The day Jeff Jarvis quit journalism
There is an American podcast that I love – and the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the Brits say. I have listened to every single episode of This Week in Google since it started to air a decade ago. We are way past 500 episodes, and they are often more than two hours long.
That’s a thousand hours worth of TWiG.
One of my proudest work moments ever was when I got to be a guest in episode 191, to comment on a random Swedish issue. So much fun.
The three main participants are Leo Laporte, who runs the network and really is one of the grand but not very old men of American tech journalism, the amazingly clear and brilliant IoT expert Stacey Higginbotham, and the professor of journalism Jeff Jarvis.
The three of them have different mindsets, temperaments, skillsets and ways of thinking. Their discussions are always respectful, always insightful and always worth a listen for nerds like myself.
For the sake of the discussion, and for balance, Jeff Jarvis often takes a role that seems a bit odd for a journalist. He calls himself a ”Google fanboy”, and is very passionate about his basic ideas on what the internet is and should be. He is always ready to turn the discussion and present a heated defence for Big Tech when Stacey Higginbotham (because it is mostly her) highlights the risks of new technology. Which she does in a very mild and precise manner.
The episode last week, however, number 513, made me sort of lose it.
Jeff Jarvis wouldn’t even listen to the basic facts, the very foundation for the discussion, when Leo Laporte ventured on a discussion about Libra, the new Facebook crypto currency. Jarvis just cut him off, and immediately took measures to make sure tech companies would look better in the discussion.
Now, one can certainly argue that it is good for the sake of clarity and discussion when three people try to make their cases strong. But here is where Jarvis loses me:
Journalism is not about being negative.
Journalism is, however, about remaining critical.
Journalism is about looking at the power, wherever it is, and then ask difficult questions to be able to tell a truthful story.
In this day and age, no entity in society holds more power of the world than the biggest tech companies. These tech companies have failed, again and again and AGAIN, to live up to the responsibilities that come with the power they have. I don’t need to list examples here.
This means that there are very few tasks for journalism that are more important than keeping a close eye on what the biggest players in the field are up to.
The rest of episode 513, Jarvis waves away one legitimate question after another, at unprecedented speed. He won’t even let his discussion partners finish what they are saying, because he becomes so… I don’t know, personally offended? Generally he will discard any concern or critizism as ”techno panic” or ”moral panic”, rarely providing solid arguments for it, more just throwing those words out there to make any opponent seem backwards, negative and fearful.
That’s a fanboy at work.
And I am so disappointed – because Jeff Jarvis is a great, fun writer, a great analyst and always up to date with the issues he likes to discuss.
But now? He speaks against himself, and he doesn’t even notice. He can say that a company like Google doesn’t hurt media companies at ALL – and in the next sentence, he claims that the best news outlet in the world, The New York Times, reports with a conflict of interest when they describe and question Google.
Really? So which is it?
If Google doesn’t hurt the media industry, then there can be no conflict of interest.
If it does (it does), then admit that! Because there IS a challenge in that. From a professor in journalism I would expect an explanation:
It simply doesn’t matter if there is a conflict of interest or not. Professional reporters are not supposed to care about that. They are supposed to ask their questions no matter what.
This is a huge challenge for journalism in the world at the moment: By doing their job, journalists will inevitably be called biased and partisan.
Let’s see, from where do I recognize that… Oh yeah, that’s… Trump! That’s classic Trump!
Jeff Jarvis is a democrat, by the way. And still, he doesn’t see what he is contributing to by arguing the way he does.
This Week in Google, episode 513. The day when Jeff Jarvis quit journalism.
I suppose it was sort of interesting to hear it happen in real time.