Rosenbaum-Jarvis spat over future of journalism

by on November 13, 2008 · 17 comments

This catfight between Ron Rosenbaum of Slate and Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine about the future of journalism in the Internet Age is quite a heated affair. But what I found most interesting about it is that it reflects one element of the Net “optimist — pessimist” divide that I have been writing about here recently. Specifically, it touches on the divide over whether the Internet and digital technologies are reshaping the media marketplace and the field of journalism for better or for worse.

Rosenbaum is playing the pessimist role here and asking some sharp questions about the advice being dished out by “Web futurists” and “new-media gurus” as it relates the reversing the decline of the journalism profession. Rosenbaum says that the problem with Jarvis is that:

he’s become increasingly heartless about the reporters, writers, and other “content providers” who have been put out on the street by the changes in the industry. Not only does he blame the victims, he denies them the right to consider themselves victims. They deserve their miserable fate — and if they don’t know it, he’ll tell them why at great length. Sometimes it sounds as if he’s virtually dancing on their graves.

Jarvis — a quintessential Net optimist if their ever was one — responds with his usual flare and says that all he is doing is “holding journalists responsible for the fate of journalism” and trying to show them and industry a better path forward. Then he goes after Rosenbaum as follows:

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?

Like I said, it’s a heated affair and I’m sure it will continue. Just to throw in my own 2 cents… As I pointed out a few days ago in my essay about why I am a “pragmatic optimist“:

I believe the era of traditional Mass Media is coming to an end, but “professional” media institutions and creators continue to play a vital role in the creation, aggregation, and dissemination of news, information, culture, and entertainment. The Internet, however, will force gut-wrenching changes on traditional media institutions and some of the more vital ones (ex: daily local newspapers) will struggle to re-invent themselves, or may wither away entirely. And I believe that “professional” journalism faces very serious challenges from the rise of the Internet and user-generated content, but I also believe that hybrid forms of news-gathering and reporting are offering society exciting new ways to learn about the world around them.

Having said that, I am somewhat sympathetic to the critique Rosenbaum sets forth in his piece. I have always enjoyed Jarvis, but sometimes his writing (like that of many Pollyanna-ish Net optimists) gets a bit tedious in blaming the disintermediated individuals or industries for not seeing what was coming. The fact is, the Internet has caught us all off-guard and few of us could have predicted, or planned for, the sweeping changes it has ushered in.

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