There’s a fresh new techies vs. printies tiff brewing with the future-of-journalism set, triggered by San Francisco columnist Mark Morford’s diatribe today that new media evangelists Clay Shirky, Steven Johnson and Dave Winer, among others, don’t have any more of an idea about how to transform journalism than the newspaper folks.
Well, I thought that was largely a given, but it didn’t take long for that trio’s defenders to strike back. Jay Rosen, on Twitter, quickly produced a response from computer and technology executive Luke Wignall who shot back at Morford: “Don’t be mad at the geeks. Be mad at the newspapers.”
I’m not trying to go all Samuel L. Jackson here or anything, but:
Enough is enough!
It isn’t as though there aren’t very serious issues to be discussed here (along with a lot of very self-important hot air). I find enormous insight and truths in them. In most of these disputes, I see so much that’s worthwhile to absorb that it’s impossible to take sides.
But that’s what some of them appear to want more than anything.
And this is utterly useless and absurd as a profession continues to lose hundreds of its most experienced, devoted practitioners, many for good, nearly every week.
What do any of these “thought leaders” (a cringe-inducing phrase if there ever was one) have to say to directly to these journalists: Not a whole hell of a lot that’s particularly helpful right now.
While the futurists and their high-minded ideas gain traction in the online journalism world, they’re mostly that — ideas — and many of them are seemingly good ones. Good enough to follow and think about in a time of great experimentation in journalism that’s bound to increase in the coming months. I’m certainly all for that and am engaging in some new explorations of my own to see what’s going to work. Or what won’t.
Conversely, from Morford’s corner, there’s quite a bit to worry about as once heavily-resourced newspaper newsrooms are gutted, as we have seen in Seattle this week, to next to nothing. For example, the online-only Post-Intelligencer now will have just one full-time sportswriter to cover a major league city. And he had to take a big pay cut for the privilege. Nice.
I want print-oriented journalists to make the migration to the Web, and am helping those like me who have been put out of newsrooms. I want tech-savvy people to have a greater say in how news organizations are run. Hell, I think the geeks ought to start running them, given what’s happening with the legacy media. And the hardened, out-of-touch attitudes that still prevail.
But most of all, I want all these people, with their breathless jeremiads and unstinting certitude about the future (Shirky does have a number of new media critics of his own) to step back a little from the abstract and take account of the journalistic toll that’s absolutely staggering.
I wish they would read the various and eloquent farewell columns today in the San Antonio News-Express, including one from sports columnist David Flores, who was one of many in his newsroom to be laid off:
“But life has a way of throwing us curveballs that wreck our best-laid plans and humble us. As the late John Lennon so famously sang, ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.’
“If the only constant in life is change, then the challenge comes in seeing change as an opportunity to grow and learn.”
(Thanks to Joe Ruiz for passing along this link on Twitter.)
And I wish everybody would read this from former journalist John Zhu, who was thinking about those in his former profession this week when layoffs were announced at the Raleigh News & Observer, another good regional newspaper with thinning ranks. I was going to save this for another time, but I think it’s appropriate to excerpt here and now. I don’t agree with all of this, but for journalists like me caught in the crossfire of this latest new media dust-up Zhu’s sentiment is pitch-perfect:
“Whenever another one of these lovely news tidbits comes along, it really makes all the pontificating about journalism’s future seem insignificant to me when I read that X number of people have just lost their livelihood. Maybe that’s why the ‘save journalism, not its institutions’ thing doesn’t sit well with me in some respect. It’s a fine idea for a discussion over the broad general direction of journalism (and a direction I agree with, just to be clear), but at the same time, it is kind of saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if these big news orgs that employ so many go under and their employees end up on the streets.’ It’s easy to say you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, unless you are the eggs.
“Yes, innovation and revolution are messy processes, and not all players will survive. But if given a choice between ensuring society gets better journalism or ensuring people stay employed so they can support their families, I think I would pick the latter every time. Call me shortsighted, curmudgeonly, or whatever you please, but that’s my human nature. In a ‘grand scheme of things’ way, I can talk about how it doesn’t matter if existing companies go under, as long as the journalism void gets filled, but I find it impossible, not to mention distasteful and undesirable, to remain so detached when one gets down to the nitty-gritty of considering the consequences and impact on employees’ lives that inevitably accompany an institution’s demise.”