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Reshaping the Conversation

Warning: The following is a bunch of inside baseball talk about some recent online chatter about new business models for journalism.

For the past few weeks, those following the news industry have been treated to a slew of arguments regarding the future of journalism. At least that's what folks passing around the links to said arguments would have you think. But actual discussion about technology, business models and saving (or throwing out) the business hasn't exactly been the main dish. It hasn't even been the cranberries or the little pickles that my mother used to throw on our Thanksgiving table as a filler.

Jeff Jarvis posted his thoughts on why newsrooms are failing and what he thinks should be done about it. Slate's Ron Rosenbaum "ripped Jeff Jarvis" a "new one" shortly after. Jarvis hit back. Journalists, pundits and many of my friends weighed in on Team Jarvis or Team Rosenbaum. I suddenly found twice as many tweets to read.

Today, the conversation spread, and I was emailed/ tweeted yet more links to follow another minute thread of this asinine discussion.

It amazes me that while the digital landscape is changing - changing every damn day - so much of the industry's limited attention span is focused on semantics. Who's saying what? So-and-so argues such-and-such about whom? Who has a new retort? It's that juicy??

I asked a few hundred people this morning (see my tweet) why they're focused incessantly on this ongoing debate about, at this point, who has a bigger pair.

Whoever's twittering for the Huffingtonpost (tweet: huffpost) repeated what Jay Rosen put to me earlier:

I agree: a snarkfest adds little. But why can't we argue out the ideas AND run good experiments?

Followed by this, from Rosen:

The notion that Jarvis is an ideologue about journalism, but Jon Landman of the New York Time is not... that's hilarious. http://is.gd/97cg

I'll tell you why. Because while we're all waiting for the titillating next details about JarvisBaum, we're not discussing the technology that's forcing such disruptive change. I'd be a multimillionaire if I had a nickel for every journalist - and that includes publishers and general mangers - who complained to me that they don't have any extra time. They're so busy. No time to learn about technology. And yet we seem to have ample time to argue about arguing.

Raise your hands: Who's got an hour today to learn about the geospatial web? What about reality mining using cellular data? What about semantic tagging? 2d barcodes? Mobile frameworks using advanced SMS?

That's what I thought.

Here's the real problem facing our newsrooms. Most people are out there playing checkers while companies like Google and Adobe are playing chess. NOTHING WILL CHANGE in journalism unless the conversation is refocused on what matters most: How can the ever-hastening disruptive change be either met or overcome by adapting technology and creative business models?

Want to fix that? Here are the first three things you do:

  • You start looking beyond the immediate technology challenges you think you're facing. I promise, what you perceive to be a problem now won't begin to compare what I know you're going to face within the next 12 months.
  • You start researching and reading the work of real technologists and successful businesses working within the web/ mobile space. That includes smart retailers like Tony Hsieh and entrepreneurs like Young Joon Hyung.
  • You set aside time to understand the real problems facing the industry. It's not just budgetary. There must be shifts in your culture, in your expectations and in your investment in both training and R&D.

I'm done reading the back-and-forth. Semantics interest me, but only when in reference to tagging and code.



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That is one big booya!!!

Thanks for writing it.


Well said Amy. Very well said.

It's a damn shame because it seems no one is any closer than they were a few years ago to bridging these issues.


Actually, Amy, the Tweet about Jon Landman was 45 minutes before the one about snarkfests, so your "followed by" is wrong or at least misleading. But it makes the point, so what the heck.

Also, I didn't write any blog posts or columns about Jarvis and Ron Rosenbaum, so if people are wasting time on that exchange, it would not be on my account.

Still, if someone in journalism asked me: should I spend an hour reading about what Ron Rosenbaum said about Jeff Jarvis or learning a new software skill, the answer is obvious: learning a new skill is infinitely more important. So in that sense I am totally behind what you say here. Especially, "Raise your hands: Who's got an hour today to learn about the geospatial web? What about reality mining using cellular data? What about semantic tagging? 2d barcodes? Mobile frameworks using advanced SMS?"

Finally, it might be of interest to know that in maybe three quarters of the instances over the years when I have felt that what I had to contribute was unnecessarily dismissed, the same word was involved in that dismissal; the word is "semantics," as in "just semantics."

Cheers, and keep up the good fight.

Totally agree. I got sick of this crap a year ago and started looking at how we could fund journalism, who was out there with great ideas, etc. I'm now on the verge of launching a platform for open source journalism which will allow me to explore those questions even better. Here goes.

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