Sunday, December 05, 2004

A piece on Jeff Jarvis, blogger

This piece, on Mr. Jarvis and Buzzmachine.com was in today's NYT. Not on the web, though. Ah, the inexplicable Times policy of not putting regional weeklies on that interweb thingy. Others may enjoy contemplating the base-level irony of The Times publishing a piece on a blogger and then not making it available on the web.

By JONATHAN MILLER

JERSEY CITY

ON most nights, when he is not appearing as a guest on CNN or CNBC, Jeff Jarvis can be found plopped on his couch in Basking Ridge in front of a television, remote at the ready, occasionally taking a sip of decaf coffee as he channel surfs. A Sony Vaio computer is positioned firmly on his lap.

This is the future of media.

It is from here -- and, truth be told, many other places -- that Mr. Jarvis has posted his thoughts, hopes, anger and original reporting to BuzzMachine.com, his Web log (Blog, for short). Of late, Mr. Jarvis has used his site to pillory the Federal Communications Commission, and garnered a great deal of attention for discovering that only three people probably complained to the F.C.C. over what became the largest fine in the history of television.

So what's a blog? Simply put, it's a low-maintenance, diary-on-the-Web where thoughts, original reporting and pictures can be posted. Some bloggers, like Glenn H. Reynolds of InstaPundit, compare it to stand-up comedy: Naked, and without a net.

Where does Mr. Jarvis blog? ''Anywhere,'' he said. ''On the couch, up in the office, in my home, from Starbucks, from airports. It's an obsession.''

His proudest blogging moment came while using his hand-held TREO, which he employed to inform the public about Howard Stern's $27,500 fine from the F.C.C. He happened to be in the choir loft of his church in Warren.

Mr. Jarvis is a tall and wiry 50-year-old, a husband and father of two with a six-bedroom house in the exurbs of New Jersey. He has a neatly trimmed beard and a thick crop of hair -- both of which are near-white -- and he exudes a slightly professorial air. If anything, he looks even thinner in person than the picture that adorns his blog. His boyish excitement sometimes spins out of control. ''I ramble,'' he said.

He started BuzzMachine.com, three years ago in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and since then it has become one of the most popular blogs on the Web. ''I thought that it would last a few weeks,'' he said, ''but of course it took over all available life.''

According to Technorati.com, Mr. Jarvis ranks 63rd among sites in measuring the number of other sites that link to him. It puts him in the company of Gawker, a popular gossip blog (57) and Evanescence.com, the Web site for the rock band (61).

Mr. Jarvis is no media neophyte. He was a newspaper reporter and longtime television critic for People magazine, where he came up with the idea for Entertainment Weekly. After a stormy few months as managing editor, he resigned and joined TV Guide as a critic.

Today, as president and creative director of Advance.net, he has control over 10 Web sites, including Nj.com, and others in Portland, Ore., and Cleveland. He gives talks at places like DaimlerChrysler and the Association of National Advertisers on the wonders of blogs and alternate media.

On a recent morning, he is in his sparely decorated office at Advance.net in Jersey City, overlooking Journal Square. He is tired from an appearance on NewsNight with Aaron Brown on CNN (the discussion centered on the flap over Nicollette Sheridan, a star of the television sensation ''Desperate Houswives,'' who shed a towel and jumped into the arms of Terrell Owens of the Philadelphia Eagles in a promotional spot for ''Monday Night Football'') and an early morning and not terribly productive breakfast meeting, complete with a sub-par $6 bagel at Michael's, Manhattan's see-and-be-seen restaurant for media moguls.

Back in his office, he takes a call on his cellphone from a CNN producer who encourages him to pitch ideas for future discussions. ''Oh, thank you'' he said to her. ''That's what I want to hear.'' He hangs up.

A 21st-Century Media Man

Such is life for the 21st-century Media Man.

Web publishing is his new love, and he eagerly demonstrates how it is done. First, he wheels in his chair toward his Vaio. With a few clicks, Mr. Jarvis is breezing through the New York Times's Web site, where he links to an article on televisions and puts out a plea: ''So I'm thinking about buying a big, honking flat-screen TV so I can corrupt my morals yet more. Was debating between LCD and Plasma. What do you say?''

He gets 27 comments offering advice.

Then it's on to Nj.com, where he cruises over to a local blog from South Orange, which comments on a recent article about the banning of religious music in the local schools. He grabs the link, adds his thoughts, and posts it to BuzzMachine. He hits ''refresh'' on his browser, and in less time it takes to warm up a '74 Torino, he has cast his musings into the vast information ocean.

More often of late, those thoughts have been plucked from the blogosphere and amplified by old-style media. For instance, in November, ABC News, The Washington Post and The New York Post cited his startling discovery that the fine against Fox and its affiliates for broadcasting ''sexually suggestive'' material in a show called ''Married by America'' (for a segment that involved whipped cream and spankings) was prompted, in the end, by only three people. After he submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, he found that the 159 written complaints the F.C.C. had received turned out to be copies of two form letters and one hand-written note. The $1.2 million fine was the largest in the history of the regulatory agency.

On election night, Mr. Brown read Mr. Jarvis's ''Post-Election Peace Pledge'' -- which had been posted on his site -- and which said, in part: ''I promise to support the president, even if I didn't vote for him.''

His employer, Advance Publications, takes a fairly relaxed attitude toward Mr. Jarvis's extracurricular activities -- even though he often blogs in the middle of the workday.

''I think for Jeff to be doing it is a help,'' said Steven Newhouse, the chief executive of Advance.net and the editor-in-chief of The Jersey Journal, ''because it helps him stay fresh and stay on top of it.''

As for Mr. Jarvis going on the air to inveigh against the F.C.C., well, that's O.K., too. ''Jeff really represents his own viewpoint,'' Mr. Newhouse said. ''He never pretends to represent our company, our internet group. Jeff is very honest and very honorable.''

Mr. Jarvis's words often tumble out in a stream, and he sounds like a man enjoying his seventh cup of coffee (though his doctor has forbidden him from consuming caffeine ever since Sept. 11, 2001, when he was in Lower Manhattan during the attacks and inhaled dust from the wreckage). The mere mention of the F.C.C. is likely to set Mr. Jarvis on edge, and he often refers to the federal regulators as ''prudes, prigs, and self-appointed national nannies.''

Three Bozos and the F.C.C

During an appearance on National Public Radio's ''On The Media,'' he came close to sounding unhinged, his voice growing distorted as it rose to a fury when he spoke of the commission and complainants to the agency. ''What the heck are three bozos out there in the country doing, dictating to the rest of us what we can and cannot see and hear on our media?'' he told Bob Garfield, one of the show's hosts.

In a recent conversation, he veered from venture capitalists-turned-bloggers to the genius of the shock jock Howard Stern to his own rules of mass communication (''The means of media are now in the hands of the people,'' he said in a recent interview with corante.com.). For a brief period in 2003, he started a site called BernardsBlog, which dealt with issues like new school construction and township council meetings, but he stopped posting on it, he said at the time, because he just did not have the time. He now says it was merely an experiment.

The son of an electronics salesman, Mr. Jarvis grew up in Iowa and Illinois, but spent eight years of his youth in Cinnaminson. He said he became interested in technology at an early age, and recalled teaching himself how to use the in-house computer at a newspaper in Chicago that has folded. He has lived in North Bergen and Hoboken (where his wife grew up), and now owns a house on three acres in Basking Ridge.

When he is not writing his blog or appearing on television, he is trying to figure out how to extend Advance's publications' brand. At Nj.com, for instance, there are forums and chats and blogs about everything -- from wrestling and local government to birding. In fact, in August, when Gov. James E. McGreevey stunned the nation with his announcement that he was gay and would be resigning from office, bloggers and forums on the site were quick to spread tales (some of them unsubstantiated) of Mr. McGreevey's sexual shenanigans.

Indeed, Mr. Jarvis takes pride in the site being ahead of the curve. ''People were telling the whole story what was happening with McGreevey hours before the announcement was made,'' he said, ''Hours before.''

Of course, blogs played an instrumental role in bringing to light the segregationist comments made by Senator Trent Lott, who lost his post as majority leader over the controversy. And this year, blogs helped expose the unauthenticated documents that Dan Rather of CBS had used in a story about President Bush's National Guard service. (When Mr. Rather announced he was stepping down, Mr. Jarvis suggested Jon Stewart or David Letterman as replacements.)

He is not of the opinion -- shared by many -- that blogs will smash old media, take over the conversation and bestride the globe like a colossus.

But in recent months, he has gotten into heated exchanges with Mr. Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee otherwise known as InstaPundit, one of the most popular blogs on the Web. Mostly, the arguments have been over Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam and President Bush's time in the National Guard. Mr. Jarvis said he was not interested, and took to calling Mr. Reynolds ''Instaphnom,'' when the latter began posting regularly about Mr. Kerry's assertion that he was in Cambodia over Christmas 1968, which he made to argue that Vietnam had been in part a secret war.

At one point, Mr. Reynolds wrote to Mr. Jarvis: ''For a guy who repeatedly blogs that he's worried I don't like him, you sure act like you don't like me. Luckily, I'm thick-skinned.''

In reply, Mr. Jarvis wrote: ''It's not personal. I do like you. I respect you. I respect the power of Instapundit.'' But, he concluded, Mr. Reynolds was linking to scurrilous stories, ''and linking to mudslinging gets some on you.''

'I Love Jeff's Blog'

In a telephone interview, Mr. Reynolds said that while he sometimes disagreed with Mr. Jarvis's blog, he visited it several times a day. ''I love Jeff's blog,'' he said, ''and I think that one of the signs of the blogosphere doing well is that people can disagree about stuff and still get along.''

In fact, it was Mr. Jarvis who helped put in a good word for Mr. Reynolds with MSNBC. Now, Mr. Reynolds blogs on that site in addition to his work at InstaPundit.

Mr. Jarvis's ire has been extended to some of his readers as well. On his blog in August, he expressed his outrage over the execution of an Italian journalist in Iraq, and was alarmed at the response, which he characterized as ''spiteful, mean, venomous, stupid comments.'' He took all of them to task: ''O.K., too many of you are just sick. Someone is killed and you turn it into your chance to spit. Grow up. Join the human race.'' He admonished one poster named ''Kat'' -- ''I guess you probably blame sunset on evil reporters.'' He banned all of them from his blog.

In the end, Mr. Jarvis believes that alternate forms of media, like blogs, will evolve, expand and effect all levels of culture and society in ways no one could not have imagined just a few years ago. At times, he still seems amazed at the power of one person.

''Anybody with something to say can come out there and suddenly join in the media parade,'' he said. ''This is good for media.''

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 10:17 AM



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