Alan Mutter’s question backfires

Alan Mutter is a former journalist-turned-entrepreneur who writes an excellent blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur, where he takes on various aspects of the newspaper industry from time to time. One of his recent posts, however, tries to make a point about the validity — or necessity — of charging for content online by using author and journalist/blogger Jeff Jarvis as an example. Not only does his post fail to make this case, but it actually winds up making the exact opposite point.

Mutter’s argument, in a nutshell, is that while Jeff Jarvis is telling everyone that they should be giving their content away for nothing, and that “free is a business model,” he himself is selling an old-fashioned book the old-fashioned way — for cash, in other words — as well as a version for the Kindle e-book reader and a video of himself making some of the central points from the book. As Mutter puts it:

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What Would Google Do? My review

Jeff Jarvis doesn’t come right out and say it, but it’s pretty obvious why the former media executive, blogger and journalism professor chose to call his recent book What Would Google Do? It’s safe to say that Google isn’t just the flavour of the month, it’s the flavour of the decade, and possibly even the century. Known only to geeks a few short years ago, it has quickly become the sine qua non of modern technology companies, a multibillion-dollar colossus that for many people is virtually synonymous with the Internet.

In his book — which the front flap refers to as “one part prophecy, one part thought experiment, one part manifesto and one part survival manual” — Jarvis says he set out to “reverse-engineer” the principles that have made Google great, and then apply those lessons to other companies and industries, from restaurants to car companies. Despite the title, however, this book isn’t really about Google at all. It’s really about the Internet, and the disruptive effects that the Web in all its various forms is having on businesses and even society itself. Like so many others, it seems that Jarvis is happy to use Google as a stand-in or proxy for the Web itself.

(read the rest of this review at the Globe and Mail book site)

Jeff and Mark try to define journalism

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.