Tag Archives: Jeff Jarvis

Think you know the answer? Don’t be so sure. (And what if reading is NOT fundamental?)

Those who present contrary views are sometimes written off as cantankerous cranks. But with accepted formulas so regularly being discredited, those who stand against the grain might be our truth tellers and prophets.

What if, for instance, rather than lamenting the decline in serious reading among young people, we embraced their ability to learn more and learn faster through quick-paced technology that encourages multi-tasking? What if books are, like newspapers, yesterday’s news, and that’s okay?

Jeff Jarvis, an outspoken champion of new, hyperlocal and social media, asks simply, “Who says our way is the right way?”

Reacting to Matt Richtel’s long piece in Sunday’s New York Times, Growing up digital, wired for distraction, Jarvis says that the apparent inability of youngsters to make it through a book is not, prima facie, a problem, only a challenge:

Is this new generation distracted or advanced? How can they best learn? How can they teach? What tools can we use today besides books? What new opportunities do all their tools present? That’s what educators should be asking.

The Times sets up its piece in a predictable fashion: “On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?” We quickly learn Singh’s choice.

On YouTube, Singh explains, “you can get a whole story in six minutes. A book takes so long.”

The Times report, which cites studies on the use of technology by young people, is largely displeased with this. “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School and the Center on Media and Child Health. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

Back to Jarvis:

A group of Danish academics say we are passing through the other side of what they wonderfully call the Gutenberg Parenthesis, leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural. …

Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein reminds us that for 50 years after the invention of the press, we continued to put old wine in this new cask, replicating scribal fonts, content, and models. That’s what’s happening now: We are trying to fit our old world into the new one that is emerging. We’re assuming the old way is the right way.

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Doctrinaire journos, TEAR DOWN THAT WALL!

Jeff Jarvis and Roy Greenslade are having at it, arguing about that damn wall in our newsrooms.

Greenslade (top photo) says keep it high; Jarvis (below right) says tear it down. And Marc Reeves (below left), who Greenslade uses as a foil, is bluntly allied with Jarvis and opines that “it is time to talk of heresy”:

“To all those saying ‘sorry I’m just a journalist, I don’t sell advertising’, I say ‘tough, that’s just the way it is now’.”

Putting “the noisy people in a room marked ‘advertising’ and the studious types in another labelled ‘editorial’ was the biggest mistake newspapers and other media ever made,” says Reeves. “It allowed journalists to insulate themselves from the business they were in to the point of revelling in their detachment… No wonder so many didn’t see the meltdown coming.”

This discussion is an urgent one because of the explosion online of entrepreneurial journalism, in which journalists must be one with their business side — because in addition to being journalists, often they are the business. So much for that wall.

Jarvis, who is a pioneer — really an evangelist and guru — of entrepreneurial journalism (he’s been teaching it for several years at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York and is starting an entrepreneurial journalism MA program there), says he is “disturbed to hear journalistic entrepreneurs — eg, hyperlocal bloggers — who disdain business and sales, for they will perish just like the dinosaurs who once employed them. They are responsible for their own sustainability.”

Jarvis argues that the “wall” did not really protect a product’s integrity in any event. And he recalls Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger reminding us “about the history of newspapers: It was advertising that freed us from ownership by political forces; it supported independence.”

Moreover, says Reeves, a relationship with advertisers is essential to the production of a product that’s relevant to readers: “It’s never actually been about the content anyway — in print or online — it’s about the relationship with the community you build — it always has been and it always will.…

“If you have a relationship, you’ve got a business. Anything else is just words and spaces – and is as unsustainable an endeavour as you’ll ever see.”

This is why Yahoo  partnered with media’s dinosaurs — newspapers — in its bid to sell local advertising, and why AOL’s Patch may be considering the acquisition of some community newspapers: Local newspapers have (or had, or are presumed to have or to have had) relationships in their communities, including the communities’ businesses and advertisers.

“Once you’ve attracted them to your content you should see what you can do to fulfill all their other needs too — whether or not it involves journalism,” says Reeves. “Hold events, create a club to give them a sense of belonging, help them interact online and sell stuff to each other, and negotiate partnerships.…

“Other businesses are using new technological tools and social media to encroach into territory traditionally marked ‘media’ so why shouldn’t we take a piece of their action?”

• • •

Now, what about asking those editorial people to do some “sales” work? (They need not carry rate cards and contracts  but they must be inquisitive — which is what they’ve been trained to be — and they talk up (p–r–o–m–o–t–e) their product as a vehicle that is worthy of their contact’s advertising. And they should be eager to return with qualified leads for the sales department to follow up.)

Reeves refers to every young reporter’s most dreaded assignment — having to call on the family and friends of someone who’s just died, in a moment of private pain, to extract a public comment and picture:

“To those who say: ‘I can’t sell advertising’, I ask how many death knocks have you done? Exactly, so don’t tell me you can’t sell a little ad space.”

Greenslade (a former editor of the Daily Mail and other UK newspapers and the Guardian’s media blogger) is not yet comfortable with this. “I remain queasy about journalists acting as advertising sales reps. And it is an aspect of entrepreneurial journalism that gives me pause… I just don’t want to see reporters acting as ad reps.”

• • •

Reeves, former editor of the Birmingham Post who is now editing niche Websites geared to local businesses in Britain, points out that “our advertisers are also the people we write about and the people who read our stuff,

“so with every contact me and my journalistic colleagues do three things: ONE, we get a story; TWO, we champion what we do; and THREE, we assess whether it’s worth someone coming back to talk to them about advertising.

Exactly!

And here’s how Reeves’ team chooses what they’ll write about:

“We keep an hour-by-hour check on what stories are well read and which are not, and use the learning in the moment or in tomorrow’s editing decisions. As a small business, we hate waste — it could destroy us, so we’ll ruthlessly reject any activity that doesn’t give us a return in terms of audience attention and/or revenue. There’s no more doing stuff just because it gives us a buzz journalistically. If we’ve spent time doing a wonderfully crafted feature on a certain subject but no one reads it, we won’t do it again.”

Journalists must understand and respect business — their own business, and business in general.

Jarvis says that a newsroom bias “that business itself is corrupting … is one of the key reasons journalism is in the fix it’s in.

“We separated ourselves from the noisy room and the noisy world at our peril; we thought ourselves above it all but we became strangers in our communities because we thought we were high and mighty.”

Finally, Jarvis suggests that Greenslade and other defenders of the editorial/advertising wall should relax.

“Roy, I think your queasiness comes from years of being taught that tomatoes are poison so, even if it’s not true, you’re bound to gag on the first bite. I say that running the business needn’t be corrupting and is, indeed, empowering. The key for us as educators is not to have students avoid the conflict but to teach them how to face it and make the right decisions.”

Amen.

Paywall rises

Rupert Murdoch’s dropped his other shoe.

After months of ranting about how the internet’s been stealing his lunch, come June his Times and Sunday Times newspapers will be the first of News Corp’s big print engines (other than the Wall Street Journal) to closet their Web products behind a paywall. The price of one day’s admission will reportedly be the cover price of a weekday print edition; a week’s access will be 2 pounds ($2.98).

News International CEO Rebekah Brooks said Murdoch’s other UK newspapers — The Sun and News of the World — would also charge readers, and Murdoch’s promised the same for his American newspapers (including the New York Post), although no specifics have been announced.

I suppose we can wait until June to see how this plays out across the pond, but meanwhile we’ve got lots of commentary to consider.

We’ll start with Brooks’ Times announcement, in which she said:

At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition. We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value.

The most incendiary reaction so far is from hyperlocal internet sage Jeff Jarvis, who savaged Murdoch in his Guaradian column.

Jarvis, who used to work for Murdoch at TV Guide, says, “I respected his balls. It is a pity to see them gone.”

Jarvis sizzles with disappointment — anger — over what’s about to happen at News Corp:

Rupert Murdoch has declared surrender. The future defeated him.

By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery.

Instead, Murdoch will milk his cash cow a pound at a time, leaving his children with a dry, dead beast, the remains of his once proud if not great newspaper empire.

Ouch!

But isn’t there at least a possibility that people will pay? After all, most people (admittedly fewer every day) do pay for a print product? Says Jarvis:

Just because people used to pay in print they should pay now — when the half-life of a scoop’s value is a click, when good-enough news that’s free is also a click away, when the new newsstand of Google and Twitter demands that you stay in the open, searchable and linkable?

This argument I hear about paywalls comes from emotional entitlement (readers “should” pay – when did you ever see a business plan built on the verb “should”?), not hard economics.

Support for Murdoch’s plan appears in today Sun, in a column by BBC broadcaster John Humphrys in which Humphrys declares:

Good journalism has to be paid for, just as we have to pay for the plumber who fixes a leak, or it will not survive.

And let’s be clear: We have the best papers in the world. Full stop.

I want to keep it that way…

The cornerstone of democracy is a well-informed public engaged in passionate debate.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of America’s Declaration of Independence, said: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”

That was right two centuries ago and it’s right today.

And we must not put the papers at risk by thinking we do not have to pay for them.

Go to the Guardian site to read the rest of Jarvis’ column, along with some of the 179 comments posted as of noon on Sunday. For more from Jarvis, go to his Buzz Machine blog.

Click here for a view supporting Murdoch’s approach, by former Australian IT editor Ian Grayson who writes: “The likes of Jarvis could not be more wrong.”

See how one of Murdoch’s smaller newspapers — the weekly Brooklyn Paper (video) — is approaching the possibility of paywall erection.

And click for a Patrick Blower “live draw” cartoon.

Promoting the walking dead

The New York Press Association will soon launch an advertising and public relations campaign “to combat the doom and gloom swirling around the newspaper industry and to position community newspapers as a strong, growing medium.”

“No medium delivers the loyal, local, repeat audience delivered by New York’s community newspapers and their affiliated Web sites,” NYPA Executive Director Michelle Rea said in an e-mail inviting publishers to preview the campaign in the deluxe Downtown Brooklyn offices of NewsCorp’s Community Newspaper Group.

The news business can benefit from bold promotions, and the NYPA and Ms. Rea — often wise and always well-meaning — merit our applause for their efforts.

The campaign, which plans to launch on March 1, will have professional luster and reach. Ms. Rea says NYPA’s 800 or so member newspapers will be asked to run the ads, which will also be used in a “four-week transit campaign with railroad platform posters and transit in-car cards on the LIRR, MetroNorth, Amtrak; subway platform posters in Queens and Brooklyn, in-station kiosks, and bus exteriors in Upstate cities” She said that a follow-up phase will include mobile billboards and radio.

A great mix, as long as it goes beyond the doctored numbers and wishful thinking currently displayed on the NYPA’s Web site.

• • •

The industry’s magic bullet might not be porn, as suggested in Jonathan Mann’s satirical short, “Saving Newspapers, The Musical” (although it is an embarrassing fact that quite a few newspapers on the industry’s margins — including some NYPA memvbers — have come to depend on ads with headlines like “Horny Local Girls,” “Nasty Girls” and “Heavenly Touch” for essential cash flow).

But in any event, salvation will not be brought about through continued self-delusion wrapped in ridiculous assertions and easily discounted vapor-stats.

So, as we anticipate next month’s NYPA ads — produced by the NYPA with Korey Kay & Parners and PR man Nicholas Lence — let’s glance at the “homemade” ads currently on the NYPA Web site.

Some of these ads are so over-the-top and shockingly bad that I found my point-by-point critiques of them simply belabored the obvious and therefore removed them from this post.

Instead, I encourage you to consider them on your own. If you think the questionably attributed statistics in these ads meet the promotional smell and, more importantly, if you believe these ads, I have a homework assignment for you: Engage in a 10 minute daily reality check by following the RSS feeds on the right side of this page, linking to blogs Romenesko, Newsosaur, Jeff Jarvis, and more.

(Please remember, though, that these are not the ads created for the upcoming campaign. Hope does spring eternal.)

Take one:

Take two:

Take three:

Take four:

• • •

There is some concern that the NYPA campaign will not aggressively address the migration of the “newspaper business” onto the Web. This would be a costly omission.

Publishers need to acknowledge what everyone else knows: the print end of the business will, in most cases, go away. Newspapers — most of them — are the walking dead.

So … when publishers promote the benefits remaining in print, they need to also promote the benefits offered by their businesses’ online and multi-media products.

As Michelle Rea put it in her memo, “No medium delivers the loyal, local, repeat audience delivered by New York’s community newspapers and their affiliated Web sites” (emphasis added).

If publishers have nothing of value to peddle online, that’s another story — and the crux of a crisis facing the news industry today.                        —Ed Weintrob

Oh my, how the mighty Times has fallen

Not long ago, the NY Times would toss local news leads in the trash; its staff was so stealthy in lifting stories from the city’s community weeklies that they’d rarely deign to give them credit; free drinks, dinners and comaraderie determined the assignment of soft neighborhood features, and … well, that was when the Times was The Times.

Today, the shoe’s on the other foot. Community media (now mostly bloggers) are lifting copy from the Times (although unlike old Times editors who stole from community weeklies with impunity, the bloggers virtually always credit their source); the Times itself is groveling – begging actually — for help. Some applaud the Times for recognizing the landscape’s seismic shift and adjusting its structure accordingly; others find it sad to watch a king brought low, hearkening — get ready for a stretch — to Isaiah 5:15: “The mighty shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be abased.”

Instead of hiring a community reporting team, the Times adopted the subminimum labor practices long common among both hand-to-mouth weeklies and the toniest magazines — it’s looking to interns and wannabe journalists (including graduate students from the City University of New York) to produce its two The Local blogs. These NY Times blogs serve upscale neighborhoods where bloggers are emblematic of the competition that imperils the future of the Times — Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, and Maplewood, Milburn and South Orange in New Jersey. (In Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Brownstoner is the standout; in New Jersey there is BaristaNet, poster child for the hyperlocals.) Presumably, if The Local works there, it will be replicated elsewhere.

When news breaks in The Local’s turf, the Times breaks out the invite: come and work for us, for free. On Monday, the Times used its The Local Web page to reach out for help with what might have been a breaking news story. Take a look:

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Did anything actually happen at Brooklyn Hospital on Monday? Was there a “truck leak”? As of 6:17 pm — six hours after the Times asked its readers to play reporter for a day — that remained anyone’s guess, since The Local did not post a follow-up. This is typical for pajama bloggers, not an example of world-class hyperlocal coverage we might expect from the newspaper of record.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The blogs (or their unforeseen later incarnations) which are likely to be central to a reformulated Fourth Estate will eagerly drop a quarter before posting rumors, and will follow-up on rumors that make it online through other channels (after all, no gatekeeper can will rumors off the internet — in the brave new world, everyone has a key). The Times actually made a profit last quarter!; it should make a call before (or at least immediately after) posting a breaking rumor.

[UPDATE: At 6:37 pm on Monday, the The Local finally confirmed that something did happen outside Brooklyn Hospital — an unidentified worker in the hospital’s linen department said an unidentified tanker delivering diesel fuel had punctured and leaked; The Local also quoted an unidentified FDNY spokesman as saying that about 25 gallons of diesel fuel leaked and was cleared by a hazmat team from Queens which responded at 11:06 am — more than an hour before The Local’s initial shoutout.]

Meanwhile, what else was The Local’s Fort Greene-Clinton Hill edition posting on Monday?

At 10:58 am, it linked to a couple of water cooler talkers — a story from Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Report and a slideshow from the Times’ own ultra-fluffy Home & Garden section.

At 11:01 am, there was another free-labor pitch to the Craigslist set, combined with a RFQ (request for questions) to guide whichever free journos might wander in.

Yes, you, too, can be a poor, starving journalist:

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[UPDATE: On Tuesday at 3:46 pm, The Local reported that the precinct council meeting referenced above had been cancelled, adding: “We’ll repost sooner to the new date, but will bank the great questions you’ve already posed. And don’t hesitate to email bklocal@nytimes.com if you’d like to go and cover it for us in March.”]

Then at 5:58 pm, The Local ran a rambling weather report.

• • •

I’m not saying that the Times is off course in its partnership with CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism (whose students join neighborhood cameos in filing to The Local) and in its outreach to readers.

Jeff Jarvis‘ charges at CUNY are certainly getting more out of this relationship than Columbia University students did when they produced local newspapers like Bronx Beat, now online, or as they are doing now with the online Brooklyn Ink (which seems as much a training ground for how to assemble an aggregation site as anything else), and from peddling copy to community weeklies.

But let’s be candid here: The august NY Times is putting itself on the same professional level as the pajama bloggers.

The Gray Lady should be striving to match and exceed the higher standards and superior practices displayed by BaristaNet and similar Web sites, rather than racing to be an equal with those at the bottom of the blogging spectrum.

—Ed Weintrob