Kvetches of the week: Rosenbaum-Jarvis

That more and more journalists are getting dumped out on the streets doesn’t qualify as news any longer. And perhaps the feud between Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum and new media provocateur Jeff Jarvis is a healthy signal that the debate over the so-called “future of journalism” is engaged and alive.

It’s impossibly hard not to pick a side, even if both have worthy arguments to make, but here’s a sampling of this modest blog’s co-winners of the Kvetch of the Week honors.


Starting with Rosenbaum’s shot across the bow:

“A lot of good, dedicated people who have done actual writing and reporting, as opposed to writing about writing and reporting, have been caught up in this great upheaval, and many of them may have been too deeply involved in, you know, content—’subjects,’ writing about real peoples’ lives—to figure out that reporting just isn’t where it’s at, that the smart thing to do is get a consulting gig.”

That’s just his opening salvo:

“Firing people on the writing side because of the incompetence of the business side is a long tradition in the media business, and Jarvis gives management a New Age fig leaf with which to shift the blame from their own incompetence.

Winding this thing down is going to be hard:

“But it’s the callous contempt for working journalists that grates. It’s a contempt for the beautiful losers who actually made journalism an honorable profession for a brief shining moment—well, longer than that—before it became a platform for ‘reverse engineering.’ “

Jarvis’ equally heated response nearly matches Rosenbaum, snark by snark: jeff-jarvis

“He whines and prefers to mock me for going to conferences, advising news companies, and teaching journalists (helping to train more of them, not end up with fewer of them). I’m not sure what he’d rather have me do: Sit in my room and mope, sitting shiva for the past? Refuse to discuss the future of journalism? Tell newspapers when they call asking for brainstorming to fuck off and die? Would that be in solidarity with my hack brethren who did too little to transform journalism in the last 13 years of the web?”

Very, very good kvetchy stuff. And then there’s this:

“Whether we save all the journalists today is entirely another matter and not my goal. Rosenbaum believes that makes me heartless. I think it makes me realistic. And we need some realism in this business.”

And this:

“He complains about my trust in the market — ‘the same market that created this debacle and came close to destroying the economy.’ I say at some level, if you don’t trust the market – the people, us – then you don’t value democracy, capitalism, education, art … or journalism (for why trust, empower, enable, ennoble, and inform the people if we all a bunch of idiots?).”

As ribald rivalries go, this one can’t hold a candle to literary spats. This ain’t no Mary McCarthy-Lillian Hellman slugfest; far from it.

But for the online journalism set, it’s good enough, and for all the jealousy, childishness and hurt feelings that have been exchanged, there’s so much here that’s relevant. Unlike the dreary Andrew Keen, Rosenbaum is a formidable foe for Jarvis’ unrepentant evangelism about digital media. Rosenbaum’s concern for the work that journalists do cannot easily be dismissed.

Jarvis isn’t saying anything now that he hasn’t been proclaiming for the past decade or so, and so many of his pronouncements have come true. What bothers me is his assertion that he’s interested in saving journalism, but not necessarily journalists. Who’s going to do the journalism? It’s not a question he answers very convincingly, despite all of his intelligence, ideas and passion. The journalist he snorts at is not the journalist I am, and I take exception to being lumped in with the foot-dragging, monolithic pack.

In the last four years, after 20 years on the print side, I’ve fully embraced the Web, trained colleagues to do so (with mixed success) and was regarded as one of the better overall performers in my online newsroom. And yet I still was not immune from the looming specter of layoffs.

That’s the scenario I faced this summer, when the latest round of buyouts was offered at my former paper. I’m not one of the resistant ones, yet I was made to play the game of Russian roulette with my career.

So I decided to place control of that career in my own hands. I have been very refreshed from my sabbatical and this weekend will heading down to the Poynter Institute for a week-long workshop for journalists like myself, who want to stay in the profession. Finally I get to learn how to do online video, which better be as easy as it is claimed here. When I read about the work of a young and idealistic journalist on the cutting edge, I feel even better about the future of the profession.

But I’m also glad Rosenbaum was brazen enough to stand up for journalists in the trenches, although it did make me feel a bit guilty I didn’t do it sooner.


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