It says everything about the state of media today that a cheeky job ad for reporting post at a midsize Florida newspaper could go viral, earning mentions everywhere from Mother Jones to the Washington Post, all because it actually makes journalism seem like a fun job worth doing. A radical concept!
This is not to take away from the skill of Matt Doig, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune editor who's doing the recruiting. But even he has expressed wonderment that anyone cares. Here's an excerpt from his ad:
We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: "I can't believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20thPulitzer." As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you're the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble. Well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you're our kind of sicko.
For those unaware of Florida's reputation, it's arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.
OK, fun time's over. Now on to AOL. Capital NY founder Tom McGeveran gave us a perceptive, historicizing essay on the changes triggered by the purchase of the Huffington Post. This topic is nearly covered to death, but Mr. McGeveran stands out by smartly observing what might end up being the media business's fatal flaw, one that has nothing to do macroeconomics of business models. Quite simply, media is fickle:
You can change the particulars however you want, and set the time anytime you want. Some examples: The website, famous for its slideshows and linkbait, wants real reporting now; the magazine, famous for its celebrity profiles and fashion spreads, wants features on the state of women in Afghanistan; the newspaper, famous for its discounting of the importance of work on the web, wants to liberate you to blog all day; the blog, famous for its short, pithy takes on other people's news, wants long essays. A website that has traditionally treated its "editors" as "product managers" who spend more time in bizdev and marketing meetings than editorial meetings wants to free them to provide meaningful guidance, support and direction for a new editorial team with beefier journalistic bona fides. Change is much easier in theory than in practice, is the point, and never comes without a real fusion of corporate goals and editorial point of view. So AOL, which needed real content and a real audience, bought the Huffington Post, whose original content was, at least, realer than AOL's.
Writing over at BNET, Erik Sherman gave us a take on AOL that was blunt by comparison to Mr. McGeveran's. This one looks at how AOL values content, but it's also about a much bigger question that will become more and more relevant as more businesses get into the content game: how advertising and journalism live together in companies that don't have journalistic DNA.
In this view, journalism is, at most, a means to a brand and, eventually, profit. Perhaps that is one reason why traditionally trained journalists have had such trouble adapting to new media companies often started by either technologists or advertising and marketing types. Each side has its outlook and neither relates what it says into the words and world of the other. AOL has enormous potential. It has some talented employees. But this bifurcated view of what it should be -- AOL's a brand company! No, it's a journalism company! -- will defeat Armstrong's ambitions as certainly as the 1980s ouster of Steve Jobs, and his passion for perfect product, from Apple (AAPL) led to that company's near demise. Without the emphasis on what you do and how you do it, there is no brand, just a lot of empty advertising talk. And without marketing and sales, there are a lot of pink slips.
Tim Wu, the author and media gadfly who coined "net neutrality" and became one of its biggest advocates before turning into an FTC suit, is bureaucratic bad ass. He's shaggy, tattooed and will have a Magic Hat with a reporter, but that's not all. At Burning Man, he dressed up like a blue bear and, as a quote high up in a Marc Parry Chronicle of Higher Education profile attests, he's capable of channeling Orwell:
Apple and its chief executive, Steve Jobs, are the players "most interested in a complete paradigm shift" in computing, he says. They want to replace the chaotic freedom of personal computers with a new regime of controlled devices. (Picture the televisionlike iPad, with its strictly vetted App Store, and you get the idea.) It's a familiar rap to anyone who follows these geek debates, at least until Wu pivots to Plato.
"Plato suggested that the finest form of government was dictatorship run by geniuses," he says. "Jobs realizes that dictatorial rule, if done well, will be more popular than democracy."
Dana Vachon's academic take on Rebecca Black's viral sensation "Friday" yields much the same reaction as the original text does: Is. This. Real? To which the only acceptable answer is, it just doesn't matter:
Her cultural debt is less to Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles than
EvieVicki, the robot girl from Small Wonder, we realize, as in a voice controlled by Auto-Tune she enumerates the banalities of an anti-existence: "Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs, gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal ... gotta get down to the bus stop."
She offers the camera a hostage's smile, forced, false. Her smoky eyes suggest chaos witnessed: tear gas, rock missiles and gasoline flames. They paint her as a refugee of a teen culture whose capacity for real subversion was bludgeoned away somewhere between the atrocities of Kent State and those of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the start of a creeping zombification that would see youthful dissent packaged and sold alongside Pez and Doritos.