The Web Guru

And added: “Whether we save all the journalists today is entirely another matter and not my goal. Rosenbaum believes that makes me heartless. I think it makes me realistic. And we need some realism in this business.”

 

THE ACCIDENTAL AMANUENSIS?

A lot of the graves Mr. Rosenbaum accused Mr. Jarvis of dancing on were dug by Sam Zell, the flame-throwing owner of the Tribune Company, which includes the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun.

Mr. Zell has said in interviews that his purchase of the Tribune company has been “the deal from hell.” He’s cut hundreds of jobs at all of the Tribune’s newspapers, including more than 250 jobs this year in the L.A. Times newsroom, and has cut roughly 500 pages for news each week from the company’s newspapers. He also hasn’t exactly been the biggest fan of his reporters! Back in February, he yelled “Fuck you” at one staffer, and in a trip to the Tribune Company’s D.C. bureau, he told reporters that the system they had set up—little fiefdoms fighting for turf—were, essentially, an embarrassment.

It’s been enough that a group of current and former L.A. Times staffers have filed a class action lawsuit against him for damaging the “reputation and business of the company.”

“The institutional integrity of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune papers is being seriously damaged piece by piece,” the complaint reads in part, between claims about complicated corporate buyout issues that are probably what landed them in court in the first place. “Certain foreign bureaus and the Sunday opinion and book review sections of the largest newspaper in America’’ second largest media market—the Los Angeles Times—have been closed down. Numerous veteran reporters have been terminated … The Los Angeles Times Magazine now reports to the business department rather than to the editorial department, a clear violation of journalistic ethics.”

As Mr. Jarvis watched, Mr. Zell took the stage at the Plaza to answer a question put to him in the panel discussion. There were too many editors at his newspapers; a ridiculous number of them! How can they ever have expected to be competitive with all those editors?

Mr. Zell is not popular with most journalists, but not many journalists were there. When the panel had broken up and it was time for questions, Mr. Jarvis was one of the first to volunteer himself.

“Hi, Jeff Jarvis,” he said. “Mr. Zell, first, I may speak for others here when I say I wish you would do this more often and talk publicly more often. It’s great fun. I’m a journalist, and I got attacked in Salon this morning, or Slate this morning—I get them confused—for holding journalists responsible for the fate of journalists. Is it possible, do you think, to change the culture of journalism? What’s the major changes that need to be made? Are you making any progress in changing that culture, and, if so, how?”

Mr. Zell had a rather long response, but among his observations was that “the newsrooms have basically never recovered from Watergate, and everybody wants to be Woodward and Bernstein, and that’s the definition of success.”

This was an invitation-only affair, and the invitations weren’t given lightly; no press was allowed to cover it in the traditional sense, though Ms. Lipman was allowed to post some stuff on her Web site in exchange for sponsoring the conference.

In the back of the room stood New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Sitting up with the panel was Tribune Company owner Mr. Zell.

“At the FourSquare conference, two or three executives or former executives from big media companies came over to me to say how appalled they were that Zell never said the word ‘journalism,’” said Mr. Jarvis later in an interview with The Observer. “All kinds of things. And I said, ‘Name me three disrupters in the American news business.’ Silence. Zell is a grand disrupter. He may not be the disrupter you choose, but he’s one we have.”

But to us, Jeff Jarvis looks like the real thinker, the real disruptor. Mr. Zell is just his accidental amanuensis.

“He’s always been ideological,” said Nick Denton, the publisher of the Gawker Media blog empire and an old friend of Mr. Jarvis. He said it was he who introduced his friend to the convept of blogging years ago. “He’s settled into his role as being the—what is it? He’s like the defector. There are other Internet ideologues and other Internet supremacists, but of all the Internet supremacists, he is the one who has betrayed his origins in print. Of all the people who grew up in newspapers and magazines, he is the one who has most clearly abandoned them. Over the last five years, he has slammed newspapers and magazines print as being useless and unable to change. And doomed.”

Jeff Jarvis worked in print for years. He worked with the San Francisco Examiner, where he wrote a column up to six days a week—with his words counts coming in at around 1,500 words per column. He was an editor at the Daily News, a TV critic for both People and TV Guide, and he was also the founding editor of Entertainment Weekly for Time Inc. before—as often happens to launch editors—he was shown the door roughly six months after its launch.

In the 1990s, he worked with Advance Publications to help Condé Nast’s Web sites, and for its newspaper sites.

He found blogging in 2001 after he was in a PATH train when the first plane struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. After pulling together some quick reporting, he took to the Internet. Eventually, his blog, BuzzMachine, was born out of that.

For years since then, Mr. Jarvis has been on the margins with those citizen-journalism guys who you’d see linked on Romenesko, or occasionally pop up on TV. He’s had a media column for The Guardian, he worked for Advance Publication for years, and he’s done a little consulting with The Washington Post recently.

But for much of the last three or four years his pronouncements have fallen on deaf if polite ears in the media establishment. He’s a nice guy, but a bit … strident.