Oh, wait. My mistake. Bob probably wasn’t available. The actual keynote speaker at the Online News Association convention was Ben Huh, that fearless charioteer leading new journalism into its bold future. Keynoter Ben — whose résumé emphasizes he is a “journalism graduate” — got rich and influential as CEO of “I Can Has Cheezburger?” a Web site featuring goofy pictures of readers’ cats.
Yes, “Who, What, When, Where and Why” has now been overtaken by “Huh?”
Every time I write despairingly about what’s happening to my profession, there erupts an online clatter from younger journalists who contend I am a dyspeptic old codger resisting necessary and healthful change. This happened most recently in June, after I had criticized “branding,” the new industry theology in which reporters are encouraged to brazenly promote themselves. I thought branding — a concept adopted from marketing — was not only unseemly but carries a whiff of desperation, a symptom of an industry in panic, willing to abandon core principles, trying anything and everything in the hope that something, somewhere, can turn a profit.
Anyway, that was four months ago. The big headline from the ONA’s convention in September was: BRANDING IS DEAD.
Yep. Branding is so passé, so summer 2011! Deader than a doornail. Deader than the sycamores on which some newspapers still quaintly inscribe themselves. Branding has been replaced by a new theology in which — this is complicated, but I think I have this right — you, the journalist, don’t actually exist. You are a composite of all the people who read you — with their desires channeled through you and satisfied by you and them together, working in tandem. You are them but not them, and they are you but not you, in a mystical nexus not unlike the Holy Trinity.
So, anyway, here is a picture of bacon taped to a cat.
When this column is published, young journalists will once again call me a cantankerous old fud and allege that I am irresponsibly criticizing a brave new world I don’t really understand. Mostly, they’ll contend I am being shallow and superficial and shabby with the facts. I’m pretty sure they will do this without any sense of irony.
I love journalism, and frankly, even in this bewildering new form, I’m just glad that it’s still alive. My newspaper, for one, is actually hiring. I am looking at a new office-wide job posting for “an experienced, hands-on designer to help create Web-based and mobile applications … for various non-news verticals.”
I have no idea what this means, but I am glad to see that the posting emphasizes that it wants someone with “a human-centered approach.”
In conclusion, here is
a picture of a cat
that looks like Hitler:
Alexandra Petri on why Gene is wrong about bacon-cats and journalism
Reaction from readers and ONA executive director
Response from Cheezburger’s Ben Huh
Archive: Gene Weingarten’s Below the Beltway humor column