Standing on the edge of some crazy cliff and protecting what?

May 11, 2010

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22, spoken by the character Holden Caulfield, via quotegarden.com

I watched Jon Meacham, Editor of Newsweek, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week. Meacham had learned earlier that same day that Newsweek is being sold. He described the decision as a “rational economic decision” (based on journalism today). I applaud him for being there. I would have been curled up in the fetal position with a bag of Cheeto’s.

“Who is going to be doing the reporting?” Jon Stewart asked. “If we’re all aggregators, if we’re all commenting, if we’re all analyzing, who exactly is going to be doing the reporting?”

Hmmm. This might as well be a question asked at some “social learning” session within the “emerging” track at a national conference that is rich in sessions about traditional training (“dino” track ; ) It’s the same conference where there’s one person tweeting for each 100 attendees and there’s often no wireless. The one where you use a #hashtag so you can go back and link to the stream to illustrate how lame it was.

Anyway, Meacham made this statement which has generated some critical commentary:

“I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.”

From Peter Wehner at Commentary Magazine:

“We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past.”

Ethan Epstein at True/Slant in Journalists Try To Hold Democracy Hostage also wrote about the Meacham interview.

“Meacham is, of course, wrong on the facts. There are now more catchers in the rye than ever before. Paradoxically, the same forces that are killing Newsweek are responsible for a blossoming of scores of specialized news outlets. Newsweek has to die so democracy and journalism can live. Simply put, it is the fact that web publishing is so cheap that has both killed Newsweek, and allowed all forms of niche publications to thrive. (The kind of publications, it should be noted, that never would have made it in an era when you needed deep pockets to produce news.)”

Meacham, when responding to a question from Stewart, points to The Economist as being successful today. He doesn’t give his opinion why. Mine would be that The Economist is (and  has been) a meritocracy. And that’s the nature of the social web.

The Economist is different from other publications not only because it offers a broad international perspective but also because it has no bylines. It is written anonymously, because it is a paper whose collective voice and personality matter more than the identities of individual journalists. This ensures a continuity of tradition and view which few other publications have matched.

Or, is it Vanity Fair’s, Matt Pressman’s take?

The Economist is like that exotic coffee that comes from beans that have been eaten and shat out undigested by an Indonesian civet cat, and Time and Newsweek are like Starbucks—millions of people enjoy them, but it’s not a point of pride. Reading The Economist or drinking cat-poop coffee shouldn’t be either, but as the quirky lead sentence of an Economist article might say, “Human beings are peculiar in many ways.”

At some point here, the Newsweek’s of the traditional training content world need to “get” the social web. It’s about human beings. Or is that too elitist? Too cat poop coffee? Is the clusterfuck around social learning a naïve view of learning or are the staunch protectors of traditional training taking a naïve view of learning?

BTW…this is where The Economist was over three years ago.

Tackling Social Media At The Economist

And, a short piece about where they are today.
BTW…You can watch the Meacham / Stewart interview here.
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Jon Meacham Extended Interview Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
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