I’m all for satire, especially on social media. But when traditional media get involved, they must set some boundaries. That’s what didn’t happen when Esquire published an article by a Jeff Jarvis impersonator.
First, here are the facts about what happened.
- Jeff Jarvis is a media critic, author, blogger, and professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
- “@ProfJeffJarvis” is a satire Twitter account, apparently run by a guy named Rurik Bradbury.
- Esquire published a satirical article, bylined by “Prof. Jeff Jarvis,” that lampooned Jim VandeHei’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for a third political party. At the very bottom of the article (shown above) is the description of the author, which is pretty murky.
- Jeff Jarvis protested and used contacts he had at Esquire’s parent company Hearst to get the article taken down. He wrote about his experience on Medium. (If you’re curious, it’s still archived here.)
In this saga, my sympathies lie with Jeff Jarvis. But satirists have a right to publish satire, and publishers have a right to publish it. Where did things go wrong?
I’m fine with clearly labelled fake social media accounts (although @ProfJeffJarvis isn’t labelled particularly clearly). And I’m fine with satire in mainstream publications, although it needs to be tagged as such. I’m peeved at fake sites like nbc.com.co which skirt the edge of pretending to be actual media sites, but they have a right to exist.
But when you read an article on a traditional media site like Esquire, satire or not, it needs an actual byline. Made up individuals don’t get to write there. They’ve got the whole rest of the Web to play with.
Once a news outlet loses its credibility, it’s got nothing left. Given the current state of media, that’s a dangerous choice.
Correction: This article originally stated that Jeff Jarvis was at the Columbia School of Journalism. His professorship is at the City University of New York, not Columbia.