I’ve written about the changing face of journalism several times here. Mostly, my opinions fall on the side that being paid or working for large, established/known magazines or newspapers isn’t the delimiting factor in a discussion about who is a journalist.
With that in mind, I neither think of nor describe myself as a journalist, even though I have a background in that business and thus far haven’t taken any advertising revenue that might call my values into question; I’m more of an op-ed writer, and regardless, my goal in writing this journal is as much about attracting clients for our business consulting and search engine optimization practices as it is about being informative.
But I also don’t think of myself as a “blogger”—which is a matter of taste. It’s not that I believe bloggers are unprofessional (think once again about the whole “who is a journalist” debate); it’s just that with so many blogs started by hobbyists and abandoned I’ve egotistically convinced myself that I’m … better than that, or serving a greater purpose, or something.
Today, I’m thinking about the subject in a whole new way.
I came across a story at Lifehacker, a sizable blog in the GawkerMedia family. I’ve had a run-in or two over what I consider to be unprofessional behavior by Gawker employees, such as this issue with Gizmodo’s “Tony Kaye”, but I keep reading Gawker properties because they do in fact uncover some interesting stuff and report on it—my primary definition for that pesky “journalism” word.
But this story threw me. Ostensibly, it describes how you can extend free trials for services like Netflix indefinitely. Forget the moral, ethical, and even legal ramifications of the very idea; it simply does nothing of the sort.
Sure, the story lays out steps through which, if you have multiple pre-paid debit cards and multiple disposable e-mail addresses and are willing to work a bit too hard, you can keep getting free offers over and over and over again. And Lifehacker’s stock-in-trade is uncovering neat new ways to get things done better, or cheaper. But … think about this one. It might be illegal, it’s certainly questionable ethically, and it probably costs you more time than it’s worth. It’s garbage.
Lifehacker, in publishing this pabulum, is going a long way toward proving that there are too many blogs saying too little, populated by unprofessional people masquerading as writers and journalists.
I’m going to stick my my basic belief that as business changes, all businesses change, and the ivory-tower-esconced people at places like The New York Times shouldn’t and don’t have a stranglehold on “who is a journalist”. AOL makes questionable Journalistic Choices, and they’re huge. In fact, I believe that AOL is really nothing more than a giant content farm.
Journalists need to listen more. They need to care what their readers want, and adapt. And they need to know they’re responsible for the choices they make. And publishing a story about cheating Netflix out of revenue through dubious and convoluted means isn’t journalism.
Nick Denton, this isn’t business change, and it certainly isn’t journalism. You should be ashamed.