City Paper is not for tourists
If Jeff Jarvis had his way, this post would not exist. In his new book “What Would Google Do?,” Jarvis lays out a number of rules to help dead tree newspaper types and corporations in general face the new online reality—including “do what you do best and link to the rest.”
Just like the newspaper industry he criticizes so frequently, What Would Google Do? seems like an attempt to make money off of content Jarvis previously gave away for free (his blog Buzzmachine apparently wasn’t generating enough Google Ads revenue to pay the bills). Reading the book, one can almost imagine Jarvis opening up Google Docs, pasting in a series of blog posts, whipping out the thesaurus (or rather, firing up the search engine) and tapping out awkward transitions between each topic like a co-ed writing a thesis paper. That “link to the rest” rule, along with many other ideas Jarvis lays out, now has a catchier title then when it was a blog post titled Cover what you do best. Link to the rest. The general point is the same – in the age where everyone is a critic, why does every paper need a local critic? The link, writes Jarvis, changes every business and institution, but it’s “easiest to illustrate its impact on news.
Publisher’s Weekly says the “scattered collection of rambling rants lauding Google’s abilities” generally misses the mark (but they don’t even offer a permalink to their review on their website, so don’t expect Jarvis to take them too seriously). “While his insights are stimulating,” PW notes, “Jarvis’s tone is acerbic and condescending; equally off-putting is his pervasive name-dropping.”
But Jarvis isn’t likely to care too deeply about what the book reviewing elite has to say, he’s probably more curious about his customer rating on Amazon.com (currently at 3.5 our of 5, based on six reviews). The entire mentality of What Would Google Do? focuses on the power that the internet has given average people. Jarvis embraces the democratization of news (emphasizing news organizations as networks and platforms) and may have a good grasp on where the industry is headed in the future, but even he still relies on hierarchical structures of the past. Books are just about the least Web 2.0 platforms out there (even print newspapers can offer corrections in the next issue) and you will not find a full copy of the book on his website. The praise for the book on the back cover is full of big names including Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, and Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody – no anonymous Amazon screen names here.
But even Jarvis admits he’s somewhat of a sellout who can’t live up to his own ideals as he admits in the book and in an interview with Newsweek:
“First, I’ll confess, I’m a hypocrite. I didn’t put this book up as a purely digital, searchable, linkable entity—I didn’t eat my own dog’s food—because I got an advance from the publisher, and other services. Dog’s gotta eat. I couldn’t pass it up. In terms of the process of the book, though, I hope it was Googlier [than most] in that I thought this book through on my blog. And the great thing about the blog is the people who help me there—readers who with amazing generosity will act as peer review and challenge my ideas, and push them and fill in gaps in my knowledge.”
His chapter on media focuses on the shakeups required to the instrustries profitable. He dubs newspapers “The Google Times,” Hollywood “Googlewood” and the publishing industry “GoogleCollins.”
Newspapers don’t get off easily. In a segment of the book called Newspapers, post-paper Jarvis writes that for news organizations, going digital is not as simple as filling web pages. “This transformation requires them to reinvent themselves – how they think of themselves, how they operate, how they relate to the public, how they make money – and fast.”
Overall, Jarvis’ manifesto for the internet age is a interesting perspective that shakes up the status quo and advances discussion of the future of media, which is perhaps what companies need during this time of digital transition.
He says that Google’s impact on media is more direct and immediate than in other industries and endorses a radical solution: “Cannibalize thyself. Convincing audience and advertisers to move to the future is better than following them there after they have discovered other sources of news.” He recommend papers set a date in the not-too-distant future to turn off the presses.
Here it’s clear that Jarvis is recommending newspapers abandon the print ship a bit early. Asking the news industry to abandon print when it can still make money is a bit like asking Exxon to figure out a way to make gasoline obsolete. Ultimately, the financial pressure necessary to shift newspapers online will come from competition with other news sites. Let’s hope (for aspiring journalists sake) that they’re not too far behind the curve.
This posting was written by an intern, who—Jeff Jarvis will be happy to hear—is unpaid and therefore not draining from the concentration of resources where they matter, even if book reviews are not what he does best.