Business Insider’s brash CEO Henry Blodget just proclaimed to the world, “IT’S OFFICIAL: We Never Need To Worry About The Future Of Journalism Again!”
What a bunch of bullshit.
The broader state of journalism is far from stable or secure, and it’s imperative that we worry about it.
Blodget’s article is a bit of cheerleading based almost solely on the fact that New York Times (NYT) generates $360 million annually in digital revenue. Well, yippie! Apparently, I’ve been fretting over the wrong headlines lately. Specifically, in my home state of Ohio alone…
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the scythe to a third of its newsroom, putting its current number at around 110 vs. 350 a couple decades ago, and it also formally announced it would be cutting back home delivery to four days a week (but still will print all seven days — for now).
- The Cincinnati Enquirer — owned by my former employer, Gannett (GCI) — gave “about a dozen workers” the boot and is shutting down its Northern Kentucky and Butler County bureaus.
- My former copy desk superior at The Advocate in Newark, Ohio, was laid off, as was a friend’s girlfriend — a general assignment reporter for the Zanesville Times-Recorder. (Both are Gannett papers, too.)
These are just the cases I can name off the top of my head thanks to personal and professional experience … as opposed to, you know, running my mouth about the balance sheets of newspapers I have no connection to.
I can’t help but think of Blodget as a doctor looking at a scratch on a crash victim’s face and proclaiming “You look swell!” while ignoring the gaping wound on his torso.
Blodget at least acknowledges the print side of the business, though only to point out that the NYT has a newsroom of 1,100 journalists that its “digital news business will not support” and that “the New York Times will have to continue trimming the size of its current newsroom” as a result.
But take heart! Here’s Henry Blodget’s career advice for print journos everywhere:
“If you work for the New York Times print edition, and you’re worried about your future, this realization is obviously unsettling (the print ship is sinking, and there aren’t enough digital lifeboats). But the good news is there will be plenty of other places to work. Bloomberg and Reuters, for example. Or the digital operations of TV news companies, which are still rolling in cash. And lots of digital news startups.”
When I read this, I actually yelled “Are you fucking kidding me?” at my computer screen.
“Plenty of other places to work” is a laughable thought, considering the phrase came just a few words after “there aren’t enough digital lifeboats” and referencing digital news startups that pay slave wages.
Don’t tell me you think a qualified journalist at a daily newspaper will make the same wage at AOL’s (AOL) Patch. You should’ve just stopped after “digital lifeboats,” Hank — there aren’t enough anywhere, and those startups you reference are labors of love … not places to earn a decent wage.
You might think this is just sour grapes, the overtures of someone who maybe doesn’t have the chops to make it at a “real” media outlet in 2013.
Well, with just under a decade of professional journalism experience under my belt — two years in my current digital position, plus seven years at a newspaper before that — and the kind of idealism a few years at a college paper will foster, I emotionally live and die by the fate of the business.
The fact that one or two lucky journalists might be saved by the likes of Bloomberg or Reuters isn’t enough.
And the NYT — with its atypically wide umbrella and premium brand — is not a meaningful gauge of American journalistic operation at the local or regional level, where it perhaps matters most. “Watchdog journalism” performed via coverage of areas like municipal government or cops beats in Peoria, Ill., might not be as glamorous or as profitable as Anthony Weiner sending people junk shots, but are no less important to society.
Particularly to the people who live in Peoria.
Blodget years ago noted that we can lean heavily on Twitter and citizen journalists to spackle over many of these journalistic holes, and maybe he’ll throw that out again now. But it’s naïve to think a 40-hour-a-week middle manager can really be relied on for a consistent, respected journalistic presence at city hall.
My mind also tends to wander to what the Poynter Institute’s Craig Silverman dubs “The Law of Incorrect Tweets”: that “Initial, inaccurate information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction.”
Of course, considering Americans increasingly care more about things like Kim Kardashian’s baby than their county commissioners, maybe we’re getting precisely the kind of “journalism” we deserve.
In which case, carry on, Blodget. Those single data points won’t analyze themselves.