Who Is the Media Person of the Year? (or 'This Discussion Panel Is On Fire, A Play in One Act.')
At 12 p.m. today at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute -- less than a block away from the Village Voice offices -- a panel discussion sponsored by I Want Media convened to discuss their 9th Media Person of the Year award. The panel -- featuring the New York Times' David Carr, Mediaite's Rachel Sklar, Business Insider's Henry Blodget, and The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove -- ended with the building being evacuated. We've got the highlights. Press Clips, Day 26, The Best Media Panel Ever Edition, right here.
Setting: A seventh-floor room with four rows of seats, all but three of which are empty upon arrival. There are less people in the audience (pictured here) than there were on stage. Reactions to your narrator's arrival -- one who has harassed literally every person on the panel with exception of the moderator -- went from the laughing (Sklar) to the curious (Grove) to the smirking (Blodget) to the skeptical (Carr, who gave your narrator the "this fucking guy..." look). Two more audience members joined over the course of it. Patrick Phillips of I WANT MEDIA is refreshingly undeterred. The panel starts with livestreaming a little after 12:05.
Moderator Patrick Phillips: "I'm sure we have a big audience on the Internet."
David Carr, New York Times: "Yeah, and they're all dogs."
Discussion begins with what the big stories are.
Rachel Sklar, Mediaite: "WikiLeaks, with a handsome Albino villain dashing around the globe."
Carr: "Julian [Assange of WikiLeaks] is a conspiracy to take down a conspiracy. He wants to end statism. He uses journalism and its conveniences and then dispenses with its protocols. He's learned where the levers of the machine are, but I don't think he can continue forever. But you have to give him credit for exercising global leverage."
"But is WikiLeaks' Julian Assange a journalist?" is a question tossed around. Rachel Sklar says he isn't. So does Lloyd Grove.
Lloyd Grove, The Daily Beast: "Regardless of whether or not you think he's a journalist (and I don't think he is)...."
Henry Blodget, Business Insider: "Both of you guys are dissing him, but this is while last bastion of journalism -- original reporting and free information -- is supposedly under assault."
Conversation turns to who is and isn't a journalist. Is Glenn Beck a journalist? Is Nick Denton a journalist?
Grove: "Whatever he is, he's too rich to be a journalist."
What about Steve Jobs? Is he the media person of the year? Is the iPad that innovative and crucial to 2010?
Sklar: "Not enough people have them yet."
Carr: "Honestly, I rode here on mine."
Blodget: "He's already shaken up everything. It's like, 'I already bankrupted the music industry with iTunes. Now what?'"
Carr: "I don't know that Jobs and Apple know exactly what they're doing but I think the shakeup is huge. What a good muscle to develop! What a good way of giving his theological perspective. The thing I love about the iPad is destroying this romance of touching what you want to learn about."
And what of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's forthcoming daily iPad news app?
Carr: "The New York Times came early out of the gate with the Editors Choice app to start with, which was pretty weak. Now we have we have a far more robust app. News Corp has demonstrated muscle with the Wall Street Journal and even the New York Post, but it's still repurposed content. With The Daily, you're gonna end up with something you don't see anywhere else. These are serious people they're hiring. But with no inbound links or outbound links they're not part of the same information ecosystem. They say they're gonna have a mirror site but you can't really get in, you can't really get out. And how often do you refresh the thing?"
Blodget: "It's very smart for News Corp to do this. [Compared with the rest of their assets, financially] it's a tiny rounding error. It's a relatively small investment, so absolutely try it! Yet: a daily newspaper? The thrust is information. To confine it to a tablet makes no sense. But yes, [Rupert Murdoch's] got some great people involved."
Carr: "Starting this kind of eCommerce muscle? But not at the kind of losses [other newspapers are incurring]? It's a diminutive, manageable number for News Corp."
Sklar notes how she doesn't think these kinds of discussions means anything in the long term. "In a year, everything we say now is going to be hopelessly naive."
To her credit, it is the most self-aware thing said by a media reporter about the media ever, period. Yet, there's disagreement.
Carr: "I don't really agree, and I think a lot of people anticipated the [iPad] effect, and I think a lot of the media business is being able to see over the hill at what's next."
Grove talks about denying Steve Jobs his credit where it's due. "Steve Ballmer famously predicted that the iPhone wouldn't take a market share."
Blodget: "Maybe nobody knows anything but Steve Jobs' guesses tend to be better than anyone's else. If the criterion is impact..."
Discussion now turns to Grove's boss, Tina Brown, and what's to come of Newsweek. Blodget starts to laugh.
Blodget: "It's the ultimate tiny humiliation for them! Newsweek is a tab on a website, now."
Carr: "I was thinking last week about Cathie Black and Tina Brown, there they were ten years ago, there was all this schadenfreude [after TALK Magazine went down with Tina Brown as editor]. God bless her for being out there swinging. [Tina Brown's] ability to make a weekly magazine has been well demonstrated. Whether she can do it on a budget? Who knows. But she is a gift to media reporters that just keeps on giving."
Grove: "I would say she's a gift to reporters who gives them jobs."
At this point, Lloyd Grove begins to pull out a piece of paper and starts rattling off statistics.
Grove: "...and we've have six million unique visitors."
Carr, laughing: "Yeah, and most of them are from Newsweek."
Grove disputes this, and continues rattling off numbers. At the same time, a fire alarm begins to ring and the room starts to smell like burned wiring. The room begins to get slightly combative. The fire alarm stops.
Carr, to Grove: "You wanna put some slides up and do a full on informercial?"
Blodget: "All of this goes without mentioning you're losing $2M this year."
The fire alarm starts ringing again.
Carr: "This is just like The Walking Dead." Carr starts to praise Business Insider for low overhead and high content turnout, but wonders to Blodget: "Do you think there's enough money out there in digital and sales to succeed in publishing?..."
Carr's words are drowned out by the alarm. People start walking out.
Blodget: "The answer is absolutely. Look at Gawker as an example."
At this point a woman -- otherwise uninvolved who was working elsewhere in the building -- walks up to Phillips at the foot of the stage and informs him that the building is being evacuated. All four panelists remain seated. Those in the audience -- myself included -- begin to leave, because I am not going to die in a fire at a media panel. Phillips runs off stage to check to see if they may continue. He comes back.
Phillips: "I believe we're okay to continue!"
Sklar: "ZUCKERBERG! That's who my media person of the year is. It's Mark Zuckerberg. I just wanted to get that out there."
I get up to leave. Audience members -- all five of them -- are also doing the same. The panel is still seated. On the way down the stairs, we see this:
And outside, are greeted with this:
The panelists arrive downstairs five to ten minutes later. David Carr jokes about starting the fire.
Exit, pursued by fire. Fin.
THE TAKEAWAY: WHAT DID WE LEARN TODAY AT THIS PANEL?
- I'm pretty sure Henry Blodget is never not talking about Nick Denton.
- Rachel Sklar is more of a nihilist than previously known to be and this is a good thing.
- David Carr should play the Catskills when he isn't doing media panels.
- Lloyd Grove definitely works for Tina Brown.
- Tina Brown is both a gift to reporters as both great material and an employer.
- Despite talking about Denton -- which might be generally indicative of this -- Henry Blodget comes through with surprisingly funny and astute insights that made me want to watch him "go after" more media people.
- WikiLeaks is better source material for a movie than two out of four media people on a panel think Julian Assange is a journalist.
- An entire media panel opted to stay seated in a room in a building that may or may not be on fire instead of getting up to leave. I'm pretty sure I saw something like this in my high school sociology class about social pressure and groupthink scenarios once where smoke is coming under the door of the room and the "actors" don't do anything and the test is to see whether or not the "subject" is like "The fucking room is on fire, people" and rest assured those in the audience did not fail this particular "test."
- Rachel Sklar thinks Mark Zuckerberg is the Media Person of the Year.
Worth noting is the irony that this was a great panel discussion and that the moderator -- I WANT MEDIA's editor and founder Patrick Phillips -- did the rare standup job of leading an intelligent and funny conversation! This doesn't happen often enough at these kinds of things, which is why it's too bad only five people were there and then the building basically set on fire. Also of note: Joe Pompeo at Yahoo also posted a report on the proceedings as viewed from the livestream.
Finally, a media discussion going up in flames is a completely and utterly apt metaphor for something about the content and state of these kinds of discussions that I'm still trying to process. Vote for Media Person of the Year here.
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