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.