Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media for Digital First Media, is, at 57, old enough to be a newsroom curmudgeon. (He’s spent enough time in the news industry to be eligible.) Fortunately, he’s anything but curmudgeonly.
On his blog, which serves as a signal to journalists throughout DFM newsrooms across the U.S. whenever he offers advice, Buttry has published “Dear Newsroom Curmudgeon…” In it, he identifies seven primary reasons why some journalists (the media curmudgeons) resist the “digital first” model and cling to old ways of practicing journalism in a new era.
“I think the best way to deal with a curmudgeon is to talk candidly and directly with him or her. So I’m doing that. I’m going to speculate on some possible reasons for your resistance and address them…”
Buttry writes that he authored this lengthy advice piece after an editor asked him “how to deal with curmudgeons who resist learning the skills, tools, techniques and principles of digital journalism.”
Not only is Buttry’s blog post worth a read, but so is the lively discussion in the comment threads.
I think this definitely qualifies as the decision of a bunch of curmudgeon editors. …
You may have noted the controversial decision of some newspaper editors around the U.S. to kill all or part of a series of Doonesbury comic strips dealing with Texas’ new law that requires women who want to have an abortion to submit to an invasive transvaginal ultrasound and then endure a 24-hour waiting period after the ultrasound test.
Overall, such a decision to censor those comic strips is the work of media curmudgeons, in my view. The primary reason for the censorship seems to be from those newspapers that run Doonesbury on their comics pages. I.e., the content of the Texas ultrasound law comics was “inappropriate” for the comics pages.
Um, how about for those “overly opinionated” strips, moving them temporarily to the editorial page? That would be un-curmudgeonly. (Some newspapers did that for their print editions; others published the Texas-abortion series only on their websites.)
At the Miami Herald, executive editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez chose to run most of the series in print but not the most controversial one, because “some readers may find it offensive and inappropriate for children.” The Herald ran the full series of strips on its website. She also said the strip “goes beyond the evolving political notion of the comics pages.” … So move it, rather than look hopelessly out of touch with the times and unwilling to publish an opinion that’s controversial.
The most “sensitive” of Doonesbury’s Texas abortion-law comic strips
I find it odd that newspapers will publish op-ed pieces about this same topic, which mention the procedures in detail and mention critics’ charges that this is essentially government-mandated rape, but they won’t allow it in (more powerful) comic-strip form even on their opinion pages.
At least at the Kansas City Star, the decision was made for its print edition to temporarily move the controversial strips to the editorial page. Other newspapers have published Doonesbury on their editorial pages for years, because they know it often gets into controversial topics that might not “fit” with the rest of the strips on the comics page.
It’s these kind of decisions by newspaper editors that, to my way of thinking, doom newspapers to oblivion. News consumers in the digital era increasingly are uncomfortable with news-company gatekeepers making decisions about what they view or read. Those newspapers that do survive will do so by reinventing themselves and making radical changes in how they operate — including not spiking comic strips that have a strong point of view on an issue of the day, when the same comic is available on the web in many places and which makes printed newspapers look as antiquated as a manual typewriter.
This may be the mother of all media-curmudgeon columns. It’s going to be really difficult for anyone to top this, unless some newspaper editor from the 1890s rises from the dead and pens an anti-Internet essay.
“This” is an essay published by the Providence Journal on March 12, 2012 (yes, really! 2012!) and written by John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine and, apparently, a monthly contributor to the Journal. Titled “Internet con men ravage publishing,” we’re informed that the essay is “one of this year’s Delacorte Lectures at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.”
Ironically, MacArthur’s column can be found on This New England Blog on ProvidenceJournal.com. Oddly, the byline of the essay reads “By Robert Whitcomb,” proprietor of the blog. Whitcomb has republished MacArthur’s essay, I’m guessing, because the magazine publisher prefers to put words to paper, not to website or blog. MacArthur admits to likening the Internet to a giant photocopying machine (which ranks up there with the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ explanation of the Internet: “It’s a series of tubes”).
Here are a few MacArthur gems from the essay, for your consideration as we collectively ponder who will be Media Curmudgeon of the Year for 2012:
“Information wants to be free? So does food.”
“As the ever-more-demanding Internet God continues to bleed publishers and writers … the advantages of advertising on paper become more obvious.”
“To the extent that commercial newspapers and magazines are advertising catalogs - with writing wrapped around them — they are vastly more effective in purveying commercial messages because with paper, you can’t help bumping into the ads on the way to reading the articles in between.”
“Devotees of the Internet like to say that the Web is a bottom-up phenomenon that wondrously bypasses the traditional gatekeepers in publishing and politics who allegedly snuff out true debate. But much of what I see is unedited, incoherent babble indicative of a herd mentality, not a true desire for self-government or fairness.”
“The energy devoted to the Net is an astonishing waste. This is time that obviously could be better spent talking to a friend or a child, reading a good book, or marching in a political demonstration.”
Any publisher in 2012 with an ounce of intelligence who has an employee, or worse a manager, who utters such inanities should fire that person immediately, or force them to retire. Of course, MacArthur is publisher and president of Harper’s, which is funded by the Harper’s Magazine Foundation. Perhaps the foundation’s board should persuade him that it’s time to let the “young kids” have a go.
I’m not going to waste time here deconstructing MacArthur’s lame arguments, but Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic has done a fine job, so I’ll point you to his “bitch-slap” (as one denizen of Twitter described Madrigal’s response): “Paper Con Man Ravages the Internet.”
1. “Ignore the curmudgeons. Some leaders spent way too much time responding to the resisters. It’s an easy trap to fall into - the curmudgeons tend to be the loudest. Instead, focus on staff members who are making positive changes - hold them up as examples and get their help in bringing others along. Meanwhile, keep the curmudgeons busy with a performance improvement plan and hold them accountable.”
2. “Stop marginalizing the innovators. One of the more disheartening developments is when an organization brings a digital innovator on board with fanfare, and then fails to support that person when the inevitable internal backlash occurs. If your organization is fortunate enough to have online innovators on staff, create a system that gives them authority to move forward - and be poised to run interference with the curmudgeons - that’s the leader’s job.”