In trying to expand my understanding of the digital landscape, it’s been necessary and useful to go beyond the world of journalism. Even into professions I’ve sneered at in the past, such as public relations and, gasp, marketing.
Seth Godin (with raised carton in hand) is a leading Internet marketer, and I’ve enjoyed reading his blog and recently purchased his latest book, “Tribes,” which advocates that each of us lead niches, or tribes, on the Web. It’s a platform that can be anything you want it to be, so why not carve out a niche and own it?
But sometimes his short, pithy style can be annoying, and apparently I’m not alone in feeling this way. Howard Weaver, a top editor at McClatchy newspapers, was set off by a recent Godin post on missed opportunities by the New York Times, and lets the guru have it, making it the Kvetch of the Week.
Weaver’s beef is that Godin is simply off-base in many of his assertions about how the Times hasn’t quite grasped the Web. It’s a common complaint about the mainstream media, and there is plenty of truth to it, but Weaver jumps on the evangelistic notion that the rabbit-like proliferation of voices will cure what ails journalism as it migrates more online:
“Godin graciously allows that some Times commetary has clout, saying, ‘Sure, Tom Friedman and a handful of other columnists have a large reach and influence. But why doesn’t the Times have 50 columnists? 500?’ Well, because 500 columnists would get lost in the mess, Seth. Organizations like the Times filter and verify and authenticate. We pay them to help us sort out the best 25 columnists from the 475 others we’d never have time to read. (Surely Seth knows more than I about brand dilution).”
Is quantity, rather than quality, driving Godin? Weaver seems to think so:
“He notes disapprovingly that ‘Oprah is able to sell ten times as many copies of a book than (sic) the New York Times can.’ Well, duh. Oprah is actively promoting and advocating for her books; the Times, thankfully, is trying to present honest, independent reviews – hardly the same mission. I want the Times to inform me, not sell me books.”
Yes, sic ‘em, indeed. Weaver’s parting shot warms the old print hack soul still churning inside me:
“As an editor, the skill I look for first in journalists is critical thinking. While you’re writing, do you ask yourself ‘How do we know that?’ or ‘Does this make sense, really?’ Alongside basic honesty and curiosity, that’s a fundamental, baseline requirement for producing value-added journalism.”
A couple other items worthy of KOW honors are worth mentioning here, as this was a pretty good competition. Roger Ebert laments the demise of his fellow newspaper film critics (he’s about the only one left, isn’t he?) and celebrity-besotten coverage of “movie stars” in newspapers:
“The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it. It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is indifferent to meaningful achievement. One of the TV celeb shows has announced it will cover the Obama family as ‘a Hollywood story.’ I want to smash something against a wall.”
And young Web journalist Simon Owens, piqued after Jeff Jarvis called interviewing a “form that’s bullshit,” satirically conjures up a scenario in which the high-profile Web journalism sage actually has to do something he’d rather not:
“JARVIS: Hi, I’m from the Examiner and I have a few questions about the indicted officials.
SPOKESMAN: Um, everything you need is in the press release.
JARVIS: Yes, but the press release didn’t include key details and doesn’t address the contradictory statements made by the officials during the investigation.
SPOKESMAN: Hey, aren’t you the one who called for the death of the interview? We even copy and pasted the press release into our new blog on the agency’s website. You’re just trying to ‘hold all the cards in your hand’ like so many other journalists. It really is just egotistical of you.
JARVIS: Well, I suppose I did say that. I’ll just go and reprint the press release that you sent to 30 other reporters –
SPOKESMAN: — and don’t forget published on our blog.
JARVIS: Oh yes, that too.”
Be sure to read a real-life exchange between the two in the comments section. Very good kvetchy fun.