A journalist hasn’t performed a full day’s work unless at some point he deprecates a competitor, either in print, in a public speech, or idly while exiting the building for lunch. News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson (Wall Street Journal; Times of London; New York Post; Australian; et al.) more than earned his pay Monday, when he rabbit-punched the Washington Post at an Advertising Week Europe conference in London. He castigated Post staffers, most of whom regard themselves as “high priests” of journalism, he said. Their self-worship has prevented them from making the necessary transformative digital switch, Thomson alleged.
As if commissioned by the Post‘s guardian angel, the Financial Times answered (registration required) Thomson’s sass with a glowing story about all the digital initiatives at the Jeff Bezos-era Post. The newsroom is adding three dozen new faces, including data journalists and mobile designers, and has struck a deal with six outland newspapers that will allow their subscribers to bypass the Post pay wall and read all they like there. The paper has established a new online contributor network, drawing on the talent at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, and it has swung (and missed) with its Post TV venture.
Financial Times reporter Emily Steel was dazzled by some of the skunkworks projects that digital wizard Cory Haik showed her, which included prototypes built on Google Glass, Snapchat, the Secret app, and smartwatches. So allow me to correct Robert Thomson: If any future-blocking high priests of journalism remain at the Post, they must be directing their masses off the premises.
I slag Thomson not only to fill my own daily quota of deprecation, but as a device to revisit the journalistic debate that has smoldered like an underground coal fire since the commercial Web got going 20 years ago. The debate pits the platformists against the contentists, to pinch the terminology of my friend Michael Schaffer of the New Republic.
Platformists, who speak excitedly and are prone to writing in italics, insist that technology changes everything! Function must follow form! Digital first! Innovate or die! Everybody must learn how to write code! Data rules! We must build an Uber for news! A GarageBand for news! A Candy Crush for news!