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Journalism and “disruption”

I’m not sure if I’m a “journalist.” I interview people, do research, and supply regularly updated sites with news stories. But I do it all from an apartment, with only the occasional trip to a minimalist office. Do these details make the “journalist” label unfit?

“Journalism” is a word often in company with “disruption,” one of the most overused and annoying terms to enter the vernacular. We “journalists” are framed as under siege from the Internet, unable to adjust to free Web browsers eating into newspaper revenue.

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We’re in such bad shape, apparently, that we pretend disruption doesn’t exist, according to Ben Thompson, in his misinterpretation of Jill Lepore’s virtuosic New Yorker essay. Lepore was not discounting the idea of change, but providing a history of how mankind has explained it, finding issues with Clayton Christensen’s methodology as well as the historically limited range and shelf life of “disruption,” a concept that could only have arisen from the era of 9/11 and cheap Asian manufacturing.

“When all you have is a hammer everything etc.” – although since Silicon Valley is too digital for something as analog and working-class as a hammer, let’s say that when all you have is no humanistic background and strong affinity for the violent terminology of “disruption,” everything looks like it is in danger. If I a “journalist,” am I in trouble?

Again, I don’t know, especially since the label may not even be apt. Maybe I am a “journalist” who has simply evolved (before “disruption,” evolution was nearly as ubiquitous a term for explaining everything, as Lepore pointed out) to use new tools. Why not take this optimistic, even progressive (another preeminent etiology of yesteryear) view, rather than the insecure, cynical stance of “disruption”?

Journalists don’t necessarily serve the interests of the VCs and technical folk that have made ” disruption ” de rigeur (well, unless they work for TechCrunch). It shouldn’t be surprising that these writers, especially ones like Lepore who don’t toe the line, are construed as not getting “disruption” or, worse, being disrupted. Any piece of confirmation bias – declining ad revenue, the agony of paywalls – then suffices for proving “disruption.”

At the same time, how often do you hear of these professions being disrupted?:

-VC – investing is often guesswork, so why not automate it and hook it into something like IBM Watson?
-Programmer – a software engineer is more like a car mechanic than a doctor. Why not move toward less tinkering and customization (as has happened with cars like the Tesla Model S) and make such human involvement obsolete?
-CEO – how many CEOs have been outsourced to China or automated because of “disruptive” forces? I’m not talking about firing one person to hire another, but about eliminating an incredibly wasteful position that is compensated at a crazy ratio to the rest of the organization.

“Disruption,” it seems, is weirdly selective, with class-related and political biases (surprise). As a “journalist” or something close to it, rather than a VP of engineering, I’m not surprised that I’m an actor in other people’s dramas about “disruption” and its impact on everything.

Writers have to worry less about nonwriters’ opinions and naysaying – “evolve” and “progress,” don’t “disrupt” or “be disrupted” (whatever that means).  I wrote this whole entry on the WordPress app for Android, but I see it as just another tool rather than the ancestor of a robot waiting to take my job.

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