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Forty-Four Things about Debating We Media on Twitter

(Expressed in 140 characters or less, with links.)

1. Twitter is not a medium for debate. Its telegraphic form obscures. Friendfeed is little better. I’ll never debate anyone on either again.

2. On 5.4.09, I published a manifesto, “How to Save Media,” on my blog.

3. It made some people interested in We Media (or participatory, citizen, or amateur journalism) very angry.

4. Why did they care? It was a prescription for preserving newspapers and magazines by saving mainstream media (MSM, to We Media).

5. The manifesto was clear-eyed and detailed. It was informed by my own hard experiences as an editor and publisher.

6. It wasn’t inflammatory, but it strongly disagreed with two We Media advocates whose ideas about MSM are doomy: @cshirky and @davewiner.

7. That’s Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, and Dave Winer, a Californian software developer, who are beloved by amateur journalists.

8. Still, you might imagine that We Media enthusiasts would have been flattered by my manifesto.

9. After all, I offered MSM the choice of adaptation and accommodation–or death. For We Media, I predicted a flourishing future.

10. I carefully distinguished between MSM and We Media, which needs no business to sustain it, but only the dedication of its contributors.

11. Alas, no love for @jason_pontin! For some We Media advocates, the case against MSM is theological.

12. That is, it is not enough that the two forms of journalism might coexist. MSM must die. Really, I should die.

13. My prescription, with which commentators mostly agreed, was seldom directly addressed.

14. (With exceptions! Here, here, here, here, here, and here–the last, an interesting perspective from a photo editor.)

15. Instead, my quotations from the two We Media advocates were dismissed as “gratuitous guru-sliming” (@jayrosen_nyu) and building a “strawman” (@Boraz).

16. All agreed I had travestied both men.

17. @davewiner himself wrote, “@jason_pontin manipulates what people say to be what he wants to rebut.”

18. @jayrosen_nyu, who is Jay Rosen, a distinguished professor at NYU and blogger, was the most incensed.

19. On his Friendfeed he called me “Mr. Clown,” “deluded,” “linkless” (to Rosen, bad!), a “curmudgeon” (very, very bad!), and ruder things.

20. I must have done something dreadful, you might think. In fact, the manifesto did not mention Rosen’s name.

21. In a Tweet, I had included him amongst the We Media advocates to whom the manifesto was implicitly addressed.

22. This was not improper, since he’s written that there’s no clear business model for news.

23. And for years he has promoted amateur journalism, a hybrid he calls “pro-am,” and jeered that the press was a deracinated “tribe.”

24. What I learnt was that the standards of argument and evidence among We Media advocates on Twitter are different than IRL.

25. That’s In Real Life.

26. I paid @cshirky and @davewiner the real compliment of reading them attentively, believing their words meant only what they said.

27. Their texts were clear and unambiguous.

28. @cshirky wrote, “Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.”

29. And @davewiner wrote, “The sources will fill in where we used to need journalists.”

30. But I was told that @davewiner and @cshirky really “meant” something else.

31. I might, @Boraz suggested, learn those meanings through private conversations or Talmudic contemplation of the entire corpus.

32. All this Twittering is ridiculous: strange, overheated, and parochial.

33. I needed examples of the argument that media-as-a-business was dying.

34. I chose @cshirky and @davewiner because I liked their writings, and because the specific posts were very widely known.

35. If @jayrosen_nyu et al. think this kind of textual criticism is not a legitimate device in journalism, they need to read more.

36. My point was that publications are businesses where professionals collaborate in expensive, laborious processes that have value.

37. Those processes are understood dimly, if at all, by most We Media advocates like @davewiner and @cshirky.

38. But because they do not understand the business of media, it does not follow that no editor or publisher knows what will save MSM.

39. Many smart, tech-savvy editors and publishers know. Even I know.

40. My prescription described the forms and modes of business that will sustain newspapers and magazines.

41. My moral theme is that we should strive to save the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and even Technology Review.

42. They are beautiful, the work of many years, and our “most important exchanges in the free marketplace of ideas.”

43. If We Media advocates wish to debate me, let them wrestle with my words and argument.

44. But I shan’t debate them on Twitter. Twitter, for all its wonderful utility as a news feed, is just terrible for rational debate.

Instead, comment in this discussion. If you really insist, use the Twitter hash #TRmanifesto, and we’ll aggregate your remarks into the discussion. Write a blog post. Or if you have the use of one of those much-despised printing presses, use that. Or write me at

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