High-End Journalist John Brummett Is Very Sad (Updated!)

Hey, here’s a fun game: From now on, whenever you read a piece by a newspaper person about the “future of journalism” or “whither newspapers” or anything like that, try to pinpoint where that person is on the scale of the “Five Stages of Grief.”

So, for instance, if a newspaper guy writes that “We survived TV and radio; we’ll survive the web,” then you know he’s still in “denial.” If he talks about how “micropayments” or the Amazon Kindle are going to save his bacon, he’s probably in the bargaining stage. C’mon, it’ll be fun!

OK, now let’s talk about John Brummett, a news columnist and high-end journalist here in Little Rock who today tries his hand at a little media criticism. It is very sad, because Brummett seems headed toward the “depression” stage on our graph.

Can I Get a Witness?

Brummett looks at this week’s (moronic) congressional hearings on the future of newspapers to ponder where it’s all headed. He quotes the testimony of former newspaperman and TV guy David Simon, who bemoans the passing of “high-end journalism” and fears that web operations just aren’t up to snuff. (Incidentally, Gawker took issue with Simon’s “dead-wrong” testimony earlier in the week. Both Simon’s testimony and the Gawker rebuttal are worth checking out.)

Let’s pause here to note that Brummett’s column is around 700 words, about 250 words of which is a direct quote from Simon. That is what “high-end journalism” looks like, if you have never seen it before.

Brummett agrees with Simon’s grouchy take, and to give it a little local flavor he takes a couple of shots at me and Blake Rutherford of the Blake’s Think Tank blog for not going to the Capitol to cover legislative hearings, because we are terrible terrible bloggers, and we are “brash and sullen” (“sullen”?) to boot.

Brummett is correct that I spend little (i.e., no) time at the Capitol. This blog is not my living (yet?), so I focus on my paid work and link to Capitol news as it’s distributed by others. (This is what media critic Jeff Jarvis refers to as the “link based economy,” in which publishers do what they specialize in and then link to the rest. That’s pretty much how the web works, and it’s rather efficient, and why Brummett is unable to grasp that is beyond me.)

But if Brummett thinks it so shameful that a few part-time unpaid bloggers don’t frequent legislative committee hearings, he should at least turn a critical eye on the practices of his own news organization.

Last fall, Brummett’s employer, Stephens Media, shuttered its three-man Washington D.C. bureau. That bureau now consists of one reporter who is responsible for covering the congressional delegations of multiple states (and who no longer has an office and works from home). Since the Stephens Media D.C. bureau was disbanded, the organization’s regular coverage of members of the Arkansas delegation has essentially ceased to exist. High-end journalism, indeed.

Future Shock

Of course, if Brummett really were interested in the future of journalism, he might look beyond my and Blake’s little vanity projects and examine the efforts of some Arkansas folks who, rather than whining about these changes as he does, are actually trying to create new models that work.

He might look at Michael Tilley’s City Wire site in Fort Smith, which in just a few short months has emerged as a vital site for local news, and shows promise for the future. Or the Arkansas Times, which is practicing a hybrid print/web approach, with an unapologetic dose of liberal political advocacy, that has thus far helped to reinvigorate that publication.

Or he might look at the Fayetteville Flyer, a vibrant local site that covers happenings in that city nicely. (The Flyer may be a little heavily weighted towards cultural coverage at this point, but it gets newsier by the week, and it’s easy to conceive of how it might continue to evolve into a harder news site.)

Will these sites manage the tricky feat of evolving into profitable going enterprises? Maybe. Or maybe they’ll fall off and some other experimenters will fill the gap. But at least the bloggers and web gurus are experimenting and trying to find some solutions.

But Brummett doesn’t wanna do all that. He throws his hands up to declare, “It will all work itself out or it won’t.” You see, it’s enough to look at the daily media lay-offs news at Romenesko, shake one’s head sadly and then wax all gauzy and nostalgic and pine for all that lost investigative journalism and skeptical antagonism that we’ll no longer have when newspapers are gone.

(Except, oh, yeah, very few newspapers aside from the big nationals actually do much investigative reporting anymore, and in Arkansas, this “skeptical antagonism” toward elected officials that Brummett likes to brag about is pretty much a fantasy.)

Which is all a long way of saying, if you’re interested in the future of journalism and news media and want insight into where things might be headed, then you should know that you can safely ignore anything John Brummett may have to say on the subject. After a lifetime of working in the newspaper industry, he no longer has anything to offer any young journalist or aspiring media entrepreneur, in terms of discussing the industry’s direction, that might be helpful.

It’s little wonder he should be so depressed.

Cross posted at The City Wire. Parasites!

UPDATE: Over at his terrible blog, Brummett dismisses this post, because he does not like backtalk from the young’ns. He also lazily points to a paraphrased statement from new media guru Clay Shirky as justification for his own statement that “It will all work itself out or it won’t.”

But if you read Shirky’s piece in its entirety, he doesn’t say that at all. He does say this:

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Shirky is not saying “it will work out or it won’t.” He’s actually reasonably optimistic that it WILL work out, but we simply don’t know what the end result will look like. And it won’t “work itself out,” but it will be worked out by experimenters and innovators and people who actually take action and do something besides throw up their hands. Shirky knows the media landscape won’t look like what it looks like now, and he offers a provisional scenario of what it may look like, which is helpful, unlike Brummett’s complacent shoulder-shrugging.

Shirky’s whole post is worth reading in its entirety, as is his book, Here Comes Everybody, which, unlike a lot of books published on new media, is not completely dated 10 minutes after it’s finished.

And over at the Think Tank, Blake Rutherford weighs in with more.

(Brummett also pronounces himself “tired of talking about these local blogging gnats.” This is Brummett’s usual posture whenever someone starts dares to level criticisms of his work or point out his shoddy reasoning—he simply declares himself above it all. If he doesn’t want to talk about or to these bloggers, that’s fine, but maybe he should just consider shutting the f**k up and not raising these issues in the first place.)

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17 thoughts on “High-End Journalist John Brummett Is Very Sad (Updated!)

  • May 9, 2009 at 11:48 am

    If the print media had your awesome Graphics Department, which most certainly occupies an entire floor of the Metropolitan Bank Building, Brummett and his ilk would have nothing to worry about.

  • May 9, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Why, thank you, DumbArkie! Here at the Arkansas Project, every design job starts with a simple question: “Is there any way we can visually illustrate this concept using a disembodied head floating against some background?”

    Remarkably, the answer is almost always “yes.”

  • May 9, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Just a trial ballon DK,…my disembodied head and a background of…hummm, let’s see…Patriot Girls! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  • May 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I guess this contrived feud is supposed to make the Arkansas blogosphere entertaining. We all get it that the Internet is the future of journalism. The more fundamental problem in our state is that our internet infrastructure sucks, and that limits the future of online journalism here. But no one is reporting about that.

    The Arkansas Broadband Advisory Council is supposedly working on a plan to spend $70+ million of economic stimulus funds for broadband expansion, but I’m not seeing any reports on those meetings by bloggers or the mainstream media. Who knows if the money will be spent wisely, or will the Council just give it all to AT&T to subsidize crappy rural satellite connections? Why isn’t anyone reporting about the broadband connectivity maps at Connect Arkansas that wildly inflate the coverage areas to give the misleading impression that most of the state has decent access? That would be a more interesting and productive topic to explore than these endless discussions about the merits of blogs and tweets.

  • May 9, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    You make a damn fine point there, Doug my man. These “Future of Media” discussions do get to be a bit circular and insular, after a while, don’t they?

    But let’s answer your question with a question: If broadband access is important, why are you taking to the comments section of this blog to complain about the lack of attention? Go start your own blog, show that you’ve got some expertise on this topic, build up a readership — just like the rest of us are doing. If it’s good, we’ll even link to your stuff to help you out.

    As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t spend your time telling people what they “should” cover on their blogs to make them more “interesting and productive.” If you don’t like what’s here, for God’s sake, don’t pay me the compliment of your readership, and don’t waste time playing assignment editor trying to get me to cover what you think I “should” be covering.

    “No one is reporting about that”? OK. The tools are out there. Go do it.

  • May 9, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    This is great, instead of screaming, “hey you damn kids get off my lawn” Brummett should be focusing on what it is they are not doing right.

    Blogs wouldnt even exist if there wasn’t a gap of information out there.

    Take a look at our morning news shows, there mostly puff pieces or overly done pop culture news stories aimed mostly at a female audience.

    Is it just me or was the coverage of Arkansas’ newest teen idol a bit creepy? Who in the hell cares? The 8 to 17 year old demographic is already soaked up by the Disney channel.

    When the Dem Gaz releases a paper each morning the subjects are old. We’ve already flogged them to death, it’s no wonder they are becoming more irrelevant.

    I also find it funny that they are doubling down on the online content all the while aggregating sites like this shamelessly. Didn’t the AP recently proclaim that they were going to “go after” blogs who use their content without paying for it?

    I think you and Blake should send them a bill.

  • May 10, 2009 at 7:47 am

    “Doug Ward Says:
    May 9th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I guess this contrived feud is supposed to make the Arkansas blogosphere entertaining.”

    “Contrived.” Really? Tell that to the laid-off DemGaz employees. While it may be misguided, it is certainly not contrived. Brummett and his colleagues are fighting windmills. They should focus their anger at the AP and other news services that pimp their product to everyone and his brother. That business model used to work, but not any more. Selling the same content to the Boston Globe and the Arkansas Dem-Gaz was okay in the past because they didn’t have the same readers. Now, both newspapers’ readers can get the same content from Yahoo or any of another 1000 sites long before said content is reproduced in ink.

    As far as making “the Arkansas blogosphere entertaining,” I’m going to have to say yes. It’s not just limited to Arkansas though. Big shot newspaper folks all over the country are fighting the wrong fight, blaming bloggers for their troubles, when everyone knows that it’s Al Gore’s fault. He should’ve never invented the Internet.

  • May 10, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Careful, boys. I’ve discovered in the last 24 hours since posting this that, if you talk about the negative trends in the newspaper business without making the proper obeisances to how marvelous they are and striking the proper tone of mournfulness, you will be accused of “gloating” and “dancing on the graves of newspapers.” I apparently am not evincing enough maudlin sentimentality about the whole thing for some people’s satisfaction.

  • May 10, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Okay, okay, here goes…

    I’m sad, no, very sad to newspapers go away. My first job was with the Gazette, as a paperboy. I don’t WANT them to fail. I hate to see most any business fail. We’re all sad to see what was once popular, floundering like a fish out of water.

    What’s happening to newspapers (and journalism) is similar to what happened to TV’s variety shows. Hell, who didn’t love The Carol Burnett Show? Why did it and other variety shows fade away? Because of the remote control. Once we the viewers had the power (control) in our hands, we created our own variety shows. You know, the first few minutes of The Love Boat, then switch over to Dance Fever, maybe a chase scene on Starsky & Hutch, and then back to the end of The Love Boat. So who needed Carol and the Ernest Flatt Dancers anymore?

    The Internet gives us the same type of control, but on steroids. With RSS I can micro pick a subject that interests me and maybe 47 other people on the planet without having to wade through the macro swamp of things that don’t interest me.

    So, it’s not that we hate newspapers. We didn’t hate Carol Burnett. We all loved her, but it still wasn’t enough to save her show.

  • May 10, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Thanks, DumbArkie. One of the things that’s really been missing from this discussion is how much changes in consumption patterns have driven this dynamic, and your analogy is rather artful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can find some old episodes of “Dance Fever” on Netflix.

  • May 11, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Thanks for your suggestions, but the point is that the lack of modern telecom infrastructure in our state affects all content-providers in our state. If we had decent access in this state, your readership would be bigger, so you have a stake in this too.

    In general, the GOP ought to be more concerned about rural Internet in order to communicate with its natural constituency. The Democrats have a big advantage with the concentration of broadband access in the more liberal urban areas; they can use YouTube, et al, to massively communicate with their supporters. The Republicans are stuck with dinosaur media like newspapers and television, which are losing effectiveness.

  • May 11, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Indeed, Doug. And if I came off a bit testy above, please know it’s that I sometimes get cranky whenever someone starts to instruct me on what I “should” be writing about instead of what I AM writing about. But you are quite correct in your diagnosis, and I take it in the spirit in which it is offered. Access to information in rural areas is and will be a huge distribution hurdle.

    Of course, the ADG has also recently moved toward differential pricing for delivery to rural areas, which I suppose could be seen as a first step toward further cost increases and, ultimately, ending rural delivery. Possibly.

  • May 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    As one who spends a great deal of time at the Capitol, let me submit the names of Barnes, Oakley, Brantley, Lyons, Lynch, Dumas, Webb and Greenburg (Paul) as people you never, NEVER, see at the Capitol. They’re all often quick to tell the world what’s going on there however.

    I’ve always thought that was funny given many of their appearences on AETN about the week’s events! Guess it’s easier to get to Conway than downtown Little Rock?!

    Kudos to Roby, he makes it over every few weeks. About as often as Brummett.

    Oops, just remembered the AT guys showed up out of the blue after Randy Stewart filed his bill.

  • May 11, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    You know Doug it makes very little financial sense to run the lines necessary to make broadband-over-wire (Cable, DSL, etc) access available to rural constituencies when in the next 5 years Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc will be deploying their 4G wireless networks which will give broadband internet speeds wherever a tower is located, including and especially to rural areas. It does not make economic sense to run the wires when wireless will be coming to these areas soon. If there is some area that is not covered with cell reception it would make far more sense to subsidize the deployment of that service than to run wires all over the place.

    Also there already exist solutions to run wireless internet access using enhanced wifi across whole valleys and villages and it has existed for at least five years because they do so in various parts of Europe. There are a few different ways to go about doing so. You could use a pre-made solution from a company such as Meraki, created by some MIT grads, or you could use OpenMesh products as Kharma Consulting does with their Argenta Wireless network that covers all of the Argenta district in North Little Rock with wireless broadband internet with expansions coming to the Little Rock side this year.

    The market has already developed and begun deploying the technology necessary to cover the area with broadband internet access; you just have to give them time to deal with all the regulations and capital outlays. You know the creation of capital can not be created out of thin air but requires a lot of intensive saving, planning, and hard work.

  • May 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    So there we have it blog readers. Mr. ARPro guy is officially a brash, sullen, and testy blogging gnat.

    I wonder what his bad characteristics are?

  • May 11, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Likewise, I’m sorry for hijacking the thread with a rant about our state’s rural Internet problem, but I believe it is a relevant factor for the future of our state’s news industry. We are at a critical point for getting it fixed, but there seems to be little interest or discussion about it at the major news sites. If it doesn’t get fixed, you’ll have to rename this blog The Little Rock Project.

    Perhaps I will have an opportunity to attend one of those Broadband Advisory Council meetings someday. But I’m still wondering why Arkansas Business and the Dem-Gaz are not providing coverage of those meetings already?


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