in their journalism.

Now, we can argue relative profit margins until the cash cows come home. But that is not the point. It’s about growth, my friend. Newspapers don’t have it. That’s why McClatchy is putting a dozen big, old Knight Ridder papers out to pasture. They and their markets are not growing.

Top salaries and bonuses gouge investors more than living wages for journalists.

So you think this is all about saving the newsroom and its jobs. I’ll say again that I’d have more respect for your screed if it started with the conviction that we can and must do a better job of informing society using all these new tools at our disposal. You complain about execs and investors thinking only of their money but you also think first of yours. That’s what this is about, isn’t it: not informing the public but saving jobs.

2. Top union wage at the Philadelphia Inquirer, for experienced reporters and copy editors, is $67,983.24; makeup editors get $50 more a week. Those complaining so bitterly about this make much more, of course. (Source: Guild contract online)

And you have new competition today, citizens and entrepreneurs and upstarts who can publish to the world for the sheer reward of it, for the passion, for the love. Sorry, but that makes you expensive… unless you find ways to maintain and grow your value. A newsroom job is not an entitlement. It’s a job. You can view the others who would cover the meetings you can’t afford to cover as competition. Or you can enable them to do it better and prove your value that way. Your choice.

The person whose job it is to get the paper in on deadline is a nonunion management editor. The drivers are probably Teamsters; do they get overtime because these managers are not able to let go of stories to meet deadlines? Well-run papers have managed to eliminate all overtime.

This is a beaut: Deadlines are a conspiracy of greedy capitalism, eh? In my day, youngun, deadlines were a matter of professionalism.

3. Jeff, your internet evangelism would make more sense if accompanied by efforts to get everyone online. I would expect someone with your history to care more about the digital divide and less about stoking corporate windfalls because paper and presses are no longer such a chunk of the expenses.

Of course, I’d be delighted to get everyone online. It’s good for business. But I’d say that’s not really my job. I own no pipes, and so I can’t plug them in. I am not a politician, and so I can’t throw off the regulatory shackles that would open competition and development. But I do agree that we should make it a national priority to meet and exceed South Korea and Japan and Sweden and even France in broadband service. We’re behind and that is a national tragedy. So please forward me the columns and editorials and investigations you’ve done on this issue. Send me pictures of you wiring your local school. I’ll be eager to see them. If your Guild is having a demonstration in favor of free wi-fi in Philadelphia, let me know and I’ll blog it and make myself a Cafe Press T-shirt to sell the cause.

4. Have you looked at what happens when there’s no budget for newsgathering any more?

Yes, and I’ve also looked at what happens when editors and publishers waste editorial budgets on commodity news, fluff, and egos. Do we need to send 15,000 journalists to the political conventions where nothing happens, which we can all watch on C-SPAN? No. Why do we do it? Ego: to have our people there, our bylines. That is a sinful waste of editorial budgets. Ditto golf columnists going to golf tournaments. Ditto movie critics. Ditto stock tables. I made a few humble suggestions for prioritizing a newspaper budget here. I argue that local newspapers should, indeed, concentrate on what makes them valuable, on what they can do specially: local reporting and investigations. But that takes the strategic courage to get rid of a golf columnist and use the wires and damn the egos and cancel that convention boondoggle so you can have a local reporter truly provide value to your community.

Where big papers are reducing staff and closing bureaus, small dailies in those areas are expanding to fill the void.

Well, listen to that: People want local news. Big, old city papers aren’t great at doing that. They can cede that territory — their terrority, damnit — to these small dailies. Or they can find new ways to work with citizens to gather and share more local news using the tools of the web.

Little more than shoppers, they’ll [the small dailies will] write nice stories about anybody who buys an ad.

I dare you to go into the newsroom of the small daily by you and shout that out loud. You not only believe that you, the big-time journalist, stand between us and the black plague, you not only ignore citizen journalists, you dismiss local-paper journalists as corrupt shills. Guess you won’t be going there looking for jobs when you lose yours. But because you’re anonymous, at least they won’t know who you are.

Meanwhile the big news site still has to struggle to perform the watchdog function with local advertising gone to the Podunk County Daily Times. And the big-paper executives retire to sunny beaches on the multimillion-dollar bonuses they accrued while making one clueless mistake after another, leaving the areas they’ve served so poorly without a reliable source of news and information.

And you and your newsroom take no responsibility whatsoever for failing to see how to keep readers, for the circulation that has fallen as your public has rejected you?

Helluva revolution, Brownie!

I don’t get the punchline, “journalist.” Is everything, even the fall of the big-city paper, now Bush’s fault?

: OK, fellow journalist, let’s both turn down the snarkometers and get down to business. Our goal should not be to save the newspaper or newsroom or jobs in it as they were. Our goal should be to take advantage of all these new tools to gather and share news in new ways because if we don’t do it, someone else will. Rather than ignoring change, figure out how to take advantage of it and get ahead of it. Lead, damnit, lead.

And learn about and deal with the business realities of media today — just as the music, TV, movie, book, video, retail, travel, and telephone industries have had to — to find the ways to support the journalism we both care about. You’ll get your wish: Margins will fall. But if you don’t come up with a sensible business strategy first, so will you. So force your bosses to make the tough strategic decisions, to innovate, and invest, to experiment, to lead, damnit, lead.

: LATER: As I was posting this, Journalist had another comment on the post below that, as I see it, laments technology. Go read it; I won’t quote that one in full. I’ll say that I think she/he continues the rocket analogy: Until everyone has radio, we shouldn’t rely on radio to give people the news. Instead, radio became — before TV — a great way to get people the news. Cue Murrow worship. It does no good to lament that technology has changed and that people are using it and are leaving the old. What you need to do is figure out what to do about that. Do I believe that internet access will become as ubiquitous as cable? Absolutely. I also believe that waiting until something becomes ubiquitous is the definition of being too late.

  • http://cellar.org/iotd.php Undertoad

    Top union wage at the Philadelphia Inquirer, for experienced reporters and copy editors, is $67,983.24;

    I’m a former Inqy reader. The last story I read in the paper version, probably 3 years ago, noted that there was a big concern at the Jersey shore because 24% of traffic accidents happened during the summer months of June, July and August.

    (An alarming 24% per quarter – somebody do the math)

    Yeah. Meanwhile I can’t get paid $60K to do Unix system administration.

  • journalist

    Jeff, there’s also a second comment on that post from me. Might as well have at that, too, before the rejoinder.

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  • http://michaelzimmer.org Michael Zimmer

    its’s a shame that whoever this is hides behind the nom d’interactivity of “journalist” without the conviction to stand behind these words with a name

    Don’t confuse the desire for anonymity with “lack of conviction.” There are plenty of justifiable reasons to want to keep one’s identity private in certain contexts (fear of reprisal from some authority, fear of personal attacks for expressing unpopular opinions, and so on)

    Besides, simply typing in a name like “Michael Zimmer” is no guarantee that it is actually some “Michael Zimmer” making the comment.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Journalist: Yes, I saw that right after I posted this, having worked on it from last night to this morning. Sorry for the syncopation. I’m about to go into a meeting but I’ll read with interest asap.
    Michael: Yes, you’re right. And so I assume I am not criticizing Journallist for this, not for a second. I’m criticizing the culture that not only discourages but even punishes conversation. I’d like to hear Journalist say why she or he is anonymous; that’s why I made a point of it.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Zimmer,

    The most “justifiable” reason for that anonymous post was its untrammeled ignorance.

    Jeff,

    Check the cookies to see where that comment was posted from. Not that it really matters, those talking points are hummed at every jurassic paper in the country.

    Personally, I think print journalists are criminals and should be locked up. Here are their crimes:

    1) Massive, daily intelligence failures.
    2) Corrupt cronyism – hiring only those that complete eachothers’ sentences in defiance of Equal Opportunity Employment laws.
    3) Treason in the GWOT.
    4) Relentless hate crimes and defamation against al least 50% of the country.
    5) Aiding and abetting election fraud.
    6) Corporate malfeasance, lack of accounting disclosure, and gross misuse of investors’ monies.
    7) A conspiracy to keep people poor and stupid.

    etc.

    Anyone that thinks the print media are well-intentioned people hopelessly clinging to an old business model is, IMO, being overly euphemistic.

    They are a domestic terror cell that has ravaged America with ignorance, socialism, unfunded entitlements, and a weaker national defense.

    I say round them up, and sentence them to bucolic ANWR.

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  • Question for “journalist”

    Internet = Hitler?

  • http://mattstover.blogspot.com/2006/03/so.html Cain

    Yesterday, Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) introduced a Motion of Censure on the floor of the US Senate, to formally take Our Commander in Cheat to task for violating the Constitution and the law in his illegal domestic wiretapping program. Astonishingly enough, the main response from the Republican leadership (specifically, Dr. Bill “I’ve seen the videotape and in my medical opinion she’s conscious” Frist) was they they couldn’t support the motion on the grounds that — and this is a direct quote — “it would send the wrong signal around the world.”

    This is the man, by the way, who wants to be the next Republican President of the United States.

    (READ MORE HERE: http://mattstover.blogspot.com/2006/03/so.html)

    None of these idiots seems to comprehend that invading a nation which has not attacked us, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians (the current best estimate, which our Pentagon continues to suppress, is 25-30,000 Iraqi civilians died in the actual fighting, and the bump in overall death rate from all factors, comparing pre- and post-invasion, suggests that the invasion of Iraq was responsible, by the end of 2004, for 130,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. And we wonder why they hate us . . .), kidnapping innocent citizens of friendly nations and shipping them off without trial or even the faintest shred of evidentiary review to be tortured — not to mention maintaining our own officially-sanctioned torture chambers in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan, and having an executive banch of government (Constitutionally charged with enforcing the our nation’s laws) openly declaring that our nation’s law does not apply to them . . .

    I mean, how much more wrong can our fucking signals get? Ahhh, anyway. Anyone still wondering about the actual legality of the domestic wiretap program might want to check out the details here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18650

  • Tim Halbur

    Over the last few months I have been reading a number of blogs predicting the demise of the newspaper. As a matter of disclosure, I’m in no way affiliated with any newspaper but instead am just an avid reader of them. I am also an avid reader of blogs, meme’s, and news web sites.

    I like getting my information in a variety of ways, including the newspaper. While I realize that the information may not be up to the second, I really don’t need up to the second for a lot of information. I’m not making stock trades based on this information, I’m just learning about what is going on in the world, and in the country, and the state, and the county, and the local area. If I were making trades, sure, I would use the real time information sources, but other than a small minority of the time, who really needs the information blasting to them at every turn of their head or click of the keyboard.

    As for getting the information when I want to and not on the newspapers schedule, well, I suppose I could read the paper at 7:00 in the morning, or, 7:00 at night. Sure, I’m on their schedule rather than mine for the next day’s news, but again, does it matter if it’s current to the minute?

    What I find humorous about the meme’s out there, Digg, memorandum, Tailrank, etc, is that what are they, but a summary of the news. And, what is a newspaper, but a summary of the news. How often do articles change on the meme’s? I don’t know, but, we have Scoble and Weiner talking about new way’s to present the news because the main articles in the middle of the screen just don’t change often enough to warrent checking all day long.

    And what about the fact that most blog’s don’t break news stories, but instead add subjective, and valuable, context to the stories? There certainly are blogs that break stories, as documented in Paul Kedrosky’s blog, but, are there that many? And not to say that newspapers break all the stories either, they don’t, they regurgitate a lot of stores just like the blogs. But, they do break a fair number of stories, and, if we depend on blogs for our information, who’s going to break the stories that they add commentary on?

    So the loss of the newspaper journalist does concern me.

  • http://thefatguy.com/ Scott Chaffin

    Superb, Jeffro. Go get ‘em, pard.

    Matt, you’re a spamming toad…I’d ban your lame ass.

  • http://michaelzimmer.org Michael Zimmer

    Jeff: I’m criticizing the culture that not only discourages but even punishes conversation. I’d like to hear Journalist say why she or he is anonymous; that’s why I made a point of it.

    Got it – thanks for the clarification.

  • http://www.personalbee.com Ted Shelton

    When I was in college I remember meeting a woman who was in the library science graduate program. I asked her, why is it that you decided to study library science? To which she replied that she hated computers and loved books and wanted a career where she would be around books… I am afraid I couldn’t stop laughing. I told her that she had chosen exactly the wrong profession as libraries were going to become increasingly computerized over the coming decades. That was 1980 something. 25 years later it seems we still have people seeking out professions where they think will avoid these things called computers – this time it is a “Journalist.”

    How ironic that anyone (librarian or journalist) in a field that is all about information would hate the idea that information could spread more quickly, more widely, and be discovered by interested people more precisely. And how sad.

    Change is hard. People do it poorly. And yet somehow we live in a world with flush toilets and jet airplanes, and the Internet. So luckily for the rest of us Ludd and his kin keep losing this battle.

  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society Robert Feinman

    Jeff:
    Seems like you are taking on a job in a dying industry. Should CUNY change the name of their new program to blogging instead of journalism? (wink)

  • Mikey

    Change journalist to autoworker, and you get the same thing.

    Same whine, different bottle.

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  • http://spaceygreview.blogspot.com/ Grayson

    Awww Dude… not the golf writers. How’m I gonna get my child support check every month? Leave one or two of ‘em sprinkled around to bear witness to the carnage. Lord knows, the golf writers aren’t bothering anyone. Haven’t for years, now that I think about it…

  • http://www.theringleader.blogspot.com AJ Lynch

    Jeff:

    Fantastic job of beating back his arguments. I admire your organized and logical thinking.

    He had his plays well memorized though…digital divide, corporate profits, execs fleeing for the beaches.

    Of course, he forgets to mention the former Inquirer writers and editors that now are well paid and work for NPR (William Marimow) or those at the Pew Foundation (forget the name) or The Constitution center (Jane Eisner).

    Lastly, I drove a truck for the Evening Bulletin (Philly) for 7 years (late 1970’s) while I was in college (tells you I was a great student huh). It was union job and paid great. The old union guys had a saying “if you got fired by the Inquirer, go and get a job at the Daily news, if they fire you, go to work for the Bulletin for the rest of your life”). That was true until like most afternoon papers it folded in 1982.

    Really enjoy your work.

    Thanks,

    AJ

  • http://www.drcookie.blogspot.com JennyD

    You tell ‘em, Jeff. No one cares about the pack at the press conference, all covering the same thing.

    I was once a local journalist, and we were looked down on by the bigfoots from national news, or from the big newspaper. They swooped in for a murder or some other big story. But they weren’t there for the daily life of a community.

    Big newspapers, with their bureaus and zoned editions, fractions of staff for a big geographical region, while everyone at the newspaper knew the big stuff happened at the big newsroom. Did you ever see a reporter get promoted to bureau…besides Washington DC?

    Tell Journalist to tell Debbie Galant about how local news is something no one cares about.

    Jeff the reason the editors, from Fred Flinstone to Interested in Internet, will never get it is because their worldview is built on the notion that local news, news close to people’s lives, is boring and unimportant. But news from the Statehouse or from some federal bureau of something is important. These bigshot editors think having someone stationed on Air Force One, or having a reporter in London when you’re coverage area is a city in the Midwest, is prestigious and important. It’s not.

    I’ve got so much to say about this, I can barely organize my thoughts. (PS. Please tell your former employer to do something about their dreadful websites.)

  • Mikey

    Richard Harding Davis wrote a short story – “Gallegher: A Newspaper Story”. I doubt Journalist would recognize that Philadelphia or the kind of news-nose that young Gallegher had.

    I bet some others would.

  • journalist

    Jeff, you and many of the comments above argue with a voice you assume comes from an ink-stained dinosaur.

    I’m a longtime web journalist living the day-to-day reality of what I wrote.

    These are real problems. The people who might nod at that sentence are not here. That’s one of the problems.

    As to why I’m anonymous, you’ve invited that, and I prefer it to the spotlight. Since my early days online I’ve kept a self apart from my job.

    It doesn’t matter who I am, or who says this. A report from a different edge got dropped at your place.

  • NotEdwardRMurrow

    Jeff, is it your opinion that there’s no need for, no value to having, a “Fourth Estate”?

    And what in your opinion constitutes “Merit” in online news?
    Flawed and biased, at least the print media has a form of meritocracy.
    Not every numbskull who can scribble is given a voice.
    Is that bad?

    I dunno, it seems like “serious news” has become so trivialized and diluted with the thousands of clown acts posing as News Sites that important issues no longer have any weight at all and no longer force any attention. The murder of civilians in Iraq by US troops is reduced to “d3wd u sux0r!”.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Behold, the anonymous “journalist” has unleashed his “rejoinder”.

    As to why I’m anonymous, you’ve invited that, and I prefer it to the spotlight.

    Spotlight?

    Don’t you mean the ignominy of having getting lambasted on a worldwide stage?

    We are all “web journalists” you dope.

  • http://www.ensight.org Jeremy Wright

    Fantastic response Jeff. To be honest, I’d never read a piece of yours that had me totally nodding along. I know that doens’t matter, but it’s a compliment: this is the best piece (to me) that you’ve ever written.

  • journalist

    We are all “web journalists” you dope.

    Amazing. Enjoy your echo chamber.

  • Veeshir

    An uninformed society quickly becomes feudal.
    Examples? Or just something that “journalist” heard somewhere that sounded profound? But that’s not really important.

    What is important is that newspapers are not a way to become informed. They pass along so much dis- and mis-information that they’re not really useful as a source of information. They have a front page, above the fold article on something they really feel passionate about. Then, when it turns out the story was really too good to be true, the correction goes on pg 17.

    I used to read the NY Times every day. Then, they were my Internet home-page from 1997-2004. I don’t even bother reading them anymore as they no longer inform so much as slant what they tell so I think ‘correctly’.

    Newspapers don’t “inform”, they spin.

  • Maverick Bibliographer

    I would not usually comment here, but the part of the post about some people not having online access did bother me. Just because NetZero has internet access for $9.95 does not automatically mean that everyone has a computer. And before you say that computers are getting cheaper, which they are (I will certainly grant that), there is still a significant segment of the population that does not have computer access. And while many public libraries do provide free access to the internet, not everyone has access to a public library in an era where libraries are facing major budget and funding cuts, often from people who fail to see the public good as they jump online to leave others behind. Now, I am certainly not saying we should use your rocketship image of waiting for everyone to go on board, nor am I saying that newspapers should not be moving online, because they should. But if 60-70% of people are online, that still leaves another large segment without access. Are they to be left behind because they may or not be able to get on a computer? Are they any less worthy of being informed? Is it just tend to the rich and wealthy, and forget everyone else?

    And in case you wonder why I don’t post my real name? I like my job just fine.

    Best.

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  • http://www.apesnake.blogspot.com Apesnake

    Great article Mr. Jarvis, Thanks.

    CaptiousNut says: “The most “justifiable” reason for that anonymous post was its untrammeled ignorance.”

    I disagree. As someone who posts to a blog under a pseudonym as I do, I suspect that you might agree that anonymity allows people to express thoughts and ideas which they would otherwise feel pressured by society to keep to themselves. While I make it a point to try to never say anything online that I could not defend if confronted with in my personal life (anonymity is never absolute after all), I find that being free of the immediate pressure of family, peers and coworkers allows me to ask questions, make criticisms, arguments and observations that I would not feel free to in my personal life.

    Just because the comments of this anonymous “journalist” are unimpressive does not change the fact that anonymity can be a beneficial thing and in no way detracts from the worth of the comment maker. There is also the fact that anyone (who has not already lost all anonymity by being in the public eye) who puts their real name up on the Internet is riding for a fall. If this journalist fellow had felt obliged to use his real name he probably would not have risked bringing embarrassment to his employer (which, given his arguments is a near certainty) so we would not have gotten to see Mr. Jarvis’ reply.

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