Diane Francis on Business Issues

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jeff Jarvis, Blogger

Jeff Jarvis is a pioneer columnist, blogger, consultant, and professor who believes that journalists and advertisers are impeding the media's transformation.

"I hear complaints from newspaper editors about how hard it is for them to maintain the size of their newsroom," said Mr. Jarvis in a recent interview in New York. "No other industry talks about how to maintain the size of its shop floor. The world's changing and everybody must. It's ridiculous. Newspapers are too wasteful, commoditized and too much about supporting egos."

Mr. Jarvis now writes a blog called BuzzMachine.com, is a consultant to the New York Times, a columnist with the online version of Britain's The Guardian and newly-minted professor at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism.

His credentials as a traditional journalist are also impressive: former columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle, TV critic for TV Guide and People Magazine, creator of Entertainment Weekly and former Sunday Editor and associate publisher of the Daily News.

But today he is an icon among new media types because of his track record and his outspoken criticism of mainstream media and its advertisers.

"The news business sends 15,000 journalists to the two big U.S. political conventions because everybody wants to get a byline from there and who notices bylines?" he said. "My mother didn't even notice my byline when I was writing in a newspaper which she read every day. Most of the news is on C-Span anyway."
Pundits are also over-rated.

"We don't need another TV critic or a movie critic. Movies are the same everywhere so why should every newspaper have a critic? Golf writers too," he said. "Advertisers are way behind and should be demanding more for their dollars or paying less for all that duplication, waste and ego-tripping they are getting."

Television advertisers and execs don't understand the industry is collapsing.

"Neilsen said that the networks are getting 28.8 million on average, the lowest in history," he said. "Meanwhile, uTube [a free web broadcast that uses content from viewers] is getting 100 million viewers a day."

"For example, [comedian host of The Daily Show] Jon Stewart went on CNN's `Crossfire' to kill the program because he hated it. CNN viewership for that show was 150,000 only, which is why it was cancelled," said Mr. Jarvis. "After Stewart's appearance, the show was on various outlets on the web and had an audience of 10 million. So there you have it. 150,000 viewers on CNN versus 10 million. What CNN should have done was put that segment on its website and make a fortune."

He's a champion of so-called "citizen journalists" or people who voluntarily write or broadcast news or opinion pieces on-line. Likewise, he believes that the best critics in our society are bloggers because they are free from constraints, whether it be imposed by owners, advertisers, editors or publishers. An example of his own independence was his recent battle with Dell Computers.

"I bought a Dell laptop that sucked and the service was worse. Finally, in exasperation, I wrote about this on my blog, under the headline `Dell Sucks'. I know it sounds juvenile, but six million people went to my site and thousands commented because the problems were more widespread than just mine," he said.

Mr. Jarvis continued to hammer away at Dell without any reaction until a Houston newspaper called Dell for comment and BusinessWeek featured the company's low stock price and the heavy blog criticism.

"The point was the stock price and other problems at Dell were not my fault," he said. "We, the mob, were the leading indicators of what was going on at the company. We are the canaries in the mine and it's actually a business benefit for companies to read these blogs."

Eventually, the company began addressing the issues raised by Mr. Jarvis and others.

"It's certainly a mistake to think that public relations is about telling people things and not about listening to what people are saying," he said.

Likewise, he believes that citizen journalists and blogs provide needed analysis or, in the case of CBS and Dan Rather, raise important questions concerning mainstream media accuracy.

He said only a few companies have transformed themselves.

A Nashville TV station pays bloggers to shoot video of news events for them and has a blog editor to coordinate these submissions. A local California newspaper, completely written by readers and citizen journalists, was launched last year and was immediately profitable.

Britain's Guardian has a web-first newsroom policy, meaning that all "scoops" must immediately be published on-line, rather than held for the print edition the next day.

"This is the crown jewels of journalism, the scoop, but it opens up the process. There is no such thing as a scoop anymore that lasts for more than two seconds anyway," he said. "And people with cameras and notepads on the ground can find out news that no newspaper or TV station can afford to dig up. That's the beauty of the new media."


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