Nothing is in a name when we attack industry tribes

There’s no need to defend “entrepreneurial journalism” because it doesn’t exist

David Cohn
Aug 1, 2014 · 5 min read

Is anyone else tired of pointless journalist on journalist attacks? They persist because of the labels/divisions we create amongst ourselves. Most of these labels are meaningless outside of our industry. It’s tribalism at its worst. In the end — we are on the same team.

How different types of journalists see each other

(From my most popular blog post ever)

I did an eye-roll when I came across Corey Pein’s piece in the Baffler: “Amway Journalism.”

The tl;dr version: He doesn’t like “entrepreneurial journalism” (E.J.) because it is being promoted by folks like Jeff Jarvis.

Arguments why Corey doesn’t like “entrepreneurial journalism” include [my tl;dr responses in brackets]…..

  1. E.J’s are more concerned about personal brand/twitter than journalism [Straw man]

2. “At its most ambitious, it means …. perpetual paid speaking invitations and … entree into the exclusive grifterhood of future-of-media experts.” [Straw man]

3. Kara Swisher, Ezra Klein are referenced too much and aren’t good examples. [They aren’t?]

4. They “exude disdain” for traditional reporters [I’m sure there are anecdotes, but overall this is a straw man. To be an “E.J.” doesn’t require disdain for traditional reporters.]

5. They have no ethics and will trade money/popularity at the expense of their work. [Straw man]

6. It’s not as good or guaranteed of a salary/career as journalists used to have [Cry about it]

7. Jeff Jarvis talks too much. [Who cares?]

This bit about Jarvis ends up being the entire second half of the piece. I’ll ignore it since Jarvis is a big boy and can respond himself if he wants. But I will say — while I was never an official “student” of Jeff’s I’ve learned a lot from him. My career has benefited from having him as a resource and mentor.

I think Corey’s intentions were good. When I responded on Twitter, we had a small and polite exchange. Bottom line, he sees himself as trying to protect journalism from snake oil salesmen, people with lots of talk and no walk. That is an admirable goal, even if he targets somebody I would defend from that claim. But in his attempt at this, he seems to attack all “entrepenurial journalists.” Somehow, I felt accused of being un-ethical, having disdain for other reporters, and more.

Why would we throw everyone in this space under the bus?

https://twitter.com/Digidave/status/494295051803975682
https://twitter.com/coreypein/status/494350249142800384
https://twitter.com/Digidave/status/494358991024050176
https://twitter.com/coreypein/status/494361210935345152
https://twitter.com/coreypein/status/494361515815096321
https://twitter.com/coreypein/status/494361729066074112

I agree with some of Corey’s sentiment, but what I wanted to respond with was something like:

We better hope an entrepreneurial journalist figures something out or hope the “shills” take care of us better. Let’s hope no anti-entrepreneurial journalism rants are taken too literally to do any harm.

Again: I don’t think Corey wanted to throw “entrepreneurial journalism” under the bus. Instead, I think he just wanted to write a hit piece on Jarvis and since Jarvis talks about this stuff, there was collateral damage. He is obviously a fan of some entrepreneurial efforts: Spot.Us, Beacon, Byliner. I’m sure he was a fan of Demotix where he was the lead editor for awhile. I’m willing to bet there are others Corey is a fan of. I’m sure he doesn’t think these organizations or its leaders are devoid of ethics, have disdain for tradition or any of the other arguments above.

One of my favorite responses was from Ryan Chittum:

https://twitter.com/ryanchittum/status/493889707256713216

Corey doesn’t like people who coin buzzwords. Neither does Chittum. They have different names for those types of people. Ryan’s colleague Dean Starkman doesn’t like people who think about the future of news or coin buzzwords either. He calls them part of the “Future of News consensus” or FONers for short.

Stop me when you see the cognitive dissonance.

The real heart of the matter

Something to note throughout this piece, I’ve put “entrepreneurial journalism” in quotes most of the time. I hate that term. I hate “journopreneur” as a term. I hate most terms we use today to describe new things in journalism or what I consider myself to be. The tl;dr version of why — They describe little. We call a chef a chef whether they own their restaurant or not. We might call one an “entrepreneur” but that wouldn’t define their cooking. It just means they have more control over the menu than somebody who works for another chef or owner.

The quibbling that goes on amongst journalists about this stuff feels like internal office politics. The kind of petty bullshit that feels so real and important, but isn’t. Except for the fact that it leads to real consequences of people getting fired and promoted.

I don’t want to pretend this is one-sided either. Like I said above re: disdain for tradition, I see a lot of bullshit preached about how “traditional” journalists “just don’t get it” and I want to raise my hand and ask: “What is it that they don’t ‘get’.” I don’t find that kind of generalization helpful. My experience has been: In traditional organizations, the individuals get everything and very much want to push forward, but the structure of the institutions are often at fault, not individuals.

I’m also not giving everyone a free pass from criticism. What I’m looking for is direct criticism based on the merit of ideas/execution. But criticisms that cast aspersions on entire swaths of people based on the “type” of journalist they are is disheartening. It’s internal “othering.” We should judge somebody based on the content of their work, not what caste we put them in. Some entrepreneurial journalism is bullshit. I’ve called some out. I try to do so diplomatically.

Some traditional reporters are bullshit. Some are great. But we need to get over the idea that “the problem in our industry isn’t people like me…. it’s them!”

It’s all of us. It’s you reading this, it’s the technologists, it’s the beat reporter. It’s me. If we can all collectively step up and take responsibility for our little roles as stewards of journalism/news, then we can push forward better, faster, stronger, harder.

    David Cohn

    Written by

    Senior Director at Advance Publications innovation group. Twitter: @digidave or http://blog.digidave.org Do what I can to help. Also, I love you.

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