An ode to Jeff Jarvis

I was browsing Facebook tonight when I came across a post from Jeff Jarvis, talking about being insulted on the Internet. Jeff takes a lot of abuse, day in, day out, yet he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I don’t understand why people give him so much grief. Despite being an “internet celebrity”, he is incredibly down to earth.

I first met Jeff at the Online News Association (ONA) conference last year. Yet he was an influence in my life long before that. When I was 17 and the industry was falling apart and I didn’t know whether the job I loved would exist in five years,  his writing gave me hope.

Jeff was the first person to introduce the concept of “entrepreneurial journalism” into mainstream debates on the future of news. It’s a philosophy that can be summed up thus: the empire is falling apart, journalists need to rebuild it. As well as breaking news and views, we need to figure out how to pay our own salaries, otherwise journalism is going to be like Latin: dead. The big media companies aren’t innovating (at least, they weren’t in 2007 – a few are starting to now) so we need to.

When Jeff started writing about this stuff, I was feeling hopeless. I wanted to be an investigative reporter so badly yet every door I knocked on was locked – newspapers weren’t hiring. What depressed me wasn’t the rejections but the explanations behind them: “We don’t do investigative reporting anymore – it’s too expensive.” It seemed like the industry had evolved and left muckraking behind. 

It would have been easy to give up but Jeff’s insistence that the future of journalism was “entrepreneurial” made me experiment instead. Six years later, I’m still experimenting, studying under the wonderful Paul Bradshaw at Birmingham City University where I’m researching new media business models for investigative journalism. Next month, I’m launching #planb, a radical new project that I hope will change investigative reporting and help make it sustainable. For the last two years, I’ve been running my own news site, The Muckraker, a “diary of an investigative journalist.” Earlier this year, I was shortlisted for a journalism fellowship at Stanford University

None of this would have happened without Jeff. If he hadn’t been so optimistic when everything seemed so hopeless, I’d probably have given up. When everyone else was screaming about the coming death of the news, he was the one saying: “Calm down. Let’s work this out.”

It’s odd to think that his words, written on a computer 3,000 miles away from Northern Ireland, would have such an impact on my life. They did. That’s the beauty of the internet. You can touch people with your words and ideas, even those you’ve never met.

Jeff has been a huge supporter of The Muckraker since its launch. It saddens me to see him hurt by the critics. For me, he’s the most misunderstood man on the Internet. He has done so much to help me and received nothing in return. The least I could do is write this post and remind him that he is more respected than he knows. 

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