Indeed, Jarvis presents himself as a walking experiment in social media, from his copious and profane tweets (“Asshole behind me on the Acela is using her phone as a speaker phone. A new frontier of train phone rudeness”[June 9, 2011]; “Hey, T-mobile, fuck your courtesy calls. Give me courtesy service” [February 19]) to providing public updates about his treatment for prostate cancer (“I’m about to see a Sloan-Kettering doctor about my dick; That makes this the most humble day of my life” [July 29, in a joking reference to Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before Parliament]). Jarvis created a spasm of buzz during this summer’s debt ceiling debate when he launched a Twitter protest campaign under the hash tag #fuckyouwashington.

His What Would Google Do? is almost a caricature of network theory, hailing the search company and Internet culture as ushering in new forms of capitalism and society (emphasis mine):

We no longer need companies, institutions, or government to organize us. We now have the tools to organize ourselves. We can find each other and coalesce around political causes or bad companies or talent or business or ideas. We can share and sort our knowledge and behavior. We can communicate and come together in an instant. We also have new ethics and attitudes that spring from this new organization and change society in ways we cannot yet see, with openness, generosity, collaboration, efficiency. We are using the internet’s connective tissue to leap over borders—whether they surround countries or companies or demographics. We are reorganizing society. This is Google’s—and Facebook’s and Craigslist’s—new world order.

This kind of rhetoric reminds us that, when it comes to the future of news, we’re dealing with an issue that is defined by its uncertainty and does not—to say the least—lend itself to empirical analysis. Journalists like facts, data. Here, there aren’t any. We’re in the realm of beliefs (see confidence factor, above).

While much of Jarvis’s journalism advice is less messianic and can be frequently commonsensical (“do what you do best, link to the rest,” etc.), he is, if anything, even more emphatic than Shirky that the old must make way for the new. What the new is is not yet clear, but it will involve technology, networks, entrepreneurialism, iterative journalism, conversations between users, and new forms of disseminating information. In this view, going “digital first,” a phrase gaining currency across journalism, means a radical revision of what news organizations do (my emphasis):

Digital first resets the journalistic relationship with the community, making the news organization less a producer and more an open platform for the public to share what it knows. It is to that process that the journalist adds value. She may do so in many forms—reporting, curating people and their information, providing applications and tools, gathering data, organizing effort, educating participants . . . and writing articles.

The emphasis shifts from fact-gathering and storytelling to other things, like mediating, facilitating, curating. As Jarvis wrote in a 2009 blog post that he said he’d like to have delivered as a speech to a gathering of news executives:

You blew it. . . . So now, for many of you, there isn’t time. It’s simply too late. The best thing some of you can do is get out of the way and make room for the next generation of net natives who understand this new economy and society and care about news and will reinvent it, building what comes after you from the ground up. There’s huge opportunity there, for them.

Old elites must give way to “people”—or at least, “the next generation” of “net natives.” This is Jarvis’s “we,” the “people,” who, in all probability, are not “you.” As he writes in WWGD? with a whiff of menace: “People can find each other anywhere and coalesce around you—or against you.”


To the extent that FON thinkers mau-mau the news business—that’s a good thing. The problem is that FON thinkers (but not Rosen, as we’ll see) sometimes let slip a light regard for journalism itself, that is to say, what journalists actually do.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.