Michael Massing thinks you’re bland and boring

Michael Massing is assessing and mostly assailing digital journalism in a three-part series he’s writing for the New York Review of Books. Apparently he has things exactly right, because although he’s gone after the biggest names in digital journalism, from Arianna Huffington’s Post to Buzzfeed to Vox, they are not fighting back. Maybe they are too busy laughing their way to the bank to care about a mere media critic, writing for a publication that believes people should pay for it.

I went through the second piece, Digital Journalism: The Next Generation and summarize it like so:

Michael Massing just put a dart into the head of digital journalism. He looked at “The Next Generation” and found that it isn’t measuring up. Here is the list of points he makes:

  • It does nothing innovative. Blinded by Buzzfeed, digital journalism is not breaking any new ground in reporting. Maybe presentation is better than it was, but so what?
  • It is afraid of offending people, especially advertisers. Hard to believe, given the amount of trolling that goes on out there, the vitriol and vituperativeness of commenting. But stories lack bite, and important topics get shunned in favor of cute stuff.
  • People are not a platform. Despite much adulation for Nate Silver, Ezra Klein and other journalists qua celebrities, the sites they left (the New York Times, the Washington Post) are doing better without them than vice versa. Newsletters are not news.
  • Digital media mumbles to itself. There are great vertical sites for almost every topic, but the only people who read them are fanatics. Their great reporting goes into a void.
  • The big experiments have failed. Longform and citizen journalism, hailed as thrilling new forms of content driven by the internet, have turned into mush. Toxic, angry mush.
  • Digital media wishes everything went viral. But almost nothing does. No one can predict what will go viral. And if they tell you they can do it, they’re lying.
  • New York is the only place that matters in the entire world. Journalism in the U.S. has always paid obeisance to New York, but digital journalism is even more parochial. Freed from geographic constraints of broadcast signals and newspaper delivery regions, digital media have flocked to New York. Desperate for scale and national advertisers, the digital media world is “clubby, inbred.”

Massing ends by saying that despite all the money going into online journalism, the best journalism still happens at The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times. His irony is unhappy:

These organizations are commonly referred to as “legacy” institutions – a gently derisive term that lumps them in with Blockbuster and Radio Shack as enterprises that, once thriving, were undermined by more innovative startups. When it comes to actual journalist practice, however, it’s the media startups that in general seem the laggards.

I though this evisceration of digital journalism would evoke outrage on line, with strong defenses of the medium marshaled by the likes of Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen. I would at least think they would argue that The Times and the Post have better patrons than Vox and its ilk, and give it time. Or that these old school publications only thrive because they have given themselves over, finally, to digital journalism. Instead, I’m seeing a few sighs on Twitter and that’s about it.

I think Massing makes many good points, and it could take some time to rebut him effectively.  I agree with a lot of what he says and am not interested in mounting a serious rebuttal. But silence? From the Web?
Here’s the first piece, largely focused on The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo and other blog pioneers that have stagnated. Plus a shout out for Politico.

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