I am the honoree of an attempted hatchet job by Ron Rosenbaum in – what’s the name of that site? Salon? no, Slate (I always get them confused). I’ll spare you his three pages of bluster (O, for the days of scarce space on paper) and get to his point: He’s mad because I’m not acting sufficiently mournful and respectful at the demise of his friends’ journalistic careers (and perhaps his own). I’m “increasingly heartless” about these “beautiful losers.”
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.
What I’m really doing is holding journalists responsible for the fate of journalism. How dare I? Rosenbaum says, “Not only does he blame the victims, he denies them the right to consider themselves victims.” As if victimhood gets us anywhere.
For the record, here is the nut of what I said in a blog post and Guardian column that inspired this attack. I was responding to efforts to absolve journalists of responsibility for the fall of journalism and its vessels by Paul Farhi, Roy Greenslade, and Adrian Monck:
My purpose in rebutting Farhi, Greenslade and Monck is not to flagellate journalists but to empower them. To take responsibility for the fall of journalism is to take responsibility for its fate. Who’ll try to save it if not journalists? There’s not a minute to waste whining.
But sadly, Rosenbaum doesn’t discuss that. He whines and prefers to mock me for going to conferences, advising news companies, and teaching journalists (helping to train more of them, not end up with fewer of them). I’m not sure what he’d rather have me do: Sit in my room and mope, sitting shiva for the past? Refuse to discuss the future of journalism? Tell newspapers when they call asking for brainstorming to fuck off and die? Would that be in solidarity with my hack brethren who did too little to transform journalism in the last 13 years of the web?
Just this morning I attended – busted! – another conference where I talked over coffee and croissant with chief executives of four newspaper companies as they brainstormed new models for news. I ran a conference at CUNY last week in new business models for news. I am starting an organization at CUNY to find, explore, and share best practices in new business models for news. I teach a course in entrepreneurial journalism in hopes supporting small sparks of innovation. Full disclosure: I also advise or invest in a number of related startups including Daylife, Publish2, 33Across, Black20, Brightcove, Outside.in (and haven’t made a penny on any et). I hope the profession – or someone – finds ways to save journalism.
Whether we save all the journalists today is entirely another matter and not my goal. Rosenbaum believes that makes me heartless. I think it makes me realistic. And we need some realism in this business. If Rosenbaum really wants to dislike someone, he might turn his spitballs toward my friends Scott Karp and Seth Godin, who declare that “the market and the internet don’t care if you make money.” There is no divine right for newsroom jobs. Nor is printing and trucking an eternal verity of the field. There is, instead, a need for journalism. That’s the problem to solve. That’s the opportunity to follow.
At the Foursquare conference this morning, I heard the voluble Sam Zell of Chicago say what he’s said before – he’s a realist. A few old hands in the industry shook their heads about him. I asked them to name three disrupters inside the newspaper business today. They failed. Whether Zell is your disrupter of choice, at least he’s asking the questions, challenging the assumptions.
Rosenbaum accuses me of “living the good life” as a consultant, professor, blogger, blatherer. I wish. When I worked for Advance and Conde Nast, I made many times what I do now. So why the hell did I leave? Because I wanted to be more a part of the future and believed I could best do that by working with students who will be that future, by helping companies from the outside with one other perspective, and by joining in and sometimes prodding the urgent discussion about new and sustainable models for news.
Of course, you’re free to argue with what I say and call bullshit on me. I wish you would (and many of you do). That would be productive. Sticking your tongue out is not. Rosenbaum also complains about the aphorisms, blog headlines, and PowerPoint lines that emit from here. Fine, but they sometimes travel better than three pages of bile and bluster. “Do what you do best and link to the rest” may be cute but it also starts discussions.
Let’s have that discussion, Ron.
If Rosenbaum had reported about my reporting, he would have avoided some errors in his piece. (We’ll see now whether, like a good blogger, he corrects them.) He says that I recently heard and repeated a speech by Paulo Coelho in Frankfurt. Actually, I interviewed Coelho – reporting, that’s called – for my book and a Guardian column in Paris last summer. He says I lived by the World Trade Center on 9/11. Actually, I’ve said often that I was on the last PATH train into the center that day (Google skills would have gotten him that).
He also speculates about the reporting in my book. He wonders – rather than asks – whether I sought access from Google and was rebuffed. I did not and was not. I interviewed many people like Coelho. I chose not to seek official and controlled access to Google and in my acknowledgments in the book, I explain why:
Note that I am not thanking Google. I am grateful for Google’s existence, its lessons, and its inspiration—not to mention Marissa Mayer’s quotable advice online. But I want to note that I did not seek access to Google for this book because I wanted to judge it and learn from it at a distance. My admiration of Google, then, does not spring from any relationship with the company but from its incredible example.
Rosenbaum also speculates on my opinions. He says I don’t “seem to recognize distinctions of value.” What the hell does that mean? Even as he mocks my little law, he cites Gresham’s Law – a brief and quotable aphorism, a chestnut, itself: “Trash drives out value.” But I argue that the internet ends scarcity and enables great creation and with it new value. He complains about my trust in the market — “the same market that created this debacle and came close to destroying the economy.” I say at some level, if you don’t trust the market – the people, us – then you don’t value democracy, capitalism, education, art … or journalism (for why trust, empower, enable, ennoble, and inform the people if we all a bunch of idiots?). “He’s the Sarah Palin of gurus,” Rosenbaum says. “The crowd is always right.” Don’tcha know, it’s often more right than we give it credit for.
“Look,” Rosenbaum concludes, “there’s nothing wrong with Jarvis doing all this thinking and decreeing.” Gosh, thanks, Ron. But if you question my authority to discuss the future of journalism, I wonder who made you the DMV of the discussion.
: LATER: G’bless Paulo Coelho for his response to Rosenbaum in the comments:
Ron claims that I am a New Age guru. Please pass the message to him, as his blog does not have a direct place for comments (it is too complicate to leave any post there): he should sit and meditate, become a vegetarian, say OMMMMMMMM 250.352 times a day, smile while saying “Peace and Love” to strangers, read the Bragavad Gita every morning. Only then, he should sit and start blogging. For sure, his text will improve, his bitterness will dissapear.