Question for Jarvis: How will we pay for NYT’s Foxconn coverage?

Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn claims to be raising its wages and cutting overtime, and it seems fair to attribute at least some of that to NYT’s excellent coverage of Apple’s manufacturing there, which put some pressure on them. Elsewhere on the internet Jeff Jarvis explains why he insists that news become profitable, rather than relying on nonprofit models. Jarvis:

I am certain that there is not enough charity in the nation to support the journalism it needs… I also believe they are more likely to build better journalistic products, services, and platforms if they are accountable to the marketplace.

So my question – a genuine one – is how Jarvis thinks the NYT’s iPhone manufacturing coverage fits into this. I can think of a few possibilities of how it might.

1. He believes the market will directly support this kind of work

I find this hard to believe. Shirky has written that this kind of investigative work never made money, but back before news was un-bundled, ads that were sold against articles about sports, the classifieds, coupons, etc. and could help subsidize this sort of stuff.

No doubt many people read the NYT pieces, but they must have cost a ridiculous amount to produce. So I’m skeptical of this one, but perhaps Jarvis disagrees.

2. He believes the market will indirectly subsidize this kind of work via branding

In my mind, the best retort to Shirky’s point that the news was always subsidized is to argue that papers like NYT gain an indirect benefit with their credible reporting. Sure, when readers got the paper they looked at sports and lighter stuff, but they chose to buy such a premier paper in the first place in part to associate themselves with the seriousness of the brand.

That gets harder in the current un-bundled environment, but it may still hold. Maybe I mostly go to Vanity Fair to read celebrity profiles, but the reason I can justify it is because they do serious journalism too. Jarvis could argue that this kind of indirect brand subsidy will make the Foxconn reporting a market necessity.

3. The market won’t support it, so this is one of the things nonprofits should do

Jarvis isn’t against nonprofit news. He just doesn’t want to be over reliant on it. So he could say “yep, this is one of those things that ProPublica is going to do. Just don’t think that model props up all of journalism.”

4. ???

Of course, it’s quite likely that Jarvis’s answer is none of these things. But I’d love to hear it.

Not all internet intellectuals are created equal

Evgeny Morozov has a brutal review of Jeff Jarvis’s latest book up at The New Republic. Here’s a quick bit:

HAD JARVIS WRITTEN his book as self-parody—as a cunning attack on the narrow-mindedness of new media academics who trade in pronouncements so pompous, ahistorical, and vacuous that even the nastiest of post-modernists appear lucid and sensible in comparison—it would have been a remarkable accomplishment. But alas, he is serious. This is a book that should have stayed a tweet.

There are at least a dozen equally harsh parts. As it turns out, I’m not a big Jarvis fan. I’ve tried to read his blog before but found it tiring. Morozov uses Jarvis as an intellectual punching bag, picking vapid quotes and highlighting misinterpretations of more serious scholars. To some extent any “public intellectual” can be criticized for not bringing the depth of academic work to bear on the subject, but for my money if you’re looking to balance seriousness and accessibility you can do better than Jarvis. I go to Clay Shirky and Jay Rosen for slightly brainer but still public-facing thoughts on much the same subjects. (Here’s something recent from Shirky that I liked.) And of course, one can go more academic still into Lessig, Benkler, Wu, Zittrain, etc.

More importantly, someone could write a similar screed against anti-internet thinkers like Carr and Keen. But they’d be picking on the weak ones, rather than taking on more able opponents like Morozov or Matt Hindman. So what’s Morozov’s real beef?

Why worry about the growing dominance of such digitalism? The reason should be obvious. As Internet-driven explanations crowd out everything else, our entire vocabulary is being re-defined. Collaboration is re-interpreted through the prism of Wikipedia; communication, through the prism of social networking; democratic participation, through the prism of crowd-sourcing; cosmopolitanism, through the prism of reading the blogs of exotic “others”; political upheaval, through the prism of the so-called Twitter revolutions.

Morozov specifically references Benkler here:

Of course, there is no denying that the Internet alters our ideational and cognitive landscapes. A civilization that prides itself on building a Wikipedia is likely to have certain ideas about democratic participation, cooperation, research, expertise, and human nature. (The title of a 2009 talk by Yochai Benkler, the smartest Internet utopian and in many ways the anti-Jarvis, captures the stakes quite well: “After Selfishness: Wikipedia 1, Hobbes 0 at Half Time.”)

think about Yochai Benkler’s work in a slightly different way. Rather than crowding out, it’s opening doors. We don’t re-interpret collaboration through the prism of Wikipedia, as much as Wikipedia gives us a lens to better understand collaboration. As with all good science, the metric is usefulness. I get Morozov’s worry here, but don’t think it need apply to the quality work being done by serious scholars. In that sense, the problem is the abusers of digitalism, not digitalism itself.