December 04, 2011

New media fluffers profit from dissing old media?

Just wow .... Columbia Journalism Review takes Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, et al, to the cleaners. And, the article is very good overall, not just in the claim that these and other new media fluffer leaders, through consulting fees, teaching at public universities, etc., profit, and perhaps hypocritically, by being old media dissers.

And, it's one thing to disagree on what the future of media should be. It's another to profit off of saying what the media SHOULD be, while pretending to be disinterested. And, it's yet another to ignore "concentration" in social media, ethics issues at some social media, and other factors.

Item No. 2 in the paragraph above is why I largely not just mistrust but actually dislike new media fluffers, at least the new media fluffing part of their personalities. Hey, I'm not denying the right to make a buck. BUT, be honest that your new media fluffing is anything but disinterested.

Anway, let's take a look at CJR.

I'm going to run a string of a few quotes, then start commenting;
The establishment is gloomy and old; the (Future Of Newspapers) consensus is hopeful and young (or purports to represent youth). The establishment has no plan. The FON consensus says no plan is the plan. The establishment drones on about rules and standards; the FON thinkers talk about freedom and informality. FON says “cheap” and “free”; the establishment asks for your credit card number. FON talks about “networks,” “communities,” and “love”; the establishment mutters about “institutions,” like The New York Times or mental hospitals....

The problem is that journalism’s true value-creating work, the keystone of American journalism, the principle around which it is organized, is public-interest reporting; the kind that is usually expensive, risky, stressful, and time-consuming. ...


Not only does the FON consensus have little to say about public-service journalism, it is in many ways antithetical to it. For one thing, its anti-institutionalism would disempower journalism. Jarvis and Shirky in particular have reveled in the role of intellectual undertakers/grief counselors to the newspaper industry, which, for all its many failings, has traditionally carried the public-service load.
So far, I'm in total agreement. The FON crowd largely ignores costs and overheads, as do many of their fellow travelers. And, by over-touting social media, etc., can trivialize news. (See below.)

And, is there a solution? Solutions?
Many of Shirky’s prescriptions for the economics of journalism are commonsensical and even wise. A point I find inarguable is that while some news models have been found to work in some contexts-—The Wall Street Journal’s pay wall, ProPublica’s fund-raising model (basically, one big donor), Talking Points Memo’s online ad-based system—nothing to date is scalable. There is no news business “model” at all. And who can argue with his call for constant experimentation?
I would tend to agree. And, that's why I'm not always as hard on this aspect of Shirky's thought as on Rosen's or Jarvis'.


Meanwhile, is the FON crowd counter-cultural? The story suggests so:
If some aspects of peer-production theory and its FON offshoot sound familiar—anti-institutionalism; communitarianism laced with libertarianism; a millennial, Age-of-Aquarius vibe; a certain militancy—some scholars have traced its roots to 1960s counterculture.
I'd say look to today, instead; Shirky, et al, sound like the utopian wing of Occupy Wall Street.

Meanwhile, CJR gets to "throwing under the bus" time, saying Jarvis, as example, and most the FON crowd are ... hypocritical leeches:
Like other FON thinkers, he lives the contradiction of extolling peer production and volunteerism from the security of an institution. It is doubly jarring in Jarvis’s case; an opponent of publicly funded journalism, his journalistic entrepreneurialism is, in fact, publicly subsidized. The “C” in CUNY stands for “City.”
CJR then raises a related issue: the claim that news is a commodity. Of course, the FON crowd starts with one half of Steward Brand's famous quote:
Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine - too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.
And, of course, the FON crowd is coming down emphatically, and simplistically, IMO, on the "free" side. That's why they fight paywalls, diss micropayments and other things.  But, as the CJR story notes, paywalls are working, and getting adopted by more and more dailies.

Meanwhile, here's more of that intellectual dishonesty:
I would note that there’s a point at which predicting institutional decline blurs into rooting for it, and then morphs into hastening it along, as the anti-pay wall debate shows. ... “We need the new news environment to be chaotic” to facilitate experimentation, Shirky writes. In fact, though, only consultants “need” the news environment to be chaotic.
CJN's Starkman goes on to say he expects some "media establishment" to remain in place for quite some time.
I’m going to make a bold leap and predict—eenie meenie chili beanie—that for a long time the Future of News is going to look unnervingly like the Present of News: hobbled news organizations, limping along, supplemented by swarms of new media outlets doing their best. It’s not sexy, but that’s journalism for you. 
And, here's why he's at least halfway comfortable with that statement:
It pays to remember that the most triumphalist FON works were written in 2008 and 2009, during journalism’s time of maximum panic. But now, panic time is over.
It is ... and as he says, "muddling" time continues. And, that is no thanks to the FON crowd:
The cruel truth of the emerging networked news environment is that reporters are as disempowered as they have ever been, writing more often, under more pressure, with less autonomy, about more trivial things than under the previous monopolistic regime. Indeed, if one were looking for ways to undermine reporters in their work, FON ideas would be a good place to start.
Indeed, especially about the trivialization. Working at a newspaper that thinks Facebook and Twitter posting will magically fix things seems to illustrate that. When everything is news, nothing is.

Finally, Starkman says that what he calls "Neo-institutional journalism" can be rebuilt, but that it will take work.

Shirky responds, but, IMO, as a kinder, gentler Jarvis more than anything else.

Beyond that, the new media fluffers fail to address how social media, Internet 2.0, etc. threaten us all, not just journalists, with being crushed beneath the wheel, whether like in Hesse's novel of that name or some other way.

Finally, related to this discussion, check out my  "dark side of the Internet" series of posts. None of the "new media fluffers" will fully and seriously engage with a Evgeny Morozov, Nicholas Carr or Jarod Lanier.

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