Yesterday, we took note of an AdAge article by Edmund Lee, and a fun kicker that was seemingly buried at the bottom: revered former New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan taking revered tech pundit Jeff Jarvis to task. And now, Jarvis has fired back. Updated!
Quick recap: the AdAge piece was about Examiner.com, a creepy news website written by robots, hobbyists, and robot hobbyists (read: cheap labor in the form of amateur reporters and/or journalists). One could argue that websites like Examiner.com are bad for the infrastructure of information, because they spread news with little accountability that’s simply designed to manifest pageviews quickly and more powerfully than the competition. Which is what Kaplan argued when he was quoted a few paragraphs after Jeff Jarvis, who’s currently consulting for the Examiner-esque AOL project, Patch. Kaplan told AdAge:
“One of the things that the Jeff Jarvises of the world undermine is the importance of the editorial structure. The relationship between the reporter and the editor is the one safeguard when it comes to the business of truth telling.” In assessing the recent rise of so many content farms, Mr. Kaplan referenced Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” and perhaps minted a new quote for future observers: “What these sites are producing,” he started before a long pause: “You know what it is? It’s like sending unchecked meats out to the public.”
Again, emphasis ours, because that’s an awesome line, is why. Also, truth. Yet! Jeff Jarvis – never one to back down from a war of words, as we noted yesterday – fired back earlier today on Twitter:
BANG! Shots returned! To interpret this diss: Jarvis uses Kaplan’s quote about The Jungle by taking it one step further and making it an advocacy for the government regulation of news. Which is the kind of thing nobody in their right mind – like Jarvis or Kaplan – would ever think is a good idea. But let’s consider the analogy for a brief moment:
In this instance, the government makes sure we’re not getting stuff that’s going to make our brain bleed as a side-effect. Like bad – or rotten – news/food can. So an FDA for news would operate to filter lies, libel, false and premature information out from the information cycle. They can also take certain substances that can present dangers when unregulated – like marijuana – and make them a fabulous government high with regulation (Marinol, anyone?).
The idea of a government regulating any kind of information that isn’t a state secret is some terrifying Orwellian shit. People should know a rotten piece of meat when they smell it, and a rotten piece of news when they read it.
Should being the operative term, though. The problem is that people who don’t read news often – who don’t know where to get the most accurate news out there – likely don’t have the knowhow to discern said “rotten meat” (inaccurate, false, or just stupid, third-hand news) from the information they should be consuming (anything that isn’t complete bullshit, which in this case, is a group that even manages to include Fox News).
We suspect this slight war of words will top off here, because Kaplan’s only real social media presence to fire back on is relegated to the anonymous channels of his bisected spirit — and we’re not calling Kaplan for quote, because there’s really not more to this issue past Jarvis’ plainly hostile interpretation of remarks about him — but there’s still a curious footnote to end all of this with. In the comments of yesterday’s post, a slightly belligerent defense of Jarvis came forth:
Now that Kaplan has made his web bones — my gosh, consulted on an iPad app! — maybe he could actually engage with what Jarvis, Clay Shirky, Steven Johnson and the like are writing about the present and the future, a world in which “nothing will work, but everything might.”
Interesting idea! But maybe the commenter, Eric Etheridge, makes a case in favor of regulated discourse when he doesn’t disclose after his slightly snippy tirade that he was worked for Kaplan at the Observer for a year some time back. Warning labels! They happen.
Update 2: NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen visited the comments on this post to note that it would’ve been better served by referencing Jeff Jarvis’ views on the changing role of editors in the same breath as his position in the aforementioned news operations, which — Via Rosen — Jarvis addressed in this Guardian piece from August 2008. Jay’s right, which explains (among other reasons) why he has a PhD, and I don’t. That said, Jarvis’ views on editors still, in this humble writer’s opinion, “fucking suck.” Mostly because a good editor would’ve helped me make that sentence better instead of educating me on how to Tweet it.