My career in journalism started on a one-speed bicycle.
With my overburdened cloth newspaper bag draped heavily over my slumped shoulders, I peddled around my delivery domain, tossing out folded copies of the daily Oakland Tribune, while mostly avoiding those glass milk bottles sitting on the front porch.
(Yes kids, not only were the containers glass back in the day, but someone actually brought them right to your front door.)
Packing those heavy loads, seven days a week, was not as difficult as the day I had to go collect the money. I was forced to front the Tribune the money for the number of papers they provided me before I got to take my measly cut. Any non-payments came directly out of my pocket, so that low-rent motel with its weekly turnover of residents took its toll, literally.
This was in the pre-PayPal/ credit card era. One might say it taught a young, brash 14-year old responsibility and a good, old-fashioned work ethic.
I say it just taught me the priorities of a big company, and it sure wasn’t me.
But, it did introduce me to the concept of journalism and the immediacy of getting the news out, immediacy being a relative concept.
While it wasn’t the town crier or the pony express, it sure as hell wasn’t the Huffington Post online, let alone Facebook or Twitter.
Somehow, over the intervening decades, my interest—not to say, my skills—in writing tended towards the travel genre.
Now that I have gained international publishing experience, I have even provided others with tips on becoming a successful travel writer.
delusional dreams of monetary success have not kept pace with my clearly unattainable writing goals.
A few years ago, I took an excellent course on getting published in magazines by an award-wining writer and editor based in Sacramento, by the name of Doug Herndon. While the course gave me all the tools I really needed to get going, let’s just say I have been somewhat laggard in my attempts towards being published in print magazines.
More recently, I attended the prestigious Travel Writers Conference, where I got to meet my mentor—and serious man-crush—Tim Cahill. The result of that great session was lots of inspiration and little productivity to date, on my part.
Almost a year ago, I attended a talk by Arianna Huffington on the future of print media. We all know that the Huffington Post proved the popularity of an online news site. Arianna addressed the brave new world where we all want to get everything on the internet for free. And we want it in glorious multi-media glamour. And we want it NOW.
So, not surprisingly, with our general unwillingness to pay for online content, the big mega news outlets—just like the one that used to stiff me out of a few bucks every month—have suffered majorly, forcing massive cutbacks and layoffs. The outcome of this has been multifaceted.
One aspect that caught my eye was a small bit in a recent Newsweek Magazine (also suffering financially) about the state of Kansas, where,
“The state’s Department of Education decided to stop funding high-school instruction in the subject [of journalism].”
The reason being,
“After a review of labor-market data, the state deemed journalism a dying industry unfit for public funds, which are meant for ‘high-demand, high-skill or high-wage’ jobs.”
Ouch. That hurts.
Literally on the heels of that story—as in only five days later—Forbes Magazine announced a new direction in their publishing paradigm due to dwindling personnel as a result of dramatic declines in advertising revenue.
They are euphemistically calling this new business model "entrepreneurial journalism."
Here is what that translates to:
“Forbes is constructing a vast network of bloggers, each expected to build their own personal audience and brand around a steady stream of Web postings and links to social sites like Facebook and Twitter.”
In somewhat of a gross understatement they proclaim,
“In doing so, Forbes is throwing out some of the old norms of journalism.”
By which they mean,
“Many of these bloggers won’t have any background in reporting.”
“And they won’t have a lot of immediate oversight.” [ed.- I think they used to call this editing]
This did not go without stated concerns of the current staffers;
you know, the ones who actually know how to write.
Here is what Forbes had to say regarding concerns of a potential loss of accurate, well-written news reporting,
"Quality in the [print] magazine is about craftsmanship.
On the Web, quality is different.
Quality is about timeliness, relevance, engagement.”
I guess that means, if you can’t be good, at least be fast. And talk about it online.
Well, there go my chances. I am not only not good, I am not even the least bit fast at it.
Just ask my wife how many hours I
waste dedicate to my wannabe writing craft.
But, I am sure many of you have heard that Rupert Murdoch is here to save the day.
He just announced that News Corp has teamed with Apple to come out with an iPad-only version of a daily newspaper.
At $40 a year, we will see how many people are willing to wean themselves off of our free online content habits. If it works, there still may be hope for those interested in earning a living wage in journalism.
Now, I know it sometimes seems that I am somewhat of a Luddite on all this new technology stuff, but what I don’t understand is how will those paperboys get those iPad-thingies to fold up so they can put a rubber band on it, in order to toss it up on the front porch.
Well, at least they won’t have to avoid those fragile glass bottles of milk sitting up there. There’s always that.
And, finally, thanks to our friends over at xtranormal, here is a short video that does a great job of explaining the whole journalism dilemma. What is amazing is that, I believe, a lot of people still don’t get it.