nov 25

Sure, Let's Try It: The New Public Intellectual

It has been busy times around here, so I overlooked mentioning the consulting company that Rachel launched last week with Dan Abrams. The NYT story explained it pretty well: "The firm, Abrams Research, may resemble a narrowly focused version of 'expert network' firms that connect investors to industry experts. Journalists and bloggers retained and paid by the firm could consult with corporations, conduct media training sessions, or conduct investigative reporting for corporate clients." You might have seen Gawker pounce on this with calls to ethics (gotta love when they do that!), but this only served to prove what a limited sense of self-awareness some people in the profession have of themselves. Seriously, I work with all kinds of different clients, and it takes only a modest amount of common sense judgment to know where you draw lines. I sense that ethics was held up as a straw man to keep others in the profession in their place. If self-proclaimed journalists really want to survive, they'll need to start thinking of themselves in a sphere that includes researcher, pundit, entrepreneur, speaker, performer -- actually not too different from the whole "public intellectual" thing espoused in the '90s. As Felix pointed out today, it turns out that a lot of them already get it.


Actually, I totally love this frame.

But, by extension, does it mean that Abrams Research ought to -- as a sort of re-investment in the public sphere that it aims to make money being smart about -- publish lots of free, public commentary and research in addition to the paid stuff?

Some sort of super-blog, with, say, an occasional big report free to everyone?

I vote yes -- if only b/c I feel like, selfishly, that's the kind of stuff I would like to read.

And, really, I think you have to take the "public" part of the title seriously if you want to use the term.

There are some models for this. Hitwise, for instance, does a surprisingly good job w/ its analyst blogs --

posted by robin at 11:27 PM on November 25, 2008

Laid-off journalists who couldn't figure out how to navigate the current media landscape to find full-time employment in it for themselves (or freelancers who can't find work at all) are now supposed to be giving advice to others on new media best practices? What am I missing? This sounds incredibly stupid.

If it's currently employed journalists, then the whole thing is just sleazy. The people involved should be ashamed and they will be derided, justifiably so, at every turn.

posted by ethically challenged at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2008

"are now supposed to be giving advice to others on new media best practices"

Two things:

1) I don't think anyone necessarily said that. The idea is to give advice on topics where they have expertise, which may (or in most cases, may not) be new media.

2) The media industry is failing and a lot of people will lose their jobs. I definitely think SOMEONE did something wrong at big media companies (and in many cases, I know exactly where to point the finger) -- but in most cases, it's not the actual journalists themselves who failed.

posted by Rex at 1:03 PM on November 26, 2008

Look, the media field is redefining itself (well, it's always in a state of redefining itself) and there simply isn't a need for as many journalists as there were before. That is NO ONE'S fault. That's just the reality of the Internet and technology. All hail efficiency!

The idea that these unemployed journalists are now grasping to the idea of redefining themselves as "industry experts" is both sad and ridiculous. One would have hoped that they aspired to redefine themselves as something more than an overpriced consultant asshole. Maybe go into education or government? Or hey, here's a crazy idea - why not pool all these media "experts" and build a journalism BUSINESS that actually works in these new times!

posted by ethically challenged at 1:06 PM on November 26, 2008

Your second response is more reasoned than the first, but I still see you're trying to find some sort of nuanced-yet-bombastic middle-ground between Rosenbaum v. Jarvis.

Does the media industry need to realign its workforce and do people need to find jobs in places like education and government? Uh, sure. But those sectors aren't exactly teeming with activity right now either.

I guess I imagine a future that is very internety -- one where people have a variety of different income sources, where they make short bets and long bets, where they write books and start small businesses while they survive by providing expertise in the nano-topics that they know more than others in.

Since I'm one those people who hated consultants and then became one, this all might be a case of projection. But I think the future is more diverse. And this will be part of it.

posted by Rex at 2:35 PM on November 26, 2008

"But those sectors aren't exactly teeming with activity right now either."

Really? Have you seen the vacancy rates in secondary education teaching positions? Have you perused a government or non-profit job board? These options might not be as "sexy" as a media job or get you invited to the parties you are accustomed to, but that's the reality depicting the gaping need in our workforce.

If the future is, as you say, a hodgepodge of different income sources with everyone having their hand in a little bit of everything then that's truly fucked. Think it's hard to keep track of conflicts of interest now? As if the public isn't already numb by the shady practices of big business, let's throw more dead wood on the pile as we burn our society at the stake.

Or, to your last point, maybe you've just become one of those consultant assholes and now you're stuck trying to defend the lifestyle. Good luck with that. Excuse me for expecting better of people.

posted by ethically challenged at 2:56 PM on November 26, 2008

And excuse me for having a hard time hearing someone who anonymously calls me an asshole on a comment thread.

Your opinions -- which I would like to entertain and discuss -- pretty much lost all their value.

posted by Rex at 3:21 PM on November 26, 2008

Thanks for the Internet White Whine: Commenters On My Blog Edition. So now you're discounting everything because I said *maybe* (look again, it says MAYBE) you're a consultant asshole and the conversation is over? Is that a New Media Strategy?

posted by ethically challenged at 3:25 PM on November 26, 2008

Rex, it may be low, but the asshole remark, while unnecessary and overly-harsh, doesn't change the value of any point he did or didn't have.

That being said, I'd agree that going into this PR venture seems shallow, and an easy way out of actually starting a new media product or joining a sector that actually produces and contributes, not just consults.

posted by DS at 3:28 PM on November 26, 2008

After bouncing around through several insulting contentions (these people know nothing about new media, these people should get new jobs instead, these people like sexy parties), there's only one that has any resonance with me:

"Think it's hard to keep track of conflicts of interest now?"

I suppose I have more faith in the system than you do. I think people are generally smart enough to reveal their conflicts, and they will get called out when they don't.

As for "actually starting a new media product".... well, sure. I guess I don't see any possible future where 1,000 former Time-Warner employees each start their own little businesses (or any future for the advertising economy to support it), but I would certainly encourage anyone to try.

posted by Rex at 3:34 PM on November 26, 2008

"I suppose I have more faith in the system than you do. I think people are generally smart enough to reveal their conflicts"

Is it a matter of being smart or honest?

This 1,000 employee thing is an easy straw man. I guess it wouldn't make sense for a couple of them to start something together, huh?

Beside that, sou just said that as a part of the inernety-nano-future society people will be getting their income from many different areas, one being starting small business, but now you just don't see it?

I don't mean too seem harsh, maybe I'm just too naive or unknowledgable in this area, and I don't mean to be anonymous, I have no url to provide.

posted by DS at 3:43 PM on November 26, 2008

Whoa, so shocking that's the point you pick up! But it's such a blackhole and so clumsily defended.

ARE YOU SHITTING ME WITH YOU HAVE FAITH IN THE SYSTEM?? Did you own Halliburton stock? What, pray tell, could you possibly base this faith on? Because we all know corporations, consultancies, media and PR companies have such a greeeaaaat track record on this.

posted by ethically challenged at 3:50 PM on November 26, 2008

[I started to respond again, but then I realized that someone could mistake my opinions as something espoused by Abrams, which this is clearly not. I have never spoken to him about this venture, but I also have a conflict of interest -- revealed! For what it's worth, my points would be the same, with or without that conflict. I feel like I've made my case -- I both agree and disagree with some of the points made by others here.]

posted by Rex at 3:56 PM on November 26, 2008

You never explained why you have faith in the system, in fact, you haven't made much of a case at all for any of this. But if you're comfortable with that, so am I. Happy Thanksgiving. Be careful with those carving knives...

posted by ethically challenged at 4:13 PM on November 26, 2008

I've been reading this site and these boards for, well, a long time and I just wanted to say thanks for this discussion.

I think this has been the best exchange of ideas I've seen here, even with the somewhat needless hostility.

Great job Rex.

Oh and Happy Thanksgiving to you Americans.

posted by Patrick at 7:24 AM on November 27, 2008

NOTE: The commenting window has expired for this post.