Jeff Jarvis’ invaluable Buzz Machine posts a revealing debate, sort of, between himself and an anonymous journalist who calls himself, er, “journalist.”
It started yesterday with a post about the sale of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain to the McClatchy family, and the McClatchy family’s subsequent announcement that it would turn around and sell most of the biggest papers in the chain, including the San Jose Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Jarvis said the underlying message of the transaction was this:
What the (news) industry needs now is tough, strategic management that drives the news business away from its dependence on paper to a very different future in any media. You have to shrink to grow.
Newspaper industry analysts believe the former Knight-Ridder papers McClatchy plans to sell have virtually no growth potential, however profitable they might be now. When these papers are sold again, significant cutbacks will be the result. Jarvis suggested that other “big, one-size-fits-all media companies” will suffer the same fate because “they are saddled with big costs while smaller, nimbler, more effective, targeted, and efficient competitors eat at them.”
“Journalist” was enraged at what he discerned to be Jarvis’ “internet evangelism.” His full comment must be read, but the essence of his argument was:
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.
Today, in a lengthy response that also demands a full reading, Jarvis begins this way:
(S)omeone 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.
Jarvis is fair to this writer, but demolishes his pretentious sense of entitlement nonetheless. “Journalist” believes moving papers online will result in a sort of feudal society in which the few who are computer-literate rule over the losers in the digital divide. To which Jarvis replies:
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…. 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.
I love newspapers too, and don’t want to see them go. But if their final line of defense are self-satisfied scribes who are too refined, or too scared, to compete for our attention, then it might be time to pack it in.
“Journalist” doesn’t have a strategy for newspapers to rebound. He’s given up on trying to attract readers by offering a better product. Instead, he suggests there is no room for improvement — so now it’s up to the public to subsidize them. That’s not advocacy; that’s fatalism. “Journalist” needs to make way for a more vigorous breed of reporters who are interested in informing, rather than condemning, their audience.