Monday, November 23, 2009

WaPo layoffs again raise print vs. web talk

These are strange times we live in. Times when, from what I can tell about visiting, working in, and consulting with newsrooms and just shooting the bull with lot of journalists, we make Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde look like pikers when it comes to shifting personalities over the digital vs. the print.*

The latest to put this in bas relief are the layoffs at the Washington Post online operations, including, apparently, well-respected journalist Travis Fox.

Every so often an eruption will occur and venom, or at least highly acidic comments, will pour out from the "printies" and the "web heads." I trace it to about a year and a half ago, during the July Fourth weekend, when Media General laid off folks at its Tampa operation. An intern, Jessica DaSilva, blogged about it and appeared to take praise management for its forward thinkingness - and the knives came out and all bets were off.

Until that time, there seemed to be an uneasy truce between "trad" media folk who were tolerating the online whippersnappers and the digital folk who were convinced that the mainstream media types were clearly the problem and the answer was to stop being paticularly tolerant and just sweep them away (read all 200 + comments to DaSilva's post and you'll see what I mean). For several months, at least, the rhetorical wars seemed to escalate before calming down. But I sensed a shift had occurred, a wall of civility had been breached, never to be truly patched over again.

From time to time it flares up again, as it has with the WaPo layoffs. Read the comments on the Washington City Paper story and then read Matthew Ingram's thoughtful post on the subject.

For about a year, in my other hat as executive editor of The Convergence Newsletter, I've been trying to get some interest in someone doing a piece that looks at the rhetorical exchanges. Am I right, will historians look back and find that on that July 2008 weekend things did change irrevocably?

Comments here welcome, but even more welcome would be someone to take up the challenge (I've not written it myself because rhetoric is one of those areas where I know just enough to be dangerous). No money is involved (we're a publication that tries to span academics and the real world, after all). All I can do is offer 600-1,200 words and a byline in a newsletter with 1,000-plus international circulation.

*Strange phenomenon I have noticed is that in many newsrooms people know what needs to be done. They are not clueless. But they are paralyzed by inability to act in a coherent way. They know the dragon is at the door, but they alternatively want to get the fire extinguisher or just pretend it's a puddy kat.

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