Over the past few days, it was easy to get depressed about the future of journalism between reading Katharine Weymouth’s disingenuous letter to Washington Post readers and Jeff Jarvis’ latest screed against the mainstream media.
First, Weymouth. She apologizes for the proposed “new venture,” the walled-off sponsored conferences, that so embarrassed the Post. But Weymouth still points the finger at her marketing department for sending out an unauthorized flier. Enough already with the flier. If I were a Washington Post shareholder, what would disturb me is not just the bad idea of the conference proposal but the shockingly bad judgement of Weymouth that it reflects. This shouldn’t have been a close call at all.
Meanwhile, Post standards seem to be eroding in other respects. For example, its page one article on the Sarah Palin news conference didn’t really tell the full story. It left out a fundamental element. It said nothing about what the New York Times called - and many others reported- was a “rambling” and “jittery” performance. Not only that, somehow editors approved an opening line saying that Palin “captivated the nation with a combative brand of folksy politics.” “Captivated” is not the right word in describing a polarizing figure who turned off as many or more people than she captivated.
Regarding Jarvis, I was in Boston last week and spent a few hours in the wonderful Museum of Science. As I was browsing in the gift shop, I was a little disappointed to see Jarvis’s book, “What Would Google Do?” for sale. Though it apparently deals with technology and the future, the book seemed out of place in a science museum. Why? Because Jarvis’s writings in general are not remotely scientific or reasoned analyses of what’s happening with the news media these days. They are polemics. Now, to be fair, I haven’t actually read Jarvis’s book - so little time and so much exposure to Jarvis’s views in every nook and cranny of the blogosphere.
Jarvis’s recent posts include tired attacks on mainstream media: “They decide what is important. Because we can’t… That’s what they believe.” Jarvis even poses the following questions, his answers self-evident: “whether news needs newsmen and whether journalists and news organizations deserve to be paid.”
Don’t get me wrong, the mainstream media are guilty of hubris, arrogance and hypocrisy (eg the Washington Post conference fiasco). But I’m getting fatigued by Jarvis’s blithe daily dismissals of the serious work of professional journalists in trying to sift through the daily deluge of disconnected events and data, and yes, in trying to determine what their users need to know or would be interested in that day. Jarvis, a zealous convert to new media, sees the media world as divided into evil traditionalists and worthy bloggers. If you’re like me, neither a Luddite nor a Utopian, it’s hard to watch what’s happened at the Post and its hard to swallow Jeff Jarvis’s particular brand of hubris.