Financial journalist Felix Salmon, who writes in unusually clear prose about economics, has announced that he is leaving Reuters to join a mysterious entity called "Fusion." The hopping of journalists from media-entity to media-entity is not ordinarily interesting, but Salmon is an unusually perceptive writer about trends, and his announcement contained an incredibly bizarre set of assertions about the future of journalism. By contrast to those who feel that the decline of books and in-depth journalism is unfortunate, Salmon says that the true problem is that Web journalism is too detailed:
"The reason why I am going to Fusion... is that they have the ability to help me communicate in the ways that people are going to consume information in the future. Which is not 1,500-word blocks of text."
1,500 words, mind you, is not much text. It's hardly a 40,000 word New Yorker profile or a serialized Dickens novel, though I suppose it's a little longer than the average listicle or piece of Slate counter-intuition. A ceiling of 1,500 suggests an incredible level of uniform shallowness.
Salmon did release a long-form statement giving a bit more context. Fusion is "a TV channel aimed mainly at millennials, whose only real guiding rule is that it's going to stay away from anything conventional." In case that's unclear, Salmon tells us that out of all possible business models, its is "cross-media," although he says that label, too, doesn't quite capture it. It will also be "promiscuous media." Either way, it will "serve up high-quality Fusion-branded content to a new generation of digital natives." If any of that's decipherable, I certainly can't make anything of it myself.
In the most stunning part of the announcement, Salmon writes that "the core of what I do at Fusion will be post-text." Salmon says that while "text has had an amazing run, especially online," its time has basically passed, and he implies that not just books, but text itself will soon be a relic. Banishing 1,500 word text-blocks is just the start, even tweets will soon be laughably prolix.
Salmon doesn't explain what a post-text world will look like, though he reassures us it's going to be "fun." Detractors might concede his point, and say we've already seen this world and it consists mostly of cat photos. Salmon does say that it will involve animations, and possibly other new things. But if there's more to it, we have to wait.
The thing about Felix Salmon is that he is very smart, and the statement is unusual in his oeuvre for its mushiness and empty industry PR jargon. Those who don't understand why this announcement is significant or head-scratchingly weird are encouraged to go back and read his astute and often beautiful blog.
I've tried every explanation out in trying to figure out what Salmon is thinking and none of them make sense, except that he's either ten steps ahead of us, has been abducted and replaced, or has joined a cult. It's possible, of course, that he's a visionary, and that all of us who were snarky and naysaid him will soon find our faces coated with egg. My suspicion, however, is that even possession of a critical intelligence cannot in itself eliminate the allure of glitzy new-media trendy bullshit. Hang around this stuff long enough, even as a detached journalist, and as a rule you'll end up believing in it.