Technology

Who Is Howard Kurtz and Why Shouldn’t You Care?

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Regardless of the likely event you’re like the majority of the universe and don’t follow the navel-gazing meta-narrative that is media reporting, you may have come accross the fact the one of the nation’s most known media columnists — Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post — is leaving his job at the paper after over two decades to go work for Tina Brown’s news website, The Daily Beast (a site he once fawned over in the pages of the Post two years ago). And just how did everyone react to the news of an old, supposedly revered news vet going to work for a WEB BLOG SITE THING?

A few days ago, as he was quitting, Ken Silverstein of Harper‘s fired a shot to the side at Howard Kurtz: “When you can read an entire column by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and never once feel the urge to cut out your own heart with a dull knife, you know that you no longer have the sense of outrage that is essential to reporting from our nation’s capital.”

He’s not alone in his assessment. Here are the other people who, on Kurtz’s move being announced, weren’t afraid to say what all the (cognizant) congratulatory sycophants (well-collected at CJR) were actually thinking:

Alex Pareene at Salon: “This is terribly exciting news for fans of thrilling, new-media journalism experiments run by old magazine and newspaper veterans who don’t understand and are honestly a bit put off by the Internet…That’s thrilling news to fans of columns that raise questions, then quote people with opposing views on said questions, and then move on without coming to any conclusions.”

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker: “Howie Kurtz is an amazingly prolific and hardworking media reporter. He is a pretty poor media critic. They must have given him a shitload of Barry Diller’s money. At least the WaPo won’t have to get made fun of for having its media reporter host a show on CNN (a glaring conflict of interest) any more.”

Tom Scocca at Slate: “Neutral-perspective media critic and walking conflict of interest Howard Kurtz is going to be the Daily Beast’s Washington bureau chief.”

Many people made “end of an era” proclamations about Kurtz leaving a print publication for an exclusively digital one, which misses the point. Thankfully, someone cleared this up, too:

Kurtz got a fancier title (“Washington Bureau Chief”) at a flashier outlet than his old gig as a media critic at the categorically atrophying (and institutionally anti-Internet) Washington Post. Yet, for a guy moving to a digital-only publication, he sure talks about the internet like he just discovered it. Money quote from his interview with Zeke Turner at the New York Observer yesterday:

“What I like about The Daily Beast is that it’s a very solid journalistic enterprise. It practices journalism without paper. I’m spending more and more of my time online.”

As opposed to, what, the gym? He also told Michael Calderone at Yahoo that he sees himself as an “online entrepreneur.” Unless he was speaking poetically, he must have forgotten that he’s going to be an entrepreneur under Tina Brown, who is under Barry Diller, who is the brass of IAC, a corporation. Kurtz has demonstrated time and time again that he’s still not clear on how the internet works, exactly, but maybe that’s because the Washington Post as an institution, still has yet to figure out where in their long-term gameplan it belongs. The bottom line, here, is that Kurtz and The Daily Beast are a perfect match. In Kurtz’s final Washington Post column, he shares the experience of discovering “what it is like to become a media metaphor” and then assures readers that “for those who have asked, I’ll still be hosting CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sundays.”

Exactly. It was said yesterday, but to clairfy, a move to the Beast matches up exactly with Kurtz’s shtick: schlocky, celebrity friendly, high poses, low plays, spotlight-hungry news-as-brand-building. Look at Tina Brown interviewing herself on the site today. The glossy, sensational ethos of the ‘Beast goes hand-in-hand with the progression of Howard Kurtz’s brand-building career (except Tina Brown could never make TV work for her, despite two failed attempts). It’s gonna be fun to watch a bunch of plucky young folk teach the old dude how to tag posts on WordPress. The best, though, is the wide-lens on all of this:

Daily Beast readers know what the Washington Post is and sometimes read it.
Daily Beast readers know what the New York Times is and sometimes read it.
Not all Post or Times readers know about or read The Daily Beast.

So, not that he wasn’t already preeminent before, but David Carr just became the most uncontested major media critic and reporter in an American daily newspaper. And really, thank god for that. For one thing, I now no longer have to pretend to care about what the Washington Post is saying about media. At least until they hire Jack Shafer. For another, they were wrong most of the time anyway, and if there are print media consumers who actually end up reading about media issues, at least now maybe they won’t get distracted by a watered-down, lukewarm, rusty, endlessly self-regarding version of what media criticism should be.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]