Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Journicide: A looming, lost generation of scribes

Vanishing employment opportunities and shrinking freelance compensation threaten to wipe out a substantial percentage of the next generation of professional journalists.

This journicide, to coin a term, is not merely going to be difficult and disappointing for the affected young people, who mostly will move on to find rewarding careers in other endeavors.

But the loss of a substantial portion of what would have been the next generation of journalists also will be tragic for society. The loss will deprive citizens in the future with the insights that only can be delivered by dedicated professionals with the time, skills and motivation to dig deeply into difficult stories.

Bloggers and other bloviators, this writer expressly included, will not take up the slack. Absent some miracle that motivates someone, anyone, to start fairly compensating journalists again, we are going to lose something that has been very important to our democracy throughout the life of the nation. I can’t imagine what it will be like without professional journalists, but I don’t think we will like the outcome.

Journicide has been under way since newspapers and other mainstream media began losing their formidable revenue-generating juju in 2006. The elimination of full-time professional journalism jobs since then has been so relentless that it has become remarkably, depressingly commonplace.

Paper Cuts reports that nearly 15,000 newspaper jobs were eliminated so far this year, putting the industry on track to rival, or potentially surpass, the nearly 16,000 jobs axed in 2008. Last month, the Associated Press zapped 90 positions to cut 10% of its payroll costs, and BusinessWeek pink-slipped a reported 130 individuals, or approximately a third of its staff.

As bad as things are for still-working and formerly employed journalists – and they are bad – the opportunities are even worse for journalists seeking their first gigs. There are two reasons:

First, young journalists trying to land entry-level jobs find themselves competing with seasoned pros who have been knocked off perches higher up in the food chain.

Second, the miserable state of the media business has combined with a sharp increase in the supply of available journalists to reduce compensation to humiliatingly low levels.

As a consequence, young journalists looking for opportunities to start careers even the idealistic eager ones celebrated here by David Carr are looking at an almost universally bleak economic landscape.

Salaried, entry-level positions at traditional news organizations are almost entirely unavailable, because the organizations are trying to avoid laying off any more staffers than they already have.

This leaves phalanxes of young journalists to compete among themselves for low- or no-pay internships and highly exploitive freelance opportunities that typically promise rich “exposure” but scant, if any, hard cash.

In one of the choicest positions I found recently when visiting industry job boards and Craig’s List in a number of markets, Wired Magazine is offering interns $12 an hour in San Francisco. This about two bucks better than the mandated minimum wage in the city but probably two bucks less (including tips) than you can make frothing macchiatos at Starbuck’s.

In the case of freelance opportunities, the pay rate ranges from a pittance to zero.

WeekInRewind.com is seeking unpaid “interns” in New York to write two to three reviews per week of no less than 400 words. “You must be a superb writer to qualify,” enthused its ad. “We want you to be a star….” They just don’t want to pay you.

SportsMixed.Com, a new site in Minnesota, is seeking budding Red Smiths. “Currently this position is unpaid, however compensation should become available in the future,” says its chipper ad. “For now, we offer the chance for writers to circulate their name, practice blogging style, break into a new sport and develop a following.” That’s generous of them.

A soon-to-launch stealth site promising “to showcase everything hip” in Los Angeles is recruiting people to write about restaurants, concerts, movies, clothing stores and people. The proffered compensation is: “Opportunity to get published and invited to hip parties in LA + eventual monetary compensation!” Wow!

A notch above being compensated in hip-titude is being paid piecework-style. A site called Gather.Com suggests in its ad that writers could earn “up to $500” per month. But the fine print explains that per-article payments will range from $25 to $100 “for any articles posted on Gather that receive a minimum of 250 unique page views.”

Significantly, almost none of the available entry-level jobs involves anything that could be remotely described as public-affairs journalism. The publishers hiring today seem to be far more fixated on shopping, entertainment and lifestyle coverage than actual news.

One refreshing exception emerged last month. Provoices, which aims to hire serious scribes “displaced” by the recent contraction of the news industry, was launched by Allvoices.Com, a site that to date has grown through the contributions of volunteer writers across the globe.

Provoices will be headed by someone who feels the pain of fellow journalists, too. She is Lynda Gorov, a former national and international correspondent for the Boston Globe who until last week was an involuntary freelancer for the better part of five years.

“People no longer want to pay you to write,” said Gorov in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where she was dispatched by the Globe before her position was eliminated in one of its early cutbacks. “It’s not just that freelance rates have gone down. It’s that they don’t exist. ‘We’ll give you exposure’ is the phrase we hear now.”

Provoices will pay writers from $50 to $250 a story. “I don’t see dinosaur journalists who used to make $90,000 a year writing for $250,” she acknowledged. “But this is a chance for a lot of people scrambling to get a start at making a career in journalism or to continue working as a foreign correspondent in a country where $25o is a lot of money.”

She hopes to provide a modicum of the mentorship that most young journalists otherwise would never know. “When I walked into the newsroom of the Chicago Sun-Times years ago as a 23-year-old, I thought I had entered the Holy Land,” she said. “I learned my craft from the 60-year-old rewritemen and fed off the energy of my peers – and the fear of being mocked by them.”

But Provoices, like most news start-ups these days, will be virtual, existing only in the Internet cloud. “There are no newsrooms today for young journalists,” said Gorov. “They will never have that experience.”

Where does the lack of community and opportunity leave the serious journalist looking to make a name for herself? Often, manning an espresso machine while trying find time to tend a blog, hone a manuscript or tweak a YouTube video.

The starving-artist lifestyle may be colorful and appealing for a while, but it gets old fast if you are bunking on a friend’s sofa, living under the same roof you did in junior high and lying awake at night wondering how you are going to repay your staggering five-figure student loan.

If nothing changes, the next generation of journalists will give up and move on to entirely different pursuits. And you can’t blame them.

How many journalistas do you think will be satisfied having to make ends meet by working as baristas?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is good news.

Journalists no longer serve tbe public interest, if they ever did. They have become mere propagandists for political causes.

The fewer journalists to distort, misreport and cover up the news, the better informed the public will be.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Patricia of Trakai said...

All I can say is: AMEN.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, hundreds of journalism schools keep merrily pumping out J-grads who have hardly a chance in Hell of even finding a job, much less a career in journalism. Oh, and isn't it time to expose those schools' other Dirty Little Secret? They are mainly staffed by "professors of journlaism" who have PhDs in journlaism but often have never even practiced the trade. Amazing, ain't it?

7:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, it will be tough for aspiring journalists, but also for local communities. I posted a video interview with Clay Shirky today in which says:

I think civic corruption is just going to rise for towns and regions of under about half a million people. Which is to say, I think the old model of the newspaper is going to break faster than the hyperlocal civic reporting can come in its place.

For full interview see:


7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We find this sad and dark, and probably accurate.

And we assume it is not just a USA issue but international?

And not just an English-speaking issue?

Journalism HAD value and still has some. If the dire predictions do arise as forecast (corruption, illiteracy, lack of public discourse, loss of scrutiny of government), MAYBE something like journalism will rise again.


8:07 AM  
Anonymous Lagibby said...

You're seeing a stand of trees in a forest. The world as we know it is changing inexorably and completely. Journalism, universities, the economy, American dominance -- these are just pieces of our shattering world. Don't you suppose people felt the same way in 1933-34, to give the most recent example. To quote a favorite singer-songwriter of mine:
Nothing stays the same forever, even if you stay together...
Take heart. Not everything we will lose was worth saving. Lots of new developments, when we look back on them, will turn out to be "progress."

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Morrill said...

Alan, I've posted a link to this blog post on the web site for members of the American Society of Journalists & Authors (ASJA). This is an issue we all all involved with—whether we like it or not.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I could write forever on this subject, but I'll try to be brief. First, I'm one of those 15,000 laid off from the newspaper business after a 30-year career. There's lots of blame to go around, including myself, because I lost sight of what got me into the business in the first place, which wasn't the high salary. I kept climbing the salary tree and those upper limbs were trimmed first. So my warning is to stop listening to publishers who are wringing their hands about profit margins and focusing on what aspects of journalism will rise from the disruption we are experiencing. I see very little discussion about new forms of information architecture that appeals to different learning styles. For example, 97 percent of teens play video games; doesn't there need to be even more research into gaming possibilities for news? Throughout your post you cite examples of "writing" jobs. Journalists are going to have to learn to vary their narrative. Perhaps it needs to be more visual or auditory. Or perhaps the new dominant form of narrative is written in computer code, in computer protocol. But let's stop the angst and start the research, the innovation. Believe me, disruption has been very painful for me, but as a 55-year-old masters student, with his student ID right next to an AARP card in the wallet, I see great opportunities for journalism. There are opportunities in the chaos. But not if we are looking a focused on how will it sell. Let's shift the focus to what communicates. The money will follow.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I could write forever on this subject, but I'll try to be brief. First, I'm one of those 15,000 laid off from the newspaper business after a 30-year career. There's lots of blame to go around, including myself, because I lost sight of what got me into the business in the first place, which wasn't the high salary. I kept climbing the salary tree and those upper limbs were trimmed first. So my warning is to stop listening to publishers who are wringing their hands about profit margins and focusing on what aspects of journalism will rise from the disruption we are experiencing. I see very little discussion about new forms of information architecture that appeals to different learning styles. For example, 97 percent of teens play video games; doesn't there need to be even more research into gaming possibilities for news? Throughout your post you cite examples of "writing" jobs. Journalists are going to have to learn to vary their narrative. Perhaps it needs to be more visual or auditory. Or perhaps the new dominant form of narrative is written in computer code, in computer protocol. But let's stop the angst and start the research, the innovation. Believe me, disruption has been very painful for me, but as a 55-year-old masters student, with his student ID right next to an AARP card in the wallet, I see great opportunities for journalism. There are opportunities in the chaos. But not if we are looking a focused on how will it sell. Let's shift the focus to what communicates. The money will follow.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Absent some miracle that motivates someone, anyone, to start fairly compensating journalists again..."

Sorry, when I see something like this, it makes me wonder what world you live in, Alan. Maybe this is true in your big-city world, where the few journalism stars get nice salaries. But out here in the hinterlands where most young journalists get their start, we have always seen our wages hover around the Starbucks barista level.

I can still remember what my journalism professor said the first day of class 25 years ago: "Congratulations, you have just picked the lowest-paying profession next to social worker."

And he was right. The paper I worked for up until a few months ago did a story during the summer about how little money local teachers make. What didn't make it in the story was that teachers with the same amount of education and experience were making double what us journalists were making to write about their plight.

This is because most publishers never really valued journalism. Too many of them see it as something to fill space between the ads. And since they didn't value it, neither did their readers.

This attitude is at least partially responsible for the downfall of this industry. Because publishers failed to invest in journalism, their readers are able to find suitable alternatives elsewhere.

And now that the advertising market has changed the game completely, they can't sell what journalism they have to readers, who have been trained not to value it.

So now, the world is in turmoil as we work to find new business models to support journalism. I think this is a good thing. It looks like the new way of the world is bringing journalists closer to their audience, while getting rid of the publisher/executive/mogul types who sucked off all the profits while making these critical errors about the future of this business.

It may take a while before people realize the value of journalism again, but it will happen.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the post, thought you'd find this interesting ...

Why journalists deserve low pay
By Robert G. Picard
The Christian Science Monitor
May 19, 2009,


The demise of the news business can be halted, but only if journalists commit to creating real value for consumers and become more involved in setting the course of their companies.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Perry Gaskill said...

Although I very much agree that the loss of institutional newsroom wisdom is a very bad thing, it should also be pointed out that some other dogs not barking in all this are the increasing barriers to good storytelling. The idea that, at a fundamental level, a journalist should be a weaver of the well-told tale.

Given the state of things, not only is a reporter likely making less than a barista, but also probably putting in longer hours on a variety of beats formerly covered by multiple people. And those beats now need not only just writing to cover the story, but also photos, videography, podcasting, blogging, twittering, and response to story comments.

Say goodbye to the extra-effort enterpriser story, and that last turned-over rock down at City Hall.

Another trend which has some disturbing implications is the heightened emphasis on journalist-as-brand. It seems to me there are two problems with this. The first is that the craft of telling a good story becomes secondary to the talent for self promotion; the second, the institutional newsroom wisdom we're losing already knows this, is that if you send a celebrity journalist out to cover a story, it can change the nature of the story itself.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Matt Day said...

It's true that compensation is an issue, but journalism has never been a profession people entered for the money. I'm willing to work weekends to support a journalism habit. I bet others are too. Many of my journalist friends of my generation (the "lost generation" this post addresses) view the situation similarly.

Barbara Ehrenreich's Berkeley J-School commencement address on the topic:


Should be required reading for anyone considering the field.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am getting pretty tired of all the hand-wringing going on in journalism circles these days. Everyone seems to think that journalists were the only ones keeping governments and industries honest, and that we should all be saddened, outraged or both by the declining quality and increasing irrelevance of daily newspapers.

I was a “print” journalist for more than 30 years – as a writer, newsroom manager and finally as an investigative editor and writer. I’m the author of two nonfiction books. I designed and launched magazines and I redesigned daily newspapers and launched web sites. I wrote a lot of stories and edited a lot of public-service projects that I was proud of and that helped make our state a better place. But I got laid off more than 18 months ago despite (or because of) spending 25 years at the same mid-sized and once-proud daily newspaper.

The simple truth is that newspapers and journalism, as commodities, are no longer valued by the consumer. Why is that? A lot of people are ready to blame the Internet (and Google especially) and the rest are ready to blame the economy (poor ad sales made newspapers less profitable and forced payroll cuts). But, really, is that why consumers have stopped buying or subscribing to newspapers?

I think the real reason is this: We stopped telling stories like our lives depended on it. People stopped caring because we bored them. We just didn’t do our jobs very well. Let’s be honest. We didn’t find those great stories that keep people coming back for more. We wrote with a passive voice.

Why is that?

Well, you could write a book about that. From my perspective, here’s what happened: First, we got away from good, intriguing narrative journalism and decided 9-inch, no-jump stories were the best way to keep readers. Gannett, the company I worked for, called that “News 2000.” Then we decided we had to get Gen-Xers and we fruitlessly chased them around for a while before giving up. Then we decided we had to be “hyperlocal” and file thin, insignificant and ephemeral stories from the front seats of our cars, from satellite laptops. (Is that still happening? I lost track.)

In short, we tried to be everything to everybody and forgot our “hedgehog concept,” which is to find and tell great stories. Instead, we promoted all our good writers to be editors, and we sent them to training sessions put on by the HR department so HR managers wouldn’t have to do their jobs. For years we refused to fire people who were crumby journalists, until those people developed a sense of entitlement and institutional laziness. Ironically, now that newspapers have discovered how easy and convenient it is to fire people and get rid of their high salaries, a lot of those good people are being tossed out while – you guessed it – the lazy, entitled people whose salaries were kept low over the years by their own ineptness and lack of ambition are now your core journalists.

You get what you pay for.

In the last year and a half, I’ve gone from being angry to being relieved. I have a new career now, and it turns out the work ethic I developed from long days on the desk or in the field as a journalist are paying off for me. Although I still write for newspapers as a freelancer, journalists now seem like the most self-important people I’ve every encountered, and I just don’t understand their hubris.

I don’t read newspapers much anymore. I listen to books on my iPhone. Reading newspapers used to make me feel smart but now I rely on books to do that for me. Those authors have really done their homework! And they know how to tell a story! I guess if they wanted to continue to be writers they had to get good at those two things.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before promoting it, did you actually go to allvoices.com and read the garbage there? Provoices stories will be dumped into the same bin. If that's the future of the profession I love, then let's bury it fast and deep.

Journalism may wane or die, but narrative, as others have noted, is a part of human nature. Those of us who can tell stories will have work.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

This posting is almost 20 years overdue. Journalism started losing its best and brightest when the best and brightest students majored in business. Why get a degree for a profession where salaries started in the middle to high teens when you could get a job in marketing or finance that paid you twice that amount?

I spent a year as a journalist, working for two papers. I found a profession resistant to change and owners and managers who were absolutely clueless about their markets and the nature of competition.

Bill Simmons started out at the Boston Globe. He left the newspaper industry for roughly the same reasons I did. Today, Simmons is arguably the best and most influential sports writer since Dan Jenkins.

How many newspapers and magazines can now claim a Simmons? This industry did not lose Simmons in 1996. It lost him in the 1980s and early 1990s.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What you are seeing here are market forces working at their highest level. You'll see the better employers last and others will simply fade like many of them have done since the start of the web.

I imagine that the news business today is much like how the news business was in turn of the 20th century in New York.. there was a newspaper for every street block.

also you leave out outlets like GlobalPost, AHN and Huffington that do pay, albeit not alot but it's steady. And they do focus on news.

However I do believe that the days of the traditional gatekeeper are gone... and good riddance.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took out $20,000 in student loans to earn an M.A. in journalism. The majority of positions I'm applying for now, two weeks from graduation, are subsistence-wage internships, not jobs. That goes for many of my classmates, too. Your post is depressingly accurate.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Rich Gordon said...

Alan, I think the trends you are talking about are real, but I’d argue that we need to look separately at:
• The demand and need for local information about public affairs
• The demand and need for people who have been trained/educated as journalists.

On the first point, I’d agree that there are some types of local public service, watchdog and investigative reporting that are being done less frequently – and less well – because of the decline of newspapers and the shrinkage of their staffs. But I would agree with a couple of your commenters that in most markets, this work was not being done as widely, as frequently or as well as we journalists would like to believe. Local newspapers did lose touch with their communities and with their readers, and they too often created content that was neither important nor interesting. I believe that new content creators (for instance, hyperlocal bloggers) and new distribution channels (for instance, social networks) have the potential to significantly expand both the quantity of content in these categories and the audience for that content. This is forcing local publishers and broadcasters to be smarter about how they deploy their resources. And it is enabling the creation of new roles for journalists – as well as new opportunities for news organizations to aggregate, synthesize and expand on the work being done by these non-professional content creators. It’s important to point out, I think, that people’s connections to their local communities (and hence, the demand for local news) have been weakening for decades – since long before the Internet. I think new technologies and new voices offer the potential to re-energize interest in local affairs. I am even relatively optimistic that, over time, new business models will emerge to support the costs of paying professionals to create locally oriented content that we can’t count on amateurs to generate.

On the second point, I don’t think the market for people with journalism skills is declining; in fact, I would argue that it’s growing. You might say that’s easy for me to say – after all, I teach in a journalism school. But we continue to see demand from employers for our graduates. Some of the job opportunities are in traditional media companies – the same employers who have laid off people with decades of experience are hiring people at entry level who have the kind of multimedia reporting and storytelling skills these organizations now need. Experienced journalists typically don’t have these skills, and don’t want to take entry level salaries, so they typically are not competing for these openings. Meanwhile, there remain many other kinds of jobs – in marketing and public relations, in consulting, in digital publishing at nonprofits and governmental agencies – where employers are looking for people with journalism degrees and skills. At the Medill School at Northwestern, this is one of the reasons we have created a concentration in “interactive publishing” for students who are interested in helping lead digital publishing ventures of many different types. If you have your heart set on being a reporter for a local newspaper, or a TV anchor, or a magazine editor, there are probably fewer opportunities than there were a decade or two ago. But if you include other kinds of jobs where journalism training is needed or expected, there may be more opportunities than ever. This creates some challenges for journalism schools – we need to update our curriculum and help students figure out how to position themselves for the opportunities that are likely to exist. This is what our school is doing – as are the other good j-schools I’m familiar with.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good tub-thumping populism. But, Alan, you ignore the start-ups that are moving to replace the MSM. Huff Post and its counterparts have established a non-print organization that breaks news and, as we see with the Tiger Woods story, even Internet gossip sites now command what the MSM regards as news. Then we have the Examiner newspapers that have been launched, and startups like Politico, which has a print version with a circulation of 35,000 in Washington. We also have another startup in Washington, as the publisher is hiring reporters and editors for a local news operation that will be connected with his all-news TV station, and perhaps have a printed version as well. The Washington Post recently closed all of its national bureaus to concentrate on Washington coverage, partly I believe to deal with this upstart.
So there are new outlets. Politico's pay level is competitive enough to attract Washington Post reporters. It is not all that black out there as you portray, and solid journalism is alive, well and flourishing. Yes, the traditional newspapers are suffering, but that is only because their owners and editors failed to grasp the future.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Ramone said...

As a Web site publisher who hires writers, I don't think that "seasoned" journalists have that much of an advantage over newbies. They are the classic "overqualified" worker, not necessarily in the sense of ability, but in the sense of feelings of entitlement, poor attitude, bitterness, looking to quit at the first opportunity, and quibbling over every little request we make.

They also are used to being edited, so a surprising number can't write. Their work up until now has been a team effort with an editor. Guess what? On the Web we can't afford to provide an editor. So unless self-copyediting is one of your skills, we can't use you.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous anonymous coward.... said...

absolutely online moves in...

Tradition print media screwed up big time mishandling the internet and with allowing the AP to control their news content online. Now they pay the price.

I also agree that a many "old school" journalists can't compete without a copyeditor to cover their butt. I've seen too many "award winning" journalists that can't manage effective paragraphs without an editor to clean up the copy. Younger journalists are just as good.

Also I am aware that many online services are hiring.. Politico, All Headline News and others are hiring in D.C... There are startups in Texas. I'd say that the future has not been brighter for "Journalism"... just the economy sucks...

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

A couple of thoughts:

1)The publishing business as a whole is in a state of innovative disruption. That means many old business models and structures are broken. Trying to find a job as a "reporter" is quickly becoming a dead end. However, the death of reporters doesn't automatically mean the death of journalism. Those would-be journalists are going to have to become entrepreneurial publisher/technologists if they want to make a decent living.

2) Why aren't J-Schools becoming incubators for original ideas? Instead they are teaching what the "industry wants" when the industry is changing weekly (see innovative disruption). Instead J-Schools should be leading the charge for new forms of journalism and new ways to pay for it. Or they can continue selling their students a pipe dream...and wither away as well.

3) Journalists and the industry as a whole need to promote and sell its value...and values. Does the average reader know why the New York Times is more credible than Fox New--or Twitter for that matter? Standards and processes for obtaining information need to be transparent and given front and center attention. And then the tricky part...the journalist/organization must stick to them.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Rich thinks that there are jobs aplenty in marketing, he needs to get off campus and check out the biz from a job hunter's perspective. It just ain't so.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous The eternal optimist said...

I left print journalism 10 years ago because it was starting to become a septic, cash-strapped shadow of the industry I entered and had loved since the early 1980's.
In the meantime, the capacity to compete with traditional news providers, with their high and legacy cost structures suddenly emerged via digital technology.
Last year, I ditched my high paid job as a corporate communications shill and started my own news business, with a friend who decided he couldn't envisage life with Bloomberg going on forever.
We hired our first junior reporter a year ago, have five part-timers working on various content streams for which they are paid a little better than if they were making pizzas for a living, and next year we will hire one junior and one mid-grade/senior reporter because we can't handle all the work we are getting.
High quality, low cost content has a future, and the exciting thing is you can do this all for yourself, on your own terms, with the same if not greater journalistic integrity than as a corporate slave for an old media company - some of whom remain our best clients.
So while I agree with what a lot of this post says, I also suggest to journalists: get out of victim mode, seize the means of production which have never been lower cost or more readily available, and be the next Rupert Murdoch, instead of waiting for the old one to save the day.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a young journalist temporarily employed as a barista, I'd like to point out that any journalism job still around pays much better than a barista. Working six shifts a week, I currently make about $600 a month.

What's happened to journalism mirrors what's happened to other blue collar industries in the United States, if only a few years later. Why isn't this America ever covered by the corporate press? When NAFTA ravaged the rust belt, why wasn't there a greater outcry? Look what the fuckers (the same assholes who toppled the economy) did to Detroit! When will it again be in journalism's interest to represent the public good, the underdog, and the oppressed-- rather than shmoozing with elites at bullshit-piled press conferences?

7:38 PM  
Blogger Grieg said...

The problem with most journalism today is it is pc opinions in my opinion. I have been lied to way to may times for way too many years with half truths and such that I have just lost much confidence in today's American journalism.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Julia M. Klein said...

Alan --

Thanks for writing about what I've been calling the broken labor model. You might add (to be a little less newspaper-centric) that even many of the best magazines have cut their rates, and that word rates, adjusted for inflation, are a fraction of what they were a half-century ago. This has been a long decline.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric, the New York Times is not more credible than Fox or Twitter.

The NYT covered up the John Edwards scandal, and was thus scooped by the National Enquirer. The New York Times actually lied to its readers in order to protect ACORN.

Political bias has given rise to the end of credible journalism. Consequently, journalism has lost its value to society -- and it is remunerated accordingly.

10:05 PM  
Blogger frank h shepherd said...

Just another example of the farmer killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.... this did not have to happen. It happened because of greedy owners who milked the income statement while loading up the balance sheet with debt. Not much different than the auto industry...... who allowed the unions to get more than their share while they built gas hogs and tanks.... serves they both right. Onward and upward. We shall survive!

3:00 AM  
Anonymous Jeff Brown said...

I just want to comment on Eric's post about J-schools.

I think that some J-Schools really are trying to bootstrap innovation, however there are some that simply ambivalent and churn out herds of graduates into a broken industry.

There's hope however:

Just last month George Miller at Temple Univ. J-School hosted the Philadelphia Initiative for Journalistic Innovation it was well attended. I hope that George decides to do this next year.

In January the University of Washington is hosting a weekend conference around the same topics.

I go to these events looking for sparks of ideas that could use support and local news entrepreneurs that could use some angel investment.

I see hope.. and am optimistic... but it is still a long way off.

4:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

News organizations, new and old, can offer these unpaid internships because they know that there are students or graduates who are so desperate to write that they'll even do it for free. What the publications are doing is borderline predatory in my opinion. I can see how bigger organizations are unwilling to pay, after all, most aspiring writers would be more than eager to get published in a major newspaper or magazine. But how can these new websites legitimize not paying for writers? They hardly have the reputation as others do. And who, honestly, would want to write for a no-name website for free. Honestly, I wouldn't take it at all.

I'm tired of these publications asking me to sacrifice a summer to slave away at creating content for them. If they expect a new generation of writers once they retire, they need to ensure that we have resource to keep going.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

As a young, now unemployed, journalist I would love one of these $12/h jobs.

Like others in here, my j-school profs constantly reminded us that we were studying for low-pay jobs and if we had a problem with that, to go major in PR instead.

Maybe in major American cities, there we six-figure jobs for journalists, but where I am, it was never a high paying career and no one pursued it for the money.

For me, it was (and still is if I can ever find one of these mythical $12/h journalism jobs) about not dreading going into work.

It's an enjoyable and satisfying profession, regardless of the pay.

...as long as there's SOME pay, that is.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is an indication that the "yellow journalism" of today's media is more popular that finding the truth and reporting it.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Numbered points, since I'm mostly reiterating what has been said -- though, as an experienced journalist, and a J-School prof., I will challenge the easy, bitter, stereotyped criticisms of, apparently, "all" J-schools.

1. I agree with those who've noted that there are plenty of new opportunities for journalists on the web. Just because print newspapers are almost dead, doesn't mean journalism is. Those who make this assertion commit a simplistic, and classic, "if A, then B" logical fallacy.

2. As some have noted, I too am excited to see the mainstream news gatekeepers lose a lot of their grip on power. For too long they've kept the voices on the margins out, or, when they let them in, they've ridiculed them (see any mainstream coverage of PETA, ACLU, adbusters.org, etc. etc. for evidence). BTW "objectivity" as understood and practiced by mainstream journalists = mainstream ideology, plain and simple.

3. To the critics of the J-Schools. Plenty of us J-School profs. -- including me, have real-world experience -- and plenty of us are keeping up on our skills and on top of technology.I long ago taught myself web design, graphic design and, recently, taught myself how to use an open source CMS (Joomla), which I've used to build a brand new web site devoted to advocating for solar energy and environmentalism, and for which I will be having interested students intern.

It's so old -- and easy -- to paint us profs. with a big, broad brush as old codgers who don't even know what a blog is, much less what Twitter is.

At my J-School, us "old fogies" are focusing on online journalism and the new, exciting world of social and multi-media. Next year, I'm going to have my students learning a CMS (Joomla), posting online video, photos, learning how to install social media software and use it, etc., etc.

It's an exciting new world and there will be plenty of opportunities online for journalists once the economy stops sagging.

They won't get paid a lot. But that's nothing new, except for talking heads like George Will, etc. very few journalists have ever made much money (and that goes for us journalism profs. too!)

9:52 AM  
Blogger BookingAlong said...

Some of us who have gone through journalism school have also see what type of writing actually sells. I collect vintage magazines and it is clear that few editors today would take a chance on publishing the type of quality material that assumed readers had brains and would stick with lengthy articles.

The internet throws a whole new curve into the game, especially when payments are based on page views (partially or wholly). Residual payments exist for material that keeps being read or journalists can go for the quick page views.

Magazine are threatened today. For the record, my journalism teachers were totally out of touch with what type of journalism was wanted by newspaper and other editors. In fact, some editors liked to train the staff themselves and didn't want journalism grads. They wanted a certain type of style.

I was told never to write in first person, etc. Of course, Esquire magazine broke that rule and so did many newspapers (eventually). So I prefer to interview those affected by local news or report on how the news has affected a certain area of the country, especially if I've seen it firsthand. It is a different type of journalism, perhaps?

10:30 AM  
Blogger Anne Holland Ventures Inc said...

There's a TV commercial currently running for a local jeweler in the Providence area. You see a young woman putting on some beautiful jewelry, while the audio has an older man's voice saying "Today's the day my daughter became a journalist, and I'm so proud."

Whenever I see it I think, well I hope that bracelet is hockable....

11:28 AM  
Blogger Chronboy said...

Nice post, Alan. Even as a journalist/blogger who can spell, the prospect of a copy editor-free Internet is not a happy one, especially for young writers. Sure, the desk has saved me from plenty of stupid mistakes which would have gone out in front of God and everyone these days. But the biggest help I got, and the one most writers need, is someone to suggest "Are you sure this is what you want to say?" That's a real loss.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If journalist salaries are crumbling, why is the WSJ (still) paying people like Walt Mossberg > $1 million to praise or trash tech products? I fault the WSJ for such unbelievable excess.

12:35 PM  
Blogger mgjr said...

I'm not a journalist but I work at company with 6 weekly publications. I want to disagree with about everyone who has commented. As a non-journalist I can tell you the reason why my wife and I stopped reading and subscribing to the local paper had nothing to do with the quality. We use get a paper everyday. I would skim through it mon-fri then read it cover-to-cover Saturday and Sunday. It was like a ritual. My wife and I would trade sections after we got done with parts of the paper. What happened was the availability of lots of different sources of news from the internet. It was a slow process, but I found that using the internet I could look at several different news sites to get a lot more content quicker than reading the local paper. I could screen out what I didn't want to read and just get what I did. Even now on the weekends I will print out 10-12 articles from various sites on the web to read with breakfast. For us we didn't stop subscribing to the paper because the quality went down, our lifestyle changed. The local paper could write the best investigative stories they ever wrote, but I wouldn't subscribe to them again. I probably wouldn't even see it unless it showed up in Google Reader or on one of the aggregate sites I visit. What I'm saying is please stop thinking that all you have to do is write better narratives. That doesn't matter. You have to reach me the places I'm consuming information now. Heck, my 77 year old aunt just contacted us on facebook because she wanted to be able to talk to us more. She made the change. Newspapers should as well.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Sarah D. Wire said...

Thanks for this post. As a young journalist I worry about this a lot. I wanted to let you know I referenced your post on my blog.


6:26 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Newspaper salaries always have been terrible and reporters and editors always were forced to live the starving artist lifestyle. What's different is that young people now have a choice about where to practice their starving art, plus the opportunity to help re-invent journalism.

8:24 AM  
Blogger DigiDave said...

Dammit. Now I'm pissed. When I interned for Wired (2004) I was only paid $10 an hour!

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Patrick Thornton said...


I think we're seeing the beginnings of the Lost Generation of Journalists. I just wrote a post about this myself, as I am no longer a full-time journalist and have no intention of returning.

Journalism isn't the only thing that moves me in life. I have other passions, as I suspect most people do. Those others passions pay better, offer better job security and make for a more enjoyable life. Plus, I no longer have to deal with inaction at the top or backwards thinking journalists.

I want to work with people who want to move forward. I grew weary of the civil war consuming journalism right now.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm one of those journalists. Just graduated. Five years ago, I would have only gotten a journalism job.

Now, I'm applying to anything with communications. And I am a good journalist, with three prestigious internships (one in D.C.). I love journalism, but it's not worth having to give up my social life for a minimum wage and still get a second job.

8:17 PM  

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