Disagreeing with Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Jarvis is a journalist. And not just any journalist, but a highly acclaimed one. And he is a published author. Moreover, Jeff Jarvis is a professor who teaches other journalists-to-be. So when Jeff Jarvis writes about journalism, and journalism takes your interest, you sit up and take notice.

Me? I am not a journalist, don’t claim to be one, never even studied journalism. All I do is amateurishly blog about everything and anything, including things I bump into in press and media; one topic I relatively often blog about on my Tumblr account is what I call jourNOTism: this is when people who can claim to be journalists because they are (directly or indirectly) on the payroll of a (big-name) newspaper, bloggers (often wrongfully) claiming to be ‘(citizen) journalists’ or ‘editors’ or the like, or (glorified) blogs claiming to be ‘news sites’ or ‘magazines’ or whatever, publish stuff that – to me – does NOT constitute journalism.

I am never short of inspiration, as there are plenty of jourNOTists about, but bills that need paying mean I am merely short of time to convert every piece into a comment online, letter to the editor or blog post.

Yet when Jeff Jarvis wrote a blog titled “There are no journalists” I disagreed so strongly I could not keep it to myself. Which is, I suppose, arrogant and big-headed on my part, but I posted my views anyway:

There are those who call themselves journalists because they got a degree alluding to that and made it onto the payroll of a big-name newspaper, yet source “stories” about cats doing funny things from Reddit and dogs reacting funnily to eating limes from YouTube. That’s informing society, alright, but it’s not journalism.

Then there are proper journalists who don’t sit and wait for there to be ‘government transparency’ (there never has been and never will be any), but research, dig deep, discover, ask difficult questions, and share what they find with the public, thus informing the public of things they may otherwise never have known but are worthy and important to know about. That’s journalism.

Doing away with the job title ‘journalist’ altogether merely aids the dilution of a vocation already in visible decline. Informing society of what celeb X tweeted about issue Y serves what greater purpose exactly? I’d happily take away the title ‘journalist’ from any paid hack who brings the world that non-news.

But I’d never want to take the name ‘journalist’ from those who discover important issues hidden from plain sight (fraud, corruption, etc), those who ask our government representatives difficult questions, those who challenge popular publicly-held beliefs by relaying valid stories and (opposing) views that go deeper and far beyond than what was already in the public domain (such as a celebrity’s tweets).

I don’t know what you teach your students in ‘entrepreneurial journalism’ but I’d teach them that cute cat stories sourced from Reddit generate traffic easily, so from an entrepreneurial perspective (selling advertising space) they’re a relatively easy route to income – but they don’t constitute journalism, and therefore those publishing won’t be journalists.

Those in pursuit of giving the world quality journalism may not be able monetize their efforts quite so easily (advertisers generally don’t want their cheery adverts next to stories of dying babies; besides, they know that their ads will be viewed by a lot more people if next to a salacious celeb story rather than a well-researched scientific article about a possible cure found for a rare disease) – but they will be proper journalists.

Disagreeing with Jeff Jarvis isn’t my finest moment – he is somebody, I am nobody – but I felt compelled to respond. It was nothing personal. It never is.

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