A critical essay about Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine blog

Full disclosure from me: I’m a journalism student at American University in Washington, D.C. I’m writing this blog entry for an assignment in Steve Buttry’s Disruption and Opportunity in Journalism seminar at AU. You can find more information about me in my About page. I’m hoping my reason for including such a lengthy disclosure will become more clear as you read the rest of this post. Because it’s all about disclosure and authenticity.

My assignment

For this assignment, I chose to write a critical essay on Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine blog. On his About Me | Disclosures page, Jarvis said that he is a professor at the City University of New York’s Interactive Journalism program. Jarvis also wrote the book, What Would Google Do?

The BuzzMachine blog includes posts on a number of media topics, ranging from Twitter hashtags to the recent shakeup at NPR. But the overarching theme I see running through the entire blog is its author’s desire to promote online civility, authenticity and connection. For example, in his post One identity or more, Jarvis said that “anonymity is often the cloak of cowards.” In that post, Jarvis argued that Facebook and Twitter have improved online interactions because they inherently reward people for being their authentic selves online.

In another post called Gutenberg of Arabia,which dealt with the impact of technology on the recent popular uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa, Jarvis listed ten “principles of cyberspace” that read a bit like the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. As commenter Eric Reasons noted, most of Jarvis’ principles are more about human interaction in general than they are about online interaction in particular. But I found that observation to be right in keeping with Jarvis’ overall themes.

Who is the likely audience for BuzzMachine?

More than 64,000 people follow Jarvis’ Twitter feed. It’s a good bet that many of those people follow his blog, at least some of the time. His Twitter followers include people who work in the news, music, and film industries. Jarvis’ followers also include students, marketing professionals and educators.

The BuzzMachine blog makes it easy to submit comments, and most of the comments I saw were quite civil. I don’t know if that’s because Jarvis has pruned out abusive posts (I did see one example of that) or because he attracts a more civil audience than most large-scale media sites. I suspect it’s the latter. There’s something about the blog that engenders respect. When I’m there, I feel like I’m in the company of people who are opinionated, but polite. I believe that’s a large part of the attraction for people who visit the site frequently: they feel they’ve reached a place where they can freely and safely discuss their opinions.

Why is Jarvis qualified to address the chosen topics?

In his About Me| Disclosures page, Jarvis lists a number of projects and positions that qualify him to address media topics. Jarvis currently writes a new media column for The Guardian. Jarvis’ page says that he founded Entertainment Weekly, and that he has worked for the New York Daily News, TV Guide, People Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner and the Chicago Tribune.

What positions does Jarvis favor?

In his About Me| Disclosures page, Jarvis is remarkably transparent and blunt about stating his own views on a variety of subjects. There doesn’t seem to be a hidden agenda; he just lays it all out there. In the page, he said that that he tends to be liberal in his views, and I did find that to be the case in reading his posts. I believe that Jarvis is trying to lead by example by being as open and authentic as possible himself in creating his blog.

Jarvis is also remarkably transparent about his affiliations with media corporations. The overall effect of his disclosures is one of trustworthiness. Because Jarvis took such pains with his disclosures, I can’t imagine him saying anything intentionally dishonest.

How informative and/or persuasive is the blog?

I feel that some of Jarvis’ views are a bit utopian. For example, in his post The privacy industry: scare and sell, Jarvis argued that an entire industry has sprung up to exploit and profit from people’s fears about invasion of privacy. However, as some of his commenters pointed out, many of those fears are warranted. Commenters pointed out numerous examples of the harmful effects of private information being leaked — both intentionally and unintentionally — and people do need to take steps to protect themselves from unscrupulous use of their identities and other data about them.

That being said, since I’m something of an idealist myself, BuzzMachine is definitely a blog I will visit again. I feel there’s a lot to be learned there.

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