Dean Starkman’s critique of future-of-news gurus Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky, and Jay Rosen, among others, made a bit of splash, as these things go.
C.W. Anderson, an assistant professor of media culture at CUNY’s College of Staten Island, tweeted this shortly after the publication:
@Chanders: In honesty: actually curious to see if @deanstarkman’s piece can lead to a real debate or just online snarkitude. Hoping for the former.
So were we. Thankfully, the story did inspire plenty of discussion, including a piece a few days later by Anderson himself. Starkman’s thesis, that the “future-of-news (FON) consensus,” is leading to the disempowerment of reporters, sparked some passionate responses. For some, Starkman’s piece was longing and antiquated:
“Starkman seems to just want to return to some mythical golden age when institutions ruled the industry and readers knew their place.” —Mathew Ingram, on GigaOM
“Most proponent of good ‘ol journalism defend it by setting up a strawman, not of their opponents’ position but of their own, which they sell thusly: vintage journalism, made from one hundred percent pure investigative reporting.” — Stijn Debrouwere, on his blog, stdout.be
“Nostalgia is fun and it’s warm, and for journalists today, it’s seductive and dangerous.” —Steve Buttry, on his blog The Buttry Diary
Buttry’s response in particular was referred to as “required reading” by a blogger and recommended in some tweets. He points to some specifics he feels Starkman omitted: the investigative newsrooms that have emerged that are doing great work; examples where community engagement and crowdsourcing have been powerful tools; and the stories that big media has missed over the years. For Starkman’s praise of the Boston Globe’s explosive story of rampant sexual abuse by priests in Boston, Buttry writes “he doesn’t note that the abuse and cover up went on for decades without being uncovered by journalists.”
Buttry writes that while he normally ignores “nostalgic rants” about journalism’s golden history, as they are “too plentiful and pitiful to waste time with,” he decided to respond to Starkman’s piece for “two reasons.”:
He smeared my friends in the piece. The five people Starkman cited as contributing to the “future-of-news (FON) consensus” include John Paton (my boss as CEO of Journal Register Co. and Digital First Media), Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis (members of the JRC and DFM advisory boards) and Dan Gillmor (who was a reporter working for me at the Kansas City Times in the 1980s and remains a friend). I have not met Clay Shirky, the fifth person Starkman cited, but I admire him and have praised him on this blog.
For reasons that escape me, the Columbia Journalism Review published the Starkman rant. I don’t know many people who still read CJR, but it has a respected name in journalism. I’m sorry to see that CJR published such a
misguided diatribeweak, wandering blast from the past, but I am moved to respond.
But he did strikethrough the misguided diatribe part after a programming blogger named Stijn Debrouwere tweeted at Buttry:
@Stdbruw: @stevebuttry: Parts of Starkman’s piece are mean-spirited, but I feel it’s sincere enough not to call it a diatribe — my humble opinion.
Debrouwere wrote his own response on his stdout.be blog. He’s in agreement with Starkman’s assertion that the growing list of responsibilities can pose a problem:
Most importantly, I feel very strongly that we’re asking journalists to churn out too much content at too fast a pace, and, what’s more, that the pseudo-journalism a lot of reporters are asked to produce is an insult to their professional honor.
But for the most part he didn’t think Starkman’s argument made it across the finish line:
It’s just that I have no idea how any of that implies that journalists should go easy on social media (time better spent reporting, apparently), that good pro/am collaborations are and will always be the Pegasi of news, that personal branding is silly, that free can never be the basis of a business model, that lots of text is always the best way to report on current events, that reporters can only waste time talking to their readers and that news has value even if people won’t pay and won’t read.
The first set of facts has absolutely no relationship to the second. That’s ultimately why I feel Dean Starkman’s exposition holds no water: as much as I appreciate some kickback to opinions perhaps too forcefully held, his arguments don’t say what he wants them to say.