Tuesday, July 14, 2009...3:43 pm

Why paid journalism is in trouble

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As a coda to my post on why journalists can’t afford to be purist about their trade anymore, Eat Sleep Publish sums up exactly why the paid journalism model is in such trouble.

Former P-I staffer Curt Milton runs theEastlake Ave blog. He keeps a part time job, makes tons of local connections, writes his posts, edits them, and shoots and edits and uploads video and pictures.

It’s simple economics. When one-person publishing costs virtually nothing and can achieve much of what the news dinosaurs can, it’s much harder to make the economics of journalism add up.

And don’t start on how a one-person, part-time neighbourhood blog just can’t offer what a professionally staffed newsroom can. At the local level that simply isn’t true any more. And even nationally, the quality of journalistic output can be pretty ropey. 

Crucially, when you’re at the level of the hyper-local, I suspect a local neighbourhood blog actually does a much better job of reporting than a local paper.

8 Comments

  • how does a blog, a small hyper-local one, make money?

    who is going to pay for said blogger to cover news with any great depth?

    news maybe ropey, but it is far more well placed to cover important matters than a blogger with thousands of readers but who only makes enough to cover his beer money.

    until there is a time when bloggers can give up their day jobs and there are just as many of them as trad. reporters, covering the same topics as trad. reporters, and more besides, then how can they be better than what we have already got in the form of trad. news?

  • Maybe enough to cover its costs by advertising/sponsorship. The hyper-local blog example i referred to – The Eastlake Ave blog – is apparently run by somebody who also has a part-time job. Presumably to pay for him to pursue his interest in running the blog.

    When you say “better”, the key question is for whom. Hyper-local is better for quick coverage of, well, really local things. My local paper is simply not reliable for this – it comes out too infrequently (once a week) and is not timely. It covered an event relevant to me about three weeks ago, and only featured the event in the paper last Friday (ie three weeks late).

    Also – you conflate the interests of readers with those of journalists. Maybe we’ll never get to the point where bloggers get paid to give up their day jobs. Maybe a well-paid job in journalism isn’t a realistic expectation anymore. But this doesn’t necessarily hurt readers as much as journalists think. Do readers/viewers want the coverage that we are pushing at them? Is “traditional news” actually selling? If not, why not?

    A hybrid model where some wider “traditional” news coverage is provided by big providers (subsidised ones in the UK in the case of the BBC) and a lot of niche coverage is provided by users and volunteers could be possible.

    The main criticism of this is that it may not be “news” in the way journalists think is important. But entertainment, comment and puff has been taking over newspaper column inches and airtime for years now.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that journalists seem to believe that if they aren’t being paid for their work, it isn’t journalism. This is not so. Also, they believe that they somehow have an inalienable right to be paid for being journalists. But if the market for their services is not there, they won’t be. It’s as simple as that. The world does not owe us a living. And the world won’t be that much worse off without us.

    Discuss…

  • I agree that the landscape is changing and will continue to do so. I have nothing against bloggers; I read a great deal of them. I also consume a great deal of ‘traditional’ news – they both have value, they both important.

    But I am sorry FUB, statements such as “And the world won’t be that much worse off without us…” I just can’t agree with. If you think about the combined output of traditional media – from my local paper read by thousands to CNN to the BBC to the NY Times, and so on – and measure the incredible effect that output has on the world, then just to dismiss it and say it won’t be missed is absurd. The value of news is often baldy measured – people equate it with bogey men such as “evil capitalism”, “mind control by media organizations”, “Murdoch”, “Newspeak” – some of which do exist on some level and should be feared; but a straight news story – and there are billions of them out there – reporting things that people don’t know about – have massive value. IF all major news outlets folded tomorrow, the world would be a terrifying place. Can’t remember who said it, but he said “without news, we would be lost in the dark without any light.”

  • freelanceunboundNo Gravatar
    July 20th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I’m not sure I agree with the “incredible effect” that our output has on the world. Sure, sometimes news reporting makes a difference. Watergate is the classic example, and the coverage of the Vietnam War had profound ramifications (though some argue it was inaccurate).

    But the golden era of investigative journalism is behind us. It’s too expensive to do. And a lot of journalism – I mean a lot – is shallow, trivial and ill-informed.

    One key point is when you say news stories “have massive value”. But to whom? Not, it would seem, readers. They are leaving newspapers in droves. I know you’ve addressed this and the economics of newspapers in another comment, and I’ll respond to that there. But the trend for the qualities is relentlessly down.

    One point I come back to again and again is that journalism as an industry has something of an inflated view of itself compared to the esteem it’s held in by most people outside journalism. That’s kind of what I meant by “the world won’t be that much worse off without us”. It certainly won’t think it’s much worse off.

  • “I’m not sure I agree with the “incredible effect” that our output has on the world”

    When I read a sentance, no matter what its content, am I not being informed of something? Even if it’s just opinion, in that sentance information is being transfered from the writer to the reader.

    If you think of the billions of words that represent billions of facts that media outlets churn out, then to say those words have little value would be to say that facts themselves have little value.

  • *Sentence* and *transferred*.

    Holds head in shame :)

  • Returning to a blog comment and proofreading it. Respect.

  • I respect j’s opinion (my first, gut reaction as a journalist is still with him/her), but the ghastly, bald facts are inescapable:

    If trad journalism is so great, how come the number of folks willing to pay for trad newspapers has been dwindling in the UK for 30 years?

    Critically: This is a trend that started way before the web.

    This is, IMHO, the elephant in the room of debate about journalism. The internet is a symptom of trad journalism’s problems. It is not the cause. We need to look deeper.

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