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Jeff Jarvis on Tough Love

I just had that experience. I was in Mountain View to give a book talk at Google's campus. So I went from that to the next day I saw an old friend from my days at the [San Francisco] Examiner who's now at the Chronicle. After lunch we went up to the newsroom -- and I blogged this -- I was struck, saddened, by the darkness, dankness and dust of the newsroom versus the bright sunshine of the Googleplex. It made me sad. People I worked with who are very smart and cared a great deal are feeling quite stuck now and they didn't have to. That's what gets me.

I believe we should train them for this new world and it's not hard to learn it. I'm 54 years old and I carry my flip video camera and I blog and live-blog and I Twitter, and I learned it, too, and so can any of these journalists.

What do your former colleagues say to you? Where's my lifeboat?

I had a friend recently who asked whether it was gratifying that those of us who've predicted the growth of online were right. I said: No, it's not gratifying at all. What I wanted to see happen was that the newspaper business I knew would transform itself for this new world. And I include in that my own failures. I worked in the business for many years. I didn't manage to convince people of the need for greater change.

Executives at the AP and the Wall Street Journal have recently spoken quite critically about Google and other aggregation sites.

I think it's saber-rattling and I think it's deflection. There's a fundamental misunderstanding on both sides of the discussion. We're seeing the shift from the content economy to the link economy. In the content economy, you could sell multiple copies of a piece of work, whether it was a book or a newspaper or a syndicated article. Online, you need only one copy of anything and it is the links to it that add value. So the tragic irony of this discussion is that newspapers are acting as if Google is stealing their value when indeed Google is giving them great value.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, spoke at the Newspaper Association of America annual conference. What is your take on what he said?

I was quite struck that in the end he chastised the group and reminded them that news is a customer business and if you quote "piss off" -- rather strong words for Schmidt -- your customers, you will lose them. And I think he was trying to give them very good advice. But what's happening is in the desperation, in the last-minute Hail Marys of the newspaper business having not innovated enough for 15 years and now desperately trying to save themselves at the last minute, they're lashing out in anger and looking for people to blame.

In your newspaper career, did you ever write obits?

Oh yeah.

Does it feel similar? The process of making people understand what's happening to newspapers?

It's actually the exact opposite. I'm writing a birth notice. With the Internet come incredible opportunities. And I can be an obnoxious optimist about this, and I know I am, but I really believe that.

The Pulitzer Prizes are scheduled to be announced Monday. For the first time, entrants from online-only publications were eligible.

It's about time. The Web has been around for 20 years, the commercial browser and Craigslist for 15, blogs and Google for 10 and now in 2009, the Pulitzer Prizes are rewarding what is inevitably the future of journalism. The Pulitzers had a moral responsibility to push and goad journalism into the future and instead they rewarded, should I say, the past? Yeah, sure, the past.

What is your take on Journalism Online, the new venture from veteran media executives that will allow newspapers and magazines to charge for online content?

I wish them luck and I'm eager to be proven wrong, but I don't believe that paid content will be the salvation of newspapers. The problem I have with the paid discussion is it often is built around the verb should: People should pay.

In all the bad news for newspapers stories, there's always a lot of nostalgia.

Horses are very nice. Cars belch pollution and get us into the mess of the oil economy. But we're not going back to horses.


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