No bullshit here

Let me make this clear: I did not say bullshit to Bill Keller. Not that I couldn’t, wouldn’t, or haven’t, but I didn’t. Nor did he to me.

I said bullshit to the reporter (and, I suspect, his editors) who were trying to pit Times Executive Editor Keller against me and me against him as I refused to play into the us-v-them narrative of stories about news media today, whether the “us” and “them” are bloggers and MSM or “traditionalists” – the reporter’s word – and whatever the opposite is. The Observer’s John Koblin kept trying to pit me and I kept refusing to be pitted: The fucking pit bull just wags his tail. Gas him.

Picture 43

At the end of a few hours at a Lindy’s – not a place where I hang out but a convenient place he picked – he came to the point, as reporters do at the end (I know the tricks; I teach them). He wanted to set me against traditionalists and them against me. Later, I emailed him:

One thing gnawed at me after leaving you last night: “traditionalists.” I think it’s a false dichotomy and false drama to try to pit traditionalists against whatever one calls their supposed opposites. That’s what I meant when I made reference to bloggers. It’s just like the tired, old bloggers-v-MSM matches I refuse to join anymore….

I’m a traditionalist. I come from and respect the tradition of journalism. I teach journalism, including and especially its eternal verities. Last week, I met with the editor of a newspaper … who, as I said to his colleague afterwards, is far more radical than I am as he reinvents and even rejects the old value of a newspaper. Isn’t the editor of a newspaper the definition of a traditionalist? So what’s a traditionalist? How can these views be reduced – like silly red and blue states – to two camps? I won’t willingly join that fight.

On the last “fact-checking” call, the reporter again got to the point, telling me that Keller says I have inched closer to him than he to me. The reporter asked my reaction. I said it’s a bullshit question. But the Observer says I said bullshit to Keller. Not true. Indeed, it appears that Keller didn’t say that either. Keller said we’ve inched closer together. That’s true and it’s also true that we were never that far apart. That was my point in my kumbaya exchange with Keller long ago. But after quoting Keller, the Observer creates one fuck of an antecedent problem – fact-checking aside – when it says:

“That is bullshit,” Mr. Jarvis said when we told him what Mr. Keller had said. [No, the antecedent was the reporter’s question, not Keller’s statement -jj] But, it seemed, he was directing the charge at us. [Damned straight -jj] “That is journalistic cliché. That’s what every story tries to do: create a conflict. That conflict doesn’t exist. We’re all trying to figure what to do about it, and we all should have different answers and experiment with those answers. To say it’s traditional[ists] against something else is bullshit. And you can quote me on that. That’s dangerous.

“I’ve been forced into this blogger-versus-MSM thing for a while and I refuse to play the game anymore. I don’t give a damn if Bill Keller is closer to me or I’m closer to him. The question is: What are we all doing to advance this? I am delighted to see The New York Times advance in many, many ways. I think they’re brilliant.”

Hey, Bill, let’s hug.

The story is fine and I’m glad that, at the end – when journalists make their points – it made clear that I believe journalists are trying to pull together. I just don’t see much of a story here, especially not a cover story. But it’s fine.

What really pisses me off is that they couldn’t bother to mention my book – the only good reason to talk with a reporter – even after the reporter visited the recording of the audiobook. Now that’s bullshit.

* My glasses are too damned expensive to be unfashionable.

* I always remind reporters that I was not shown the door at Time Inc. If I had been, I would have received three years’ salary, bonus, and benefits. I didn’t. Instead, I walked out that door for good reason. Just for the record.

* I made it clear that I’ve not consulted for the Washington Post. I helped with one small task but I told the reporter specifically that I had not done consulting of note.

* I’m honored that The Times’ Jon Landman thinks I’m a Maoist and then the reporter says that to “most” newspaper editors – survey results, please – I’m a Marxist. And I thought I was too far right for Daily Kos because I voted for Hillary.

Koblin’s a nice guy to spend a couple hours with, even in Lindy’s. But what really struck me in this process – and it is always good for a journalist to endure journalism – is that the interview itself is becoming outmoded.

I’ve noted before that Dave Winer (who, ironically, is beating me up for being too much the journalistic traditionalist) wisely refuses interviews, telling journalists that everything he has to say he has said online. True for me as well. I didn’t say a single new thing to the Observer; everything I said I’d written already on my blog, so I was only drawn to repeat myself (and after four days of recording an audiobook, even I was sick of the sound of my own voice – yes, it finally happened).

The process of the interview has the reporter hold all the cards in his hand: who he talks with and what he will reveal to each and what he will say in the end, without links to what any of the parties has said. Then the reporter gets to toss it all on the table. A process of links and discovery and conversation and correction would be far more illuminating of the ideas and issues than this old process of control through the sieve (and efforts to trump up conflict and drama). That, you see, is the real moral to the story: It’s the form that’s bullshit. Keller isn’t. I leave it to you to decide whether I am.

  • Albert Alfons Barlemann

    BS is just BS unless it’s used for fuel to fire earthenware firepots

  • I had talked with the reporter yesterday. Not surprised when looking at who did get quoted that I wasn’t.

    I also think my input was off to the side of what this article was (as you noted cliche) intended to be. My thoughts remain as so: Without people like you noting what hasn’t worked – young journalists like myself wouldn’t know what to do. We’d probably be running around like chickens with our heads cut off.

    I don’t care what people say or how they try to pit that into an MSM vs blogger or New vs. Old media debate. What you are doing is a positive impact on the future of journalism. If only because it allows us to stand on shoulders and see a little bit further down the road.

  • damata

    That was a brilliant piece of dialouge. Thanks for keeping it real!

  • “he came to the point, as reporters do at the end (I know the tricks; I teach them)”

    Moral of the story: Don’t try to bullshit a bullshitter. :)

  • Now I’m really interested in knowing what a “Marxist” is in the context of journalism, especially since JJ’s libertarian tendencies are about as far from Marx’s collectivism as one can get.

    Perhaps this is just an all purpose smear term like “fascist” when the commentator doesn’t agree with one’s viewpoint?

    Reporters who use meaningless labels, aren’t (reporters, that is).

  • Walter Abbott


    I wouldn’t get too exercised about Bill Keller and The NY Times. Or even John Koblin and The NY Observer. The NY Times – and a goodly number of other large metro newspapers – won’t be around in another year or two.

    And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Anybody in the information distribution business (formerly called the ‘news’ business) who can’t see this coming is too stupid to be a ‘journalist.’

  • Which is why the not-previously-newspaper-worker blogger generally distrusts reporters. The guy went into the interview looking for snippets to support the story in his head. A decent investigator would, surely, write the story after there was something to talk about.

    That an a odd attitude to giving credit where due and fully citing sources. In the web world it’s not cited until there is a web link. Which is why so few people comment on the telegraph and other sites. With the kind of reach they should enjoy one should expect comments somewhere in the order of two to three hundred comments each post rather than just two to three comments.

  • edward

    I think you do protest too much. I love it when journalists complain about being taken out of context or misquoted.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Nope. No Bullshit whatsoever. It was all a complete misunderstanding.

  • arty

    Mr. Jarvis certainly likes to say “fuck.”

  • jm

    you’re a sieve, too, jeff. and a little paranoid. won’t the world wide web save your reputation?

  • Word, man. The picture is worth the price you paid, Jeff. It belongs on your blog, LOL. Very guru-esque.

  • tdc

    except for the turban, you look alot like the guy over at rosenblum’s blog.

  • Mike Manitoba

    What do you have against pit bulls, you beastly man!

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  • This crap is annoying in print but ever-more-so obnoxious if you sit down for a TAPED INTERVIEW for TV (e.g. Gibson on Palin), or for a documentary film (e.g. the three neocon guys that agreed to appear in the doc “Why We Fight”).

    I sat down for just a frickin’ high school film on the Tibet situation last spring and I got snippeted by the little punks (no doubt egged on by their truly Maoist instructors).

  • JeanE

    I have been interviewed before about homeschooling, and I felt the reporter was fair and accurate in presenting my comments. Since then I have read so many stories like this one that I don’t think I would be as eager to talk with a reporter. It’s become clear that too many reporters selectively filter the comments of their interviewees in order to support the pre-existing storyline, rather than basing the story on the interviews and the facts. When people don’t trust reporters enough to talk to them, what are they going to report?

  • “MSM” is sooo 20th century… (yawn). Heck, social media are pretty damn mainstream by now, if you ask me. How about framing this perceived dichotomy as “social vs. anti-social media”? :-)

  • What can you say about a fraternity that equates the Mercury Militia with trained physicians, and thinks you can learn to cast magic spells by reading what amounts to a poorly written technical manual?

    Science teaches you critical thinking. Journalism teaches you gullible thinking.

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  • symptomatic

    Keller talks about the “utility of professional judgment, skills and standards” in journalism. There was sufficient bullshit called on that claim by the embarrassingly sloppy editing of the piece as it appeared in the Observer’s print edition.

    Even if Jarvis had been piling on, there was no need. Editing—what a “convept.”

  • Guy Love

    You are nothing more than a focal point for the traditional media to explain to themselves why they are going down the drain. You represent the future, they represent the obsolete past. I fully expect more setups of this nature to happen as the traditional corporate media swirls down the drain. There is no saving those morons from themselves. They are locked in to their legacy and refuse to change. It is time to move forward with no apologies. Brush them off, you are the future of media.

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  • You’re probably not going to like this either, but…

    1. That’s not exactly my policy re interviews. I ask them to ask their questions via email or on their blog, and if I have something to say about it, I’ll write a blog post. If I’ve already written about it, I might send a pointer, or suggest they search my site for references. The key difference is that I try to help, but I don’t get anything out of a phone interview or in person interview, and I’ve decided to start acting in my own self-interest, a unique perspective for a source, relative to the press.

    2. I wish you wouldn’t hear “Dave is beating up on me” if I mention you. A lot of people just see the mention of their name as offensive, if it isn’t totally glowing praise. If I disagree with you (and I definitely do) I try to do it in a way as to get through people’s defensive filters, so I go out of my way to edit out the personallity stuff, if it was there to begin with. Jeff, I think your prescription for the news industry isn’t going to help anyone, not the readers (who I identify with of course) or the industry people. It would be great if you’d give my recommendations some thought, and pass them on if you think they merit consideration. That’s all either of us can do.

  • Dave,

    Thanks for the clarification on your policy.

    Please take “beating up” in the humorous spirit intended (which I was trying to maintain in all the bullets for a different reason).

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’ve said abstracting the elements of news. I agree with you in part and disagree in part and I’ve been letting this ferment before blogging. I would, in turn, like to hear more about how you disagree with my scenario.

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