‘Geeks Bearing Gifts’ — a digested read

Jeff Jarvis coined the term ‘networked journalism‘ nearly a decade ago and ‘Geeks Bearing Gifts’,his latest book, examines what’s holding back journalists from exploiting the new possibilities presented by social networks.

As an illustration of the challenge, he points out that news accounts for less than one per cent of page views on the web; the gist of his essay is that this ratio would be much higher if only legacy media could take off the blinkers when viewing the increasingly networked world of information.

Four MSM Blindspots

Mainstream media companies didn’t come up with any of the major social media platforms and that’s because of the way they tend to see the world — content isn’t content unless it is created by journalists, preferably their own.

Jarvis is very clear that unless and until this myopia over the definition of journalism changes then the industry will continue to under-perform its potential. There seem to be four main criticisms of the approach of mainstream media (MSM) set against that of the social networks and new-age media:

  1. The focus on the article as the basic unit of journalism rather than as one of a range of formats users need. Such formats include, critically, both platforms over which readers inform one another and services based around curation.
  2. A broadcast rather than a relationship mindset — the distinction being that the former views journalism as an end-product while the latter sees it as a service that helps users get things done.
  3. Squeamishness about seeing content as a means to get data to find out more about individual users’ needs and so to deliver more personalised news experiences.
  4. Reluctance to think hard about how networks have changed journalism and of new ways to add value to the flow of information generated by communities that don’t require media.

New roles for journalists

Despite his critique of MSM, Jarvis remains optimistic about the future of journalism. Put simply, networks need journalists to help them find out things they wouldn’t otherwise discover, and to package content. He also sees increased specialisation:

1. Beats

Jarvis thinks that specialisation is going to become more important. He is particularly interested in hyper-local journalism and in the emerging skill-set required to turn geographical beat-reporting into sustainable businesses.

2. Assets

Another form of specialisation is via ‘asset’ — the genre of journalism. He is thinking here of things like speed (newswires) context (explainer sites like Vox) and relationships (community-based journalist projects.)

Jarvis references Business-to-Business (B2B) journalism a lot. But I caught myself wondering whey he didn’t make the point that seems quite obvious to me — that B2B journalists are much less likely to suffer from the myopia he has diagnosed within MSM and are thus more likely to survive.

Endthought

Jarvis has a firm grasp of media history. He’s written about Guettenberg and was struck by how long it takes media to adjust to new technology – it took half a century for the book to emerge as a format after the printing press first arrived, 150 years for the arrival of newspapers (which had to wait for postal systems to be developed.) While optimistic that journalists will adapt there is a hint that the sooner this happens the more will survive.

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