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Why defend those that would fire you in a heartbeat? On journalism

I was reading David Churbuck today and something struck me that is quite interesting. We are all now more than familiar with the bloggers vs the press debate. But the strongest defences of journalism are coming from journalists. Meanwhile their bosses are handing out pink slips left right and center. News teams are gone, wire services do their job. There are fewer are fewer editors and reporters out there.

At this risk of taking this blog in a suspiciously Marxist direction it is intriguing that we have taken over the means of production (they ain’t called WordPress and MoveableType for nothing) and distribution (technorati and the interweb) but journalists aren’t celebrating the fact. How did that happen? Surely a journalist should celebrate the fact that you dont need to boss class any more to have a voice. I remember when people that worked in the press were lefties, before the last big revolution in the industry, digital type-setting, transformed the industry.
I used to be a journalist. One reason I quit – we were being reduced to topping and tailing wires. There was no time for real research into a story. Talk to a user, talk to a vendor, talk to an analyst – add to press release/rewrite to house style and hey presto a “news story”. There was increasingly no time for solid analysis – indeed most stories outsourced the analysis to… industry analysts.

I wasn’t comfortable with the way things were heading. But the truth is journalism was probably dead before I even joined the industry. A favourite story among business managers at VNU, a huge European publishing company now owned by 3i, was that during a major strike at the company they continued to put out the enterprise magazine Computing, with more photos, and mostly press release stories, and noone noticed…  readers just skipped the content as they always did and went to the job pages and funnies on the back page.
Traditional print media is an incredibly tough business. I accept that. But in my experience publishers delight in finding ways to fire their editorial staff. So if you’re an anti-blog journalist, next time you start defending the status quo, just take a second to ask yourself how solid your team is, just how good the peer-reading process is, just how much time you have to craft a story, whether its a job, a career, or an act of passion (or all three). In short ask yourself whether the industry is fit for purpose? If you defend journalism as a last bastion of quality you need to back that up.

I actually believe that never in history has there been a better time to be a journalist. Its just not a great time to work at a publishing company (apart from the odd wise exception). Have blog, will contribute. Great writing will out. Great fact-checking will out. Great journalism will out.
photo courtesy of creativecommons licensing by Thomas Hawk.

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5 Responses

  1. We don’t all do it for the glory, or even the “voice”. We need to get paid.

    Journalists defend journalism because it’s our livelihood, and becoming bloggers instead means we wouldn’t get paid.

    As far as I can tell, so far there’s been no demonstrable business model for news blogging. Even the big names, with some exceptions, are struggling.

    I’m no political scholar, but surely the socialist movement is/was about adequately compensating workers for their labor, not about asking them to work for free or a slave wage.

    Personally, if I thought I could make a proper salary blogging, I’d quit in a second and celebrate Marxist theory until the cows come home.

  2. James, great post. I am a tech journalist and I totally agree with your assessment of how the typical news story is made at a lot of publications. My company is getting more involved with the blogging community, which I think is great. It will also help us combat the issue you outlined. We are planning to use our blogs for “industry news”, publishing product and industry stories as fast as they happen. Contributors/readers and senior editors will add reaction and analysis of the news. This will take the burden of covering the latest and greatest off of our reporting staff, allowing them to focus on topical, research-based reporting, spending less time following the PR cycle. Also, it informs us on what our readers think about a news event, which is even better than hearing it from an analyst. :)

  3. Free or slave wage? Like i said Kevin – I used to be a journalist… and journalists in my experience are actually not in it for the money. If they were money oriented they would do something else.

    I would say become bloggers as well, not instead – develop your personal brand, consider new revenue opportunities, and associated community streams. I just read The Search by John Battelle. Superb journalism. Top notch. He said he couldnt have done it without his blog.

    My argument is with those that would attack blogs as something inferior, or by definition bad, or a poor information source. Maybe that’s a straw man – but its a behaviour I see a lot.

    I am an industry analyst but I welcome bloggers into my space. Great analysis is great whether its on redmonk.com or anywhere else. I celebrate a broader, more inclusive conversation, and a reduced influence of the Tell It From The Mountain school of industry advisory.

    I wouldn’t want to be a “professional blogger” either – because I like to get paid and I already have a model that allows that, without working for a big media company. But nor would I dismiss the quality of expertise and theory-based analysis on blogs.

    Also notice I said Marxist, not socialist. Taking over the means of production was a key element in earning a fair wage, according to Marx’s theory, rather than being abused by the system, by those that own the means of production. Capitalist eats itself, according to Marx – he was a theorist of creative destruction as much as anything else. See the music industry…

    But forget the theory. What’s important is finding a well enough paid job that offers some freedom and some security and some job satisfaction. I don’t think there are many of those in print or online media today.

    I am an entrepreneur myself and recommend others follow the same route. Blogging is one of the key tools of the entrepreneur in 2007.

    Its not about navel-gazing but living well.

    jgovernorJanuary 29, 2007 @ 4:34 pmReply
  4. On the basis of two years’ experience as a “journalist” covering the consumer electronics industry, I would say that journalists are in it for the junkets…

    Throbert McGeeFebruary 3, 2007 @ 3:00 amReply



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