Jeff and Mark try to define journalism

by Mathew on August 21, 2006

Well, I have to give Jeff Jarvis credit — not just for being a tireless standard-bearer for the “new” journalism (even if I do disagree with him a tiny bit now and then), but for being able to write a post that gets a response from Mark Cuban, the irascible blogger and billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner who is himself something of a maverick. How Jeff did that probably won’t come as much of a surprise: he wrote about Cuban’s experiment in business journalism, an investigative site called Sharesleuth.

The idea behind Sharesleuth is relatively simple — Mr. Cuban hired a journalist to do in-depth reporting about dubious publicly-traded companies. The twist is that the billionaire plans to sell the shares of his targets “short” (shorts sell borrowed stock, hoping that the price will go down, at which point they can buy back enough shares to repay the loan at a lower price and pocket the difference as profit). His first target is a company called Xethanol, which is painted as a thinly-disguised stock-pumping scheme involving various disreputable characters.

Jeff’s problem appears to be that Mark is pitching Sharesleuth as the kind of journalism that protects the little guy (who is getting taken advantage of by such stock schemes), but in reality it’s just a way of making more money for Cuban himself. In other words, not journalism. He also takes some shots at the billionaire for effectively lucking into his wealth by selling to stupid companies at the right time — something that clearly gets Cuban’s dander up. Unfortunately, he responds with what I think is an overly defensive post entitled “I know you are but what am I, Jeff?

Cuban takes Jeff to task because his blog is unbalanced and unfair, which is a total red herring, since it’s unlikely that Jeff would claim that what his blog does is journalism in any sense of the word. It’s a blog, which means it opinionated and colourful. Not a great argument, Mark.

One of the reasons it’s unfortunate is that I think Cuban has a pretty good argument to make that Sharesleuth is journalism — albeit a very rigid and narrowly-defined version. In fact, it would probably be in everyone’s best interests if he didn’t call it journalism at all. It’s more like a well-researched report by a boutique brokerage firm (there’s a Canadian oilpatch firm that specializes in such reports). Is that journalism? Not really — but it’s darn close, regardless of the motives of its “publisher.” Some more discussion here by Ben Silverman of FindProfit.

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